Bloomington city council wants research on possible ouster of traffic commissioner for social media posts

At last Wednesday’s city council meeting, several speakers during general public commentary time objected to the previous week’s re-appointment of Greg Alexander to the city’s traffic commission.

The commission is an an advisory board that, among other things, recommends to the city council and other city officials ways to improve traffic conditions and the enforcement of traffic regulations.

After public commentary time was finished, council president Sue Sgambelluri said, “We are in conversation with our attorney administrator, Mr. [Stephen] Lucas, and have asked him to research possible steps forward.”

Those steps forward could include an effort to remove Alexander from the traffic commission pursuant to Bloomington’s local code.

Local law says the city council can “for cause” remove a council appointee to a board or commission. The definition of “cause” is specific only for one kind of infraction—excessive absences. But it leaves room for other reasons: “Cause shall include, but not be limited to, failure to attend three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings of the board, commission, or council…”

A legal question that Lucas will be researching is whether councilmembers can remove Alexander, based on the kind of statements he has posted to the Twitter social media platform. Continue reading “Bloomington city council wants research on possible ouster of traffic commissioner for social media posts”

Monroe County sheriff on racist graffiti in jail cells: “When I see that word…I cannot move slow.”

“It looks like that’s not even the United States of America.”

That was Monroe County’s new jail commander Kyle Gibbons talking about a photograph he had displayed for Monday’s meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC). It was from a slide deck he’d prepared, in order to show committee members conditions inside the jail when he took over at the start of the year.

In the photo, a pitcher of water had been placed on the floor outside a cell door. Jail staff were using it as a stop gap to give inmates water on request—because the water wasn’t working in the cell at the time.

Gibbons told committee members, “The staff was just trying to make sure people had water. …They were trying to ensure that everybody had access to basic human rights.”

But the color of the water inside the pitcher looked sketchy enough that county councilor Peter Iversen asked Gibbons, “That’s drinkable water?!” The glum reply from Gibbons: “That’s drinkable water.”

Monday’s slide deck was a visual followup to oral presentations that Gibbons has given to county commissioners and county councilors in the last couple of weeks.

The visuals he presented on Monday appeared to have a sobering impact on committee members. Continue reading “Monroe County sheriff on racist graffiti in jail cells: “When I see that word…I cannot move slow.””

Committee on jail’s future gets tweaks, commander says: “We have an obligation to people here now.”

In December, Bloomington’s city council unanimously rejected a rezone request for some land in the southwestern tip of the city, where county commissioners had proposed building a new jail.

But planning for the possible construction of a new Monroe County jail continues—as a response to the reports from two consultants delivered to county government 18 months ago. As one of the reports puts it: “The jail facility is failing…”

Still set for Monday (Jan. 23) is the next meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC). That’s the group that was established by county commissioners to address the problems highlighted in the consultants’ reports.

Even as work continues on planning for the future of Monroe County’s jail, sheriff Ruben Marté’s jail commander, Kyle Gibbons, has addressed both the county council and county commissioners at recent meetings of those elected bodies. His basic message: “We have an obligation to people here now.” Continue reading “Committee on jail’s future gets tweaks, commander says: “We have an obligation to people here now.””

Advisory committee on Monroe County jail hits rough road trying to find common ground

Outside on the Monroe County courthouse lawn, before Monday’s meeting of the community justice reform committee (CJRC), members of a group called “Care Not Cages” held what they described as a block party—in opposition to construction of a new jail.

At the CJRC meeting itself, members were frank in airing their disappointment about the way the two representatives from the board of county commissioners have approached the work of making recommendations on addressing problems at the jail.

The facility has been described in a consultant’s report as “failing.”

The 14-member CJRC includes county councilors, judges, the sheriff, representatives from the prosecutor’s office, public defenders office, and the county health administrator, among others.

Drawing specific criticism on Monday was the lack of advance information given by commissioners to CJRC members about a trip they took last week to Arizona, to visit correctional facilities there.

Continue reading “Advisory committee on Monroe County jail hits rough road trying to find common ground”

AFSCME pay increases of 5% to 18% in first year OK’d by Bloomington city council in 2023 salary ordinance

The recently approved four-year collective bargaining agreement between the city of Bloomington and its AFSCME union is now covered in the city’s salary ordinance.

At its final meeting of the year, on Dec. 21, Bloomington’s city council approved a change to the salary ordinance that sets pay for city employees next year.

The acronym for the union name stands for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union includes workers in utilities, the street and fleet divisions of public works, parks and recreation, sanitation, and the animal shelter, among others.

It’s AFSCME workers who plow the snow, salt the streets and empty the trash carts that residents set out every week.

Based on a comparison of the new AFSCME contract with the previous four-year agreement , in the first year of the new accord, there’s a pay increase for union members that ranges from 5 percent to about 18 percent, depending on the position. [2023-2026 AFSCME contract] [2019-2022 AFSCME contract]

In the second year of the new contract, the pay increase is 5 percent. In the final two years of the contract, which runs from 2023 through 2026, the pay increase is 3.1 percent.

The city council’s action came on a 9–0 vote taken at its Dec. 21 meeting.

The council’s action did not approve the contract—that step had already been completed through negotiations between the union and Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration. The council’s action just put the requirements of the contract into local law. Continue reading “AFSCME pay increases of 5% to 18% in first year OK’d by Bloomington city council in 2023 salary ordinance”

Bloomington Transit OKs 5-year deal, will get $3.8 million annually from city’s local income tax

Bloomington Transit will receive at least $3.8 million a year for the next five years from the city of Bloomington, under an interlocal agreement approved by BT’s five-member board at its final meeting of the year, on Dec. 20.

The agreement still needs to win approval from Bloomington’s city council.

The deal is expected to appear on a city council meeting agenda sometime in January, based on remarks from BT general manager John Connell at last week’s board meeting.

The money is coming from the increase to the local income tax that was approved by the city council in May of 2022.

The big initiative that the money is supposed to help fund is an east-west crosstown express route.

Some other specific initiatives that the money is supposed to pay for include: implementation of Sunday service in the first quarter of 2023; enhancement of the paratransit microtransit services; increasing frequency of weekday service; and development of a ridership subsidy program.

The new transit initiatives come as BT is clawing back ridership on its regular fixed route service, after a big drop when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit OKs 5-year deal, will get $3.8 million annually from city’s local income tax”

Rezone for new county jail denied by Bloomington city council, with calls to include city in planning

This past Wednesday (Dec. 21), Bloomington’s city council denied a request from the county government to rezone an 87-acre parcel in the southwestern tip of the city, so that it could be used for a new county jail.

That city council’s denial came on a unanimous vote. The outcome matched the recommendation from the city plan commission, which had voted 6–3 in mid-November against the rezone.

The city council’s representative to the plan commission, Ron Smith, voted in favor of the rezone as a plan commissioner, but against it as a city councilmember.

The specific request was to change the zoning of the land on Fullerton Pike from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI). Use of the property as a jail would not be allowed under ME, but could be allowed under MI. A jail is a “conditional use” under MI zoning.

The council’s vote came a few minutes before midnight, after about three hours of deliberation, which included about a dozen public commenters, who spoke against the rezone, and generally against the idea of building a new jail.

A couple of public comments were made in favor of the rezone.

For councilmembers, their main land use concern appeared to be the distance from the center of the city to the site and the lack of transportation access. The road that is to be built is not yet completed, and there is not currently any public bus service to the location.

But at least as big a question as land use was the dissatisfaction that councilmembers expressed about the failure to include city officials in the community justice response committee (CJRC).

That’s the group that is making recommendations on how to respond to the work of two consultants, who delivered two studies of Monroe County’s criminal justice system, which were delivered 18 months ago, in June 2021. Continue reading “Rezone for new county jail denied by Bloomington city council, with calls to include city in planning”

Bloomington nixes zoning request for new jail, puts off purchase of Showers building as police HQ

The purchase of the western part of the Showers building, which also houses city hall, won’t be decided by Bloomington’s city council until next year.

But in a separate action on Wednesday night, the council did effectively decide that the site of a new Monroe County jail will not be the county government’s first choice, which was an 87-acre piece of land in the southwestern corner of Bloomington.

On a 7–2 vote on Wednesday night, the city council postponed consideration of the $8.75-million Showers building purchase, which would be made by the Bloomington redevelopment commission, if the council approves the deal. Dissenting on the postponement were Matt Flaherty and Jim Sims.

On Jan. 18, 2023, the council will again take up the question of buying the western part of the Showers building, to serve as the city’s main police station, and fire department’s administrative headquarters.

It was on a 0–9 vote, taken just a few minutes before midnight on Wednesday, that the council denied the county government’s rezone request for the 87-acre parcel in the southwestern corner of the city so that a new jail could be constructed there. Continue reading “Bloomington nixes zoning request for new jail, puts off purchase of Showers building as police HQ”

Bloomington city council supports CIB for convention center, but county ordinance likely needs redoing

By a vote of 8-1 at its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council passed a resolution of support for establishing a capital improvement board (CIB) to serve as the governance structure for an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.

Dissenting on the vote was Kate Rosenbarger, who expressed frustration with the amount of time the council was given to consider the issue, as well as some skepticism about the need for additional convention space.

A CIB is a seven-member group that under state law can be established by county commissioners as a public body,  which makes it subject to Indiana’s laws on public meetings and access to records.

Under state law, a CIB can acquire real estate, build improvements, collect money and hire employees, among other things.

Instead of a CIB, mayor John Hamilton’s administration favors a 501(c)(3) nonprofit as the governance structure for a convention center expansion.

In a public statement released on Tuesday before the council’s Wednesday meeting, Hamilton restated that position.  Hamilton is quoted in the statement saying about a CIB “I will not endorse launching a process that I don’t believe will bring the result our community wants and deserves…”

At the city council’s Wednesday meeting, Bloomington public engagement director Mary Catherine Carmichael repeated the administration’s preference for a 501(c)(3) model. The following day, the administration announced Carmichael’s appointment as deputy mayor, to succeed Don Griffin, who has resigned effective at the end of the year in order to run for mayor.

The mayor’s current opposition to a CIB means the ordinance approved by county commissioners on Nov. 9, which established a CIB, will likely be void, unless there’s a dramatic reversal before the end of the year.

The ordinance establishes a CIB only if the city council and mayor agree to the terms in the ordinance. Continue reading “Bloomington city council supports CIB for convention center, but county ordinance likely needs redoing”

Crossley breaks with other Monroe County officials on new jail choice

The site of a proposed new county jail was revealed at the end of July, when Monroe County commissioners gave approval of a $10-million real estate deal, for about 87 acres off Fullerton Pike in the southwest corner of Bloomington.

But Monday night’s meeting of Monroe County’s community justice reform committee (CJRC) seemed to dissipate a bit of the momentum for the decision to try to build a new jail at that location.

County councilor Jennifer Crossley stated: “I no longer feel comfortable with the Fullerton Pike property.”

In August, Crossley had joined the other six county councilors in voting to approve the terms and conditions for the purchase of the Fullerton Pike land. The deal required approval from county commissioners and county councilors.

Crossley’s statement on Monday is the second recent snag that the new jail proposal has hit.

In mid-November, Bloomington’s plan commission voted to send a rezone request for the Fullerton Pike property to the city council with a recommendation not to approve it. The purchase of the property is contingent on the rezone, because under the parcel’s current zoning, a jail can’t be built there. Continue reading “Crossley breaks with other Monroe County officials on new jail choice”