From left, Bloomington city councilmembers: Sue Sgambelluri, Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, Matt Flaherty, Ron Smith and Isabel Piedmont-Smith.
AFSCME member Stephen French.
AFSCME members who attended the Aug. 3, 2022 meeting of the city council.
AFSCME member Steven Robertson.
AFSCME Local 2487 president Bradley Rushton.
Councilmember Dave Rollo (right) speaks with AFSCME members after the Bloomington city council’s Aug. 4, 2022 meeting.
About two dozen AFSCME members attended the Bloomington city council’s Aug. 4, 2022 meeting.
A couple dozen members of the AFSCME Local 2487 attended Bloomington’s Wednesday city council meeting, to highlight for councilmembers their ongoing collective bargaining negotiations with mayor John Hamilton’s administration—without getting into details of those talks.
As Local 2487 president Bradley Rushton put it, “I cannot discuss any aspect of the current state of affairs between the union and the city reps.”
But union members are looking for better compensation than their current four-year contract gives them. The current labor agreement runs through the end of 2022.
The acronym for the union name stands for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union includes workers in utilities, the street and fleet divisions of public works, parks and recreation, sanitation, and the animal shelter, among others. Rushton serves the city as a fleet maintenance master technician.
Rushton led off his remarks during public commentary with a word of thanks to the city council for supporting the police union in their efforts to negotiate better compensation. In September last year, the city council passed a resolution supporting more money for police officers.
The police union is on the same four-year contractual cycle as the AFSCME workers. Earlier this year, in mid-May, the city council approved a contract with police officers that started with a 13-percent increase in the first year.
Filing the petition were former Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis, who is now vice chair, and Andrew Guenther, who at the time was affiliated with the Republican Party.
They say Guenther should now be sitting in the seat left vacant by Nick Kappas in January 2020, when Bloomington mayor John Hamilton chose not to reappoint him. Their claim is based on a state law that allows a party chair to make an appointment under certain circumstances. Ellis chose Guenther as his appointee.
The city of Bloomington’s position is that Chris Cockerham is the rightful appointee. Cockerham was the person Hamilton appointed. He has been serving for the last two years on the plan commission as the successor to Kappas.
Giving rise to the dispute is the statutory partisan balancing requirement for the five mayoral appointees to city plan commissions in the state of Indiana. No more than three of the five can be affiliated with the same political party.
The basic impact of the different committee types is that when Sandberg formally declares her candidacy—which is not possible until the first week of January 2023—she will need to file an amendment to convert her exploratory committee to a principle committee.
Incumbent mayor Democrat John Hamilton has not formally announced that he is running for re-election to a third four-year term.
On Wednesday (June 1) a little before noon, Democrat Susan Sandberg filed paperwork with Monroe County to form an exploratory committee to run for mayor of the city of Bloomington in 2023.
That means her campaign can accept financial contributions, but does not require that she eventually declare her candidacy for mayor. Candidates for city council, mayor, and clerk can’t file a formal declaration until early January 2023.
Sandberg currently serves as president of the city council, a post to which she was elected at the start of the year. The vote for council president was split 5–4 in favor of Sandberg over Matt Flaherty.
Sandberg also served as council president in 2008, 2011 and 2017. She has also served a couple years as council vice president and one year as parliamentarian.
Like the mayor and the city clerk, the nine city councilmembers serve four-year terms. All nine members of the council, the mayor, and the clerk, are elected every four years. That means if Sandberg declares her candidacy for mayor in 2023, there will be at least one open seat on the city council with no incumbent running.
In a ruling issued Friday morning, Indiana’s court of appeals reversed the decision of a lower court that found Andrew Guenther had been rightfully appointed to Bloomington’s plan commission seat in spring 2020 by then-chair of the Monroe County GOP William Ellis.
The court of appeals found on a 3-0 vote that the lower court’s ruling was “clearly erroneous.”
According to the ruling, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s appointment of Chris Cockerham to the contested seat was valid. Cockerham has been serving on Bloomington’s plan commission since his May 2020 appointment by Hamilton.
Reached by The B Square shortly after the ruling was released, Guenther indicated that he was not yet sure if an appeal to Indiana’s Supreme Court would be attempted.
The three-member panel on the court of appeals reduced the various questions of law that were in front of it to just one: For boards and commissions that have a partisan balancing requirement under Indiana state law, is it possible for an appointee to have no affiliation at all with any party?
Guenther and Ellis said no. The city of Bloomington and Hamilton said yes.
The court of appeals agreed with Bloomington and Hamilton.
Friday’s ruling says that the disputed statue should not be interpreted to mean that an appointee to a partisan-balance board or commission, like a plan commission, must have some partisan affiliation or other.
Based on the Bloomington city council’s discussion at its committee-of-the whole meeting on Wednesday, Monroe County residents will likely see a higher local income tax (LIT) rate than the 1.345 percent they pay now.
But given the way deliberations unfolded at Wednesday’s committee meeting, the higher rate will not reflect the full amount of the 0.855 point increase that Bloomington’s mayor has pitched to them.
Adding the extra 0.855 percent would bring Monroe County’s total local income tax rate to 2.2 percent.
Some councilmembers expressed concerns about the size of the increase. But there seems to be a basic agreement on the city’s legislative body about one thing: The city of Bloomington needs additional revenue.
City controller Jeff Underwood displayed a bar chart comparing existing revenue sources to expenditures over the next four years. The bars show a deficit of around $5 million each year.
One of the needs Underwood has identified is to increase the compensation of city workers in order to stay competitive, even with other local employers, Underwood said. “We’re not losing people to Carmel—we’re losing people to Ellettsville,” he added.
During public commentary, the heads of the city’s firefighter and municipal worker unions confirmed that the city is losing people to other higher-paying jobs that are not with the city of Bloomington.
Several of the remarks from councilmembers on Wednesday seemed to coalesce around the idea of finding some rate of increase that all nine councilmembers could live with.
For a full point increase, that translates into $36.1 million in revenue countywide. That figure, multiplied by Hamilton’s proposed 0.855 increase, means about $30.87 million.
Based on the proportional population distribution method proposed by Hamilton, Bloomington’s share would be about $17.5 million. Monroe County government’s share would be about $11.9 million, with the remainder going to Ellettsville and Stinesville.
Bloomington’s city council will be asked to enact a tax increase as soon as one month from now.
Also getting some additional detail was the issuance of $10 million in general obligation (GO) bonds that the council will be asked to approve. Issuing GO bonds will bump Bloomington’s property tax rate.
Several documents released on Thursday, and posted on a separate page on the city’s website, include a breakdown for potentially $17 million in additional annual spending by the city of Bloomington, based on additional local income tax revenues.
The broad categories of possible increased LIT spending are: climate change ($6.35 million); essential services ($2.5 million); public safety ($4.5 million); and quality of life ($3.65 million).