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.””

Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending

From left: Bloomington city councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Ron Smith at the Oct. 31, 2021 announcement of Democrat Penny Githens’ candidacy for District 62 state representative. All nine members of Bloomington’s city council are Democrats.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council made Ron Smith its appointee to the city plan commission for the coming year.

The other councilmember who had asked to be appointed was Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

For Piedmont-Smith it was the second year in a row that she was not the council’s pick as its appointment to the plan commission. The outcome was decided  by the same 5–4 margin. Last year, it was Susan Sandberg who was put in the plan commission seat.

Smith prevailed on the same 5–4 split as last year, which broke down along the same lines as the vote for council president and vice president at last week’s meeting.

The five voting for Smith were: Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, Dave Rollo, and Jim Sims. The four voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Steve Volan and Kate Rosenbarger.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda was a resolution that would eliminate most of the council’s standing committees.

After two hours of debate, mostly in the guise of questions that were put to the resolution’s sponsors, the council voted to postpone consideration of the resolution until its Jan. 19 meeting.

The resolution eliminating several of the council’s standing committees is sponsored by Sandberg, Sgambelluri and Sims.

Continue reading “Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending”

Bloomington signs off on animal care agreement with Monroe County, Ellettsville

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved an agreement with the other governments in the county that spells out how Bloomington’s cost is covered for animals surrendered to the city shelter by non-city county residents and county animal control officers.

On the county’s side, the interlocal agreement was approved last year by county commissioners  and the county council.

Under the terms of this year’s agreement, the amount paid to Bloomington by Monroe County will be $342,912. Ellettsville will pay $18,612. That’s a total of $361,524.

The total is based on 1,282 animals that were surrendered to the shelter in 2020 by Monroe County or Ellettsville, at a net cost of $282 per animal.

Continue reading “Bloomington signs off on animal care agreement with Monroe County, Ellettsville”

Analysis: Bloomington city council splits on officer elections, members air past grievances

Last Wednesday, the annual election of Bloomington city council officers—president, vice president, and parliamentarian—took about an hour.

On a vote that was split 5–4, the council put Susan Sandberg, instead of Matt Flaherty, in the president’s chair. On a vote that was also split 5–4, the council returned Sue Sgambelluri to the vice president’s seat, instead of putting Flaherty there.

Questioning of candidates for the leadership positions was sharp, fueled by conflicts over the first two years of the current council’s four-year term.

Even though Dave Rollo was the only candidate put forward for parliamentarian, he was questioned by Flaherty in a way that alluded to an aggravated verbal exchange between the two at an early March 2021 meeting.

The 5–4 split was the same for the vote on president and vice president.

Voting for Sandberg and Sgambelluri were: Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, Dave Rollo, Ron Smith, and Jim Sims. Voting for Flaherty both times were: Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, and Steve Volan.

No one dissented on the vote for Rollo as parliamentarian.

All nine of Bloomington’s city councilmembers are Democrats. Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington city council splits on officer elections, members air past grievances”

Sidewalk projects: Bloomington city council committee set to apply new criteria for decisions on limited funds for 2022

At noon on Jan. 6, the Bloomington city council’s transportation committee is scheduled to meet to continue its work on allocating money to add new sidewalks and traffic calming to the city’s street network.

Since 2007, a total of about $4 million has been allocated for new sidewalk projects, which reflects incremental increases each year starting in the low $200,000s in 2007.

For the 2022 budget year, the city council has $336,000 in available sidewalk funding to allocate.

At its Dec. 9 meeting, the committee voted unanimously to adopt a new approach to ranking potential projects.

It’s not just that the ranking criteria have been revised. The starting point is different.

Previously, the approach has started with a list of projects  that have been requested through various channels. Those projects have been ranked, based on an objective metric. The metric has included factors like cost, safety, roadway class, pedestrian usage, destination points, and linkage to existing facilities.

The newly adopted approach starts by analyzing all locations in the city, based on a mathematical expression. The output of that expression is a collection of areas that would benefit most from an added sidewalk. Continue reading “Sidewalk projects: Bloomington city council committee set to apply new criteria for decisions on limited funds for 2022”

Opinion: Bloomington city council should appoint a youth advisor, if it wants to keep pace with the GOP

A week before Christmas, both major political parties made local news with their caucuses.

Republicans elected 18-year-old Taylor Bryant as Monroe County Republican Party chair. Bryant became the youngest county chair ever for Monroe County and probably the state of Indiana.

At their caucus, Democrats chose Jennifer Crossley as a county councilor to replace Eric Spoonmore, who resigned. That made Crossley the first Black woman to serve on the county’s fiscal body.

Crossley’s age was not mentioned in any story that I saw reported by local news outlets. And why would it be? Even if Crossley is more than twice Bryant’s age (only by a smidgen), that’s true of most, if not all, elected officials in Monroe County.

Still, Crossley fits into a story about the age of local elected Democrats. Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington city council should appoint a youth advisor, if it wants to keep pace with the GOP”

Two years of Bloomington city council votes or: Local government, how lovely are thy branches!

If you had to hang nine red globes on a Christmas tree, one for each Bloomington city councilmember, how would you approach that task?

Each red ornament corresponds to a Bloomington city councilmember. They’re distributed based on similarity of voting patterns for the last two years. This graphic, with letters instead of names, can be used for holiday entertainment: Try to identify councilmembers without looking at the labeled version below.

What if you had to make the distance between councilmembers on the tree show how close they are politically—at least when it comes to their statistical voting pattern?

For the thousands of households across Bloomington who have been wrestling with that puzzle over the last few weeks, this column might be considered a holiday gift from The B Square.

Putting aside any impetus from the holiday season, now is a sensible time to start looking at overall voting patterns of city councilmembers.

Why?

Last Wednesday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s city council wrapped up the first two years of a four-year city council term.

All incumbent councilmembers were elected in 2019. They were sworn in on Jan. 1, 2020.

That means all councilmembers are halfway through their terms. There’s just another year to go before it is possible for someone officially to declare a run for a council seat in 2023. Continue reading “Two years of Bloomington city council votes or: Local government, how lovely are thy branches!”

Bloomington OKs single-house historic district or: A lesson in cursive writing—how to form the letter ‘p’

At its final meeting of the year on Wednesday, Bloomington’s council approved the establishment of a single-house historic district.

It’s the Reverend James Faris House at 2001 East Hillside Drive, which is in the southeast part of town.

The vote on Wednesday by the city council was uncontroversial. In mid-October, Bloomington’s historic preservation commission had given a recommendation for the historic designation of the house.  The property is rated as “Notable” in the State Historic Architectural and Archeological Research Database (SHAARD).

The house was determined to satisfy both categories of criteria for designation: historic and architectural.

On the architectural side, the house was determined to show an architectural style, detail, or other element in danger of being lost and to exemplifies the built environment in an era of history.

According to material provided in the meeting information packet by Gloria Colom Braña, Bloomington’s historic preservation program manager, the house is a “remarkably intact example of the I-House form.” The style was prominent in Indiana from 1820 to 1890, according to the staff memo. The house is built from handmade brick which means that it was dug and fired on site, according to the memo.

On the historic side, the Reverend James Faris, who built the house, became the first pastor of the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian church in 1827. Faris was born in South Carolina in 1791, and moved to Bloomington in 1826, according to the staff memo.

He was a purported conductor on the Underground Railroad, according to the resolution establishing the district. Continue reading “Bloomington OKs single-house historic district or: A lesson in cursive writing—how to form the letter ‘p’”

$82K from federal law enforcement grant OK’d by Bloomington city council, part of interlocal deal

At its final meeting of the year on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council approved its side of an interlocal agreement with Monroe County for the use of  $81,724 in federal money to support local law enforcement.

A complete table of JAG allocations to local jurisdictions is included below.

The money came from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program.

In 2021, of the $187 million awarded to state and local governments through the JAG program, about $3.5 million was allocated to the state of Indiana.

Of that $3.5 million, about $1.9 million was allocated to local units of government in the Hoosier state.  More than half of the $1.9 million went to the city of Indianapolis, which received $1.07 million.

Bloomington and Monroe County’s share for 2021 was $46,347, which the two governments will split on a 91-9 percentage basis. That proportion is based on the amount of violent crime and population in each of the two jurisdictions.

Bloomington will use its $42,176 for police radios for squad cars. Monroe County will use its $4,171 to buy tire deflation devices.

The interlocal agreement approved on Wednesday night also covered last year’s JAG allocation—the city and county did not ratify an interlocal last year. Last year’s amount was $35,377, which made for a total of $81,724 over the two years.

The amount received from JAG over the last decade has averaged about $33,000. Continue reading “$82K from federal law enforcement grant OK’d by Bloomington city council, part of interlocal deal”

Column: Sandboxing some possible new Bloomington city council districts

Based on the results of the 2020 census, the populations of Bloomington’s six current city council districts are way out of kilter.

There’s no question that some city council district boundary adjustments will need to be made, before the next municipal elections are held in 2023. The changes could be significant.

Legally speaking, resetting the Bloomington city council district boundaries is a task that does not have to be completed until the end of 2022.

But for any potential candidate in the 2023 city council elections, it would be less than ideal if a city council decision on new district boundaries came late in 2022.

Why is it not possible to go ahead and get started? Continue reading “Column: Sandboxing some possible new Bloomington city council districts”