Cataloging scooter parking violations: Bloomington to use temp agency for initial staffing of 2 positions

Shared electric scooters that are parked so they block ADA ramps and sidewalks in Bloomington will soon be systematically documented and moved out of the way by two temporary workers.

In action taken on Tuesday, the city’s three-member board of public works approved a contract with Express Employment Services that is supposed to pay two workers $15.75 an hour for around 25 hours a week. The total cost of the city’s payments to Express can’t be more than $15,500.

The parking services division, within the department of public works, will administer the pilot program, which is supposed to be evaluated at the end of the year.

A temp agency is being used just to get the new workers on the job as quickly as possible, with an eye towards bringing the same people on board as temporary city employees soon after that.

The jobs are posted on the city’s own job board.

The program to document blockage of ADA ramp and sidewalk access, and move the scooters out of the path is being launched more than three years after the city council enacted its scooter ordinance.

Bloomington’s local law allows shared use electric scooter companies to use the public right-of-way for their operations, in exchange for a licensing fee of $10,000 a year, and a payment to the city of 15 cents per ride.

Currently licensed to do business in Bloomington are Bird, Lime, and VeoRide.

Continue reading “Cataloging scooter parking violations: Bloomington to use temp agency for initial staffing of 2 positions”

Denied by Bloomington: Request to vacate two strips of right-of-way where parts of buildings stand

If a property owner asks the city of Bloomington to give up some public-right-of-way, the city’s default answer is no.

On Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council hewed to that basic standard, when eight of nine councilmembers voted against Solomon Lowenstein’s request for vacation of two strips of land.

The property is in the northeast part of the city, just south of 11th Street near the B-Line Trail.

The proposal got just one vote of support, from Ron Smith.

The historical background goes back around 100 years. More recently, in 2014, the city council considered, but ultimately denied ,a package of vacation requests, that also included Lowenstein’s. The vote eight years ago was 3–4, with two councilmembers absent—Steve Volan and Dave Rollo.

Why did Lowenstein, then as now, want the city to give up some land that is owned by the public? Continue reading “Denied by Bloomington: Request to vacate two strips of right-of-way where parts of buildings stand”

Column: Judge rules Bloomington plan commission violated Open Door Law, second lawsuit now filed

In a ruling issued on June 1, Monroe County circuit court judge Catherine Stafford found that Bloomington’s plan commission violated Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL) with its March 14, 2022 meeting.

Photo of plan commission in-person meeting with numbers 1 to 4 labeling the members who are physically present
This photo shows the plan commissioners who were physically present at the March 14, 2022 gathering. The graphics for the numbers have been added.

The allegation that the meeting violated the electronic meetings section of the ODL was made in a lawsuit that I filed a week after it took place.

The electronic meetings section of the ODL requires that at least 50 percent of the plan commissioners have to be physically present at the meeting. That works out to at least five of nine plan commissioners.

At the March 14 meeting, six of nine attended, but just four plan commissioners were physically present. The other two participated remotely.

Bloomington’s city attorney Mike Rouker tried to argue that the 50-percent is supposed to be calculated based on the number of plan commissioners present at the meeting, not the number of seated plan commissioners. Rouker’s attempted argument was counter to the widely disseminated guidance on the relatively new section of the ODL, which was provided last year by Indiana’s public access counselor.

However, the judge stopped short of granting all of the requested relief—which was to void the decisions made at the March 14 meeting. That would have forced the plan commission to reconsider all of the business that it transacted at the meeting.

Still, the plan commission has now reconsidered one of the votes that was taken at the March 14 meeting. Continue reading “Column: Judge rules Bloomington plan commission violated Open Door Law, second lawsuit now filed”

Police contract with 13% initial raise OK’d by Bloomington city council

On a unanimous vote, Bloomington’s city council has approved a new labor agreement with its police union, which has been unsigned since it was ratified in early March by a vote of the FOP Lodge 88.

The council’s action came at its regular meeting on Wednesday.

The highlight of the new four-year deal, which starts in 2023, is more pay for police officers. In the first year of the agreement, the contract calls for a base salary increase of around 13 percent, which works out to around $7,800 a year. Increases in each subsequent year are around 3 percent.

On Wednesday, it was city attorney Mike Rouker who reviewed for city councilmembers the legal and political nuts and bolts of the deal.

Among the political points was the fact that Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton made the new labor deal contingent on the city council’s recent approval of an increase in the local income tax.

Rouker pegged the direct fiscal impact of the new agreement over four years at $4,917,000. Rouker called it “a truly unprecedented investment in public safety and in our police officers.”

The significant increase in pay is meant to help Bloomington’s police department contend with challenges in recruitment and retention. Continue reading “Police contract with 13% initial raise OK’d by Bloomington city council”

Opinion: Bloomington’s plan commission violated Indiana’s Open Door Law, so I filed a lawsuit

The B Square’s report on the plan commission’s meeting last week was headlined with a question: Did Bloomington plan commission meeting follow state law on electronic meetings?

After talking to a half dozen different experts on Indiana’s Open Door Law, I think the answer to the headline’s question is: No.

That is, Bloomington’s plan commission violated the Open Door Law with its March 14, 2022 gathering, which was conducted on a hybrid in-person-electronic platform. Four plan commissioners were physically present. Two participated through a Zoom video-conference interface. And three were absent. Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington’s plan commission violated Indiana’s Open Door Law, so I filed a lawsuit”

13% pay increase for Bloomington police in first year of new labor agreement

Members of FOP Lodge 88, Bloomington’s police union, voted last week to accept the city’s proposal for a new four-year labor deal starting in 2023, according to FOP president Paul Post.

B Square file photo of Paul Post, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Don Owens Memorial Lodge 88

The current agreement between Bloomington and its police union expires at the end of 2022.

In the first year of the agreement, the contract calls for a base salary increase of around 13 percent, which works out to around $7,800 a year. Increases in each subsequent year are around 3 percent.

City attorney Mike Rouker gave a caveat on the agreement in an email to The B Square: “The contract is contingent on the city identifying a revenue source adequate to fund the salary adjustment.”

Bloomington’s city council will still need to approve the contract.

In Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s state of the city address, delivered on Feb. 24, he put the money question like this: “We need major investments in public safety, ongoing revenue for adequate police salaries as city council directed last year, and as our proposed four-year labor agreement has included.”

B Square file photo of Mike Rouker, city attorney, addressing Bloomington’s city council in December 2019.

That “ongoing revenue” is likely to be sought in the form of a local income tax increase, which could be enacted by Bloomington’s city council for all of Monroe County.

In an emailed statement to The B Square, Post wrote: “The FOP is pleased that an agreement has been reached between the BPD [Bloomington Police Department] bargaining unit and the city.”

The statement from Post continued, “This contract provides significant increases to salary amounts and longevity payments, with the hope of both recruiting new officers to fill our large officer shortage, and hopefully retaining our well trained existing officers.”

The statement from Post concluded: “While the amounts could certainly have gone a bit further, this will be a good ‘first step’ toward correcting the staffing crisis at BPD.” Continue reading “13% pay increase for Bloomington police in first year of new labor agreement”