Appeal of noise violation ticket, with some wrinkles, given routine denial by Bloomington

At its regular Tuesday meeting, Bloomington’s three-member board of public works denied an appeal by a resident for a noise violation ticket.

This scan is from a revised information packet provided to the Bloomington board of public works for its Jan. 3, 2022 meeting. (1) The social security number of the ticketed person was removed only after initial publication of the packet. (2) The fine amount was a part of the scan in the initial packet, but was added after the ticket was issued—which is standard practice.

That’s par for the course when a noise ordinance violation is appealed to the board—in part because the local law establishes a low and clear bar for what qualifies as an unreasonable noise.

Between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. any sound that is audible for a person with normal hearing, who is outside the premises where the sound is originating, counts as a violation.

The case heard on Tuesday included a couple of wrinkles. One was the delay between the issuance of the ticket and its appeal. The ticket was issued just after midnight on Aug. 21, 2022.

The three-month delay got some questions from board members at their work session, which was held an hour and a half before the regular meeting.

The other wrinkle did not get any board discussion: Included in the initial publication of the board’s meeting information packet was an image scan of the ticket, which featured the violator’s social security number (SSN).

Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act prohibits a public agency from releasing a SSN, unless it’s specifically required by a state or federal statute .

In a subsequent version of the meeting information packet, the social security number had been scrubbed from the image, not redacted with a more typical black box.

The citation was for excessive noise on Aug. 21 last year, in connection with a party in the 1300 block of North Washington Street. Continue reading “Appeal of noise violation ticket, with some wrinkles, given routine denial by Bloomington”

Property acquisition notebook: Appraisals of former Showers building, also done 3 years ago

Last Friday, the city of Bloomington issued a news release announcing a potential real estate purchase.

The city has made a $9.25-million offer to CFC Properties to buy the west part of the former Showers furniture factory building, which is home to city hall. While city hall has a Morton Street address, the other side of the building has the address 320 W. 8th Street.

CFC has accepted the offer, and after various due diligence activities are completed, the closing is expected no later than early next year. The process requires an approval from Bloomington’s city council.

The pending real estate purchase offers a window into some of the statutory requirements that apply to such deals. Continue reading “Property acquisition notebook: Appraisals of former Showers building, also done 3 years ago”

Bloomington wins dismissal of Perry Township trustee’s lawsuit over records about homeless encampment policy

The lawsuit filed last October by Perry Township trustee Dan Combs against the city of Bloomington for allegedly failing to provide records under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) has been dismissed.

The requested records involved implementation of policies related to homeless encampments.

On March 9, Monroe County circuit court judge Geoff Bradley issued his second order of dismissal, which ends the case. The first order to dismiss came late last year, but gave Combs a chance to file an amended complaint.

An amended complaint was filed, but did not fix the problems that Bloomington and the judge found with the original complaint. Continue reading “Bloomington wins dismissal of Perry Township trustee’s lawsuit over records about homeless encampment policy”

Township trustee sues city of Bloomington over records requests about displacement of homeless encampments

Perry Township trustee Dan Combs has filed a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington.

The suit demands that the city produce records related to decision making and the development of policies connected to displacement of homeless encampments in the last year.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday evening. By midday on Friday, the complaint with its exhibits had been uploaded to the state’s online court document system. The lawsuit was filed in Monroe County superior court.

The question of law is whether the city of Bloomington has met its obligations under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA), to response to records requests made by Combs, about the city’s homeless encampment policies, among other matters.

What prompted the records requests in the first place, from an elected township trustee, was an interest in understanding Bloomington’s decision making process related to homeless encampments, because of the potential impact that the city’s policies have on township government.

Combs, who is named as an individual plaintiff, and in his capacity as township trustee, told The B Square on Friday that the township board had approved going ahead with the litigation that has now been filed.

City attorney Mike Rouker responded to The B Square’s emailed inquiry about the lawsuit, by writing that the city does not comment on pending litigation. Continue reading “Township trustee sues city of Bloomington over records requests about displacement of homeless encampments”

Opinion: Bloomington is 52% serious about gun crime

In mid-February, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, and chief of police, Mike Diekhoff, among others, appeared at a press conference to present the city’s annual public safety report.

What is obviously missing from this chart?

The event was framed by Hamilton like this: “By sharing public data about the full range of public safety issues, we embrace accountability, …to identify persistent problems in order to address them transparently.”

One statistic reported in February was that 2020 showed a 52-percent increase, compared to 2019, in the number of cases where a gun was used to perpetrate a crime.

That’s a big jump.

Like other news outlets, The Square Beacon included that percentage figure in its report of the press conference.

Not long after The Square Beacon’s article was published, a reader asked: So what were the actual numbers of gun crimes each year? Long story short: Nobody seems to know.

Of course, the reader’s question was a fair one. It’s a question The Square Beacon should have asked without prodding from a reader.

After a phone call with the police records division, two formal records requests under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act, and email correspondence that included the legal department, the mayor, the deputy mayor, the city’s communications director, the president of the city council, and the chief of police, all of which stretched over about three months, the reader’s question remains unanswered.

Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington is 52% serious about gun crime”

Analysis: Bloomington’s new redistricting advisory commission

Last Wednesday (Dec. 16), at its last regular meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council approved the creation of a new redistricting commission that will in 2022 be responsible for making recommendations on boundaries for the six city council districts.

The idea of creating such a commission was uncontroversial. It was approved on a unanimous vote by the nine-member city council, which is made up of nine Democrats.

The new citizens advisory redistricting commission will also have nine members, but just three will be Democrats. In addition to the “delegation” of three Democratic Party affiliates, the ordinance also calls for a three-member Republican Party delegation and a three-member delegation of members who aren’t affiliated with either of the two major parties.

Each of the three delegations on the new commission has to include a full-time Indiana University student.

Council president Steve Volan wrote the ordinance. The slogan he gave in support of the basic concept of a redistricting commission was: “We shouldn’t be choosing our voters; they should be choosing their representatives.” Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington’s new redistricting advisory commission”

Column: Indiana’s public access counselor opinion shows Bloomington’s city council has a transparency problem

On June 10 this year, Bloomington’s city council decided to hire then-deputy council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas to replace the retiring Dan Sherman. Lucas had been serving as Sherman’s deputy for about nine months.

Just after the meeting when the council voted to hire Lucas, The Square Beacon filed a request under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for an email message described during the meeting by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

The email message, from council president Steve Volan to the other eight councilmembers, was described as including the dollar figure for a proposed salary, and the logic supporting that level of compensation.

The city council provided the email to The Square Beacon, but redacted a substantial portion of it.

Responding to a formal complaint by The Square Beacon, Indiana’s public access counselor has recently issued an opinion that says, “[T]he email, if at all a factor in the decision, should be made public. This is even more so when the email was teased during a public meeting.” The email clearly factored into the council’s decision to hire Lucas at the proposed salary.

The opinion continues: “As a deliberative body, it certainly seems disingenuous to argue that documented deliberative material is off limits when those materials are referenced in a public meeting.”

The opinion also notes that the APRA provides the basis for a potential lawsuit against the city council: “There is indeed a cause of action for arbitrary or capricious exercise of discretion in withholding public records. The Council will be well served being mindful of this going forward.”

In light of the public access counselor’s opinion, the city council finally produced the un-redacted email message.

Based on the un-redacted email, among the facts that the city council tried to shield from public view was a choice not to follow the advice of the human resources department in setting a salary range. The salary range suggested by human resources, as reported by Volan’s email, looks like it was about $10,000 lower than the one used by the council. Continue reading “Column: Indiana’s public access counselor opinion shows Bloomington’s city council has a transparency problem”