Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond

A week ago, up at Miller-Showers Park, a flock of Canada geese banked overhead and came in for a landing on the southernmost stormwater detention pond.

The surface was half frozen, because a couple days before the temperature had dropped to –8 F.

As elegant as geese appear in flight formation, on landing they do not make a picture of grace. They sort of wobble along the final approach, webbed feet akimbo, before mostly crashing into the water.

But they were, of course, unscathed. They started cruising around, dabbling for whatever aquatic plants were under the surface.

That’s somewhat like how local government works: It’s elegant and smooth in theory, but when it lands on some particular topic near you, it might look a little clumsy. You might get splashed.

Where will Bloomington’s area local government land in 2023? Here’s a roundup of spots that is surely not exhaustive. Continue reading “Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond”

Next year’s first ruling on a Bloomington annexation lawsuit could depend on meaning of “proceeding”

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.

Nikirk’s ruling on the question of a time extension will by no means settle the question of whether annexation happens, either in Area 1A or Area 1B, or the other areas, which are also subject to pending litigation. Continue reading “Next year’s first ruling on a Bloomington annexation lawsuit could depend on meaning of “proceeding””

Public buses outside Bloomington: City council goes on record in support, if county govt pays extra cost

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 route shown in purple was proposed as part of the recommendations from Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning in June 2019 to optimize Bloomington Transit’s routes.

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.

Under state law, to do “its part,” the city council would have to approve any extension of public bus service outside of city limits. Continue reading “Public buses outside Bloomington: City council goes on record in support, if county govt pays extra cost”

Latest filing in Bloomington annexation case: Remonstrators ask for more time due to ”pestilence”

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.

The June 6 court papers include a response to the city of Bloomington’s previous motion  on the same topic. Bloomington asked the court to disallow any extension of time to collect more signatures.

The lawsuit involving Area 1A and Area 1B is separate from the lawsuits initiated by Bloomington, one for each annexation area, filed against various parties, based in part on the idea that many of the remonstrance signatures come from property owners who had previously waived their right to remonstrate.

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.

The idea of an extension for more time to collect signatures is not new—it was a part of the original complaint filed by remonstrators in mid-March.

But now, the arguments on either side for and against an extension are starting to get fleshed out. A hearing is currently set for July 29 in front of judge Nathan Nikirk. Continue reading “Latest filing in Bloomington annexation case: Remonstrators ask for more time due to ”pestilence””

Bloomington launches salvo of lawsuits over remonstrance waivers, one for each area

On Tuesday, Bloomington filed seven separate lawsuits as part of its effort to complete the annexations of seven different territories into the city—one lawsuit for each annexation area.

image of the title page from one of Bloomington's lawsuits

All seven lawsuits appear to be essentially identical. They focus on the question of remonstrance waivers.

Such waivers are legal documents signed by a property owner giving up the right to remonstrate against annexation, in consideration of the ability to purchase sewer service from the city.

The city of Bloomington’s legal position is that any such waivers are valid, despite a 2019 law that invalidated all such waivers signed before July 1, 2003.

The lawsuits filed on Tuesday were expected. And their disposition will be decisive for the remonstrance efforts that were made in each of the seven areas.

The reason the status of the waivers is crucial is that they make the difference between completely successful and completely failed remonstrance efforts in some areas, based on the county auditor’s certified results. Continue reading “Bloomington launches salvo of lawsuits over remonstrance waivers, one for each area”

Court action filed by property owners in two territories opposing Bloomington’s annexations

A couple dozen property tax payers spread across two of Bloomington’s annexation areas have now filed a legal action  under state law to void the ordinances that were enacted by the city council in the third week of September 2021.

The complaint, filed in the Monroe circuit court on Wednesday afternoon, lists 24 plaintiffs.

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.

The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the Bunger & Robertson law firm. Continue reading “Court action filed by property owners in two territories opposing Bloomington’s annexations”

5 of 7 Bloomington annexation attempts thwarted, according to county auditor’s certified results

Late Wednesday afternoon, Monroe County auditor Cathy Smith released her final certified results of the remonstrance petitions for seven separate annexation efforts by the city of Bloomington.

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.

But the city of Bloomington will almost certainly challenge the results, because those percentages depend on discounting some of the remonstrance waivers attached to the properties. Continue reading “5 of 7 Bloomington annexation attempts thwarted, according to county auditor’s certified results”

Annexation update: Bloomington’s count of signatures points to potential success of some remonstrance efforts, looming litigation

Property owners in three so-called island areas inside Bloomington, which Bloomington’s city council decided to annex last year, might have mounted successful remonstrance efforts that will leave nothing to argue about in court.

It’s far from settled, but that’s one takeaway from the numbers provided in a city of Bloomington news release that was issued on Tuesday morning.

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.

The news release includes numbers of remonstrance signatures the city has received from the Monroe County auditor. Also included is a breakdown of how many signatures are subject to a remonstrance waiver older than 15 years, and how many are subject to a remonstrance waiver less than 15 years old. A remonstrance waiver is a signed document that gives up the right of a property owner to remonstrate against annexation, in exchange for the ability to hook up to the city’s sewer system. Continue reading “Annexation update: Bloomington’s count of signatures points to potential success of some remonstrance efforts, looming litigation”

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”

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”