Advice on choice for new jail design-build firm to be heard by Monroe County commissioners, justice response committee still struggling

At their work session this Wednesday (March 8), Monroe County commissioners are supposed to receive a recommendation on which of three firms to select, to design and build a new jail.

The three firms responded to a request for proposals (RFQ) issued by the commissioners. Reviewing and scoring the three proposals was a committee of staff from the county’s legal department, the sheriff’s office, the facilities department, and the administrator for the commissioners.

The three firms making proposals were DLZ, Elevatus, and RQAW.

The timetable for selection and approval of a company was sketched out by president of the board of county commissioners, Penny Githens, at Monday’s meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC).

Githens said the commissioners expect to vote on the selection of one of the three firms at their March 22 regular meeting. Whichever company is selected would be invited to give a presentation to the CJRC on April 3, Githens said.

The timetable for handling the responses to the RFQ could be counted as a bit of progress towards the goal of responding to the work of two consultants, released to the county government about 20 months ago. The report described Monroe County’s jail as having “far exceeded its structural and functional life cycle.”

But Monday’s CJRC meeting was again plagued by friction between the three county commissioners and the other committee members. Continue reading “Advice on choice for new jail design-build firm to be heard by Monroe County commissioners, justice response committee still struggling”

Chatbot vs. Bloomington candidates for city office

With each election cycle, the League of Women Voters hosts a website with candidate profiles. It’s called Vote 411.

Chatbot icon with text: As an AI language model, I cannot seek elected office in the city of Bloomington, Indiana.

Included below are links to all the LWV profiles for all candidates in Bloomington’s city primary elections—for mayor, clerk, and city council.

The Vote 411 profiles include the answers that candidates have written to questions posed by LWV.

What if the same questions were posed to a chatbot that has been trained on a giant corpus of text, to respond to conversational prompts?

The B Square posed the LWV’s questions to ChatGPT, which is an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by a company called OpenAI. It was released late last year. (GPT stands for Generative Pre-training Transformer.)

The LWV questions were given minor tweaks, like swapping in “Bloomington, Indiana” for “the city” to give ChatGPT a shot at providing answers that reflect the unique circumstances of Bloomington.

Another tweak: In places where the LWV questions use the second-person pronoun “you,” some kind of passive voice construction was swapped in. That’s because ChatGPT tends to respond with a disclaimer of sorts when asked about itself. For example, “As an AI language model, I have never tasted maple syrup, …”

Readers are invited to use ChatGPT as a kind of baseline, to judge the answers given by candidates. Is a given candidate’s answer better than a chatbot’s? Continue reading “Chatbot vs. Bloomington candidates for city office”

Monroe County sheriff, commissioners square off at committee meeting, ACLU lawyer says: “Look, you need a new jail. Everyone knows that.”

The headliner on Monday’s agenda for Monroe County’s community justice response committee (CJRC) meeting was Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana.

Falk is the attorney who filed a lawsuit against the county in 2008, which is still subject to a “private” settlement agreement—so-called only because it’s not a court order. The agreement is not confidential.

Falk’s remarks countered the calls that the committee has heard from several angles, including the group Care Not Cages, against the construction of a new jail.

Falk was blunt: “Look, you need a new jail. Everyone knows that.” He continued, “Back in 2008, when I filed the lawsuit, everyone knew that the jail then was grossly overcrowded.” Monroe County’s jail is not grossly overcrowded now, he said, “thanks to the work of the judges and everyone else in the system.”

Falk also noted that the work of two consultants, released to the county government more than 18 months ago, had described Monroe County’s jail as having “far exceeded its structural and functional life cycle.”

But Falk’s remarks weren’t really a surprise.

Less expected was the display of some friction between new Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté and county commissioners, which had up to now remained at least partly under the surface. The contentious character of their interactions was in plain view at Monday’s CJRC meeting. Continue reading “Monroe County sheriff, commissioners square off at committee meeting, ACLU lawyer says: “Look, you need a new jail. Everyone knows that.””

Holcomb visits Bloomington, Cook Group president tells locals: “We can’t sit around and wait for the governor…to solve our problems.”

On Thursday, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon at the Monroe Convention Center featuring Indiana governor Eric Holcomb.

The main event highlighted Holcomb as he fielded questions from Indiana University president Pamela Whitten, as the two sat in easy chairs in front of an audience of about 450 people.

But for many in attendance, it was the remarks delivered by Cook Group president Pete Yonkman, towards the start of the program, that might have left a more lasting impression. Cook is Bloomington’s second largest employer behind Indiana University.

Yonkman said at the start that he did not have prepared speech to deliver, as he does on most occasions.

But the impromptu remarks that Yonkman did make were organized around one basic theme: Bloomington’s local leaders need to overcome their differences to make progress on important issues.

Specific issues that Yonkman highlighted included housing, conditions at the county jail, and the lack of progress on the convention center expansion. Continue reading “Holcomb visits Bloomington, Cook Group president tells locals: “We can’t sit around and wait for the governor…to solve our problems.””

2023 Bloomington Elections | Primary field for Dems set: 3 for mayor, 5 of 6 council districts contested, 7 candidates for 3 at-large seats, 1 for clerk

On Jan. 4, residents were able start filing official declarations of candidacy in the 2023 Bloomington primary elections.

But at noon on Friday, the time for filing official paperwork expired.

No unexpected declarations for mayor were recorded on the last day of filing. That means voters across the city in Bloomington’s Democratic Party primary on May 2 will have three mayoral candidates to choose from: Kerry Thomson; Susan Sandberg; and Don Griffin.

And Democrats will have a pool of seven at-large city council candidates—from which to choose three.

There’s only one candidate in the Democratic primary for city clerk—incumbent Nicole Bolden.

Republican voters will have no citywide candidates to choose from.

The one independent candidate for mayor who has filed paperwork to establish a committee is Joseph Davis. But he has not yet submitted the 352 signatures that he needs, in order to be placed on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. The deadline for Davis and any other independent candidates to submit signatures is June 30.

Continue reading “2023 Bloomington Elections | Primary field for Dems set: 3 for mayor, 5 of 6 council districts contested, 7 candidates for 3 at-large seats, 1 for clerk”

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”

Colocation of police with city administration big theme of Bloomington council deliberations on 5-4 approval of Showers building deal

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council took action that will, as councilmember Dave Rollo put it, shape the city’s public safety building footprint “for decades to come.”

The council split 5–4 on a vote to approve the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s purchase agreement with CFC Properties—for the 64,000 square feet in the western portion of the former Showers Brothers furniture factory that currently houses city hall.

Asked by Rollo if he agreed that the “decades-to-come” description of the deal’s impact is accurate, Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton confirmed that he did.

The deal negotiated by the RDC with CFC Properties carries a price tag of $8.75 million. The proposed move includes another $14.75 million to renovate and re-configure the Showers building space. Continue reading “Colocation of police with city administration big theme of Bloomington council deliberations on 5-4 approval of Showers building deal”

Yes to purchase of west Showers building, says Bloomington city council on 5–4 vote

Bloomington city hall’s footprint inside the former Showers Brothers furniture factory building on Morton Street will expand by 64,000 square feet to include the western portion of the building, where the city’s police station and fire department administrative headquarters will be located.

That’s because at its Wednesday meeting, the city council voted 5–4 to approve an ordinance that appropriates $29.5 million in bond proceeds, which includes $8.75 million for the purchase of the western portion of the Showers building.

It’s part of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s plan to put both the city’s main police station and fire department administration in the same historic city hall building. The proposed move is part of a bigger plan estimated at over $30-million—which includes reconstructing the flood-damaged Fire Station #1 and remodeling Fire Station #3.

Approval of the bond issuance itself had come in early December last year. Continue reading “Yes to purchase of west Showers building, says Bloomington city council on 5–4 vote”

Decision on Showers building purchase postponed by Bloomington city council until Jan. 25

Left is the existing 3rd Street Bloomington police station. Right is the western part of the former Showers Brothers factory building currently owned by CFC properties.

A decision on an $8.75-million real estate deal to expand the footprint of city hall inside its existing building has been postponed by Bloomington’s city council.

What has been delayed until next week is a decision to approve the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s purchase agreement for the western part of the former Showers Brothers factory building that houses city hall.

It’s part of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s plan to put both the city’s main police station and fire department administration in the same historic city hall building. The proposed move is part of a bigger plan estimated at over $30-million—which includes reconstructing the flood-damaged Fire Station #1 and remodeling Fire Station #3.

Wednesday’s vote, which was unanimous among the eight councilmembers present, came after more than two hours of deliberations.

Absent was Jim Sims, who in early December described as “a joke” a “Plan B” alternative, which involves just renovation of the existing 3rd Street police station.

The approval of the building purchase is part of the same agenda item as the ordinance that appropriates the proceeds of $29.5 million in bonds that have already been issued. Based on the wording of the bond issuance, the proceeds have to be used for public safety purposes.

Postponement came at the point in the meeting when Ron Smith moved an amendment that would remove from the appropriation ordinance the reference to the building purchase. The amendment  would also prohibit use of the bond proceeds for purchase of the Showers building.

Based on their comments at Wednesday’s meeting and previous meetings, two councilmembers sound like they’re firmly in support of the Showers building purchase, three are firmly opposed, and three somewhat undecided, even if they’re leaning in one direction or another. Continue reading “Decision on Showers building purchase postponed by Bloomington city council until Jan. 25”

3 committee meetings later: Bloomington city council now set for vote on purchase of former Showers Brothers building for future police-fire HQ

On Bloomington’s city council meeting agenda for this Wednesday is an $8.75-million real estate deal.

Councilmembers will be deciding whether to approve a purchase agreement for the western part of the former Showers Brothers factory building that houses city hall.

The agreement was approved by the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC) in mid-July for a half-million dollars more, but after due diligence was done, in mid-November, owner CFC Properties agreed to the lower $8.75-million figure.

It’s part of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s plan to put both the city’s main police station and fire department administration in the same historic city hall building. The proposed move is part of a bigger plan estimated at over $30-million—which includes reconstructing the flood-damaged Fire Station #1 and remodeling Fire Station #3.

Even though the city council late last year already approved the issuance of $29.5 million in bonds, it delayed approval of the building purchase to take more time to scrutinize the numbers.

The approval of the building purchase is part of the same agenda item as the ordinance that appropriates the bond proceeds.

Still a part of the meeting information packet is the text of a potential amendment to the ordinance, sponsored by Ron Smith, which would strike the council’s approval of the Showers building purchase from the ordinance. Continue reading “3 committee meetings later: Bloomington city council now set for vote on purchase of former Showers Brothers building for future police-fire HQ”