Video screen inside the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center, showing visitors where proceedings are taking place for the day.
Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center at 7th Street and College Avenue.
Room 313 at the north end of the second floor hallway, where Friday’s proceeding was held.
At the end of a Friday hearing that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, special judge Nathan Nikirk did not issue a ruling in the case that remonstrators against Bloomington’s annexation have brought to the court.
Friday’s hearing involved the remonstrators in Area 1A and Area 1B, who collected signatures from more than 50 percent of land owners, which was enough to qualify for judicial review, but fell short of the 65 percent threshold that would have stopped annexation outright.
Area 1A is just west of Bloomington. Area 1B lies to the southwest.
Remonstrators in those two areas are asking that the judge grant them additional time for signature collection, under a state statute that provides certain emergency powers. [IC 34-7-6-1] The emergency in question is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the fact that the judge didn’t issue a ruling on Friday, based on the clarification that Nikirk requested from both sides during the hearing, his eventual decision could depend on the interpretation of the word “proceeding” as used in the statute on emergency powers. Nikirk wanted both sides to lay out how they understand the concept of “proceeding” under that statute.
The statute refers to the emergency powers as applying to a “proceeding…pending before a court, a body, or an official, that exists under the constitution or laws of Indiana.”
At the end of the hearing, Nikirk asked both sides to prepare proposed orders on the question by Jan. 6, 2023.
Winning unanimous approval from Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night was a resolution that expresses support for the extension of Bloomington Transit (BT) bus service outside the city limits, to Daniels Way.
The turn off 3rd Street to Daniels Way is about three quarters of a mile west of the city limits. New bus service north on Daniels Way, to make a loop around Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, and other employers, would mean extending the route something like a mile and a half.
Wednesday’s resolution expresses intent for the council eventually to make the necessary approvals for service outside the city, but itself has no legal impact.
The resolution’s sole sponsor on the city council, Steve Volan, sees the resolution as “removing a source of doubt for the mayor and for all of our county colleagues” about the city council’s willingness to do “its part” to make public bus service outside the city limits possible.
In a June 6 court filing, remonstrators in Bloomington annexation Area 1A and Area 1B have argued for additional time to collect remonstrance signatures against the city council’s annexation ordinances, which were approved in September 2021.
The remonstrators’ basic argument stems from the fact that the COIVD-19 pandemic had caused Indiana governor Eric Holcomb to issue an emergency health order, which covered the time for signature collection.
The original 90-day window for remonstrance closed on Jan. 6 of this year (2022).
Area 1A is just west of Bloomington. Area 1B lies to the southwest.
In Area 1A and Area 1B, property owners in each area separately achieved remonstrance signatures from more than 50 percent of property owners, but less than 65 percent, according to the county auditor’s certified results. If signatures from 65 percent of property owners had been collected, that would have meant an automatic stop to Bloomington’s annexations of the two areas, without review by a court. But achieving 50 percent meant that Bloomington’s annexation ordinances for those areas were able to get a review by a court.
Listed as defendants are Bloomington’s city council, the city of Bloomington, John Hamilton in his official capacity as mayor of Bloomington, and Catherine Smith in her official capacity as auditor of Monroe County.
The two areas that will now get scrutiny by a circuit court judge are 1A just to the west of Bloomington and Area 1B to the southwest.
Based on the auditor’s certified results, remonstrance efforts in five of the seven areas have succeeded outright, because more than 65 percent of property owners signed a remonstrance petition.
More than 65 percent of property owners signed remonstrance petitions in the following territories: Area 1C (71.43 percent); Area 2 (71.98 percent); Area 3 (66.67 percent); Area 4 (70.79 percent); and Area 5 (66.67 percent).
Bloomington’s annexation ordinances for those five areas, enacted by the city council in the third week of September 2021, are automatically stopped under the auditor’s certified results.
The final tally from Monroe County’s side of the remonstration process is not required until around the end of February.
Even the numbers in Bloomington’s Tuesday news release can’t be considered the city’s final view of how many valid remonstrance signatures have been submitted. An early version of the city’s news release included a mistake that was chalked up to a typo in a spreadsheet formula.
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.
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.