2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther won’t pursue at-large seat

In a news release issued on Monday, Andrew Guenther announced his intent to end his exploratory committee, which he formed in mid-June to make a bid for Bloomington city council in 2023.

Photo included with Guenther’s June news release.

Guenther is quoted in the release saying, “After careful consideration of my current schedule, obligations, and personal health, I cannot in good conscience continue my campaign for Bloomington city council.”

Guenther’s statement continues, “The people of Bloomington deserve better than a part-time councilmember who cannot dedicate themselves fully to serving the public interest.”

Guenther is now a graduate student at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law and in the O’Neill School of Public & Environmental Affairs.

He is former chair of Bloomington’s environmental commission. Guenther has also served on Monroe County’s environmental commission and Bloomington’s board of housing quality appeals.

In 2019 Guenther ran for the District 2 city council seat as a Republican, but lost in the general election to Democrat Sue Sgambelluri. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther won’t pursue at-large seat”

Bloomington plan commission news: State’s highest court declines case on party affiliations for partisan-balanced boards

Chris Cockerham will remain a Bloomington plan commissioner. Andrew Guenther will not be installed to replace him.

From left: Chris Cockerham, Andrew Guenther

That’s because Indiana’s Supreme Court gave notice on Tuesday that it will not to hear an appeal that was requested in July by Guenther and former Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis.

In June of 2020, Guenther and Ellis had filed a lawsuit against Bloomington mayor John Hamilton over the rightful appointee to the Bloomington plan commission.

The key question of law in the case was this one: Is there a statutory requirement that a member of a partisan-balanced board or commission be affiliated with some party or other?

Guenther and Ellis said yes. Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton said no.

In a ruling that was issued in late May this year, a three-member panel of the court of appeals sided with Bloomington. The court of appeals decision reversed the initial ruling at the circuit court level, by special judge Erik Allen, who had decided the case in Ellis and Guenther’s favor.

The court of appeals said there is no requirement—that for someone to be appointed to a partisan-balanced board or commission, they have to be a member of some political party or other. That means someone who is unaffiliated with any party can be appointed to a partisan-balanced board.

Tuesday’s notification from the Supreme Court, that it won’t hear the case, means this spring’s court of appeals ruling will now stand. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission news: State’s highest court declines case on party affiliations for partisan-balanced boards”

Indiana Supreme Court gets petition to hear case on Bloomington plan commission appointment

Late Tuesday, a petition was filed with the Indiana Supreme Court, to hear a case involving the rightful appointee to fill a vacant seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

Filing the petition were former Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis, who is now vice chair, and Andrew Guenther, who at the time was affiliated with the Republican Party.

They say Guenther should now be sitting in the seat left vacant by Nick Kappas in January 2020, when Bloomington mayor John Hamilton chose not to reappoint him. Their claim is based on a state law that allows a party chair to make an appointment under certain circumstances. Ellis chose Guenther as his appointee.

The city of Bloomington’s position is that Chris Cockerham is the rightful appointee. Cockerham was the person Hamilton appointed. He has been serving for the last two years on the plan commission as the successor to Kappas.

Giving rise to the dispute is the statutory partisan balancing requirement for the five mayoral appointees to city plan commissions in the state of Indiana. No more than three of the five can be affiliated with the same political party.

Is there also a statutory requirement that plan commission appointees must be affiliated with some political party or other? That’s the key question of law at the heart of the case. Continue reading “Indiana Supreme Court gets petition to hear case on Bloomington plan commission appointment”

2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther forms committee for independent at-large run

Early Thursday morning, Andrew Guenther filed the paperwork required to create an exploratory committee for a Bloomington city council run in 2023.

Photo included with Guenther’s news release.

Guenther will be starting law school at Indiana University this fall. He holds an undergraduate degree from IU in public affairs, and is currently working on a masters degree.

Guenther is former chair of Bloomington’s environmental commission. He has also served on Monroe County’s environmental commission and Bloomington’s board of housing quality appeals.

In 2019 Guenther ran for the District 2 city council seat as a Republican, but lost in the general election to Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.

Compared to 2019, two things are different about a potential run next year. First, Guenther is considering a run as an independent candidate, unaffiliated with any political party. Guenther announced on Jan. 2, 2021 that he was no longer a member of the Republican Party.

A second difference is that Guenther would be a candidate for an at-large seat on the council.

The three at-large seats are elected citywide, which means candidate eligibility is based just on city residency. That removes from the equation any uncertainty related to the outcome of this year’s redistricting process—which will likely see some changes to the boundaries of the six council districts.

The current at-large councilmembers are: Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, and Matt Flaherty. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther forms committee for independent at-large run”

Court of appeals: Bloomington mayor’s pick for plan commission valid, not GOP county chair’s

In a ruling issued Friday morning, Indiana’s court of appeals reversed the decision of a lower court that found Andrew Guenther had been rightfully appointed to Bloomington’s plan commission seat in spring 2020 by then-chair of the Monroe County GOP William Ellis.

From left: Andrew Guenther, Nick Kappas, Chris Cockerham

The court of appeals found on a 3-0 vote that the lower court’s ruling was “clearly erroneous.”

[Opinion: Guenther v. Hamilton]

According to the ruling, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s appointment of Chris Cockerham to the contested seat was valid. Cockerham has been serving on Bloomington’s plan commission since his May 2020 appointment by Hamilton.

Reached by The B Square shortly after the ruling was released, Guenther indicated that he was not yet sure if an appeal to Indiana’s Supreme Court would be attempted.

The three-member panel on the court of appeals reduced the various questions of law that were in front of it to just one: For boards and commissions that have a partisan balancing requirement under Indiana state law, is it possible for an appointee to have no affiliation at all with any party?

Guenther and Ellis said no. The city of Bloomington and Hamilton said yes.

The court of appeals agreed with Bloomington and Hamilton.

Friday’s ruling says that the disputed statue should not be interpreted to mean that an appointee to a partisan-balance board or commission, like a plan commission, must have some partisan affiliation or other.

The central question about the lack of party affiliation did not involve either Guenther or Cockerham. It was undisputed that the seat in question could not be filled by a Democrat, because three of the five plan commission seats appointed by the mayor were already filled with Democrats. Continue reading “Court of appeals: Bloomington mayor’s pick for plan commission valid, not GOP county chair’s”

Stay granted: GOP pick for Bloomington plan commission won’t be seated pending appeal

Andrew Guenther will not be serving as a Bloomington plan commissioner—at least not for the next several months—even though a mid-November order from special judge Erik Allen installed him in a plan commission seat effective immediately.

From left: Chris Cockerham and Andrew Guenther.

On Monday morning, Allen granted a request
from the city of Bloomington for a stay of his November order, pending the appeal for which the city has given notice.

That means Chris Cockerham will continue serving on the Bloomington plan commission while the appeal is battled out in court.

The order granting the stay came the morning of the same day when the plan commission next meets—Monday at 5:30 p.m.

The stay means that it will be Cockerham, not Guenther, who appears in the Zoom videoconference square for the plan commission’s Monday night meeting.

The end of 2021 will mark the half-way point in the four-year term of the disputed plan commission seat. It is conceivable that the appeal could take up much of the remaining two years in the term.

It was in mid-2020 when the lawsuit over the plan commission seat was filed by Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis and Andrew Guenther. Continue reading “Stay granted: GOP pick for Bloomington plan commission won’t be seated pending appeal”

Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed

Bloomington’s plan commission is scheduled to convene a regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 13.

3-guenther kappas cockerham
From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

The meeting agenda  includes two residential projects—one on 3rd Street near the police station, and another at Johnson Creamery—which together could mean 179 additional bedrooms for Bloomington’s housing inventory.

Andrew Guenther won’t be helping to decide whether those projects are approved. That’s because the city of Bloomington has rejected Guenther’s claim to a plan commission seat, which is based on an attempted appointment by the Monroe County’s Republican Party chair, William Ellis.

Instead of Guenther, it will be Chris Cockerham serving in that seat on Monday. Cockerham is a Republican, who’s the choice of Bloomington’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton. Cockerham has already served for one meeting as plan commissioner, on June 8, which is what prompted a lawsuit.

A court hearing is now set for Aug. 5. If any part of the hearing goes Guenther’s way, it might not be Cockerham who serves in the seat for the next while. Guenther and Ellis are asking the court to keep Cockerham on the sidelines of any plan commission meetings, until the matter is resolved. Continue reading “Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed”

Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat

In the pending lawsuit over the rightful appointee to a city plan commission seat, the city of Bloomington filed a motion on Monday to have Andrew Guenther’s claim dismissed, based on the idea that Guenther lacks standing to file the lawsuit.

Guennther and Chris Cockerham Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 4.46.53 PM
Chris Cockerham (left) and  Andrew Guenther (right) have claims to the same seat on Bloomington’s plan commission. Cockerham, the mayoral appointment, is now serving on the commission. Guenther has filed suit challenging that appointment.

Bloomington’s claim that neither Guenther nor Republican county chair William Ellis have standing is based on Bloomington’s contention that even if the facts alleged by Guenther and Ellis are assumed to be true, they “are incapable of supporting relief.”

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Guenther and GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Guenther and Ellis say that Guenther is the rightful appointee to the seat, under Indiana state law, which says: “The county chair of the political party of the member whose term has expired shall make the appointment.”

Bloomington’s argument for dismissal hinges on the fact that “the member whose term has expired,” namely Nick Kappas, was not a Republican.

Continue reading “Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat”

Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat

On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed over the disputed seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

Guennther and Chris Cockerham Screen Shot 2020-06-08 at 4.46.53 PM
Chris Cockerham (left) took his seat on the plan commission on Monday night, as Andrew Guenther (right) asserted a claim to the seat in the Zoom video conference chat window. A lawsuit was filed on Tuesday over the seat.

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Andrew Guenther and Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Cockerham has already served as planning commissioner for one meeting, on Monday this week.

In mid-April, Ellis declared his right to make the appointment as chair of the Republican Party. The announcement from Ellis came after Hamilton for several weeks did not fill the vacancy that was left when Hamilton decided not to re-appoint Nick Kappas. Kappas’s term expired at the end of 2019.

How does Ellis argue that he has the authority as Monroe County GOP chair to make a plan commission appointment that’s normally made by the mayor? Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat”

Habitat for Humanity PUD, Trinitas site plan OK’d by Bloomington plan commission, as seat remains disputed

Bloomington’s plan commission gave approvals to two significant petitions at its Monday night meeting.

The first was a request to rezone about 12.5 acres just east of RCA Community Park, as part of a planned unit development (PUD), so that 70 single-family homes can be built there. As a rezoning, the PUD will now be considered by Bloomington’s city council.

The second petition was the final plan approval of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project proposed by Trinitas Development, for 39 acres nestled in the southeast corner of the I-69 and SR 45/46 interchange. The plan commission had previously recommended approval of the project’s rezoning. Bloomington’s city council agreed, on a unanimous vote in early March.

Monday’s meeting was Chris Cockerham’s first as plan commissioner since receiving an appointment from the city’s mayor, John Hamilton, to replace Nick Kappas, who served through the end of 2019, but was not re-appointed.

The fact that Cockerham’s seat is still disputed was evident from the message conveyed on Monday during the plan commission’s meeting by Andrew Guenther, using the chat feature of the Zoom videoconference platform, on which the meeting was conducted.

“On April 16th, 2020, in accordance with IC 36-1-8-10, Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis appointed me, Andrew Guenther, to the Bloomington Plan Commission,” Guenther wrote.

Guenther added, “Mr. Ellis and I make a final request today that Planning & Transportation, as well as the Plan Commission, deny Mr. Cockerham’s appointment and recognize myself, Andrew Guenther, as the legal and rightful appointee to the Bloomington Plan Commission.”

A lawsuit over the appointment could be filed as soon as Tuesday. Continue reading “Habitat for Humanity PUD, Trinitas site plan OK’d by Bloomington plan commission, as seat remains disputed”