Bloomington city council enacts law intended to prevent long meetings

On a 7–2 vote at its regular Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council enacted an ordinance that is intended to prevent its meetings from lasting longer than five and a half hours, or going past midnight.

Dissenting were council president Jim Sims and Susan Sandberg. The ordinance was authored by councilmember Steve Volan.

When it was first introduced on Sept. 1, the ordinance had wording that could be interpreted as putting an automatic end to city council meetings after five and a half hours or at 11:59 p.m., whichever comes first.

The wording on first introduction also allowed any single councilmember to cause a meeting to be adjourned after five and a half hours or at 11:59 p.m., whichever comes first.

On Wednesday, Volan offered the council two mutually exclusive possible amendments.

One amendment made explicit the automatic termination of meetings when either of the the time points were reached.

The other alternative required at least two councilmembers in order to force an end to a meeting—one to move for adjournment and another to second the motion.

That’s the amendment that the council adopted for the ordinance that it eventually passed.

That means the ordinance as enacted does not require an end to meetings after five and a half hours or at midnight. It just gives any two councilmembers the option of ending a meeting at those time points. Meetings will be able to continue past those times without remark or action by councilmembers. Continue reading “Bloomington city council enacts law intended to prevent long meetings”

Column: Bloomington city council should quickly kill ordinance on meeting length, focus instead on budget, annexation and climate change

Introduced at last Wednesday’s Bloomington city council meeting was a possible new local law (Ordinance 21-34) that would attempt to put a time limit on city council meetings.

Probably every current and future Bloomington resident would welcome a world where the meetings of the local legislature did not last until 3:30 a.m.

Of course that’s exactly what happened on March 3 this year, when the city council debated an ordinance on protections for homeless encampments. The council was evenly split 4–4 on the substance of the issue, because one councilmember was absent due to a family tragedy.

Does Bloomington’s city council need yet another procedural tool, in order to avoid an overlong meeting like the one on March 3?

Of course not.

The council already has some tools that could have been used to do the job.

Should the Bloomington city council now invest any of its collective energy trying to repair the technical flaws in the proposed ordinance by considering amendments? No. The proposed ordinance cannot be salvaged through amendments.

The city council should instead start taking a hard look at the toxic procedural dysfunctions that often lead to 3-hour meetings  that could have ended at the 2-hour mark. Or 2-hour meetings that could have ended after 45 minutes. Or committee meetings that need not have been scheduled in the first place.

Instead of wallowing in the mire of patch-wise procedural revisions, the city council should instead focus first on its actual business.

Among its currently pending items are the 2022 budget, the annexation proposal, and climate change. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington city council should quickly kill ordinance on meeting length, focus instead on budget, annexation and climate change”

Opinion: Legislating against Bloomington’s long city council meetings would not be a good use of time

At last Friday’s work session held by Bloomington’s city council, councilmember Steve Volan announced that he would be submitting a new ordinance for consideration that would “set a hard limit for all meetings to five and a half hours.”

Volan’s proposal to make city council meeting length a matter of local law comes after a record-setting nine-hour city council meeting that took place in early March.

On Friday, Volan added, “I don’t know when leadership would like to take that up. I’d like to see it taken up as soon as possible.”

I’d like to see Volan’s proposed ordinance ignored by the council’s leadership.

Consideration of such an ordinance would count as a distraction from a more pressing need—to address the kind of basic procedural dysfunctions that plague Bloomington’s city council.

While a nine-hour meeting can be headline grabbing, three-hour meetings that should have required only 90 minutes are also problematic. Perhaps even more troublesome are whole meetings that could have easily been elided. Continue reading “Opinion: Legislating against Bloomington’s long city council meetings would not be a good use of time”

9-hour city council meeting likely a record for Bloomington

On Wednesday, the Bloomington city council’s regular meeting started at 6:30 p.m. as it usually does.

Council vice president Sue Sgambelluri, who chaired the proceedings, wrapped up just before adjournment: “OK. Heartfelt thanks, particularly to the public who stayed with us this long.”

How long was it? The CATS recording has a duration of 9 hours 4 minutes and 28 seconds, which put the hour of adjournment around 3:35 a.m.

As the clock ticked towards 3 a.m., former city clerk Regina Moore tweeted at current city clerk Nicole Bolden that the meeting rivaled one in the 1990s that lasted until 3 a.m. It involved human rights.

On Thursday, Bolden checked the records for the meeting that Moore was talking about. It took place on July 7, 1993 when the council considered Ordinance 93-28, which amended the city’s 1983 human right’s ordinance.

Wednesday’s meeting was extended by debate and public commentary on an ordinance that was also written with an eye towards protecting human rights—of those who are experiencing homelessness. The council voted 4–4 this week, which meant the ordinance failed.

The 1993 ordinance, which revised the existing human rights ordinance to add  protections against discrimination due to sexual orientation, was approved on a 9–0 vote. Continue reading “9-hour city council meeting likely a record for Bloomington”

Opinion: Hey, Bloomington city council, got time for better bus routes?

cropped 12-02-2019 IMG_1178
On Monday morning, two Bloomington Transit buses head out from the downtown transit center north on Walnut Street. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

In January 2020, the next edition of Bloomington’s common council will take office.

The first law passed by the new nine-member local legislature should be called the “Last Call Public Transit Time Ordinance.”

The new law would require that city council meetings end before the last public bus of the day leaves the general area of downtown and city hall, where city council meetings are held.

It would help ensure that people who rely on public transportation can attend city council meetings and stay until the end. It would also encourage councilmembers maintain some basic knowledge about Bloomington Transit bus schedules.

But here’s the most important consequence of the law: For councilmembers who think longer meetings are essential to doing the People’s business, the law creates an incentive to find the money to run buses later.

That’s important, given a proposed new route configuration from Bloomington Transit that would reduce evening service on half of its routes, even while maintaining the same total number of service hours.

BT has conducted a month’s worth of public sessions to introduce the new proposal. The final meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 3 from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Downtown Transit Center. The BT board isn’t expected to make a decision until early next year. [Take the BT survey on the new route proposal here: Survey Link] Continue reading “Opinion: Hey, Bloomington city council, got time for better bus routes?”

Hey, Wait a Minute |”I’m leaving this meeting at 10:30, regardless of how long it goes…”

Note: “Hey Wait a Minute” is an occasional B Square Beacon series that highlights meeting minutes and other documentation of local government meetings in the Bloomington, Indiana area.

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 11.19.17 PM
“…it’s 9:45 p.m. I am leaving this meeting at 10:30, regardless of how long it goes, because I need to sleep at night. … There is absolutely no reason why we should be having a meeting that lasts more than four hours …”

At the most recent meeting of Bloomington’s city council, on July 31, councilmember Allison Chopra offered some candid commentary on the length of the meeting.

Chopra said in part: “…it’s 9:45 p.m. I am leaving this meeting at 10:30, regardless of how long it goes, because I need to sleep at night. … There is absolutely no reason why we should be having a meeting that lasts more than four hours …”

The criticism that councilmember Chopra expressed at the meeting—of her colleagues and herself—was serious business. I think it’s worth watching Chopra’s remarks as she made them, in their entirety.

But how likely are you to click on a link to a four-hour meeting video? I’d guess the answer is: Not at all likely, because you are not a local-government nerd. Continue reading “Hey, Wait a Minute |”I’m leaving this meeting at 10:30, regardless of how long it goes…””