$29.5 million in bonds OK’d by Bloomington city council, decision on building purchase to come later

Bloomington’s city council voted 8–1 on Wednesday night to approve the issuance of $29.5 million in general revenue bonds, to pay for public safety projects—including the purchase and renovation of the western part of the former Showers Brothers Furniture building that houses city hall.

But the purchase of the western part of the historic Showers building was not included in the city council’s Wednesday approval. That vote is expected on Dec. 21.

The western part of the Showers building is where Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration is proposing to construct a replacement for the 3rd Street police station, and a new fire department administrative headquarters.

Also included in the bond proposal is the reconstruction of Fire Station #1 and the remodel of Fire Station #3, among other projects, for around $10.5 million.

The appropriation for the expenditure of $8.75 million for the building purchase, plus about $15 million in renovations, will get a first reading at next Wednesday’s (Dec. 14) meeting of the council, with a final vote expected the following week, on Dec. 21.

Together with the appropriation ordinance, the council will be asked to approve the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s purchase agreement for the Showers building.

Dissenting on the bond issuance vote was city council president Susan Sandberg.

Based on remarks from councilmembers on Wednesday, the Showers building purchase might not get the same level of support as the bond issuance, but seems likely to have the five votes it would need to win approval from the nine-member council. Continue reading “$29.5 million in bonds OK’d by Bloomington city council, decision on building purchase to come later”

Police union speaks against specific plan for location of new police facilities in city hall building

Last Wednesday, president of Bloomington’s police union, Paul Post, led off his public commentary at Bloomington’s city council meeting with a general statement of support for the administration’s plan to upgrade and modernize the city’s police station.

“We fully support mayor [John] Hamilton’s initiative to make the much needed improvements to working conditions at police and fire facilities,” Post said.

Post added, “I’ve worked at the 3rd Street police station now for over 20 years, and I can tell you that everyone would welcome a new and upgraded modern facility.”

However, about the administration’s exact proposal, Post had reached a different conclusion: “We can’t support this specific plan and its associated financial costs.” Continue reading “Police union speaks against specific plan for location of new police facilities in city hall building”

Deputy mayor Don Griffin files paperwork to run for mayor of Bloomington in 2023

At 11:11 a.m. on Friday morning, Bloomington deputy mayor Don Griffin, Jr. filed paperwork with the Monroe County election division to become a candidate for mayor in the 2023 election.

Bloomington deputy mayor Don Griffin, Jr. (B Square file photos from 2021 and 2022)

Griffin joins Susan Sandberg  and Kerry Thomson  as previously declared candidates for the mayoral nomination of the Democratic party.

Clearing the way for Griffin to run for mayor was Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s announcement two weeks ago  that he would not be seeking a third term.

Griffin and Hamilton both appeared on Wednesday in front of the Bloomington city council to present the administration’s proposal for a $29.5 million bond issuance to rehabilitate fire stations and to integrate a new police station into the western part of the Showers building—the same structure where city hall is located.

Reached by The B Square on Friday afternoon, Griffin said a more formal announcement would be forthcoming, probably early next week. For now, he’s just telling people that he is, if fact, running, and they’re welcome to tell others, too.

Griffin has served as deputy mayor of Bloomington since late April of 2021, when Mick Renneisen retired from the position. Continue reading “Deputy mayor Don Griffin files paperwork to run for mayor of Bloomington in 2023”

Kerry Thomson kicks off campaign for Bloomington mayor: “A public that labels itself ‘progressive’ deserves to see some progress.”

On Thursday, at a gathering of nearly 200 people at Switchyard Brewing on Walnut Street in downtown Bloomington, Kerry Thomson kicked off her 2023 campaign to become Bloomington’s next mayor.

About an hour before Thomson’s event, incumbent mayor Democrat John Hamilton had announced that he won’t be seeking a third four-year term.

Thomson led off her remarks with a recognition of Hamilton’s news: “I don’t know if anybody has heard, but John Hamilton decided he’s not running.”

She added, “We are grateful for his service to the city. And we are building forward with new leadership in the city of Bloomington—that’s what we know.”

So far at least, there are two declared candidates for the Democratic Party’s nomination for mayor in the 2023 race—Thomson and city council president Susan Sandberg. Their candidacies won’t become official until they file the paperwork in early 2023.

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.

Thursday’s gathering was Thomson’s second public campaign event. In June, at Bloomington Bagel Company on Dunn Street, she hosted a celebration of her announcement that she was making a mayoral bid. Continue reading “Kerry Thomson kicks off campaign for Bloomington mayor: “A public that labels itself ‘progressive’ deserves to see some progress.””

Hamilton on a third term as Bloomington mayor: “It’s tempting to run, but I just have decided not to.”

In a 4-minute YouTube video released around 4 p.m. on Thursday, Bloomington mayor Democrat John Hamilton announced he will not seek a third four-year term as mayor.

That means there are, so far at least, just two declared candidates in the Democratic Party primary—Susan Sandberg and Kerry Thomson. Their candidacies won’t become official until they file the paperwork at the start of the year.

In the video statement, Hamilton said the choice not to seek a third term was “not an easy decision.” Reflecting on his two terms of service, Hamilton said “felt like the right time to turn the page on a new chapter.”

Hamilton said, “It’s tempting to run, but I just have decided not to.”

About his remaining time in office, Hamilton said, “There are 13 months ahead of great work, exciting work.” He likened it to an athletic contest: “We’re kind of in the fourth quarter of the game. And you know, a lot of really good things can happen in the fourth quarter of a game.”

In the video, as a prelude to the announcement he won’t be running for reelection, Hamilton ticks through the areas where he believes Bloomington has achieved successes over the last seven years: the economy, housing, digital access, public safety, sanitation services, water utilities and bus service. Continue reading “Hamilton on a third term as Bloomington mayor: “It’s tempting to run, but I just have decided not to.””

Sandberg sets tone for 2023 mayoral campaign with kickoff: “We should restore before we do more.”

On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, current Bloomington city council president Susan Sandberg filed amended paperwork to convert her campaign organization from a mayoral exploratory committee to a campaign committee.

And on Sunday afternoon, Sandberg, a Democrat, kicked off her campaign for mayor with a gathering of about 60 people in one of the indoor shelters at Karst Farm Park.

Another declared candidate for Bloomington mayor in 2023, Democrat Kerry Thomson, will be kicking off her campaign this coming Thursday. Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, also a Democrat, has not yet publicly announced if he will seek re-election to a third term.

Karst Farm Park is a Monroe County government facility, Sandberg acknowledged in her opening remarks. And it was chosen for the kickoff with a specific intent, she said: “One of the things that I know I can bring to the table is a much better working relationship with our colleagues in Monroe County.”

Sandberg’s statement was a reference to the strained relations between Hamilton and the county commissioners. Policy issues where the friction between the two layers of government has been evident include a stalled collaborative effort on the convention center expansion and the location of a new county jail.

On Wednesday this past week, county commissioners invited the mayor to make the next move after voting to establish a capital improvement board to govern the new convention center expansion, contingent on the city council and the mayor’s agreement to its terms.

On the question of the jail location, for this Monday’s (Nov. 14) second city plan commission hearing on a requested rezone by the county government, to allow for jail construction in the southern part of the city, the city planning staff recommendation is now against the rezone. For the first hearing, the planning staff had not given a staff recommendation either way.

Better city-county relations are just one plank of Sandberg’s campaign platform which includes: affordability; safety; collaboration; and basic services. Continue reading “Sandberg sets tone for 2023 mayoral campaign with kickoff: “We should restore before we do more.””

Column: Let’s put a stop sign on the road to divisive debate club points, greenlight more ped infra money

Last Wednesday, a divided Bloomington city council approved new stop signs on Maxwell Lane at Sheridan Drive, making the intersection an all-way stop.

The council’s deliberations were on brand—mired in meaningless debate club theater. The desire to score debate points distracted from a fundamental challenge—the need to identify more funding for infrastructure that benefits pedestrians.

But there’s an upcoming venue where a need for additional funding pedestrian infrastructure could get aired. Sometime in the next few weeks, the four-member city council sidewalk committee will be conducting its annual review of requests for new sidewalk construction.

The committee will be making recommendations on how to divvy up $336,000, which is the same amount as last year.  But based on 2019 costs, there’s $17 million worth of requests on list for additional sidewalks, which will take a half century to build at the current pace.

I hope the sidewalk committee members take some of their meeting time to start talking about concrete steps the council could take, working with the mayor, to inject more money into pedestrian infrastructure.

Here’s some ideas that could be explored: annually issue $3 million in general obligation bonds targeted for pedestrian infrastructure; tap a portion of the $16 million in CRED (Community Revitalization Enhancement District) fund balances; or use tax increment finance (TIF) revenue, which is overseen by the redevelopment commission. Continue reading “Column: Let’s put a stop sign on the road to divisive debate club points, greenlight more ped infra money”

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”