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”

Bloomington’s econ development commish OKs tax abatement report, city council review next

From upper left counter clockwise: ESD staff Andrea “De” de la Rosa and Alex Crowley; EDC members Malcolm Webb, Kurt Zorn, Vanessa McClary, Geoff McKim, Matt Flaherty; and assistant city attorney Larry Allen.

On Friday, Bloomington’s five-member economic development commission (EDC) approved a report from city staff  on about a dozen tax abatements  that have been granted to companies over the years, as well as a couple of tax abatements that have been approved, but not yet claimed.

The pending abatements are for Real America, the affordable housing developer of the former Night Moves site on South Walnut Street, and for Catalent, the pharmaceutical company. Continue reading “Bloomington’s econ development commish OKs tax abatement report, city council review next”

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”

Bloomington primary election 2023 photos: A look back to the distant past of one week ago

For the B Square’s day-of election coverage last Tuesday, words and numbers took priority over photographs.

But a complete record surely demands some photos, even if they’re late.

In that spirit, below is a set of photographs, in mostly chronological order, as they were taken during the day—at different polling places and then at the Cascades Inn where the local Democrats gathered to celebrate their victories. Continue reading “Bloomington primary election 2023 photos: A look back to the distant past of one week ago”

2023 Bloomington primary notebook: Breaking down a citywide council race: 7 candidates, 3 seats

On Tuesday, three candidates won the Democratic Party’s nominations for at-large seats on the Bloomington city council: Isak Asare, Andy Ruff, and Matt Flaherty.

There were four other candidates on the ballot: Lois Sabo-Skelton, Jonas Schrodt, Steve Volan and Ryne Shadday.

Asare is a newcomer to city council politics. Ruff is making a comeback, after missing out on his re-election bid in 2019. Flaherty is an incumbent, who helped displace Ruff from his at-large seat in 2019.

At-large seats are elected by voters citywide—unlike district seats, which are elected by voters in one of six geographic districts. The at-large seats aren’t labeled in any way—that is, an at-large candidate doesn’t declare a run for some particular at-large seat.

On Tuesday, voters picked up to three at-large candidates from the seven on the ballot. It’s the top three vote-getters who won nomination to stand for the Nov. 7 general city election.

The top vote-getter was Asare (4,194 votes), followed by Ruff (3,961 votes), then Flaherty (3,726 votes). Continue reading “2023 Bloomington primary notebook: Breaking down a citywide council race: 7 candidates, 3 seats”

2023 Bloomington Democratic Party primary results: Thomson wins mayoral nomination, 5 of 9 councilmembers won’t return in 2024

On Tuesday, Kerry Thomson won a clear 10-point victory over second-place finisher Susan Sandberg in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor of Bloomington.

[.pdf file of 2023 unofficial primary election results]

Thomson did not get a majority of the 8,012 votes in the three-way race.

Thomson’s 3,444 votes gave her about 43 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent (2,644) for Susan Sandberg and 24 percent (1,924) for Don Griffin.

No Republican has yet declared a candidacy for mayor and no independent candidate has submitted the required 352 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. To appear on the ballot as an independent candidate for mayor or city council, qualifying signatures  have to be submitted by June 30.

So it’s likely that Thomson will be the next mayor of Bloomington. Incumbent mayor John Hamilton did not seek re-election. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington Democratic Party primary results: Thomson wins mayoral nomination, 5 of 9 councilmembers won’t return in 2024”

Alea iacta est: May 2, 2023 primary election results, served when ready

Primary Election Day polls for May 2, 2023 have now closed in Monroe County.

The cutoff time was 6 p.m., which made for a 12-hour voting day. But anyone in line by 6 p.m. has to be allowed to cast a ballot.

Bloomington voters are electing party nominees for mayor, clerk, and nine city council seats. Ellettsville voters are electing party nominees for clerk/treasurer and town council.

Preliminary results from Bloomington and Ellettsville precincts will be published as updates to this article as they are available.

Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne wrote in her 5 p.m. emailed message: “Please do not anticipate any results before 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m.”

Voters who joined the line just before the closing of the polls are just one reason that results can’t be reported immediately at 6 p.m..

Geography also plays a role. There’s some physical distance that has to be covered, when teams from Primary Election Day polling locations across Bloomington and Ellettsville pack up their ballots, the memory devices from the ballot scanners, and other election documentation, and turn in the whole package to Election Central. Continue reading “Alea iacta est: May 2, 2023 primary election results, served when ready”

2023 Bloomington primary: Black Lives Matter B-town assesses Democratic Party candidates

Early Saturday (April 15), Black Lives Matter B-town  released its assessment of Democratic Party city primary candidates who responded to a survey that included 10 questions for all candidates and two questions just for mayoral or city council candidates.

Pull quote from the questionnaire. The quote reads: Do you believe that these trainings are effective to actually prevent racism, homophobia, transphobia and bias from happening in city government?

Sent the questionnaire were Democratic Party primary candidates for Bloomington mayor, city clerk and city council. The questionnaire was not sent to candidates affiliated with the Republican Party, because BLM B-town does not consider the party to be in alignment with its basic principles.

According to BLM B-town, their candidate assessments are provided to voters for informational purposes—they are not endorsements.

Candidates were given seven days to fill out the questionnaire, and were sent subsequent reminders after the survey was sent, according to BLM B-town

A total of 18 candidates wrote out answers to the questionnaire. It was designed to allow assessments of candidates in the categories of: Awareness, Position, Vision, Voices at the Table, Commitment & Effectiveness, Passion & Comportment.

Candidates are assessed on a scale ranging from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

Some candidates did not respond to the questionnaire. About those candidates, BLM B-town wrote: “[C]andidates’ refusals to provide answers for this Voter’s Guide should remind us that the majority of the Bloomington political landscape is built to sustain anti-Black practices.”

BLM B-town gave candidates who did not respond to the BLM B-town questionnaire an assessment of “strongly disagree.” Continue reading “2023 Bloomington primary: Black Lives Matter B-town assesses Democratic Party candidates”

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”