Analysis: 2024 edition of Bloomington city council will be different, by a little or a lot

In 2023, elections will be held for 11 Bloomington city offices—mayor, clerk, and the nine seats on the city council.

The image links to a dynamic version of the new Bloomington city council district map, which allows zooming in and out.

After the 2023 city elections, the composition of the nine-member Bloomington city council, which will be sworn in to start 2024, is sure to be different by at least one member. But it could be more.

That’s based on the fact that it’s not possible to serve or to run as mayor and city councilmember at the same time.

Also in the mix are new city council district boundaries, and a somewhat easier path to the ballot for candidates who want to run independent of a political party.

City council president Susan Sandberg has announced she’s running for mayor, which means she’s not running for city council.

To file an official declaration, Sandberg like other candidates in the municipal election, will have a 30-day window that starts Jan. 4, 2023, 118 days before the May 2, 2023 primary. Sandberg’s committee paperwork has already been filed. Continue reading “Analysis: 2024 edition of Bloomington city council will be different, by a little or a lot”

Kerry Thomson kicks off campaign for Bloomington mayor: “A public that labels itself ‘progressive’ deserves to see some progress.”

On Thursday, at a gathering of nearly 200 people at Switchyard Brewing on Walnut Street in downtown Bloomington, Kerry Thomson kicked off her 2023 campaign to become Bloomington’s next mayor.

About an hour before Thomson’s event, incumbent mayor Democrat John Hamilton had announced that he won’t be seeking a third four-year term.

Thomson led off her remarks with a recognition of Hamilton’s news: “I don’t know if anybody has heard, but John Hamilton decided he’s not running.”

She added, “We are grateful for his service to the city. And we are building forward with new leadership in the city of Bloomington—that’s what we know.”

So far at least, there are two declared candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor in the 2023 race—Thomson and city council president Susan Sandberg. Their candidacies won’t become official until they file the paperwork in early 2023.

Since late 2018, Thomson has served as executive director of Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement (IUCRE). The center’s website describes the IU initiative as tapping the research, expertise, teaching, and service of IU Bloomington faculty, staff, and students to create connections between non-land-grant, research institutions and rural communities.

Thursday’s gathering was Thomson’s second public campaign event. In June, at Bloomington Bagel Company on Dunn Street, she hosted a celebration of her announcement that she was making a mayoral bid. Continue reading “Kerry Thomson kicks off campaign for Bloomington mayor: “A public that labels itself ‘progressive’ deserves to see some progress.””

Hamilton on a third term as Bloomington mayor: “It’s tempting to run, but I just have decided not to.”

In a 4-minute YouTube video released around 4 p.m. on Thursday, Bloomington mayor Democrat John Hamilton announced he will not seek a third four-year term as mayor.

That means there are, so far at least, just two declared candidates in the Democratic Party primary—Susan Sandberg and Kerry Thomson. Their candidacies won’t become official until they file the paperwork at the start of the year.

In the video statement, Hamilton said the choice not to seek a third term was “not an easy decision.” Reflecting on his two terms of service, Hamilton said “felt like the right time to turn the page on a new chapter.”

Hamilton said, “It’s tempting to run, but I just have decided not to.”

About his remaining time in office, Hamilton said, “There are 13 months ahead of great work, exciting work.” He likened it to an athletic contest: “We’re kind of in the fourth quarter of the game. And you know, a lot of really good things can happen in the fourth quarter of a game.”

In the video, as a prelude to the announcement he won’t be running for reelection, Hamilton ticks through the areas where he believes Bloomington has achieved successes over the last seven years: the economy, housing, digital access, public safety, sanitation services, water utilities and bus service. Continue reading “Hamilton on a third term as Bloomington mayor: “It’s tempting to run, but I just have decided not to.””

Meeting set on Nov. 9 for city, county officials to talk more about convention center expansion

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, many elected and appointed officials across Monroe County will be reviewing election results from the day before.

But some of those officials have a meeting set for Nov. 9 to talk about the possible future expansion of the Monroe County convention center.

The idea of a joint effort by Bloomington and Monroe County to expand the existing convention center has been pursued for several years, but had stalled just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amid wrangling over governance issues.

According to county commissioners administrator Angie Purdie, the 1 p.m. meeting in the Nat U. Hill room of the Monroe County courthouse is supposed to include the mayor’s office in the form of Bloomington’s director of public engagement (Mary Catherine Carmichael), two city councilmembers (Susan Sandberg and Sue Sgambelluri), two county councilors (Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson), and all three county commissioners.

For advocates of a county convention center expansion that would be undertaken as a collaborative effort by the county and the city, the scheduling of the meeting will likely come as welcome news. Continue reading “Meeting set on Nov. 9 for city, county officials to talk more about convention center expansion”

Bloomington plan commission news: State’s highest court declines case on party affiliations for partisan-balanced boards

Chris Cockerham will remain a Bloomington plan commissioner. Andrew Guenther will not be installed to replace him.

From left: Chris Cockerham, Andrew Guenther

That’s because Indiana’s Supreme Court gave notice on Tuesday that it will not to hear an appeal that was requested in July by Guenther and former Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis.

In June of 2020, Guenther and Ellis had filed a lawsuit against Bloomington mayor John Hamilton over the rightful appointee to the Bloomington plan commission.

The key question of law in the case was this one: Is there a statutory requirement that a member of a partisan-balanced board or commission be affiliated with some party or other?

Guenther and Ellis said yes. Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton said no.

In a ruling that was issued in late May this year, a three-member panel of the court of appeals sided with Bloomington. The court of appeals decision reversed the initial ruling at the circuit court level, by special judge Erik Allen, who had decided the case in Ellis and Guenther’s favor.

The court of appeals said there is no requirement—that for someone to be appointed to a partisan-balanced board or commission, they have to be a member of some political party or other. That means someone who is unaffiliated with any party can be appointed to a partisan-balanced board.

Tuesday’s notification from the Supreme Court, that it won’t hear the case, means this spring’s court of appeals ruling will now stand. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission news: State’s highest court declines case on party affiliations for partisan-balanced boards”

Bloomington effectively declares dead any deal to work with Monroe County on convention center

On Friday, in a social media post, the Bloomington’s office of the mayor appears to have abandoned any further pursuit of a collaboration with Monroe County government on the expansion of the county’s convention center.

The statement reads, “Despite hoping to reach an agreement on moving the project forward together, these recent negotiations have concluded without a resolution.”

The statement, made on the Facebook page for Bloomington’s office of the mayor, does not mention Bloomington mayor John Hamilton.

The announcement quotes Bloomington public engagement director Mary Catherine Carmichael saying, “We believe that it’s time to shift focus fully to what we can do to follow through on our commitment to use the city’s portion of the food and beverage tax to expand the space available for conventions and other large gatherings in Bloomington.”

Bloomington’s announcement says “a flexible facility that can accommodate larger groups remains an unfulfilled but important economic and cultural asset missing in Bloomington.” Friday’s announcement says the city expects to announce potential next steps in the next 30-45 days.

The city’s announcement was met with expressions of disappointment from key players on the Monroe County board of commissioners, the Monroe County council, and the Bloomington city council, as well as the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce. Continue reading “Bloomington effectively declares dead any deal to work with Monroe County on convention center”

Bloomington’s municipal workers turn out for city council meeting, labor negotiations continue

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.

The city’s administration had made the police contract contingent on the council’s approval of an increase to the local income tax, which the council gave in early May.

Rushton told the city council that fair compensation has to address the rate of inflation. Continue reading “Bloomington’s municipal workers turn out for city council meeting, labor negotiations continue”

Indiana Supreme Court gets petition to hear case on Bloomington plan commission appointment

Late Tuesday, a petition was filed with the Indiana Supreme Court, to hear a case involving the rightful appointee to fill a vacant seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

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.

Is there also a statutory requirement that plan commission appointees must be affiliated with some political party or other? That’s the key question of law at the heart of the case. Continue reading “Indiana Supreme Court gets petition to hear case on Bloomington plan commission appointment”

Column: A transparency platform for Bloomington’s mayoral candidates

The word “transparency” gets bandied around a lot by local government officials—not just here in Bloomington.

It’s a vague concept.

Just because some local government news breaks that was unforeseen by a journalist or the public does not necessarily mean a failure on the government’s part.

Sometimes we could probably do a better job of paying attention to the information that the local government does make available.

But often, I think, the problem is not on our end.

What more could Bloomington’s government do, to make its workings more accessible and transparent to the public?

To answer that question, I draw on three years spent covering Bloomington area local government for The B Square.

Given that the Bloomington mayoral campaign season has already started for 2023, my answer takes the form of a possible mayoral transparency platform.

All other things being equal, if a mayoral candidate supports the platform below, I think readers should consider supporting that candidate. Continue reading “Column: A transparency platform for Bloomington’s mayoral candidates”

Bloomington mayoral campaign committee formed by Kerry Thomson

Just before noon on Wednesday, Bloomington resident Kerry Thomson filed paperwork with Monroe County’s election division to establish a principal committee for a 2023 mayoral campaign.

Kerry Thomson. Photo from a May 15, 2022 event hosted at the Switchyard Park pavilion by Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement called “Community Conversations on Housing.”

That makes two Democrats in as many weeks to file some kind of paperwork for a Bloomington mayoral run. On June 1, city council president Susan Sandberg filed paperwork to create an exploratory committee.

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.

Since late 2018, Thomson has served as executive director of Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement (IUCRE). The center’s website describes the IU initiative as tapping the research, expertise, teaching, and service of IU Bloomington faculty, staff, and students to create connections between non-land-grant, research institutions and rural communities. Continue reading “Bloomington mayoral campaign committee formed by Kerry Thomson”