Friday’s big local civic news was that Bloomington mayor John Hamilton had vetoed a city council ordinance that authorized reinstallation of stop signs at four intersections on 7th Street.
That means an item appears on the agenda for next Wednesday’s city council meeting, that makes it possible for the council to vote again on the same ordinance.
If the council votes again on the same ordinance, and it passes with a two-thirds majority, that would achieve an override of the mayor’s veto.
A two-thirds majority on the nine-member council is six. It was a narrow 5–4 vote that approved the ordinance on Oct. 4.
It seems unlikely that any of the four dissenters would join the majority, to give the council the one extra vote it would need to override the veto. There’s a certain futility that would be attached to the effort.
It’s worth noting that there is no requirement that the council even try to take a vote that could lead to a veto override.
Still, an attempt to override the veto is the only option that most casual observers will consider. That is, the council could just turn the crank on its normal legislative procedures. That would mean taking a vote on the same ordinance and recording a likely outcome of 5–4. That would not add up to override.
But for this edition of the council, turning that crank would add to the tally of several 5–4 votes in the last four years that have been split along the same bitter divide. It is a split that will form part of the legacy of this group of nine, which was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2020.
The four in the split are: Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, Steve Volan, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith. The five are: Sue Sgambelluri, Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, Ron Smith, and Dave Rollo.
If the council strictly follows just the advice that city council attorney Stephen Lucas has provided in the council’s meeting information packet, another 5–4 vote on the same ordinance seems pretty likely.
But Lucas’s advice looks like it is, at best, incomplete.
Lucas has framed for the council only the options that have the potential to lead to a successful override of the mayor’s veto. By focusing narrowly on just on those procedural choices that could potentially result in a successful override, the council’s attorney has not covered some other options that could serve the council’s and the community’s interest better than taking another vote on the same question.
It might be possible to muster a unanimous vote of the council, but on a different question from adoption of the same ordinance as before.
When the council reaches the item on its agenda, the council could vote on a motion that’s different from the usual one to introduce the ordinance. Instead, the motion could be explicitly not to introduce the ordinance at all, but rather to do something else.
What else could the council do?
The council could direct its attorney to prepare for its next regular meeting, the same ordinance (Ordinance 23-23) that the administration had previously put in front of the council for consideration—before the council amended it to add three more 7th Street intersections for stop sign installation.
As a part of the same motion, the council could ask that its attorney communicate the council’s desire to the city engineer that an “engineering and traffic investigation” be done for the downtown area, including 7th Street, to satisfy the requirements of state law for setting speed limits slower than 25 mph.
Here’s what that motion might look like:
I move that: (1) Ordinance 23-23 not be introduced, (2) that the council attorney be directed to prepare the original, unamended version of Ordinance 23-23 for consideration at its next regular meeting; and (3) that the council attorney convey the council’s respectful request to the city engineer that a traffic investigation be conducted for a suitable area of the downtown, including the 7th Street corridor, so that the requirements of IC 9-21-5-6 could eventually be satisfied for setting speed limits in the area at less than 25 mph.
That motion could have a shot at getting unanimous support. But what good would that motion do?
First, a bit of background. The removal of five stop signs along the 7th Street corridor accompanied the opening of the 7-Line protected bicycle lane in mid-November 2021. The removal of the stop signs, which had been approved by the city council, was intended to make the east-west corridor a more attractive transportation option for bicyclists.
After the city engineer’s review of crash data, following removal of the 7th Street stop signs, the city engineer issued a 180-day order to reinstall stop signs at the 7th-and-Dunn intersection. The administration wanted the council’s authorization to make permanent the reinstallation of stop signs at 7th and Dunn.
The unamended version of Ordinance 23-23, which would have authorized reinstallation of stop signs just at the intersection of 7th and Dunn streets, would have likely passed on a unanimous vote of the council.
It was an amendment, adding three more intersections, that caused the 5-4 split.
The council’s amendment, put forward by Dave Rollo, added to the original intersection at 7th and Dunn three more intersections—at Morton, Washington, and Lincoln streets. Rollo’s stated motivation for the amendments was in part to improve the ability of pedestrians to cross 7th Street.
In April, the public works department reinstalled stop signs at the intersection of 7th and Dunn streets. That reinstallation was based on a 180-day order from the city engineer.
With the mayor’s veto comes the need for the city engineer to issue a new 180-day order, to allow the stop signs at the 7th-and-Dunn intersection to persist.
The new 180-day order will expire sometime in April. That would obligate the 2024 edition of the city council, featuring five new councilmembers, eventually to take up the question of stop sign installation at 7th and Dunn streets—opening the door to consideration of adding additional stop signs.
Given that there’s at least majority support, and probably even unanimous support, on the current council to pass the original, unamended Ordinance 23-23, the current council should just go ahead and pass it before the end of the year. That would eliminate the need for the 180-day order. And that would take 7th and Dunn off the next council’s legislative plate.
That means the 2024 edition of the council would have the flexibility to prioritize reinstallation of additional stop signs in the 7th Street corridor—or not. Giving the next council some flexibility on its legislative priorities would be a simple courtesy from this council to the next.
On the new council there could be support, besides from Dave Rollo, to reinstall some other stop signs on 7th Street. From the public mic on Oct. 4, the Democratic Party’s District 3 nominee Hopi Stosberg, said she would not mind seeing a stop sign reinstalled at 7th and Morton streets.
Of course, the council’s request to the city engineer to do a “traffic investigation,” to look at possibly lowering speed limits to 20 mph on some additional downtown streets, would not be binding. But the separation of legislative and executive powers does not mean that the two branches of government can’t communicate.
It would be up to the city engineer to assess the availability of department resources and to prioritize accordingly. It’s worth pointing out that the 2024 budget, which was approved by the city council this past week, gave the engineering department an additional full-time position with the job title “traffic engineer.”
Would the city engineer be fundamentally averse to pursuing a traffic investigation for some downtown streets, with an eye towards potentially lowering speed limits? That’s unlikely, given that speeds measured in the 7th Street corridor, even after the reinstallation of the stop signs at the 7th-and-Dunn intersection, are still a concern for the engineer.
Next Wednesday, if it comes down to a vote on the same ordinance as before, it’s easy to imagine hearing the same rhetoric about stop signs that has been heard from both sides many times before.
With just two and a half months remaining before the end of the four-year term, the Bloomington city council’s political energy would be better spent on finding a motion that they can unanimously support.