Bloomington mayor wants Dec. 13 vote by city council on police station sale

At its Wednesday meeting in a little over a week from now, Bloomington’s city council will likely be asked by outgoing mayor John Hamilton to vote on the sale of the city’s police station.

That’s a key takeaway from a Monday noon work session of Bloomington’s city council.

Next week’s Dec. 13 council meeting is the city legislative body’s final regular meeting of the year.

But before the council is asked to approve the sale, Bloomington’s board of public works will hold a public hearing this Friday, Dec. 8. Even though the three-member board does not need to approve the sale, it is required under state law to make a recommendation to the city council and the mayor.

So on Friday, the administration is just looking for the board of public works to indicate its attitude about the sale—for, against, or no recommendation either way.

At Monday’s session, deputy mayor Larry Allen revealed that the city had so far received three offers for the purchase of the police station. The building is located on 3rd Street north of The Waldron, Hill and Buskirk Park.

One offer is right at the $3.2-million minimum offer specified in the city’s notice of sale, published on Oct. 11.  The minimum offer is the same as the lower of two fair market value appraisals that were done by the city, Allen revealed.

A second fair market appraisal, Allen said at Monday’s session, put the value of the police station at $4.4 million. The city had also received an offer to purchase the real estate at that price, Allen said.

A third offer exceeded $4.4 million, Allen said.

Even though just five of nine councilmembers attended Monday’s work session, a measure of the topic’s importance was mayor-elect Kerry Thomson’s attendance. Continue reading “Bloomington mayor wants Dec. 13 vote by city council on police station sale”

Bloomington mayor-elect asks current mayor not to make strategic choices impacting beyond year’s end

With six weeks left before she is sworn into office, Bloomington mayor-elect Kerry Thomson has sent a letter to outgoing mayor John Hamilton asking him to “refrain from making any strategic or discretionary decisions which will impact beyond December 31, 2023.”

The letter was dated Nov. 14, exactly a week after Thomson was elected Bloomington’s next mayor. A Democrat, Thomson’s was one of 10 uncontested races on the ballot for city office—mayor, city clerk, and city council. It was Democrats who were all unopposed in those races. A Democrat prevailed in the 11th race as well.

Hamilton is also a Democrat. But Thomson’s letter could be one indication that the transition between the two Dems is not without some discontent.

Still, responding to an emailed B Square question, about whether there was a precipitating event that prompted her letter, Thomson called her request of Hamilton “a fairly typical request during transitions.”

Thomson confirmed to The B Square that her request of Hamilton includes the Showers West renovation and the sale of the 3rd Street police station.

But Thomson added that her request applies “also to any other significant commitments the city is making for which I and the next city council should have the opportunity to opine as we will be in leadership to carry these out.” Continue reading “Bloomington mayor-elect asks current mayor not to make strategic choices impacting beyond year’s end”

Hamilton vetoes Bloomington city council decision to reinstall 7th Street stop signs

Mid-afternoon on Friday, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton released a statement vetoing the city council’s action taken last week,  to approve reinstallation of  stop signs at four intersections on 7th Street.

The stop signs that have already been reinstalled at the 7th-and-Dunn intersection will remain in place—through a new 180-day order issued by the city engineer.

The stop signs at Morton, Washington, and Lincoln Streets will not be reinstalled, unless the council votes to override the mayor’s veto.

It looks unlikely that the council would be able to achieve the two-thirds majority (6) that is needed to override a veto. Still, a possible vote on a veto override appears on next Wednesday’s (Oct. 18) meeting agenda for the city council. Continue reading “Hamilton vetoes Bloomington city council decision to reinstall 7th Street stop signs”

5–4 Bloomington council vote: 3 more stops, not just Dunn, OK’d for reinstallation on 7-Line bicycle route

“Wow. Just wow.”

That was how Bloomington city council president Sue Sgambelluri summarized the contentious debate that had just concluded on the question of reinstalling stop signs at three intersections, along the route of the 7-Line separated bicycle lane.

The intersections in question—Morton, Washington, and Lincoln—were not included in the ordinance that city engineer Andrew Cibor had asked the council to approve at its Wednesday meeting.

What Cibor had requested was enactment of an ordinance to make permanent just the stop signs that have already been reinstalled at 7th and Dunn streets, based on a 180-day order that he had issued.

By the end of the meeting, the reinstallation of stop signs at a total of four intersections had been approved by the city council. Continue reading “5–4 Bloomington council vote: 3 more stops, not just Dunn, OK’d for reinstallation on 7-Line bicycle route”

Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way

Voted down on Wednesday by Bloomington’s city council, with just two votes in favor, was an ordinance that would have explicitly prohibited camping, storing personal property, or blocking the public right-of-way, among other things.

Supporting the ordinance were Sue Sgambelluri and Susan Sandberg. Abstaining was Dave Rollo. The other five councilmembers who were present all voted against it. Ron Smith was absent.

Rollo said he was inclined to bring a motion to table the ordinance. Councilmember Jim Sims said he was inclined to put off a vote, but if it came down to a vote that night, he would vote no.

A basic concern for those who opposed the ordinance was that it punishes the unhoused population, without offering a solution for storing their belongings in a place other than the public right-of-way.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty’s sentiments reflected the views of others, when he said that crafting a better ordinance “will take months of community engagement and outreach and collaboration between the executive and legislative branch and the whole community to arrive at a solution.”

Flaherty added, “So I don’t think this is honestly well suited for just tabling or postponing and bringing back with a few clarifications, in a few weeks time.” Rollo said it was clear that there would not be majority support for tabling, so he did not make that motion. Continue reading “Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way”

Election notebook: Ballot inspections, Salt Creek vacancy

Monday was the legally mandated chance for the public to inspect proofs of  ballots that will be used in Monroe County’s upcoming Nov. 7 municipal elections.

Ballots were on display from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Election Central (7th and Madison streets).

The ballots had been laid out for inspection on a long table by the county’s election division staff, led by election supervisor Ryan Herndon.

Arriving shortly after 9 a.m. to inspect the ballots were a couple of the Democratic Party nominees for Bloomington city offices—Nicole Bolden and Sydney Zulich.

Seeking her third four-year term, Bolden is unopposed on the ballot for city clerk. Zulich is seeking her first four-year term as the District 6 Bloomington city council representative.

All the Democratic Party nominees on the ballot are unopposed, except for Hopi Stosberg, who is competing with Republican Brett Heinisch to represent District 3 on the Bloomington city council.

Based on the sign-in sheet at Election Central, Stosberg and Heinisch dropped by to inspect ballots later in the day. Isabel Piedmont-Smith, who is the Democratic Party’s nominee for District 1 city council, also dropped by to inspect ballots later in the day. Continue reading “Election notebook: Ballot inspections, Salt Creek vacancy”

Showers West police-fire expansion update: Out for bids in November, construction start in 2024

By November of this year, construction bids are expected to be put out for the expansion of Bloomington’s city hall building into Showers West—which is supposed to house a new police headquarters, and the administrative offices for the fire department.

That was one key takeaway from a city council work session held at noon on Friday.

The hoped-for timeline was described on Friday by project architect Chris Hagan from StudioAXIS. Hagan’s firm was selected by Bloomington for the project in April, after a different firm, Hoefer Welker, had initially been selected in March.

The timeline drew some pointed questions from council president Sue Sgambelluri. Offering some skeptical commentary on the timeline was police union president Paul Post, who was seated at the work session table.

Also in attendance at Friday’s work session—which was held in the Allison Conference room—was Kerry Thomson, the almost certain future mayor of Bloomington starting in 2024. She’s the Democratic Party’s nominee and the only candidate on the ballot, with no registered write-ins.

Thomson took a seat along the back wall with the rest of the public. Around 50 minutes into the meeting, which was scheduled for an hour, councilmember Ron Smith made a gambit to allow Thomson to offer a comment. Smith’s gambit was firmly declined by Sgambelluri, who was presiding over the meeting. Continue reading “Showers West police-fire expansion update: Out for bids in November, construction start in 2024”

Bloomington resolution on hazards of general AI withdrawn after Indiana University weighs in

After an hour of deliberations last Wednesday, Bloomington city councilmember Dave Rollo withdrew his resolution calling for a moratorium restricting the development of general artificial intelligence (AI), until its “alignment with human values and well-being is guaranteed.”

About five weeks ago, just before the city council took its annual summer hiatus, Rollo had told his council colleagues that he would be bringing forward the resolution.

The resolution was based on a concern that general AI poses an existential threat to humankind—a view shared by some major figures who work in the field of AI.

Among those leaders cited in the “whereas” clauses of Rollo’s resolution is Geoffrey Hinton, a former vice president and engineering fellow at Google.

The resolution would have been a symbolic one, with no direct fiscal impact on the city, and no immediate effect—except that the city clerk would have sent a copy of the adopted resolution to the state house and senate, Indiana’s governor, Indiana’s congressional delegation, and US President Joe Biden.

The resolution had received pushback from Indiana University, based on unspecified concerns about “potential impacts to technology-related research funding IU receives.” Continue reading “Bloomington resolution on hazards of general AI withdrawn after Indiana University weighs in”

Opinion: If AI is going to kill us all, let’s make it do some work before we die

At last Wednesday’s meeting of the Bloomington city council, Dave Rollo used his time for councilmember reports at the start of the meeting to deliver eight minutes of extemporaneous remarks about the dangers of artificial general intelligence (AGI).

Bloomington city councilmember Dave Rollo talks about artificial intelligence at the council’s June 21, 2023 meeting. The image is a screengrab from the CATS recording, after it was uploaded to the city’s Youtube channel.

It’s worth contrasting artificial general intelligence with artificial intelligence developed to perform narrow tasks—like converting the audio from councilmember speeches to text, or sharpening out-of-focus photographs.

In his remarks, Rollo cited AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky’s recent op-ed in TIME magazine “Pausing AI Developments Isn’t Enough. We Need to Shut it All Down

Yudkowsky is not exactly enthusiastic about AI. From the TIME op-ed: [T]he most likely result of building a superhumanly smart AI, under anything remotely like the current circumstances, is that literally everyone on Earth will die. Not as in ‘maybe possibly some remote chance,’ but as in ‘that is the obvious thing that would happen.’” Continue reading “Opinion: If AI is going to kill us all, let’s make it do some work before we die”

Possible reform of Bloomington boards, commissions gets study by city council committee

Clockwise around the table from right: City councilmembers Matt Flaherty and Isabel Piedmont-Smith; city of Bloomington public engagement director Kaisa Goodman; city council deputy attorney Ash Kulak; and city councilmember Sue Sgambelluri. On screen in the upper left of the frame is Bloomington city clerk Nicole Bolden. he meeting took place in the city council’s “library” room. (May 25, 2023)

On Thursday night, a special city council committee met to move ahead with a closer look at reforming various processes related to Bloomington’s boards and commissions.

Also up for consideration by the four-member committee are possible recommendations on merging some of the city’s roughly 50 boards and commissions.

The committee is hoping to wrap up its work on board and commission reform by the end of the year.

The committee was appointed by council president Sue Sgambelluri at the council’s first meeting of the year. It was the same meeting when she was elected by her colleagues as this year’s council president.

In addition to Matt Flaherty as chair of the committee, Sgambelluri appointed as members the three officers of the council—including herself (president), Isabel Piedmont-Smith (vice president) and Dave Rollo (parliamentarian). Rollo did not attend Thursday’s meeting. Continue reading “Possible reform of Bloomington boards, commissions gets study by city council committee”