Enforcement by city, county against encampments in different locations Thursday night: 1 tent remains at Seminary Park

Seminary Park

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During a Thursday night meeting of Bloomington city council’s four-member public safety committee, to hear public comment about the houseless encampment in Seminary Park, Monroe County sheriff’s deputies were patrolling county land further south off Rogers Street.

At Seminary Park, after the committee meeting ended around 9 p.m., word had already spread about two arrests made on the county’s property, which includes 87 acres that front Rogers Street north of Cherokee Drive.

A couple hours later, Seminary Park would see its own enforcement action.

Monroe County land

This aerial image of the county-owned property off Rogers is from the Monroe County online GIS system.

Continue reading “Enforcement by city, county against encampments in different locations Thursday night: 1 tent remains at Seminary Park”

Public right-of-way near Bloomington’s Seminary Park cleared, encampment moves into park for now

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Around 2 p.m. Thursday afternoon, Bloomington police department (BPD) officers told the houseless people living in the encampment near Seminary Park, south of downtown Bloomington, that they could not occupy the public right-of-way.

Helped by a couple dozen grassroots volunteers and nonprofit caseworkers from Wheeler Mission and Centerstone, several campers moved down the hill into the park itself.

The right-of-way is an area that can be enforced around the clock. The park closes at 11 p.m. That means the move several yards down the hill might have bought the campers 8–9 hours of extra time.

Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael responded to a Square Beacon question about the park clearance by saying the city wanted the campers to “finish the transition to safer shelter options.” Continue reading “Public right-of-way near Bloomington’s Seminary Park cleared, encampment moves into park for now”

Bloomington city council strips its sidewalk committee of duties

After about 2 hours and 45 minutes of deliberations on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council eliminated two of its 11 committees.

White dots with lines indicate projects recommended for funding by Bloomington city council’s sidewalk committee over the last 17 years. The darker the blue shading, the higher income the area is, based on US Census data. The image links to Bloomington resident Mark Stosberg’s “Sidewalk Equity Audit”

Not surviving the night was the council’s sidewalk committee.

The council started with a resolution could have eliminated as many as four of its committees. But the council unanimously agreed to preserve its housing committee and its climate action and resilience committee.

The council’s sanitation and utilities committee was merged with the community affairs committee.

The council’s sidewalk committee was not exactly eliminated.

But on a 5–4 vote, the sidewalk committee’s function was assigned to the transportation committee. That function is to make recommendations to the full council on the use of about $330,000 from the city’s alternative transportation fund, which purpose is to reduce the community’s dependence on automobiles.

The 5–4 vote by itself did not eliminate the sidewalk committee.

By the end of the meeting, it was not clear if the elimination of the sidewalk committee would come at a future meeting, in a housekeeping resolution, or if it would be eliminated through an authorization given to the council attorney, on a separate vote, to make revisions to the resolution.

The status of the sidewalk committee took up most of the council’s deliberative time on Wednesday night. The committee’s work had been put under close scrutiny by a report done by Bloomington citizen Mark Stosberg, which called into question the equitable geographic allocation of sidewalk funding over the last 17 years. Continue reading “Bloomington city council strips its sidewalk committee of duties”

Indiana bill on checking executive authority gets first committee hearing

Getting a first committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon was a bill that would put the state legislature in a position to have a say on extending the Indiana governor’s executive orders related to a disaster emergency.

Representative Matt Pierce asks a question during the Jan. 12, 2021 meeting of the House standing committee on rules and procedures. The image is a screen grab from the live video that the General Assembly makes available for committee hearings.

HB 1123 is one of several bills that deal with executive powers, which have been referred to the House standing committee on rules and procedures.

The bills are a reaction by legislators to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Holcomb, who is a Republican in a state where both chambers of the legislature have better than two-thirds Republican majorities, issued an executive order declaring a public health emergency on March 6, 2020. The governor has extended the executive order several times since then, in 30-day increments. The state of emergency is still in effect.

HB 1123 was authored by representative Matt Lehman, a Republican whose District 79 covers a swatch of the state that’s south of Fort Wayne.

The initial draft proposed by Lehman would prevent a governor’s order from continuing for longer than 30 days, unless the General Assembly is in session, or the governor has called for a special session of the legislature. Continue reading “Indiana bill on checking executive authority gets first committee hearing”

Seminary Park encampment not yet cleared, chance comes up for 50 more shelter beds

Reduced in number but remaining in place on Monday night, was Bloomington’s Seminary Park encampment of people who are experiencing homelessness.

The enforcement action, which Bloomington’s city administration had warned would come “on or about Jan. 11” looks like it might be taken about Jan. 11, not exactly on the date.

As of around 1 a.m. no action had been taken by the Bloomington police department (BPD) to remove anyone from the park.

The apparent lack of enforcement action at Seminary Park came after the late afternoon news of possibly 50 additional shelter beds that might become available.

Beacon, Inc. executive director Forrest Gilmore said on Facebook that he’d walked the city’s fire chief, Jason Moore, through a warehouse space that Gilmore described as looking like a viable low barrier winter shelter. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment not yet cleared, chance comes up for 50 more shelter beds”

Press release: New strain of COVID-19 in Hoosier state, vaccine dashboard gets daily update

Indiana’s department of health issued a press release just before noon on Monday (Dec. 11) saying that a new strain of COVID-19, previously identified in the United Kingdom, has been found in the state of Indiana.

According to the press release, the new strain does not cause more severe infections, but spreads easier. The state’s health commissioner, Kris Box, is quoted in the release saying, “It’s common for viruses to mutate, and we are seeing that occur with COVID-19.”

The quote from Box continues, “Because this strain of the virus can be transmitted more easily, it’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible.”

[Updated on Jan. 11, 2021 at 3:57 p.m. A spokesperson for the state’s department of health responded to a Square Beacon question about the possibility of separate tracking of the new strain by saying, “We do not intend to track it differently on the dashboard.” That’s because “It is normal for viruses to mutate, but the disease the virus caused – COVID-19 – is unchanged,” according to the spokesperson.]

The vaccine mentioned in Box’s quote is part of another update in the press release—about the state’s vaccine dashboard. It will now be updated daily, according to the release. Since its initial launch in recent weeks, it has been updated just on Wednesdays. Continue reading “Press release: New strain of COVID-19 in Hoosier state, vaccine dashboard gets daily update”

Column: B Clear bunnies, in case you need a carrot to dive into data

Like many cities in America, Bloomington uses its website to offer a pile of municipal data to the public.

Bloomington’s data warehouse is branded as B Clear Open Data.

When an item appears on the city council agenda, or an issue becomes controversial in the community, it’s always worth a quick search on B Clear Open Data.

Often a useful dataset is just sitting there, waiting to be analyzed.

Examples of the myriad datasets that have helped inform Square Beacon coverage include: water main breaks, the use of Lenco Bearcat armored vehicle, the ethic breakdown of fire department employees, and shared electric scooter usage.

Plotting out data is not everyone’s cup of tea. I once worked in a newsroom where the page designer dismissed a bar chart I’d built to support a piece I’d written: “If you’ve seen one bar chart, you’ve seen ‘em all.”

Even if you don’t have the inclination or skills to analyze the datasets in B Clear, it’s still worth rummaging around to see what’s there. If you don’t care to analyze the data, just scroll through the records.

Use your own eyeballs to see what might be lurking in those records. Continue reading “Column: B Clear bunnies, in case you need a carrot to dive into data”

COVID-19 update: Bloomington city employee cases add up as vaccine rollout starts

Confirmed cases of city of Bloomington employees based on press releases.

Indiana’s state department of health announced mid-week that people 80 years and older are now eligible to register for an appointment to receive the vaccine. That was the main newsy bit at Friday’s press conference of local leaders about response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Up to now, just frontline healthcare workers have been able to get the vaccine.

According to the 2019 American Community Survey estimates, about 5,000 people who are 80 or older live in Monroe County. That’s out of a total population of about 148,000.

Registration in advance is required. The state has set up a vaccine registration website.

About half of the deaths caused by COVID-19 in the state of Indiana, and in Monroe County, have been among those who are 80 years or older.

As the first of the vaccine doses start to get distributed in Monroe County, the number of confirmed cases for the first week of the year has seen a recent upward trend. After trending downward for the last four weeks of the year, from a rolling 7-day average of around 100 cases to the mid-40s, the rolling average is now back up to around 75.

The adding up of raw case numbers was highlighted by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, at Friday’s health conference. Hamilton ticked through the stats for the number of city employees who have received a positive COVID-19 test.

From April through October, the city had seen one positive test among its employees every two weeks. But in November, one employee was diagnosed every two days, he said. Since the start of December, Hamilton said, the rate of employee positive tests has been two every three days. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Bloomington city employee cases add up as vaccine rollout starts”

Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11

Jan. 11 is still the date when Bloomington is planning to clear an encampment from the area around Seminary Park at 2nd Street and College Avenue, city officials say.

Estimates of the number of people who are staying there, reporting that they have no other place to go, vary from a dozen and a half up to more than 50, with additional numbers socializing there during the day.

Since the Dec. 9 clearance of the park by the city, the strip of public right-of-way along the road, and probably a little more, has been re-established as a place where people are sleeping, socializing and storing their warming accoutrements.

Early the week of Jan. 4, city staff planted signs on stakes in the area, giving notice of the clearance date. It is described on the signs as “on or about” Jan. 11. Some of the signs were immediately pushed over by park campers.

The signs include the text: “It is our hope that everyone currently in the Seminary Park area will find safe shelter/housing alternatives by January 11 by taking advantage of the opportunities available through the agencies that serve those experiencing homelessness.”

The suggested contact points listed out on the signs include: Beacon/Shalom Center, Friend’s Place, Wheeler Mission, New Hope Family Shelter, Amethyst House, Perry Township trustee’s office, and Middle Way House.

It was before Christmas when the city settled on the Jan. 11 date.

The more recent signage can be analyzed as a response to the criticism that the city gave no clear indication that enforcement action was imminent before its Dec. 9 park clearance. It came just after the board of park commissioners had declined the administration’s request to extend a nighttime prohibition of camping to daytime hours. Continue reading “Seminary Park encampment clearance still on course for “on or about” Jan. 11”

Election board reviews balloting, tees up hearings on electioneering charge, fine for late finance form

At its meeting on Thursday, Monroe County’s election board set its next meeting, on Feb. 4, as the time when it will hear charges of electioneering at the polls during early voting.

Screen shot of Jan. 7, 2021 Monroe County election board meeting. Election supervisor Karen Wheeler is holding up a list of incomplete registrations that she wants board members to sign.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board reviewed candidates with delinquent campaign finance forms.

Thursday’s board meeting included a report on a survey of people who worked the polls for the 2020 elections. The survey showed mostly positive results.

The elections also heard a review during public commentary from a voter’s perspective, given by longtime poll workers Marge and Jim Faber.

Marge Faber told the board, “As a voter, I want to tell you, that was the most fantastic voting experience I’ve ever had.” She added, “And given my age, that means over 60 years worth of voting, because I’ve never missed an election.”

After suggesting some additional signage for the Arlington Elementary School location, Faber wrapped up, saying, “Otherwise, it was fantastic. I should have written you a note earlier, and I forgot.” Thursday’s board meeting marked Faber’s 88th birthday.

At Thursday’s meeting, the chairship of the three-member board transitioned from one party’s appointee to the other, in a longstanding mutually-agreed tradition. Republican Party appointee Hal Turner, who chaired the board in 2020, passed the virtual gavel to Democratic Party appointee Carolyn VandeWiele. The third member of the board is the Monroe County clerk, who is currently Nicole Browne.

In his introductory remarks, Turner commented on the previous day’s events in Washington D.C. when pro-Trump rioters had stormed the Capitol.

“Yesterday, we saw not just an illegal act by 52 people who invaded the Capitol building, but also a gross insult to our democracy and the republic that makes our form of democracy possible,” Turner said.

Turner continued, “But the sanctity of the Constitution ultimately prevailed. And good women and men were not deterred from their sacred constitutional obligations. To quote our Indiana senator Todd Young, on the steps of the Capitol yesterday, ‘When it comes to the law, our opinions don’t matter. The law matters. I took an oath under God.’”
Continue reading “Election board reviews balloting, tees up hearings on electioneering charge, fine for late finance form”