After lead paint fallout, Bloomington fire chief sets policy on controlled burning of a house: “We will not be doing that in the future.”

Another controlled burning of an “acquired structure” like the house at 1213 High Street on Bloomington’s east side will not take place while Jason Moore is the city’s fire chief.

In this B Square file photo from July of 2021, fire chief Jason Moore addresses the new class of firefighter recruits.

Burning the High Street house to the ground on Friday Nov. 5—after three previous days of live fire training inside the house—caused a plume of lead-based paint chips and ash to cover a portion of the neighborhood to the west.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s board of public safety, Moore described the balance of benefits from the training compared to the risk. “We did receive some very valuable training out of this, but it’s not worth the risk,” Moore said.

The fire chief continued, “So I can assure everyone that as the chief of the department, we will not be doing that in the future.”

Immediately after the conflagration caused the lead-contaminated plume to settle on his neighborhood, councilmember Dave Rollo started mulling city legislation against such training fires.

On Tuesday, Moore addressed those city councilmembers, including Rollo, who were tuned in for the board of public safety meeting, which was held as a Zoom video-conference. “With or without that legislation, I can assure you that we do not intend to conduct another controlled burning in an acquired structure again,” Moore said.

The board’s Tuesday meeting was also a chance for Moore to give some updates on the extent of the hazard, progress on the clean up, the cost of the work, and some specific direction to residents.

Some of the information provided by Moore at Tuesday’s board meeting was included in a Monday news release or on a page on the city’s website dedicated to the lead ash fallout from the Nov. 5 controlled burn on High Street. Continue reading “After lead paint fallout, Bloomington fire chief sets policy on controlled burning of a house: “We will not be doing that in the future.””

Bloomington residents get some updates on leaden ashfall from fire department training

Keep children and pets away from the ash and burned paint chips that fell out of the smoke plume from a fire that Bloomington’s fire department set at 1213 High Street on Friday.

That’s the advice that local health officials gave last Friday about the ash from the plume.

It’s the same advice that was relayed by the fire department in a news release this Wednesday.  On Friday, the fire department burned the house to the ground, after conducting a week-long series of training exercises involving smaller fires, each of which were extinguished.

The ash and burned paint chips are now confirmed by independent tests to contain lead. That’s consistent with the testing that’s been done on pieces of trim from the vintage 1951 house that was burned.

The light breeze on Friday took the ash westward.

Matt Murphy, who lives about two-tenths of a mile west of the burn site, did the first tests for lead, using an over-the-counter kit from 3M. Murphy tested the ash almost immediately after it started landing on his property. He’s a contractor and knew exactly where to buy the kits—Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper. Continue reading “Bloomington residents get some updates on leaden ashfall from fire department training”

2022 budget OK’d by Bloomington council on 9–0 vote

On Wednesday night, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s roughly $107 million budget for 2022 was approved on a unanimous vote of the city council.

Two weeks ago some city councilmembers had threatened to vote against it.

After expressing discontent with the mayor’s 2022 budget at their Oct. 13 meeting, and before voting on it, councilmembers had recessed their meeting until this Wednesday.

Approval of next year’s budget came five days ahead of a statutory deadline, which makes Nov. 1 the last day it can be adopted.

Under state law, if the deadline for adoption had been missed, Bloomington would have had to get through 2022 with the same tax rate and levy as specified in the 2021 budget. That would have meant $1.2 million less in general fund revenue than was called for in Hamilton’s 2022 budget.

Hamilton’s 2022 budget fell short of councilmember expectations in two areas—police pay and climate action.

But in remarks explaining their support for the budget, councilmembers pointed to some positive movement on Hamilton’s part that they discerned in the administration’s news release from the day before. Continue reading “2022 budget OK’d by Bloomington council on 9–0 vote”

Column: Bloomington city council needs to shift out of park, into legislative gear

Bloomington’s city councilmembers want mayor John Hamilton’s administration to make policy choices that are consistent with the community’s values. And they want to see those choices reflected in the annual budget.

Otherwise put, Bloomington’s city council is like any other city council in America.

It’s a reasonable and normal expectation for the legislative branch of local government that the budget will be a reflection of local community priorities.

And that’s why the annual budget is the most important legislation considered by the city council every year.

But the budget is not the only piece of legislation that the city council could take up in the course of a calendar year. The legislative body does not need to wait for the administration to propose the annual budget or any other law.

Bloomington’s city council has, on occasion, proven that it’s aware of its own ability to originate new local laws.

For example, when some councilmembers determined that prohibiting turns on red lights at several additional downtown intersections would improve pedestrian safety, they initiated a traffic ordinance and worked with the city staff to get the details right. It was enacted as local law by the city council in early April.

But shifting itself out of park and into legislative gear is not an approach that appears to be favored by the council.

And that’s too bad.

On the upside, during budget season, some councilmembers seem to have sorted out a good answer to this question: What’s the clearest way to signal to the mayor what a majority of city councilmembers think? Take an actual vote. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington city council needs to shift out of park, into legislative gear”

Arts groups cheer Bloomington mayor’s news on Waldron: “While the pandemic has stalled us, it has not killed us.”

A Saturday rally on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington, to support city government funding of the arts, had a celebratory feel.

The feeling was based on the boost that arts groups heard in remarks from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, which were delivered on Thursday.

Thursday’s announcement from Hamilton committed to several of the recommendations in a task force report on the use of the old city hall building at 4th and Walnut streets. The report had been released two weeks earlier (May 6).

The building, which is known as The Waldron, is short for the John Waldron Arts Center. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Courthouse Square Historic District.

Earlier this year, Ivy Tech let the building’s ownership revert back to the city.

Hamilton delivered his Thursday remarks inside the lobby area of The Waldron. One of Hamilton’s announcements that drew applause was the investment of $515,000 in needed infrastructure repairs to the building.

That’s an amount that includes not just the $264,000 in “critical” infrastructure needs listed in the task force’s report, but also $251,000 in “lower priority” items that some in the arts community consider to be essential.

Saturday’s rally, organized by Arts Forward Bloomington, was announced on Monday. The mayor’s Thursday event was announced the following day. Continue reading “Arts groups cheer Bloomington mayor’s news on Waldron: “While the pandemic has stalled us, it has not killed us.””

Contested Bloomington plan commission seat goes to Sandberg

On Wednesday at its first meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council decided on a 5–4 vote that Susan Sandberg, not Isabel Piedmont-Smith, would serve as its appointment to the city plan commission in 2021.

It was a night when the council settled on a raft of appointments of its own members to various boards and commissions.

That included the appointment of Sandberg to the city plan commission. She’s served on the nine-member group for the last couple of years.

Sandberg’s appointment to the plan commission was the only one that required a vote of the council to settle the question of which councilmember would serve. A couple of other competing councilmember interests were resolved when one deferred to the other.

Voting for Sandberg to serve on plan commission were: Sandberg, Dave Rollo, Jim Sims, Sue Sgambelluri, and Ron Smith. Voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

The plan commission this year will be in the political spotlight probably by the end of January, when it takes up the question of zone map revisions and proposed text amendments to the UDO.

Continue reading “Contested Bloomington plan commission seat goes to Sandberg”

COVID-19 impact: 2021 budget previewed by Bloomington mayor shows more expenses than revenues

Single Bar Barchart of City Budget 2021 preview
Re: the gray bar. A detailed breakdown of proposed major categories of expenses has not yet been released for the proposed 2021 Bloomington budget.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget will be presented by city department heads next week in four sessions that will take place over successive nights, starting Monday.  [Updated at 1:22 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2020. The proposed budget has now been posted to the city’s website.]

During Friday’s media preview of his proposed budget for next year, Hamilton reflected on this year’s numbers compared to the four budgets he presented in his first term as mayor. “This is my first non-balanced budget,” Hamilton said, “meaning the expenses are higher than the projected revenues.”

Controller Jeff Underwood was on the conference call, so Hamilton was quick to clarify, “in case Jeff falls out of his chair” that the city has sufficient revenues plus reserves to pay for the budget.

Hamilton is proposing to spend $4 million of reserves, in order to maintain basic services and to pay for a collection of initiatives to stimulate the local economy that he is calling “Recover Forward.” The first phase of that set of initiatives was approved by Bloomington’s city council last Wednesday as a roughly $2 million appropriation. Continue reading “COVID-19 impact: 2021 budget previewed by Bloomington mayor shows more expenses than revenues”

Bloomington city council votes to offer staff job to current deputy without a search

cropped 11-19-2019 sherman and company IMG_0415
City clerk Nicole Bolden, deputy administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas, and administrator/attorney Dan Sherman confer during a procedural debate by the city council in November last year. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Wednesday, Bloomington city councilmembers voted 9-0 to make an offer to Stephen Lucas to assume the role of council attorney/administrator on Aug. 1.

That’s the day after Dan Sherman retires from the job, after around 30 years of service. Lucas is Sherman’s current deputy.

Council president Steve Volan and and vice president Jim Sims were tapped by their council colleagues to sort out the details with Lucas, assuming he accepts the offer. When asked by councilmembers, Lucas had indicated his interest in the upcoming open position. Continue reading “Bloomington city council votes to offer staff job to current deputy without a search”

Column: Bloomington’s city council should increase Jack Hopkins social services budget for 2021

The headline to this column could provoke a reflexive response from longtime Bloomington city councilmembers. As a matter of law, they’ll say, it’s not up to them, but rather the mayor to increase the budget for Jack Hopkins social services.
Annotated R Bar Chart History of Jack Hopkins Funding 2020 Apps

From a legal point of view, I think they might be wrong.

But all nine city councilmembers and the mayor are members of the Democratic Party. So even if they’re right on the legal question, partisanship works in their favor.

Without confronting any of the typical partisan barriers that some cities might face, Bloomington’s elected officials could fund more social services.

At least a 10-percent increase in Jack Hopkins social services funding is achievable for the 2021 budget, even assuming no additional revenue.
Continue reading “Column: Bloomington’s city council should increase Jack Hopkins social services budget for 2021”

Opinion: It’s time to rethink closed door caucuses for Indiana city councils

caucus closed doorA 1980 article in the Valparaiso University Law Review states that the political party caucus exemption in the Open Door Law (ODL) here in the state of Indiana is “a major potential weakness in the act, and is virtually impossible to police.”

The same article mentions that there have been few problems with the caucus at the local level, either because it is not abused or else is used discretely enough to avoid criticism.

At lot has happened since 1980. But the law review article also mentions, as a point of curiosity, that up to that point there had been “few complaints by the press.”

Consider this column to be a complaint by the press. Continue reading “Opinion: It’s time to rethink closed door caucuses for Indiana city councils”