On Wednesday night, after the proposed law’s first reading, the city council decided that its committee of the whole will meet next week, on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m., to deliberate on the encampment protections.
Under local law, no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.
The ordinance could have been referred to the council’s four-member standing committee on public safety. But that motion failed on a 4–5 vote.
Voting for referral to the standing committee on public safety were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.
That means the public safety committee members were split 2–2 on the question of whether to refer the proposed encampment protections to their smaller group of four, compared to the group of all nine councilmembers.
With a referral to the public safety committee no longer a possibility, the vote to send the proposed new law to the committee of the whole was 9–0.
At a work session held on Dec. 21, Bloomington’s city council reviewed the way it handles ordinary legislation during the year.
Ten days earlier, on Dec. 11, the council had reviewed the way it handles the main piece of legislation it approves every year, which is the city’s annual budget.
Based on discussion at those two meetings, 2021 could see some changes in the council’s legislative procedures compared to 2020, even if those changes might not be radical.
The city council’s 2021 activity could play out in part based on the answer to two key questions.
The first question: How big a role will four-member standing committees play in the ordinary legislative process? Several new standing committees were created by the council this year, on a 5–4 vote taken in February.
The possible impact of standing committees on the council’s legislative process was the focus of a report compiled by the city council’s legal researcher about durations of all meeting types over the last six years. The report was the basis for the city council’s discussion at its Dec. 21 special meeting.
Whether legislation in 2021 is referred to a four-person standing committee, the council’s committee of the whole, or no committee at all, could be affected by the council’s choice of a president at its first meeting of the year on Jan. 6.
The second question: Is there a point on the calendar when the city council could have a chance to have a meaningful impact on the mayor’s proposed budget?
A highlight of the budget process, from the city council’s point of view, has traditionally been its “budget advance” meeting held sometime in the spring. Councilmembers outline the kinds of elements they want to see in the budget that gets proposed by the mayor in August.
Having participated in the development of quarter century’s worth of city budgets, on Dec. 11 this year, deputy mayor Mick Renneisen sized up the role of the city council’s budget advance this way: “I’ve yet to hear anything in the budget advance that has significantly impacted our budget.” He added, “It’s too general and it’s too soon.”
Those two morsels make for some pretty thin civic gruel in the post-Thanksgiving news cycle. But it’s not too thin to feed a proposal that would tweak the city council’s legislative process.
One part of the approach served up here would change a single line of the local code, which prohibits any debate on a new law when it is first introduced to the city council.
The other change to the process would make routine for all legislation a practice that the city council already uses for the annual budget: Councilmembers submit written questions, which are then answered by staff in writing, and posted for the public to review.
Councilmember Jim Sims is sponsor of the non-consensual towing ordinance.
The proposed new ordinance on non-consensual towing would require signs similar to these, which are already in place.
Bloomington Police Department operations captain Scott Oldham tells the council that “no-pay” releases of towed vehicles are no longer ordered by BPD.
At its regular meeting last Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted to refer a new non-consensual towing ordinance to the council’s committee of the whole for a second time.
Wednesday’s referral to the committee of the whole means the new law regulating towing companies that remove vehicles parked illegally on private property will get further consideration on Feb. 12. But it won’t get a vote to enact it on that day.
The procedural vote, to refer the legislation to the committee of the whole, was split 7–2. That’s because councilmembers are not yet in alignment about how they want to use smaller, four-member committees, compared to the committee of the whole, in their legislative process.
It’s been a point of friction since the start of the year.
“Is council a co-equal branch of government or isn’t it?” That’s a rhetorical question posed by Steve Volan, this year’s president of Bloomington’s city council, about the relationship between the council and the city’s administration.
Volan asked the question during a contentious work session held last Friday afternoon in city hall’s Hooker Conference Room. All nine councilmembers attended at least part of the session, along with a dozen and half staff members, among them several department heads and deputy mayor Mick Renneisen.
Six of the nine councilmembers, led by outgoing council president Dave Rollo, wanted to postpone a vote on Volan’s proposal for three weeks, until Jan. 29. Susan Sandberg was vocal in her opposition to establishing standing committees, pointing out that she’d heard similar proposals three times before from Volan, during her time serving on the council.
Three councilmembers, including Volan, would have been content to postpone the question until next week, Jan. 15. But they thought the three-week wait was unnecessary. The 6–3 vote to postpone until Jan. 29 came after about 90 minutes of debate.
At a work session held on Friday, Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan introduced a proposal he’s put on the agenda for the council’s first meeting of the year, on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Volan’s resolution would use existing city code to establish several four-member standing committees, adding to the already-existing land use committee. The land use committee is the subset of councilmembers to which planned unit developments (PUDs) have been referred for the last couple years, after getting a first reading in front of the council.