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 a work session held on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, Monroe County councilors took care of some year-end appropriations, and talked with county commissioners about next year’s priorities.
A vote on extra appropriation to cover legal fees, amended by councilors from $30,000 to $18,126, was split 6–1
Some positive news was relayed from the commissioners office about the $4.7 million in CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) reimbursement funding that’s been awarded to the county. The state of Indiana has told the county to submit public safety personnel expenses as claims against the $4.7 million award.
That means the county will max out the reimbursement, according to Angie Purdie, administrator for the commissioners office.
Once the money is reimbursed to the county, it goes into the county general fund, according to Purdie, which means county councilors have flexibility to spend the money as they judge to be appropriate.
Less flexible in the way it can be spent is revenue from the countywide food and beverage tax, which is split about 90-10 between Bloomington and Monroe County government. The county’s current fund balance for the food and beverage tax is $554,194, even after distributing nearly $400,000 worth of grants for COVID-19 relief to businesses and nonprofits earlier this year.
Councilors will be weighing whether to put some of that fund balance towards additional business relief, or using it to backstop shortfalls in the revenue from the innkeepers tax, due to the COVID-pandemic. The innkeepers tax is a key source of revenue for payment of $636,000 in debt service on the land surrounding the convention center and the most recent renovation to the center.
Highlights from Wednesday’s press conference of local leaders on COVID-19 pandemic response included a couple of takeaways.
First, when the vaccine starts to arrive locally, expected in mid-December, that’s not the end of the COVID-19 marathon.
Second, part of what it means to keep running the race means keeping track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen over the last few days. That way if you test positive, you know what to tell contact tracers.
The idea of keeping track of your own behavior, even if you have not yet tested positive, came from Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill. She fielded a question about the followup interviews that contact tracers conduct with patients who have tested positive.
Patients are not asked if they have been in specific places, Caudill said. Rather they are asked, “Where have you been?”
Caudill then pivoted to a challenge for anyone who has not tested positive. What would you say if you had to answer the questions: “Where were you in the last four days? How many places have you been? How many people were near you without a mask within six feet? And how long is that list?”
From 2016 to 2020, not a lot changed in the general election results in the state of Indiana for the top of the ticket.
In the Hoosier state, Republican Donald Trump had 57.1 percent of the vote against Democrat Hillary Clinton. Against Joe Biden, Trump tallied about the same percentage—just one-tenth of a point lower.
But Biden did 3 points better than Clinton, with 41 percent compared to Clinton’s 38 percent. In 2016, Libertarian Gary Johnson drew almost 5 percent of the vote.
The county-by-county tally yielded a different winner in just one of Indiana’s 92 counties. In Tippecanoe County, Biden squeaked out a 0.2 point margin over Trump, a place where Trump was four points better than Clinton four years ago. That made a total of five counties blue this year, compared to four in 2016.
But the shades of difference across counties give some insight that might not be apparent from statewide or county totals.
To get a better idea of where things improved for each party, The Square Beacon plotted the difference in margins between 2020 and 2016 for the presidential race in those years.
At its meeting last Thursday, Bloomington’s parking commission got a quick briefing from city garage manager Ryan Daily, about the end of first-hour-free parking in city garages downtown. That’s slated under local law for Jan. 1, 2020.
That’s because the press release also announced some free parking during Thanksgiving and Christmas. The mayor has discretion under local law to waive parking fees “during the holiday season.”
Jan. 1 falls on a Friday, and according to the press release, Saturday parking in city garages will be free in December. Sunday garage parking is always free. So it’s Jan. 4 that will mark the dawn of a no-free-parking era in downtown Bloomington parking garages.
According to the press release, for the week of Thanksgiving—from Thursday, (Nov. 26) through Sunday (Nov. 29)—there will be no charge for street parking downtown, where meters are normally enforced, or in city garages.
Last week, Bloomington’s planning staff hosted two more public sessions by video conference, about possible changes to the city zoning map as well as the text of the unified development ordinance (UDO).
The UDO was repealed and replaced last year amid an acrimonious community-wide debate. Proposed changes to the zoning map were expected this year, as some newly created zoning districts R4 (residential urban) and MS (mixed-use student) appeared only in the text, but not on the map.
Not necessarily expected was a reconsideration of the text, affecting which residential districts allow for duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes. That was a main point of friction last year.
Residents of older neighborhoods who opposed the idea of plexes as allowable uses where they live, question the re-introduction of the issue, just a year after the city council voted 6–2 against plexes, even on conditional use, in R1, R2 and R3 neighborhoods.
Part of the message from planning staff over the last few weeks of video conferences with the public has focused on the preliminary nature of these late-year information sessions.
“We are not even in the public hearing process yet at all,” said Jackie Scanlan, who’s development services manager for Bloomington’s planning department. She added, “We are just in an information gathering process. We put out ideas. We are taking feedback on those, so that we can craft a draft zoning map and text amendment.”
Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about COVID-19 response came on another day of bad COVID numbers for Monroe County and the rest of Indiana.
Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, said in his region, a total of 4,438 inpatients had been tested and 556 of those have been “very, very sick.”
Shockney described the patients this way: “These are your friends, these are your neighbors. These are those people that you know, your family members.” He added, “This is a serious disease and we need to take it seriously, now more than ever.”
Monroe County itself, which includes IU Health Bloomington and Monroe Hospital is showing a continuous upward increase in patients, Shockney said. Visitor policies have been revised to eliminate visits, with a few exceptions.
In a press release issued Thursday, Monroe County Republican Party chair William Ellis announced he has named Doug Horn to the five-member board of Bloomington Transit (BT), the local public transportation corporation.
Horn is a Bloomington businessman and former Monroe County plan commissioner.
It’s not the usual way appointments are made to the BT board, and might be disputed by Bloomington’s city council.
Under state statute, the seat to which Ellis has named Horn is supposed to be appointed by the Bloomington city council.
At its regular Wednesday meeting, on a 6–3 vote, Bloomington’s city council established a new commission that will be called the Community Advisory on Public Safety (CAPS) commission.
The new commission has the goal to “increase the safety of all Bloomington community members, especially those often marginalized due to race, disability, gender, sexual identity, or sexual orientation.”
Dissenting were Jim Sims, Susan Sandberg, and Sue Sgambelluri.
The three are also members of the city council’s standing public safety committee, which reviewed the ordinance at two meetings—one in late October and another one last week. Their lack of support for the new commission was conveyed by abstentions on the committee’s vote.
As members of the city council’s public safety standing committee, the three who dissented will now share in the committee’s job to make recommendations for appointments to the 11-member CAPS commission. Members are supposed to include Black, Latinx, other people of color, people with disabilities, people who are non-cisgender, and members of other marginalized groups.