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 commmission 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”

Possible mayoral run for Sandberg: Bloomington city council president forms exploratory committee

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.

Bloomington city council president Susan Sandberg at a mid-April 2022 meeting.

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.

Sandberg was a campaign co-chair for mayor John Hamilton’s 2019 re-election bid. Hamilton has not made a formal announcement of his intention to run for reelection in 2023, but is expected to. Continue reading “Possible mayoral run for Sandberg: Bloomington city council president forms exploratory committee”

Court of appeals: Bloomington mayor’s pick for plan commission valid, not GOP county chair’s

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.

From left: Andrew Guenther, Nick Kappas, Chris Cockerham

The court of appeals found on a 3-0 vote that the lower court’s ruling was “clearly erroneous.”

[Opinion: Guenther v. Hamilton]

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.

The central question about the lack of party affiliation did not involve either Guenther or Cockerham. It was undisputed that the seat in question could not be filled by a Democrat, because three of the five plan commission seats appointed by the mayor were already filled with Democrats. Continue reading “Court of appeals: Bloomington mayor’s pick for plan commission valid, not GOP county chair’s”

Upcoming local income tax negotiations could run deep, wide for Bloomington city council

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.

The LIT increase, along with two $5 million bond issuances appear on the council’s April 20 agenda for a potential vote. Continue reading “Upcoming local income tax negotiations could run deep, wide for Bloomington city council”

Bloomington mayor pitches 64% increase in Monroe County’s local income tax

In a news release issued Wednesday afternoon ahead of the city council’s evening meeting, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton put a specific number on the local income tax (LIT) rate increase he has been talking about for the last several weeks.

What Hamilton is proposing is an increase from 1.345 percent to 2.200 percent. That’s 0.855 points, or about a 64-percent increase to the current rate.

Based on the current public safety local income tax rate, which is 0.25 percent, and the state’s certified local income tax distributions for 2022, just a quarter-point LIT increase would generate a total of $9,025,682 a year countywide.

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.

Continue reading “Bloomington mayor pitches 64% increase in Monroe County’s local income tax”

Consultant: Bloomington mayor’s office should add top-level position, give better briefings to city council

In response to a records request filed by The B Square, the city of Bloomington has released a 32-page report by the Novak Consulting Group  that analyzes the organizational structure of the mayor’s office.

title page screen shot of a report that says: "City of Bloomington Organizational Assessment – Office of the Mayor Report/ April 2021" "

The report was completed and delivered to the city almost a year ago, in the third week of April 2021.

Among the recommendations in Novak’s report is to add a second deputy mayor position. Another recommendation is to “expand and enhance the City Council briefing process.”
Continue reading “Consultant: Bloomington mayor’s office should add top-level position, give better briefings to city council”

Proposed local income tax increase for Monroe County residents, tax bump for Bloomington property owners: Some details emerge

In a memo released Thursday afternoon, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton announced some details about an anticipated local income tax (LIT) increase for Monroe County.

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).

Under the climate change category, the biggest part ($4.85 million) could go towards public transit.

[Google Sheet compiled by The B Square]

Continue reading “Proposed local income tax increase for Monroe County residents, tax bump for Bloomington property owners: Some details emerge”