Column: Bloomington city council quarrel about committees could be helped by a look back to 1954

The image contains the text of points 59 and 60 or an ordinance. The complete text reads as follows: "59. Each ordinance to be introduced in the Common Council shall be typewritten or mimeographed, and at least six (6) boors before the convening of the meeting at which such ordinance is to be introduced, twelve (12) copies thereof shall be filed with the Clerk-Treasurer for his file and to be distributed to the members of the Council, the Mayor and the City Attorney. Such filed copies accompanied by a motion signed by a member of the Common Council proposing the introduction of such ordinance, shall qualify the ordinance to be placed on the calendar for first reading. However, upon motion approved by two-thirds!s of the members -present, said requirement for advance filing: of conies may be waived. 60. An ordinance shall be read a first time by the clerk when the order order of business is reached during the session of the Council;· provided, Rule 59 is complied with or waived. However, if there be objection to its consideration after the Clerk has read the title of such proposed ordinance, the question shall be: ''Shall the proposal be considered?'' Such question shall be decided without debate, and if two-thirds of the members present vote in the negative, the proposal shall be stricken from the calendar and not read. The first reading of such ordinance shall be in its entirety, and shall be for information only. An ordinance may not be debated or amended on its first reading, but shall normally be referred to an appropriate committee for consideration and recommendation. "
The image is taken from Bloomington city council rules adopted as part of Ordinance 7 in 1954.

On Wednesday this week, Bloomington’s city council will convene a stand-alone committee-of-the-whole meeting to discuss one item—an ordinance that would put an all-way stop at the intersection of Maxwell Lane and Sheridan Drive.

This week’s committee meeting has been listed on the council’s 2022 annual calendar since the council adopted the schedule late last year.

But at last week’s council meeting, after the stop sign ordinance was introduced and given a first reading, a motion was made to skip the committee meeting. That motion failed on a 4–5 vote “along party lines.”

The bit inside scare quotes is a joke, because all nine members of Bloomington’s city council are Democrats. But on the question of legislative process, the council has been sharply divided—along pretty much the same lines—since the start of 2020, when the current edition of the city council was sworn into office. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington city council quarrel about committees could be helped by a look back to 1954”

5-to-4 rift persists in Bloomington city council: Standing committees from 2020 nixed as Volan says, “The sponsors don’t like doing math.”

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council passed a resolution that abolished most of the council’s standing committees.

Councilmember Steve Volan began his final commentary with his assessment of those who had proposed the resolution: “The sponsors don’t like doing math.”

In the end, the only math that mattered was the sum of votes in favor of the resolution, which was 5. Volan was one of the four who opposed the resolution, which was sponsored by Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, and Jim Sims. Also voting for the resolution were Ron Smith and Dave Rollo.

Volan was joined in dissent by Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

Wednesday’s council action effectively undid an early 2020 decision by the council to establish a several new four-member standing committees. As newly-elected council president that year, Volan had managed to assemble a 5–4 majority in support of the new committees.

Two years later, the only difference in the 5–4 split was the vote of Sue Sgambelluri. She supported the creation of new committees in 2020. But Sgambelluri co-sponsored Wednesday’s resolution abolishing them.

The 5–4 split on the resolution is one that some councilmembers are increasingly starting to see as a fundamental divide, even if it’s not along party lines. All members of the Bloomington city council are Democrats.

After an amendment, the resolution preserved the climate action and resilience committee, but eliminated the rest of the 2020 committees. Wednesday’s resolution also eliminated the land use committee, which the council had established in 2018.

Some other standing committees that existed before 2020 were either preserved or restored by Wednesday’s resolution: the sidewalk committee; the Jack Hopkins social services funding committee; and three three-member “interview committees” that are responsible for reviewing appointments to various boards and commissions.

About her change in perspective since 2020, Sgambelluri said Wednesday night: “I also believe that, overall, standing committees have not shown themselves to be the best tool, or even the better tool for managing council’s workload.” Continue reading “5-to-4 rift persists in Bloomington city council: Standing committees from 2020 nixed as Volan says, “The sponsors don’t like doing math.””

Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending

From left: Bloomington city councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Ron Smith at the Oct. 31, 2021 announcement of Democrat Penny Githens’ candidacy for District 62 state representative. All nine members of Bloomington’s city council are Democrats.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council made Ron Smith its appointee to the city plan commission for the coming year.

The other councilmember who had asked to be appointed was Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

For Piedmont-Smith it was the second year in a row that she was not the council’s pick as its appointment to the plan commission. The outcome was decided  by the same 5–4 margin. Last year, it was Susan Sandberg who was put in the plan commission seat.

Smith prevailed on the same 5–4 split as last year, which broke down along the same lines as the vote for council president and vice president at last week’s meeting.

The five voting for Smith were: Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, Dave Rollo, and Jim Sims. The four voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Steve Volan and Kate Rosenbarger.

Also on Wednesday’s agenda was a resolution that would eliminate most of the council’s standing committees.

After two hours of debate, mostly in the guise of questions that were put to the resolution’s sponsors, the council voted to postpone consideration of the resolution until its Jan. 19 meeting.

The resolution eliminating several of the council’s standing committees is sponsored by Sandberg, Sgambelluri and Sims.

Continue reading “Contested Bloomington plan commission spot goes to Smith not Piedmont-Smith, standing committees question still pending”

Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance

A proposed new Bloomington law that would provide some protections to encampments of houseless people has been referred to the city council’s committee of the whole.

On Wednesday night, after the proposed law’s first reading, the city council decided that its committee of the whole will meet next week, on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m., to deliberate on the encampment protections.

Under local law, no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.

The ordinance could have been referred to the council’s four-member standing committee on public safety. But that motion failed on a 4–5 vote.

Voting for referral to the standing committee on public safety were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

The city council’s public safety standing committee is made up of Piedmont-Smith, Volan, Susan Sandberg, and Jim Sims.

That means the public safety committee members were split 2–2 on the question of whether to refer the proposed encampment protections to their smaller group of four, compared to the group of all nine councilmembers.

With a referral to the public safety committee no longer a possibility, the vote to send the proposed new law to the committee of the whole was 9–0.

The contentious vote on committee referral was consistent with ongoing skirmishes among councilmembers over the creation and use of standing committees. Continue reading “Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance”

Analysis: Bloomington city council scrutinizes its committee structure, annual budget process

At a work session held on Dec. 21, Bloomington’s city council reviewed the way it handles ordinary legislation during the year.

Based on “city council” by Thomas Deckert from the Noun Project

Ten days earlier, on Dec. 11, the council had reviewed the way it handles the main piece of legislation it approves every year, which is the city’s annual budget.

Based on discussion at those two meetings, 2021 could see some changes in the council’s legislative procedures compared to 2020, even if those changes might not be radical.

The city council’s 2021 activity could play out in part based on the answer to two key questions.

The first question: How big a role will four-member standing committees play in the ordinary legislative process? Several new standing committees were created by the council this year, on a 5–4 vote taken in February.

The possible impact of standing committees on the council’s legislative process was the focus of a report compiled by the city council’s legal researcher about durations of all meeting types over the last six years.  The report was the basis for the city council’s discussion at its Dec. 21 special meeting.

Whether legislation in 2021 is referred to a four-person standing committee, the council’s committee of the whole, or no committee at all, could be affected by the council’s choice of a president at its first meeting of the year on Jan. 6.

The second question: Is there a point on the calendar when the city council could have a chance to have a meaningful impact on the mayor’s proposed budget?

A highlight of the budget process, from the city council’s point of view, has traditionally been its “budget advance” meeting held sometime in the spring. Councilmembers outline the kinds of elements they want to see in the budget that gets proposed by the mayor in August.

Having participated in the development of quarter century’s worth of city budgets, on Dec. 11 this year, deputy mayor Mick Renneisen sized up the role of the city council’s budget advance this way: “I’ve yet to hear anything in the budget advance that has significantly impacted our budget.” He added, “It’s too general and it’s too soon.”

That leaves the door open to scheduling of city council budget input later than spring, but earlier than late August. Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington city council scrutinizes its committee structure, annual budget process”

Opinion: Bloomington’s new city seal ordinance delivers insight into a possibilities for better legislative process

An ordinance that establishes a new city seal for Bloomington does not appear on the city council’s regular meeting agenda for Wednesday, Dec. 2.

Yet that is the date when it was proposed by the city clerk to be effective.

Those two morsels make for some pretty thin civic gruel in the post-Thanksgiving news cycle. But it’s not too thin to feed a proposal that would tweak the city council’s legislative process.

One part of the approach served up here would change a single line of the local code, which prohibits any debate on a new law when it is first introduced to the city council.

The other change to the process would make routine for all legislation a practice that the city council already uses for the annual budget: Councilmembers submit written questions, which are then answered by staff in writing, and posted for the public to review.

Before looking at that proposal in a little more detail, it’s worth adding a little meat to the legislative soup of the city seal. Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington’s new city seal ordinance delivers insight into a possibilities for better legislative process”

Bloomington city council creates standing committees on 5–4 vote

At Wednesday’s regular meeting, after about two hours of deliberation, Bloomington’s city council voted 5-4 to establish eight new four-member standing committees.

Wednesday’s vote means that after a first reading of a new local law, the council will now have the option of referring the legislation to any of the standing committees for further consideration. And as one consequence of local code, a standing committee can meet twice on a referred proposal, before it has to report back to the full council. Continue reading “Bloomington city council creates standing committees on 5–4 vote”

Next week’s agenda: Will a majority of Bloomington city council support standing committees?

At a work session held Friday afternoon, city council president Steve Volan and other councilmembers heard again from city staff about Volan’s proposal to establish several four-member standing committees.

The proposal—which is a resolution, not a new ordinance—will appear on the council’s agenda next week (Feb. 19) for a third time. It was first heard on Jan. 8, postponed until Jan. 29, then put off again until next week.

The smaller standing committees would replace the “committee of the whole” in the regular legislative process.

Under Volan’s proposal, the standing committees would also play an oversight role for departments in the administration.

First introduced on Jan. 8, Volan’s initial proposal met with resistance from city department heads. Volan has since clarified that he means “oversight” in the sense of “inspect or examine.” Volan says the standing committees are not meant to exercise oversight in the sense of supervisory authority.

Volan’s proposal has also met with some opposition among the same councilmembers that voted 9–0 on Jan. 8—their first public meeting of the year—to put him in the president’s chair. If the council gives the standing committee resolution a final vote next Wednesday, the tally could be a 5–4 or 4–5 split. Continue reading “Next week’s agenda: Will a majority of Bloomington city council support standing committees?”

Question of standing committees delayed until late February by Bloomington’s city council, uncertain future next week for local towing law

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously to postpone, until Feb. 19, council president Steve Volan’s resolution on establishing several council standing committees.

The unanimous vote on the postponement went smoother than the subsequent discussion of the council’s schedule for next week. That’s when an ordinance regulating non-consensual towing will appear on the agenda for a second reading.

The procedural options for the council’s Feb. 5 action on the towing ordinance include rejection, adoption, postponement, or referral to an ad hoc committee.

On Wednesday, council attorney/administrator Dan Sherman wanted direction from councilmembers on how to portray the towing ordinance item on the the Feb. 5 agenda.

Sherman’s question was resolved by the council in favor of an agenda note. The note will indicate that public commentary will be heard on the towing ordinance, but will also state that the ordinance might be referred to a committee. Continue reading “Question of standing committees delayed until late February by Bloomington’s city council, uncertain future next week for local towing law”

Pitch for Bloomington city council standing committees seen by executive branch as a fastball

“Is council a co-equal branch of government or isn’t it?” That’s a rhetorical question posed by Steve Volan, this year’s president of Bloomington’s city council, about the relationship between the council and the city’s administration.

Volan asked the question during a contentious work session held last Friday afternoon in city hall’s Hooker Conference Room. All nine councilmembers attended at least part of the session, along with a dozen and half staff members, among them several department heads and deputy mayor Mick Renneisen.

The friction that emerged between Volan and staff members, and with some of Volan’s city council colleagues, stemmed from a pending resolution, introduced by Volan at the city council’s first meeting of the year, on Jan. 8.

Volan proposes to use existing city code to establish seven four-member standing committees. Already established is a land use committee, to which zoning legislation has been referred for the last two years. Continue reading “Pitch for Bloomington city council standing committees seen by executive branch as a fastball”