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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At a work session held on Dec. 21, Bloomington’s city council reviewed the way it handles ordinary legislation during the year.
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.”
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.
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”→
A shot of the city hall conference room, where the city council’s work session was held.
Council president Steve Volan.
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.
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.
“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.