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”

COVID-19 numbers continue steep climb as Monroe County and Bloomington take different paths after Supreme Court vax-or-test ruling

The number of positive COVID-19 cases across Indiana and in Monroe County has continued its steep rise.

The big case numbers form part of the background to Thursday’s U.S. Supreme ruling on the OSHA emergency temporary standard set forth by the Biden administration.

It’s the standard that includes a requirement for employers with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated or get tested weekly for the pandemic virus.

The Supreme Court ruling imposes a stay on the OSHA rule.

A 6–3 majority on the nation’s highest court agrees that OSHA’s mandate “exceeds its statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful,” which means that the majority thinks the plaintiffs in a lower federal court battle are likely to prevail.

Based on remarks from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton at Friday’s weekly news conference, it sounds like the city of Bloomington is going to stick with its implementation of the OSHA mandate, while a local lawsuit against the city plays out. Three city unions  filed a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington in Monroe County circuit court  over the city’s vax-or-test policy.

Based on an email message sent to department heads by a Monroe County staff attorney, Monroe County will hold off on enforcing its plan to conform with the OSHA mandate.  The email message states: “[D]epartment leaders are being asked to not enforce the additional requirements found in that particular policy.” The message continues, “Compliance with the local health order and other aspects of the County Continuity of Operations Plan is still expected.” Continue reading “COVID-19 numbers continue steep climb as Monroe County and Bloomington take different paths after Supreme Court vax-or-test ruling”

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”

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”

Day 1 for candidate filings in Monroe County: Some Hoosier Democrats, Republicans make it official

Publicly announced intentions and exploratory committees are one thing. Official candidate filings are another.

Wednesday was the first day when it was possible to declare an official candidacy for one of the state or county public offices up for election in 2022.

Election Central, at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington, was not exactly teeming with candidate filing activity through the day on Wednesday.

But by 4 p.m. when the building closed, a dozen and a half candidates had made their way through the doors to the building and on to the registration office, which was marked with signage indicating only “one person at a time” should enter. Continue reading “Day 1 for candidate filings in Monroe County: Some Hoosier Democrats, Republicans make it official”

Funbearable cold at 2022 Lake Monroe polar plunge after warm December

On Saturday morning at Lake Monroe’s Paynetown Recreation Area, with a steady rain falling out of a sky with low-hanging clouds and fog, right when the time ticked to 10 o’clock, about 50 people sprinted from the beach into the water.

Counting down the crowd to the appointed hour was Jeanice Chastain.

The group was led into the lake by a polar bear, in the form of Troy Chastain, who has donned the costume the last half dozen years.

The Chastains are organizers of the event, which runs under the banner of the Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge. Proceeds from the event go to the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington.

The New Year’s Day tradition this year wrapped up one of the warmest Decembers in the last 120 years in the Bloomington area, based on data maintained by NOAA Regional Climate Centers.

(More photos below.) Continue reading “Funbearable cold at 2022 Lake Monroe polar plunge after warm December”

COVID-19 update: Top Hoosier health official’s forecast of “very steep rise in cases” true just one day later

Kristina Box, the health commissioner for the state of Indiana, warned at a Wednesday news conference about the looming impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Box put it this way: “We expect to see a very steep rise in cases over the next several weeks.”

On Thursday, the update to the state’s dashboard for COVID-19 data showed the biggest number of reported cases for any day since the start of the pandemic about 22 months ago.

According to the dashboard data, across the state of Indiana, 12,004 positive cases were reported for Dec. 29. That’s 1.5 times the previous high of 8,436 on Dec. 2, 2020.

The 12,004 cases pushed the current 7-day rolling average of positive cases in the Hoosier state to 5,784. Up until Thursday’s update, the statewide rolling averages had been trending in the low- to mid-4,000s.

In Monroe County, the positive cases reported for Dec. 29 showed a similar spike. The 163 cases reported for Dec. 29 in Monroe County made for the second-highest total of the pandemic. The only day with a higher total was Sept. 10, 2020, when 235 positive tests were recorded.

Late in the day on Thursday, the city of Bloomington reported an additional eight employees had tested positive for the pandemic virus, which made for 36 cases in the month of December. That outpaced the previous monthly high of 22, which was recorded in December 2020.

The one statistic that has not shown a steep increase in late 2021 has been the number of deaths. In Monroe County, November this year saw 17 deaths due to COVID-19, compared to 16 in 2020.

In December last year, 60 people in Monroe County died of the pandemic virus, according to state department of health statistics. In December 2021 so far, Monroe County has seen 12 COVID-19 deaths, just one-fifth the number last year.

The figure will likely climb by at least a few cases, when the book is closed on December this year. That’s because the month has a couple days left, and  deaths are assigned to the date of the death, not the day it was reported. That means deaths that happen in late December, but are not reported until early January, will still be logged in the state’s dataset by their December date.

Hospitalizations, in contrast to deaths, have spiked right along with the number of confirmed positive cases.

As IU Health south central region president Brian Shockney put it at Thursday’s news conference of local Bloomington leaders: “We are beyond our bed capacity—if you want to talk about what was designated for inpatient beds. I think probably every hospital in the state is at that point as well.”

Shockney described how IU Health’s new hospital facility, on Bloomington’s east side near the SR-46 bypass, is designed to have flexible room configurations that allow the hospital to “flex” the space. Beds not designated for inpatients are being adapted for that use.

Shockney described some beds that are typically used for surgical patients—they would normally start and end their procedures there. Given that all except for emergency surgical procedures have been stopped, those rooms are now being used for COVID-19 patients, Shockney said.

Shockney closed out his remarks by asking that people keep their New Year’s gatherings small. “I’d like to ask you to keep your New Year’s celebration to those small groups and families where you’re being safe and stopping the spread of this virus.”

Shockney talked about the best way to honor those who have suffered with COVID-19, the healthcare and public health heroes, and those who have died. Shockney called on people to usher in 2022 in a “peaceful and respectful way, remembering the past and protecting our future.”

COVID-19 update: Confirmed cases, hospitalizations same level as last year, Holcomb looks for help convincing Hoosiers to get jabbed

At a Wednesday afternoon news conference, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb announced he had extended his emergency health order another month.

It allows local units of government to impose their own more restrictive regulations to try to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But the governor’s order does not itself include restrictions like a mask mandate.

Joining Holcomb at the news conference were Lindsay Weaver, the chief medical officer for Indiana’s department of health, and Kristina Box, the state’s health commissioner.

Box delivered a grim outlook at roughly the one-year mark for the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines in Indiana. “We once again are facing a very bleak situation with this pandemic. Our COVID-19 hospital census is at the highest level in an entire year,” Box said.

Despite the availability of the vaccine for a year, the situation now looks a lot like last year. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Confirmed cases, hospitalizations same level as last year, Holcomb looks for help convincing Hoosiers to get jabbed”

No salary change for Monroe County commissioners, as added increase fails on 0–5–1 vote by council

On Tuesday night, Monroe county councilors stood by the compensation for the three county commissioners that they had already approved on the last day of November as a part of the 2022 salary ordinance.

The already-adopted salary ordinance for 2022 specifies $48,886 for each of the three commissioners, which is $2,886 more than the amount they were paid in 2021.

Getting support from none of the six councilors present on Tuesday was a request from commissioners to increase their pay to $67,158, to match the compensation for some other elected county officials: assessor, recorder, and treasurer.

Continue reading “No salary change for Monroe County commissioners, as added increase fails on 0–5–1 vote by council”