Monroe County election board leans towards old NAPA building as early voting location, but decision won’t come before Thursday

A likely scenario for Monroe County’s early in-person voting is to establish a single site—the former NAPA building on the southwest corner of 3rd and Walnut streets, across from the downtown transit center.

On Thursday, after discussing options for in-person early voting, including the use of a handful of satellite locations not in downtown Bloomington, Monroe County’s election board recessed its meeting until the following week.

Next Thursday (Jan. 27), it looks likely the board will finalize its early-voting plan for the 2022 primary election.

The timeline for settling on a plan is short. The first day of in-person early voting for the May 3 primary is April 5, which is just  68 days away from next Thursday.

Commenting about the looming early-election start, election supervisor Karen Wheeler told the board, “That is shocking to me. …We are really, really on a tight timeline here!” Continue reading “Monroe County election board leans towards old NAPA building as early voting location, but decision won’t come before Thursday”

Photos | Bloomington Freezefest 2022: Winter festival goes through Saturday, Jan. 22

Temperatures on Friday night for Freezefest 2022, Bloomington’s winter festival, were holding steady around 14 F degrees. That’s plenty cold enough to keep the ice sculptures intact for Saturday’s final day of activities.

On the docket for Saturday in the Trades District north of city hall are ice carving demonstrations and games for kids, among other activities. If you ever wanted to play bean bag toss (aka cornhole) on ramps made of ice, play ping pong on an ice table, or sit on an ice throne, Saturday (Jan. 22) is the day to cross those items off your list.

For details see the Freezefest website. Here’s more photos from Friday night. Continue reading “Photos | Bloomington Freezefest 2022: Winter festival goes through Saturday, Jan. 22”

Bloomington prevails in lawsuit filed by vendor over anti-white-supremacist protests at farmers market

On Wednesday, a U.S. District Court judge delivered a summary judgment in favor of Bloomington, in the lawsuit filed against the city, the mayor and two staff members, by the owners of Schooner Creek Farm (SCF).

Six protestors against Schooner Creek Farm, including one in a purple unicorn costume, were arrested on Nov. 9, 2019. None were charged.

The summary judgment means the case got a ruling without a trial. It also means the court agreed with Bloomington that there were no relevant disputes about the facts of the case, and that it could be decided just based on application of the law.

The court found that Bloomington did not violate the constitutional rights of SCF’s owners, as they had claimed. According to the city of Bloomington’s news release, which came late Friday, SCF’s owners  have 30 days to file an appeal with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Schooner Creek Farm (SCF) was a Bloomington farmers market vendor during the 2019 season. SCF drew protests that year from local activists over its ties to white supremacist groups and views. On two occasions, protesters were arrested by Bloomington police, but charges were not filed.

The lawsuit claimed that the city had not enforced the market rules against the protesters in the same way it had enforced rules against SCF—which is a constitutional equal protections issue. SCF also claimed that its constitutional rights of free speech were infringed by the city’s response to the protests. Continue reading “Bloomington prevails in lawsuit filed by vendor over anti-white-supremacist protests at farmers market”

5-to-4 rift persists in Bloomington city council: Standing committees from 2020 nixed as Volan says, “The sponsors don’t like doing math.”

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council passed a resolution that abolished most of the council’s standing committees.

Councilmember Steve Volan began his final commentary with his assessment of those who had proposed the resolution: “The sponsors don’t like doing math.”

In the end, the only math that mattered was the sum of votes in favor of the resolution, which was 5. Volan was one of the four who opposed the resolution, which was sponsored by Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, and Jim Sims. Also voting for the resolution were Ron Smith and Dave Rollo.

Volan was joined in dissent by Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

Wednesday’s council action effectively undid an early 2020 decision by the council to establish a several new four-member standing committees. As newly-elected council president that year, Volan had managed to assemble a 5–4 majority in support of the new committees.

Two years later, the only difference in the 5–4 split was the vote of Sue Sgambelluri. She supported the creation of new committees in 2020. But Sgambelluri co-sponsored Wednesday’s resolution abolishing them.

The 5–4 split on the resolution is one that some councilmembers are increasingly starting to see as a fundamental divide, even if it’s not along party lines. All members of the Bloomington city council are Democrats.

After an amendment, the resolution preserved the climate action and resilience committee, but eliminated the rest of the 2020 committees. Wednesday’s resolution also eliminated the land use committee, which the council had established in 2018.

Some other standing committees that existed before 2020 were either preserved or restored by Wednesday’s resolution: the sidewalk committee; the Jack Hopkins social services funding committee; and three three-member “interview committees” that are responsible for reviewing appointments to various boards and commissions.

About her change in perspective since 2020, Sgambelluri said Wednesday night: “I also believe that, overall, standing committees have not shown themselves to be the best tool, or even the better tool for managing council’s workload.” Continue reading “5-to-4 rift persists in Bloomington city council: Standing committees from 2020 nixed as Volan says, “The sponsors don’t like doing math.””

Midnight work on courthouse square part of routine meter upgrade by Bloomington utilities

When a city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) crew is out around midnight busting up a street with heavy equipment, it often means there’s been a water main break.

But on Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, it was some routine updates that brought the CBU crew out to the west side of the courthouse square on College Avenue.

According to workers on the scene, confirmed on Wednesday morning by CBU communications manager Holly McLauchlin, Tuesday night’s project involved upgrading the water service to the building on that side of the square. Continue reading “Midnight work on courthouse square part of routine meter upgrade by Bloomington utilities”

Bloomington Transit board talks strategic plan, new standard for judging ridership

At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the five-member Bloomington Transit board reached a consensus that a consultant should be hired to help the public bus agency develop a five-to-seven-year strategic plan.

The new strategic plan will incorporate the new reality of diminished ridership, which continues to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2021, 115,504 rides were given on BT’s fixed-route buses. That’s about twice the number of rides in December 2020. But it’s less than half the number of rides in December 2019.

When he reported out the monthly ridership numbers from December, BT’s planning and special projects manager Zac Hunec told the board: “We’re kind of shifting away from this mode of comparing our statistics to quote unquote, normal times.” Hunec added, “I think we’ve all kind of recognized this is the new normal. When we start looking at statistics, we’ll just be comparing it to the previous year.”

The next step on the strategic plan is to put together a request for proposals for potential consulting firms. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board talks strategic plan, new standard for judging ridership”

Fire station in south part of Bloomington to get interior remodel

At its Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s board of public works approved a $48,975 contract with Strauser Construction Company for some remodeling work in one of Bloomington’s five fire stations.

The work will be done at Fire Station #5, which is located on Henderson Street in the south part of town.

According to the staff memo in the board’s meeting information packet, the project includes several interior modifications: expansion of the kitchen area with new cabinets and countertops; construction of a partition wall in the equipment bay; construction of a small office for use by the station captain; filling in the overhead door on the north side of the building with solid masonry; and the installation of a new door leading from the equipment bay to the locker room.

The item drew no discussion from the three-member board of works. They’d been briefed on the project at a work session earlier in the afternoon by public works director of facilities J. D. Boruff. Continue reading “Fire station in south part of Bloomington to get interior remodel”

Bloomington MLK Day celebration: “Universities and colleges must see the community as an equal partner in the education enterprise, not just a partner.”

Bloomington’s annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday took place as scheduled on Monday night at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

Delivering the keynote address was Eddie Cole, who is associate professor of higher education and history at UCLA. Cole earned his doctorate at Indiana University.

Cole was able to observe some changes in Bloomington’s physical landscape since the time when he was a student here: “From me coming back to Bloomington having graduated almost 10 years ago, it is shocking to see the high rise apartments and things that weren’t here just a decade ago. They look very nice. I can only imagine how much they cost!”

Cole put his observation into the context of his research: “But we can think about the cost of living for the average resident of Bloomington. What does [Indiana University’s] growth mean to the community?”

That question is connected to one of Cole’s challenges of action: “We have to have pro-active community engagement between institutions in our local communities.” Cole continued, “Universities and colleges must see the community as an equal partner in the education enterprise, not just a partner.” Cole added, “It is easy to have partnerships, it is easy to have meetings.”

Cole posed the question: “Do you see the community as an equal partner within the education enterprise? Does the community even have a say in your university’s strategic goals and objectives?”

Cole’s research is the subject of his book, “The Campus Color Line.” Continue reading “Bloomington MLK Day celebration: “Universities and colleges must see the community as an equal partner in the education enterprise, not just a partner.””

Bloomington Transit board to start 2022 with work on strategic plan after contentious officer elections to end year

Is it possible that someday everyone waiting at a public bus stop in Bloomington could climb aboard without having to pay a fare?

Could Bloomington’s public buses ever follow routes that go outside the city limits, if they serve the interests of Bloomington residents?

Will Indiana University and Bloomington Transit (BT) ever extend their cooperative arrangements to a point where there’s just one public bus system in town?

Those are some of the questions that BT’s new board president James McLary would like to address in a strategic plan that the public transit corporation is developing. McLary spoke about BT’s strategic plan in a late December interview with The B Square.

The strategic plan will have to incorporate the impact of the pandemic on ridership. In November 2021, BT ridership on fixed routes was about half what it was in pre-pandemic times.

Appearing on the Bloomington Transit board’s Jan. 18 meeting agenda is an item under old business labeled “Development of a Strategic Plan for Bloomington Transit.”  That’s just a discussion item.

McLary’s election as the board’s president for 2022 came at the board’s Dec. 21 meeting. The 3–2 tally on the vote reflected the contentious character of the choice.

It’s an indicator that the board might not necessarily be in perfect alignment on elements of the strategic plan that it will be developing this year. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit board to start 2022 with work on strategic plan after contentious officer elections to end year”

Election 2022 candidate notebook: Three weeks to go, but some races shaping up

Through last Friday, the 2022 candidate filings that have been reported by the Monroe County election division still have gaps for some races.

Monroe County election supervisor Karen Wheeler on Jan. 5, 2022, the first day for candidate filings.

But there are three weeks to go before the filing deadline at noon on Feb. 4.

The B Square maintains a spreadsheet of candidate filings, with links to official government records and news releases issued by candidates.

The topic of voting locations for this year’s elections will be taken up by the county election board at its meeting next week, which is scheduled for Jan. 20 at 1 p.m.

For local offices, one of the two contested primary races so far is to replace Democrat Stephen Galvin as a judge on the Monroe County circuit court.

Galvin is not seeking re-election, and it looks like at least four Democrats will be vying for their party’s nomination in the May primary: April Wilson, Allison Chopra, Emily Salzmann, Karen Wrenbeck.

Official paperwork for a 2022 candidacy declaration is on file for Wilson and Wrenbeck. Chopra and Salzmann have campaign exploratory committee paperwork on file from 2021. A news release from the Monroe County GOP indicated Carl Lamb will be standing as a candidate for the Republicans. That would set up a contested race for judge in November. Continue reading “Election 2022 candidate notebook: Three weeks to go, but some races shaping up”