Monroe County’s jail is located on the top floors of the Charlotte Zietlow justice center.
Monroe County jail commander Kyle Gibbons (Nov. 28, 2023)
Monre County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker (Nov. 28, 2023)
County commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas with county attorney Jeff Cockerill (Nov. 29, 2023)
Chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker in front of the Monroe County council (Nov. 28, 2023)
Foreground: county councilor Peter Iversen and commissioner Penny Githens. Background from left: Chief deputy Phil Parker, sheriff Ruben Marté, and jail commander Kyle Gibbons (Nov. 27, 2023)
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a rough patch was hit on the road to a new jail for Monroe County.
A disagreement emerged between the sheriff and county commissioners over the funding of someone to direct the transition—from the current jail at 7th Street and College Avenue to a new facility. No location has been decided for a new jail.
Even if the rough patch did not get smoothed out, it’s now in the rear-view mirror.
On Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners approved a change to their ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) plan to include $110,000 a year for three years to fund a contract for someone to serve as director of the jail transition. Of the amount, $10,000 is to cover liability insurance.
It might be next year before all parties have signed an interlocal agreement between Bloomington and Monroe County—in connection with an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The effort to get final consensus on a collaboration between city and county leaders about a convention expansion dates back several years, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But two weeks ago, both branches of Bloomington’s government approved the interlocal agreement, for the operation of the capital improvement board (CIB) and the convention and visitors commission (CVC)—in connection with the convention center expansion.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton inked the interlocal on the afternoon of Nov. 15. The city council followed suit that evening, with an uncontroversial vote to approve the interlocal agreement.
The county council and the county board of commissioners were expected to consider and approve the agreement this week.
But the item appeared on Tuesday night’s county council meeting agenda only as a discussion item. And that’s where it remained for Tuesday. No vote was taken, even though councilors expressed a fair amount of solid support for the agreement.
At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved two additional studies of the Thomson PUD property, which is currently being considered as a potential new jail site.
A Phase 2 environmental study, as well as a wetlands delineation, are both to be done by VET Environmental Engineering, for a total of about $20,000.
Even if commissioners have stressed that no decision on a future new jail site has been made, those two studies mark a bit of progress towards the eventual construction of a new jail to replace the facility at 7th Street and College Avenue. The current jail has been analyzed by a consultant as failing to provide constitutional levels of care.
Not getting any airtime at the commissioners meeting on Wednesday was significant discord that has emerged between the sheriff’s office and the commissioners—about filling a position to direct the transition to a new jail facility.
But that discord looks like it could be on a schedule for some kind of resolution, starting with a joint meeting of the county commissioners and the county council on Monday, Nov. 27.
At the county council’s Tuesday night meeting, council president Kate Wiltz looked to the end of the month as a timeframe for resolving the sore points.
As a chance to work through some concerns and possibly get a transition director’s contract approved, Wiltz pointed to already scheduled meetings on three successive days—Nov. 27 (joint), Nov. 28 (county council), and Nov. 29 (county commissioners).
Marty Hawk and Geoff McKim. Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
Kate Wiltz and Trent Deckard. Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
From left: Marty Hawk, Geoff McKim, Kate Wiltz, Trent Deckard, and Peter Iversen. (Cheryl Munson attended on Zoom.) Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
Bottom to top: Cathy Smith (auditor), Brianne Gregory, Molly Turner-King, and Kim Shell. Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
Based on the deliberations among county councilors on Wednesday night, Monroe County employees will likely receive 8.5-percent raises in 2024 compared to their pay this year.
But no final decisions were made. The council did undertake some adjustments to get closer to the goal of 8.5-percent raises.
There’s still some dust that needs to settle on the provisional adjustments to the 2024 budget that were made by the council on Wednesday. And the final vote on the budget won’t come until Oct. 17, after a first reading on Oct.10.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion was the focus of Monday afternoon’s meeting of the county council’s justice fiscal advisory committee (JFAC).
The highlight of the committee’s meeting was a presentation on racial disparity at the Monroe County jail. Presenting the information was former attorney Guy Loftman, who serves on the legal redress committee of the Monroe County Branch of the NAACP.
A key fact presented by Loftman, based on Monroe County jail statistics from earlier this year, was the disparity between the percentage of Black inmates and the percentage of Black residents of Monroe County.
As measured by the U.S. Census in 2020 about 3.9 percent of Monroe County residents are Black. But for the 3-month period between Jan. 1 and March 31 of this year, Black people made up on average 26.5% of the inmates in the Monroe County jail.
JFAC’s Monday meeting was the first of three meetings this week when local officials will have criminal justice-related matters on their agenda.
On Friday at noon, Bloomington’s city council has a work session scheduled, to hear from county officials about options for locating a new county jail.
The chairship of the committee rotates from meeting to meeting among three county councilors, and it was Jennifer Crossley’s call to cancel the meeting. The other two county councilors serving on the committee are Kate Wiltz and Peter Iversen. Several non-voting members are also included on the committee.
Crossley told The B Square that for people traveling from outside the downtown it would have meant driving around crashes and non-working traffic signals, so she didn’t want anyone to take unnecessary risks.
On Monday at noon, the Bloomington city council convened a work session on the topic of the planned expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
Providing a wake-up call to move the project forward was the Indiana General Assembly, which has now concluded this year’s session. Before wrapping up its work for the year, the state legislature passed HB 1454, which uses the local food and beverage tax as a prod, to require Bloomington and Monroe County to show some progress on the convention center project.
The unanimous vote to create the justice fiscal advisory committee (JFAC)—consisting of three county councilors and 12 other ex officio members—came at the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday. The ex officio members don’t count towards the number needed for a quorum.
The word “fiscal” in the name of the new committee that has been formed by the county council reflects the fact that the council is the county’s fiscal body.
Any funding for a new jail facility would have to be approved by the seven-member county council, no matter what decisions are made by the three county commissioners about the location and size of a new jail facility.
(1) The county council recommends a jail with a bed size of no more than 400. (2) The county council recommends a jail location as close to existing services as possible. (3) The justice campus size will be determined by several factors in the future.
Councilor Marty Hawk dissented saying, “I think this is a bit too early… to make that kind of decision that this is the reflection of the entire council.”