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.
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).
Giving the pitch was John Bates, who is the business manager for UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 136, which has locations in Evansville, as well as a training facility in Bloomington, on Bloomfield Road.
A seven-member capital improvement board (CIB) has finally been created to provide the governance for a long-planned expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The unanimous vote by the three county commissioners to create the CIB came at their regular Wednesday meeting. Their vote was greeted with a rare round of applause in the Nat U. Hill room at the county courthouse.
Clapping enthusiastically in the audience for the vote were county councilors Geoff McKim, and Peter Iversen, as well as Eric Spoonmore, who is a former county councilor and now CEO of the Great Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
That appears to end the wrangling between the county commissioners and Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, over the governance of the expansion project, which has stalled the joint city-county effort since early March 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Hamilton’s preferred way of handling the tasks that the CIB will oversee would have been through a nonprofit. A CIB is a public body, which the county commissioners can create under state law.
Monroe County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker (June 14, 2023)
Moroe County commissioners Lee Jones (left) and Penny Githens. Commissioner Julie Thomas joined the meeting on the Zoom video conferencing platform (June 14, 2023)
After a contentious first three months of the year, relations between county commissioners and new sheriff Ruben Marté’s office have settled into a routine update from the chief deputy sheriff at county commissioner meetings.
At the start of Wednesday’s county commissioner meeting, chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker offered an update on the current status of the county jail facility.
Monroe County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker (April 26, 2023).
Monroe County commissioners from left: Lee Jones, Penny Githens, and Julie Thomas (April 26, 2023).
The Monroe County sheriff’s office and the county commissioners are hoping that Monroe County’s jail can be included in the expansion of a pilot program that started in five other Indiana counties last year.
County commissioners voted at their Wednesday work session to “suspend” future CJRC meetings, and instead to form subgroups to focus on specific issues, like judicial process, facilities and siting, and treatment.
It was a somewhat anticipated move, even if the timing had not been certain.
News of the committee’s suspended work filtered quickly through the community. At Wednesday night’s Bloomington city council meeting, councilmember Jim Sims said during his report time, “What I’d really like to hear is an explanation—I’d like to know why, and then why now.”
Monroe County commissioner Julie Thomas (April 17, 2023)
Monroe County councilor (April 17, 2023)
Monroe circuit court court judge Darcie Fawcett (April 17, 2023)
Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté (April 17, 2023)
DLZ’s Scott Carnegie (April 17, 2023)
Monroe County commissioner Lee Jones (April 17, 2023)
From left: Monroe County councilors Jennifer Crossley and Kate Wiltz.
Kay Weinberg with Care not Cages (April 17, 2023)
CJRC meeting on (April 17, 2023)
CJRC meeting on (April 17, 2023)
A significant bit of news out of Monday’s meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC) was an announcement from the public mic by Bloomington’s public engagement director Kaisa Goodman.
Goodman told the committee that a tour of some county-owned land south of Catalent had been arranged for later in the week.
Touring the property, which some see as a viable site for a new jail, will be Goodman, Bloomington’s corporation counsel Beth Cate, Bloomington planning director Scott Robinson, county attorney Jeff Cockerill, jail commander Kyle Gibbons, county councilor Kate Wiltz, and possibly one other county council member.
The location of a new jail has been a wide open question since December 2022, when Bloomington’s city council unanimously rejected a rezone request for some land in the southwestern tip of the city, where county commissioners had proposed building the new jail.
The site south of Catalent, also known as the Thomson PUD, has been frequently mentioned as a possible alternative—it’s not downtown but is closer to services and is better served by public transit. County commissioners are cool to the idea, because they have reserved the acreage for the pharmaceutical company’s possible southward expansion, among other reasons.
Administrator for the county commissioners Angie Purdie
County commissioner Julie Thomas
Monroe County attorney Jeff Cockerill
County commissioner Penny Githens
At a work session held on Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners and chief sheriff’s deputy Phil Parker did not mince words when they took up the topic of transparency in connection with the selection of DLZ as the design-build firm for a new county jail.
Making a recommendation for DLZ, as the best of three respondents to an RFQ (request for proposals), had been a six-member committee: Richard Crider, Monroe County’s fleet and building manager; David Gardner, ASI Facilities Services contractor; Lee Baker, county attorney; Kyle Gibbons, jail commander; Matt Demmings, assistant jail commander; and Angie Purdie, administrator for the commissioners.
The recommendation for DLZ was presented at a county commissioners March 8 work session. On March 22, the commissioners voted to enter into a contract with DLZ.
On Wednesday, Parker told commissioners that based on statements that have been made at recent public meetings by Crider on behalf of the RFQ review committee, and by the commissioners, about their understanding of the selection of DLZ, the public would conclude that the RFQ review committee had been in perfect alignment on every aspect of the process, and its selection of DLZ.
Parker said the committee’s work had been portrayed as if “everybody on the committee was in lockstep, there was no dysfunction on the committee about that process, that everybody was in agreement, the vote was unanimous.”
About that portrayal, Parker said, “That’s simply not true.”