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”

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.””

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”

Bloomington annexation remonstrance final raw tally: Automatic stop in play for six of seven areas, court review now possible for one

When the Jan. 6 deadline passed for submitting remonstrance petitions against Bloomington’s annexation ordinances, the Monroe County auditor’s office was able to provide only a preliminary raw tally of signatures.

That’s because several signatures were submitted on the final day.

Based on the now final but still raw tally, every area but one would have enough signatures to meet the 65-percent threshold that automatically blocks Bloomington’s annexation attempt.

That’s the same basic picture that was already known on the final day of remonstrance.

What’s different is the status of Area 1B, which by the auditor’s count at the time had not yet achieved even a lower threshold of 50-percent. That’s a benchmark that doesn’t stop the annexation but does ensure that a judge reviews a city’s annexation ordinance.

Adding in the final day’s count has bumped the total for Area 1B past the 50-percent threshold.

But it’s still short of the 65-percent mark. The area has 2,102 unique owners, of which 1,342 signed a remonstrance petition. That’s 63.8 percent. The 65-percent threshold would have required signatures from 25 more property owners. Continue reading “Bloomington annexation remonstrance final raw tally: Automatic stop in play for six of seven areas, court review now possible for one”

Pretrial public defender money cut: Indiana awards half the grant amount Monroe County was expecting

At its Tuesday meeting, the Monroe County council dealt with the news that the state grant that has historically funded the pretrial public defender program had been cut in half for the coming year.

Screenshot of the Jan. 11, 2022 Monroe County council meeting, which was conduced by Zoom videoconference.

Instead of the $183,390 that had been requested, the county received $92,038.

That leaves the county $84,507 short for a public defender and $7,000 short for the benefits that go with a pretrial probation officer position.

According to the memo attached to Tuesday’s meeting agenda item, the funding covers a public defender who appears at initial hearings so that a “meaningful first appearance addressing bail may be held.”

A memo from staff who work in the pretrial program states that Monroe County’s pretrial services grant for 2022 was cut to half the 2021 grant level, with no advance notice. The news came on Dec. 30, according to the memo, two days before the grant is scheduled to begin.

The county council’s action on Tuesday night was to appropriate the grant funding that was awarded.

As council president Kate Wiltz put it, “Let’s appropriate what we have and get thinking on how we can keep this program going for the future.”

At the start of the meeting, Wiltz was chosen as the county council’s president for the coming year. Trent Deckard was chosen as vice president. Continue reading “Pretrial public defender money cut: Indiana awards half the grant amount Monroe County was expecting”

Plat for part of former IU hospital site gets OK to go in front of Bloomington plan commission

At its Monday meeting, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) signed off on a proposed plat for some of the land to be redeveloped as a part of the reuse project for the former IU Health hospital at 2nd and Rogers Streets.

A plat is a map that shows how the land is divided into lots.

What the RDC was approving was the submission of the plat to the city plan commission. Once the plan commission approves it, probably at its Feb. 7 meeting, the RDC will confirm the plat with another vote, according to the RDC’s meeting information packet.

The land in question is bounded by 1st and 2nd streets on the north and south. The boundaries to the east and west are formed by Morton and Rogers streets. Continue reading “Plat for part of former IU hospital site gets OK to go in front of Bloomington plan commission”

Sheer number of COVID-19 cases has health care system struggling

The rolling average of positive COVID-19 cases in Monroe County now stands at about 152 per day. That’s almost twice the average this time last year. It’s also about 1.5 times the previous pandemic high point for the county, which came in November 2021.

It’s the same picture across all of Indiana. The rolling average of positive cases across the Hoosier state is 10,227, nearly twice the 5,500 average daily cases at this time last year.

Even if the infections caused by the Omicron variant of the virus might be comparatively milder, it’s their sheer number, and the likelihood of spread to vulnerable populations, that is still putting more people in the hospital. And that’s putting a continued strain on statewide and local health systems.

President of IU Health’s south central region, Brian Shockney, put it this way at a news conference of local leaders held Friday: “Omicron is hitting a high number of people and spreading fast to those immunocompromised patients. And they are what we can see in the initial stages here are getting hospitalized.”

Shockney continued, “IU Health is caring for its highest number of patients of the pandemic to date.” He added, “70 percent of these patients are unvaccinated.”

For the watching public, Shockney repeated what has become a kind of mantra: “Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Get tested.” Continue reading “Sheer number of COVID-19 cases has health care system struggling”

Annexation fight: Strong signature counts in all areas as deadline passes, wait starts for final tally

The close of the business day on Thursday marked an end to the 90-day period of remonstration against the decision by Bloomington’s city council in late September 2021 to annex seven separate territories into the city.

Remonstration means signing an official petition in opposition to annexation. On Thursday, the Monroe County auditor’s office had fresh signature numbers to report, as of Wednesday.

Based on those numbers, property owners in six of seven areas have a decent chance of blocking Bloomington’s annexation effort outright. In those six areas, more than 65 percent of property owners have submitted signatures. That’s the key threshold.

Here’s the breakdown: Area 1-A (73.83%); Area 1-B( 56.90%); Area 1-C (87.62%); Area 2 (80.44%); Area 3 (75.25%); Area 4 (71.74%); and Area 5 (68.13%)

The numbers reported on Thursday do not reflect the county auditor’s final determination. Any number of reasons could still cause the auditor, on further review, to conclude that a signature is not valid. Among the reasons: The signature a duplicate.

The auditor could also conclude that a remonstrance waiver attached to a property in connection with sewer service is valid, which would eliminate the signature from the count.

About the timeline for final counts, Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith told The B Square: “We know it won’t be any sooner than the third week of January.” That depends in part on how long some final back-and-forth takes between the auditor’s office and Bloomington’s city attorney.

But Smith said she would love for the signature validation process for all the areas to be wrapped up by the end of January. If not, she would like it to be done by mid-February. Continue reading “Annexation fight: Strong signature counts in all areas as deadline passes, wait starts for final tally”

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!”