Public works notebook: Sole $13M bid on Hopewell infra rejected, 4 maintenance of traffic plans OK’d

Bloomington’s three-member board of public works voted at its regular Tuesday meeting to reject the sole bid for a major infrastructure project at the site of the former IU Health hospital, now known as the Hopewell neighborhood.

The $13.5 million bid, from Milestone Contractors, was about 30 percent higher than the engineer’s estimate.

The area for the project is bounded by 2nd Street to the north, 1st Street to the south, The B-Line Trail to the east, and Rogers Street to the west. It’s called Phase 1 East in the master plan for the development of the site.

The demolition phase for Phase 1 East is complete. The rejected bid was for installing utilities, constructing streets, landscaping and bicycle-pedestrian facilities.

The project will now be re-bid, after the city’s staff reviews the package for items that could be modified or deleted from the current plan. “When we re-bid it, hopefully there would be a reduction in the cost there,” said engineering department project manager Matt Smethurst at the board’s Monday work session. Continue reading “Public works notebook: Sole $13M bid on Hopewell infra rejected, 4 maintenance of traffic plans OK’d”

Bloomington city council wants research on possible ouster of traffic commissioner for social media posts

At last Wednesday’s city council meeting, several speakers during general public commentary time objected to the previous week’s re-appointment of Greg Alexander to the city’s traffic commission.

The commission is an an advisory board that, among other things, recommends to the common council and other city officials ways to improve traffic conditions and the enforcement of traffic regulations.

After public commentary time was finished, council president Sue Sgambelluri said, “We are in conversation with our attorney administrator, Mr. [Stephen] Lucas, and have asked him to research possible steps forward.”

Those steps forward could include an effort to remove Alexander from the traffic commission pursuant to Bloomington’s local code.

Local law says the city council can “for cause” remove a council appointee to a board or commission. The definition of “cause” is specific only for one kind of infraction—excessive absences. But it leaves room for other reasons: “Cause shall include, but not be limited to, failure to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings of the board, commission, or council…”

A legal question that Lucas will be researching is whether councilmembers can remove Alexander, based on the kind of statements he has posted to the Twitter social media platform. Continue reading “Bloomington city council wants research on possible ouster of traffic commissioner for social media posts”

Talk deemed off-topic, ill-tempered: Backdrop for Bloomington’s resolution on embargo against Cuba

“Who the hell do you people think you are? You’re not the White House!”

That was Dareal Ruble speaking from the public mic at last Wednesday’s meeting of the city council.

He was reacting to a resolution on the meeting agenda that called for an immediate end to the US economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.

The resolution was not controversial for councilmembers—it passed unanimously.

The vote came almost an hour after the resolution was introduced by Dave Rollo, who co-sponsored it with Susan Sandberg.

Rubel was interrupted twice during his allotted five minutes by council president Sue Sgambelluri, who admonished him—for speaking off the topic of the resolution, not for any particular choice of words.

But questions about the kind of tone and demeanor that councilmembers consider acceptable were swimming just under the surface of Wednesday’s meeting—in connection with an earlier agenda item.

Neither Rollo nor Sandberg supported a raft of resident re-appointments to boards and commissions that were approved early on the agenda.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Rollo confirmed to The B Square that he voted no, because the list included Greg Alexander’s reappointment to the city’s traffic commission.

Based on Alexander’s social media interactions, which Rollo described as “aggressive,” Rollo said he think’s Alexander’s temperament is “ill-suited” to serving on a city board or commission.

Continue reading “Talk deemed off-topic, ill-tempered: Backdrop for Bloomington’s resolution on embargo against Cuba”

Decision on Showers building purchase postponed by Bloomington city council until Jan. 25

Left is the existing 3rd Street Bloomington police station. Right is the western part of the former Showers Brothers factory building currently owned by CFC properties.

A decision on an $8.75-million real estate deal to expand the footprint of city hall inside its existing building has been postponed by Bloomington’s city council.

What has been delayed until next week is a decision to approve the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s purchase agreement for the western part of the former Showers Brothers factory building that houses city hall.

It’s part of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s plan to put both the city’s main police station and fire department administration in the same historic city hall building. The proposed move is part of a bigger plan estimated at over $30-million—which includes reconstructing the flood-damaged Fire Station #1 and remodeling Fire Station #3.

Wednesday’s vote, which was unanimous among the eight councilmembers present, came after more than two hours of deliberations.

Absent was Jim Sims, who in early December described as “a joke” a “Plan B” alternative, which involves just renovation of the existing 3rd Street police station.

The approval of the building purchase is part of the same agenda item as the ordinance that appropriates the proceeds of $29.5 million in bonds that have already been issued. Based on the wording of the bond issuance, the proceeds have to be used for public safety purposes.

Postponement came at the point in the meeting when Ron Smith moved an amendment that would remove from the appropriation ordinance the reference to the building purchase. The amendment  would also prohibit use of the bond proceeds for purchase of the Showers building.

Based on their comments at Wednesday’s meeting and previous meetings, two councilmembers sound like they’re firmly in support of the Showers building purchase, three are firmly opposed, and three somewhat undecided, even if they’re leaning in one direction or another. Continue reading “Decision on Showers building purchase postponed by Bloomington city council until Jan. 25”

Column: What is ‘value’ when it comes to options for Bloomington’s new police station?

Under Indiana’s building code, newly constructed police stations and fire stations have to be built to conform with Category 4 risk standards.

That’s the highest standard in the code. Category 4 includes facilities like emergency surgery facilities, and power-generating stations—essential facilities that are needed in response to disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes.

So, at least for new construction, it’s worth considering two kinds of value that are connected to compliance with Category 4 standards.

First, there’s legal value that comes from compliance with the requirements.

Second, there’s practical value attached to a building that has a better chance of surviving a tornado or an earthquake.

Bloomington’s city council is currently faced with a decision that should focus not just on legal value, but also practical value. Here’s the question:

Is renovating and expanding the existing police station on 3rd Street a better or worse value proposition than purchasing part of an existing building at a different site, and renovating that space for combined police and fire use?

Continue reading “Column: What is ‘value’ when it comes to options for Bloomington’s new police station?”

2023 Elections | Day One notebook: 9 file paperwork, including 3 known mayoral candidates

Wednesday was the first day it was possible to file the forms to declare an official candidacy for municipal elections in Indiana’s 2023 election cycle.

In Monroe County, nine candidates got that paperwork task out of the way on Day One.

Filing their CAN-42 forms on Wednesday, in order of filing, were: Kerry Thomson (Bloomington mayor); Susan Sandberg (Bloomington mayor); Sue Sgambelluri (Bloomington city council District 2); Don Griffin (Bloomington mayor); Ron Smith (Bloomington city council District 3); William Ellis (Ellettsville town council Ward 2); Jonas Schrodt (Bloomington city council at large); Brett Heinisch (Bloomington city council, District 3); and Nicole Bolden (Bloomington city clerk).

Ellis and Heinisch filed to run in the Republican Party’s primary. The others filed to run in the Democratic Party’s primary. Continue reading “2023 Elections | Day One notebook: 9 file paperwork, including 3 known mayoral candidates”

City council committee to mull question of Showers building purchase for Bloomington police station

The Bloomington police station’s move from its current 3rd Street facility to the western part of the historic Showers building that houses city hall has still not been decided by the city council.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s idea is to incorporate the police station, as well as the fire department’s administrative headquarters, into the western part of Showers.

The $8.75 million purchase of the Showers building is part of a plan for which the city council already approved a $29.5 million bond issuance at its Dec. 7 meeting.

A four-member city council special committee that has been formed to take a closer look at the proposal will meet at 11 a.m. on Tuesday in city hall. Continue reading “City council committee to mull question of Showers building purchase for Bloomington police station”

AFSCME pay increases of 5% to 18% in first year OK’d by Bloomington city council in 2023 salary ordinance

The recently approved four-year collective bargaining agreement between the city of Bloomington and its AFSCME union is now covered in the city’s salary ordinance.

At its final meeting of the year, on Dec. 21, Bloomington’s city council approved a change to the salary ordinance that sets pay for city employees next year.

The acronym for the union name stands for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union includes workers in utilities, the street and fleet divisions of public works, parks and recreation, sanitation, and the animal shelter, among others.

It’s AFSCME workers who plow the snow, salt the streets and empty the trash carts that residents set out every week.

Based on a comparison of the new AFSCME contract with the previous four-year agreement , in the first year of the new accord, there’s a pay increase for union members that ranges from 5 percent to about 18 percent, depending on the position. [2023-2026 AFSCME contract] [2019-2022 AFSCME contract]

In the second year of the new contract, the pay increase is 5 percent. In the final two years of the contract, which runs from 2023 through 2026, the pay increase is 3.1 percent.

The city council’s action came on a 9–0 vote taken at its Dec. 21 meeting.

The council’s action did not approve the contract—that step had already been completed through negotiations between the union and Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration. The council’s action just put the requirements of the contract into local law. Continue reading “AFSCME pay increases of 5% to 18% in first year OK’d by Bloomington city council in 2023 salary ordinance”

Analysis: Three years, two parties on Bloomington’s all-Democrat city council

Whenever there’s a 5-to-4 or 4-to-5 tally on the nine-member Bloomington city council, it’s become a pretty standard joke: Did the vote fall along party lines?

The ornaments correspond to councilmembers in a statistical plot showing similarity of voting patters to other councilmembers. The same plot is provided below with names, and without the distraction of a Christmas tree.

It’s only funny because all nine members of the city council are Democrats.

And the make-up of “the five” and “the four” has been consistent enough that it will draw a knowing chuckle from close watchers of the council.

It’s not just a gut feel. There’s statistical support for the idea that there’s a “party of five” and a “party of four” on the Bloomington city council.

In 2022, there were 16 votes that split the council on a one-vote margin—5–4 or 4–5.

In 13 of the 16 votes, the breakdown of “the five” was: Susan Sandberg; Jim Sims; Sue Sgambelluri; Ron Smith; and Dave Rollo.

Making up “the four” were: Matt Flaherty; Kate Rosenbarger; Isabel Piedmont-Smith; and Steve Volan.

When close observers of the city council refer to “the four” and “the five,” that’s the grouping they mean. Continue reading “Analysis: Three years, two parties on Bloomington’s all-Democrat city council”

Conservation district math: Dec. 4 to mark conversion of Near West Side to historic district

Next Sunday (Dec. 4), Bloomington’s Near West Side conservation district will become a historic district.

That’s based on a city council decision that was made three years earlier. On a unanimous vote in December 2019, the council voted to establish the Near West Side as a conservation district.

It’s the area roughly bounded on the north by the railroad right-of-way alongside Butler Park, on the south by Kirkwood Avenue, and on the west by North Adams—shown in green in the maps that are included with this article.

At just under 100 acres, by land area, it will be the biggest historic district in Bloomington.

The difference between a conservation district and a historic district is more than just the label.

In a historic district, any exterior alterations are subject to review by the city’s historic preservation commission (HPC). In a conservation district, it’s just moving or demolishing buildings, or constructing new buildings that are subject to HPC review.

No additional city council approval was needed to make the conversion next week. In historic preservation terms, the conversion is called an “elevation” of the conservation district to a historic district.

Under state statute and local law, the conversion to a historic district is automatic, unless enough property owners object in writing.

Among property owners who responded to a recent city poll, nearly three-quarters objected.

Responding to a question from The B Square, Bloomington’s historic preservation program manager Gloria Colom Braña indicated that 120 returned a ballot voting against the elevation, with 41 voting in favor.

But that’s not how a majority is determined for purposes of objecting to a conservation district elevation. Continue reading “Conservation district math: Dec. 4 to mark conversion of Near West Side to historic district”