Monroe County commissioners set Nov. 16 meeting to get public feedback on planned convention center expansion

A public input session on the future of the Monroe County convention center has been set for Monday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. It will be conducted by video conference.

President of the county board of commissioners Julie Thomas made the announcement at the end of the board’s regular Wednesday morning meeting.

When The Square Beacon touched base with county council president Eric Spoonmore, he said, “It’s a good idea,” to have a meeting on the topic. Spoonmore added that it’s important to reach out to Bloomington officials to make sure they are included in the meeting.

The backdrop to the announcement includes an uncontroversial six-month pause to the project caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But before that, the project had already been stalled for 10 months in a controversial way, over governance issues. The architect for the project has not yet been contracted for the building design.
Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners set Nov. 16 meeting to get public feedback on planned convention center expansion”

Monroe County commissioners OK contract with BLM Bloomington for anti-racism training, don’t require other electeds to take it

At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved a $6,000 agreement with Black Lives Matter Bloomington for a day of anti-racism training next year.

The six-hour day of training by eight BLM facilitators is currently scheduled for Jan. 30, 2021. But that date could change by agreement between the commissioners and BLM.

Also at their Wednesday meeting, the commissioners approved revisions to the Monroe County personnel manual that, among other items, address the kind of training that will be provided by BLM. It won’t require elected officials to take BLM’s training.

Commissioners had postponed the revisions to the personnel manual from the previous week. Some wording in an initially proposed added section had caused county councilors to amend the 2021 salary ordinances. The councilors’ amendment tied the ordinances to the personnel manual as it stood, before any revisions were made.

The initial revision had read: “[A]ll elected officials and full time employees will be required to participate in a training…”

The version approved by commissioners on Wednesday reads: “[A]ll full time, non-law enforcement, employees, with the exception of those working under the authority of the Prosecutor and Board of Judges, will be required to participate in training.” Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners OK contract with BLM Bloomington for anti-racism training, don’t require other electeds to take it”

Press Release: Bloomington police investigate northside killing

In a press release issued Tuesday afternoon, the Bloomington police department reported a shooting on the north side of town that detectives are now investigating as a murder.

No arrests have been made, according to the release. Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call detective Chris Scott at (812) 349-3382.

The shooting took place the night before, inside a residence on the 1600 block of N. Willis in the north part of town, according to the news release. Continue reading “Press Release: Bloomington police investigate northside killing”

Bloomington city council greenlights revised traffic calming program

Bloomington’s neighborhood traffic safety program (NTSP) has been overhauled and replaced with a traffic calming and greenways program (TCGP).

Among other things, the program is meant to help curtail speeding in residential neighborhoods.

When Bloomington’s city council approved the revised program at its meeting last Wednesday, it OK’d more than just a change to the name.

A key difference between the old program and the revised one is the way it measures required neighborhood support for a proposed traffic calming project. The old program required a measurement of neighborhood support at two stages—on application and after a project design was selected.

In the old program, an application petition needed to be signed by 51 percent of households in the affected area. Later, after a project design was selected, more than 50 percent of households had to return a ballot voting in favor of it. That’s a percentage that was applied not to the returned ballots, but to the whole set of eligible households.

In the revised program, the formal voting step has been eliminated. And the petitioning step has a reduced signature threshold. Instead of requiring 51 percent of signatures from households in the affected area, it’s now 30 percent of households or 24 signatures, whichever is less. Continue reading “Bloomington city council greenlights revised traffic calming program”

Historical total for Bloomington’s Jack Hopkins social services funding nudges past $5M

A second round of Jack Hopkins social services funding this year has pushed the historical amount of awards to $5,006,856. The program started in 1993.

On Monday night, the Bloomington city council’s Jack Hopkins committee made recommendations for awards to 25 different local social services nonprofits totaling $224,905. A total of $591,599 had been requested by the applicants.

The five largest awards are recommended to go to Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard ($19,100), Shalom Community Center, Inc. [Beacon] ($17,500), Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana ($15,000), Bloomington St. Vincent de Paul ($15,000), and New Hope Family Shelter, Inc. ($14,020).

The city council will have the awards on its Nov. 18 meeting agenda for final approval.

An additional $200,000 in funding for Jack Hopkins social services this year was a part of the $2-million Recover Forward package proposed by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration and approved by the city council at a mid-August meeting.

The extra funding is meant to shore up nonprofits for the additional work they are doing this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continue reading “Historical total for Bloomington’s Jack Hopkins social services funding nudges past $5M”

Monroe County election board mulls investigation of unlawful electioneering at polls by voter wearing COVID-19 mask with candidate’s name

Monroe County’s election board could eventually wind up conducting an investigation of unlawful electioneering by a voter at the early in-person polls.

The voter has been described as wearing a COVID-19 mask with a candidate’s name printed on it, inside the polling location at Election Central, while voting was taking place. The voter, who was allowed to cast a ballot, refused to swap to a different mask or turn his own inside out.

That appears to be a violation of Indiana’s state election law, which says that electioneering is not allowed inside a polling place.

The definition of electioneering includes “expressing support or opposition to any candidate” and “wearing or displaying an article of clothing, sign, button, or placard that states the name of any political party or includes the name, picture, photograph, or other likeness of any currently elected federal, state, county, or local official.” [IC 3-14-3-16]

It was an election worker who gave the county election board a report on the matter at its Monday morning meeting, which was held to square away any remaining issues before Election Day.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the voter could wind up charged with committing a Class A misdemeanor, according to Matthew Kochevar, who is co-general counsel for the Indiana Election Division.

The punishment for a Class A misdemeanor is up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

To get to an outcome involving jail time and a fine, the county election board could investigate the electioneering allegation at a public meeting of the board under[ IC 3-6-5-31],  Kochevar wrote in an emailed message to The Square Beacon. The election board could then vote to forward the matter to the county prosecutor under [IC 3-6-5-32], as a violation of the electioneering statute, Kochevar said.

According to a statement issued by Monroe County election board member Carolyn VandeWiele late Monday, she spoke to the Monroe County prosecutor’s office and confirmed: “They will prosecute any offenses that we bring before them.” Continue reading “Monroe County election board mulls investigation of unlawful electioneering at polls by voter wearing COVID-19 mask with candidate’s name”

Election board adds 5 more hours for early voting in Monroe County: “Our voters need to vote.”

The line at early voting in Monroe County, Indiana at Election Central (7th and Madison) on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The time for early in-person voting in Monroe County has been extended on Thursday and Friday (Oct. 29, 30) by one extra hour—until 7 p.m. Early voting on those days will start the same time as previously scheduled, which is 8 a.m.

On Saturday (Oct. 31), an hour has been added to the start of the day and two hours tacked on to the end, to make for a 10-hour day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The county has one in-person early voting site, at 7th and Madison streets, aka Election Central, in downtown Bloomington.

The extra time was added by the three-member county election board in a unanimous vote taken at its Monday morning meeting.

The board was reacting to the long lines that have persisted at the one early voting site in the county, since early voting started three weeks ago.

On Saturday (Oct. 24), the line started off wrapped around the whole block from 7th and Madison streets, south to 6th Street, west on 6th to Rogers Street, north on Rogers to 7th, and back to Madison. The waiting time to vote has in some cases approached two hours and has consistently ranged between an hour to an hour and a half.

The election board is made up of Carolyn VandeWiele, the Democratic Party’s representative, Hal Turner, the Republican Party’s representative, and the county clerk, who is Nicole Browne, a Democrat. Continue reading “Election board adds 5 more hours for early voting in Monroe County: “Our voters need to vote.””

Courthouse closed as Nov. 10 fall property tax deadline approaches, treasurer describes ways to pay

As the Nov. 10 deadline for paying fall property taxes approaches, Monroe County treasurer Jessica McClellan is making a push to make sure residents know what their options are for making tax payments.

The county courthouse building is closed, except by appointment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions. That’s an extra reason McClellan is trying to get the word out this year about how to pay.

For folks who want to deal with a live human being, facemask to facemask, appointments can be made by calling the treasurer’s office at 812-349-2530. McClellan says it will likely switch callers to voicemail: Leave a message and it will be answered in the order it was received.

For those who want to use the mails, the address is: PO Box 2028, Bloomington, IN 47402. To count as on time, the tax payment has to be postmarked by Nov. 10.

That’s more lenient than the law that applies to absentee ballots. Ballots have to be received (not just postmarked) by the clerk’s office no later than noon on Election Day.

For taxpayers who don’t want to send their payment through the mail, but don’t feel a need to hand deliver their payment to another person, a dropbox has been installed at the north entrance to the courthouse. Continue reading “Courthouse closed as Nov. 10 fall property tax deadline approaches, treasurer describes ways to pay”

A look back at 2016 Monroe County results, 2020 early voting continues at 100 voters-per-hour pace

Saturday’s early in-person voting total in Monroe County was 825.

That daily total was the smallest number so far in the first three weeks of early voting. But that’s because it was the first day of Saturday voting, which offers just seven hours of voting time.

Saturday’s pace of around 118 voters per hour was the highest throughput of any day so far.

Early voting takes place at just one location, Election Central, at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington.

Based on the roughly 15,000 early in-person voters so far, and the remaining hours of in-person early voting that are available, around 21,000 people might be expected to have voted in person before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Last week’s number of mail-in absentee ballots requested was put at around 14,000 at last Tuesday’s meeting of the election board.

If voter turnout this year matches the numbers from 2016, which was the most recent presidential year election, that would mean just shy of 60,000 voters.

Peeling off this year’s early in-person and mail-in numbers from 60,000 would still leave at least 25,000 people voting on Election Day. They would be casting their ballots at one of the 28 polling locations around the county where they are assigned to vote.

On average that would mean every polling site on Election Day would be handling around 890 voters over the 12-hour voting period. That works out to about 74 voters per hour.

But that’s if the same number of voters turn out this year as last year. It could be a lot more. For every 1,000 additional Monroe County voters who cast a ballot this year, the 28 polling sites will need to handle another three voters per hour. Continue reading “A look back at 2016 Monroe County results, 2020 early voting continues at 100 voters-per-hour pace”

Opinion | Flying, falling pumpkins: A perfect pandemic pick-me-up

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On Saturday starting at noon, a few dozen pumpkins were sent flying several hundred feet down the field at the Monroe County fairgrounds.

The grass expanse, littered with shards of busted orange gourds, marked the return of Pumpkin Launch, hosted by the city of Bloomington’s parks and recreation department.

Four teams competed on Saturday—three with trebuchet-style launchers and a fourth with a sling-shot powered device.

The long-running event was rained out last year. Saturday’s skies started off overcast, but rain was never a threat. And by early afternoon, the sun had started to nudge the temperature upward from 50 F degrees. The wind was blowing out of the northeast at around 10 mph, so it was a brisk but still pleasant day.

The mark of the COVID-19 pandemic on this year’s event was clear. Orange pumpkin-shaped social distancing “circles”—complete with a green stem—were painted out in the spectator area to keep groups of people spread out. Instructions from the event staff were clear: If you go outside your group’s pumpkin circle, make sure you’re wearing a mask.

The number of cars was limited to 75 to keep the crowd size down.

Scoring for the day’s effort was strictly objective.

Distances—from the pumpkin launchers to the point of impact and from there to the targets—were measured with a GPS device. An old-fashioned measuring wheel was pressed into service when the more modern gadget fritzed out briefly.

In the day’s earlier of the two sessions, the first effort from Tetanus Express measured out at 903 feet, the longest launch for that round.

Also, objectively scored, Pumpkin Launch was great fun.

The parks and recreation staff who put the event together, which included community coordinators Sarah Owen and Bill Ream, delivered a couple of hours of pure delight and refreshing distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue reading “Opinion | Flying, falling pumpkins: A perfect pandemic pick-me-up”