Monroe County clerk on 2020 general election: “I know seven polling sites are not going to cut it in November.”

The Nov. 3, 2020 general election will be likely be administered under the standard prevailing laws and rules in the state of Indiana.

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Chair of Monroe County’s three-member election board, Hal Turner at the July 2, 2020 meeting, which was conducted on the Zoom video-conferencing platform.

That’s what Monroe County election board members are assuming, based on discussion at their regular meeting on Thursday.

That would mean no-excuse absentee balloting, which was enacted just for this year’s primary election by Indiana’s state election commission, won’t be in place for the general election.

So Monroe County board members are planning to use all 34 election day polling sites in November, not just the seven that were used for the June 2 primary.

The four-member bi-partisan state commission decided in late March to allow voters to request an absentee ballot to vote by mail for any reason.

Allowing no-excuse absentee voting was an effort to reduce the number of people voting in person at the polls on election day, to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus. Continue reading “Monroe County clerk on 2020 general election: “I know seven polling sites are not going to cut it in November.””

COVID-19 Update: Monroe County issues separate order; mayor announces positive antibodies; mask mandate mulled; more tests, confirmed cases

On Thursday, Monroe County’s health officer issued a separate COVID-19 order that is slightly more restrictive than the statewide directive.

The local order starts July 4.

The local health order includes a requirement that businesses post signs encouraging their patrons to wear masks, but does not mandate the wearing of masks.

Local officials are mulling the possibility of following the lead of some other Indiana jurisdictions—St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marion counties—by imposing a requirement that masks be worn when residents are in public. But their preference is to get voluntary compliance.

At their regular weekly press conference on Thursday, pushed up a day due to the July 4 holiday, local officials praised Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s decision the previous day to pause his Back on Track plan. Holcomb issued a 4.5 version, instead of adopting Back on Track 5.0.

The day before that, Holcomb had extended to July 31 a previous order halting evictions due to non-payment of rent. As a part of the same extended order, utility shutoffs were suspended until Aug. 14.

The new local health order was issued on the same day when Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. That’s likely due to having been infected back in April, despite having twice tested negative back then.

Increased testing in Monroe County—from a 7-day rolling average of around 100 a day in the first part of June, to closer to 150 a day in the second half of the month—has come with the highest number of positive cases since the pandemic started.

The current 7-day rolling average is around 6 new confirmed cases a day after staying under 2 from late April to mid-June. The rate of positive tests has nudged upward, but not in a dramatic way. Continue reading “COVID-19 Update: Monroe County issues separate order; mayor announces positive antibodies; mask mandate mulled; more tests, confirmed cases”

Monroe County maxes out its $400K of COVID-19 relief using food and beverage tax money

At its regular meeting on Wednesday morning, the three-member board of Monroe County commissioners approved the 10th and probably final round of grants as part of its program to give relief to businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That brought the total amount awarded by the county to right around $400,000, distributed to over 30 different entities involved in tourism-related enterprises.

The total amount of tax proceeds recommended by the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) for the purpose COVID-19 relief by the county was $400,000.

One of the awards given by commissioners on Wednesday morning was a $10,000 loan to a previous grant recipient, Trailhead Enterprises. The money, which will pay for an air-conditioning unit, is supposed be paid back by Aug. 1, according to county attorney Margie Rice.

The other two grant awards on Wednesday went to Rising Star Gymnastics for $25,000 and The WonderLab Museum of Science, Health & Technology for $65,000.

Continue reading “Monroe County maxes out its $400K of COVID-19 relief using food and beverage tax money”

2 deputy sheriff vacancies to be filled; 3-hour public forum on law enforcement funding gets mixed reviews

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On Tuesday evening, the seven-member Monroe County council, which is the elected fiscal body of county government, held a video-conferenced public forum on the future of law enforcement funding.

Described on the agenda as a “community concerns and law enforcement resourcing meeting” the three-hour event was led by Latosha Williams from the Community Justice and Mediation Center. Attendance by the public reportedly peaked around 150 people.

Tuesday’s town hall was scheduled after a June 4 video-conferenced special meeting of the county council was attended by around 250 people who objected to Monroe County sheriff Brad Swain’s request for an exception to the council’s hiring freeze.  The council imposed the freeze in late April.

Councilors imposed the hiring freeze because they had concerns about the clarity of the county’s financial picture, given the unknown revenue impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The objections to Swain’s proposed filling of two vacant deputy positions came in the context of nationwide and local demonstrations over the May 25 killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, along with other recent police killings of Black men and women.

At the June 4 meeting, Swain withdrew his request to fill the two vacancies. But the hiring freeze expires on July 1, which means that Swain can now fill the two vacant positions, without asking the county council for approval. Continue reading “2 deputy sheriff vacancies to be filled; 3-hour public forum on law enforcement funding gets mixed reviews”

Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat

In the pending lawsuit over the rightful appointee to a city plan commission seat, the city of Bloomington filed a motion on Monday to have Andrew Guenther’s claim dismissed, based on the idea that Guenther lacks standing to file the lawsuit.

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Chris Cockerham (left) and  Andrew Guenther (right) have claims to the same seat on Bloomington’s plan commission. Cockerham, the mayoral appointment, is now serving on the commission. Guenther has filed suit challenging that appointment.

Bloomington’s claim that neither Guenther nor Republican county chair William Ellis have standing is based on Bloomington’s contention that even if the facts alleged by Guenther and Ellis are assumed to be true, they “are incapable of supporting relief.”

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Guenther and GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Guenther and Ellis say that Guenther is the rightful appointee to the seat, under Indiana state law, which says: “The county chair of the political party of the member whose term has expired shall make the appointment.”

Bloomington’s argument for dismissal hinges on the fact that that “the member whose has term expired,” namely Nick Kappas, was not a Republican.

Continue reading “Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat”

COVID-19 update: Fourth confirmed case for Bloomington city employees comes amid local uptick; nursing home releases data

bordered R-OUT COVID DAILY CASES Monroe June 28

On Monday, the city of Bloomington issued a press release announcing that a fourth city employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

It was the second positive test for a city employee in the last five days, both of them firefighters. The previous two tests came nearly three months ago. Those were for a firefighter and a parks and recreation staffer.

Helping to provide a clearer picture of what’s going with local COVID-19 numbers has been the regular release of figures from the Golden LivingCenters facility since the beginning of June. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Fourth confirmed case for Bloomington city employees comes amid local uptick; nursing home releases data”

Activist on “BLACK LIVES MATTER” mural overlay: “It’s something we can all dance to.”

Sometime mid-afternoon on Friday a week ago, an anonymous artist, not commissioned by the property owners, drew new letters across the mural in Bloomington’s People’s Park, spelling out the words: “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”

That’s the way the mural will look for at least the next few months, Bloomington city officials have said. And some local activists would like the wall to be preserved as it is. Continue reading “Activist on “BLACK LIVES MATTER” mural overlay: “It’s something we can all dance to.””

Advisory groups give green light to city council on 7th Street: Remove parking for protected bicycle lane

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Segment of 7th Street between College Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Bloomington.
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The images shows the segment of 7th Street between College Avenue and Walnut Street. The top image shows current parking and lane conditions. The lower image is a rendering of the 7-Line protected bicycle lane project. Both images link to an animated .gif of them alternating.

On Thursday, at its first regular meeting since the end of January, Bloomington’s parking commission reviewed the protected bicycle lane project that’s going to be built on 7th Street sometime in 2021.

It was in front of the commission because the 7-Line, to be built as a two-way bicycle path on the south side of the roadway, will require the removal of 113 on-street metered parking spaces. It’s the loss of parking spaces that has generated some concern among property owners along the corridor, among them the Monroe County government.

Parking commissioners gave a unanimous recommendation in support of the planning and transportation staff’s finding—that the three-quarter-mile bicycle lane from the B-Line Trail to the Indiana University campus at Woodlawn supports several goals of the city’s comprehensive plan and squares up with the city’s transportation plan.

As Beth Rosenbarger, Bloomington’s planning services manager, pointed out to parking commissioners, the city’s transportation plan calls for a protected bicycle lane along 7th Street. Continue reading “Advisory groups give green light to city council on 7th Street: Remove parking for protected bicycle lane”

7-Line protected bicycle lane: a bicentennial bond backgrounder

The 7-Line is a planned protected bicycle lane running east-west across downtown Bloomington towards the Indiana University campus.

It gets the numeric part of its name from 7th Street, where the 11-foot wide, two-way path will be constructed along the south side of the roadway, sometime in 2021. The non-numeric part of its name is patterned on the B-Line Trail, the north-south multi-use path along the former CSX railroad route that stretches 3.1 miles from Adams Street to Country Club Drive.

The 7-Line will connect to the B-Line just east of Madison Street.

The project has received increased exposure in the last week, as final design details are worked out.

Last Thursday (June 18), the project was introduced in more detail to the public. On Wednesday this week, the traffic commission was asked to weigh in on the changes to city code that are required for the removal of 113 metered parking spaces and the elimination of east-west stop signs at most of the cross streets.

This Thursday (June 25) the parking commission is getting its second look at the project, after discussing it at a work session earlier in the month.

The now-estimated $2 million construction cost will be paid for with parks bonds, which the city council and the board of park commissioners approved in late 2018, over a year and a half ago.

The three series of bonds, totaling $10.27 million were promoted by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton as “bicentennial bonds,” and pitched to the council as “a gift to the future, honoring Bloomington’s two hundred year anniversary.” Continue reading “7-Line protected bicycle lane: a bicentennial bond backgrounder”

Monroe County passes $300K mark in food and beverage tax allocations for relief of COVID-19 impacts

At its regular meeting on Wednesday morning, the three-member board of Monroe County commissioners approved a couple of grants as part of its program to give relief to businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Monroe County History Center is located at 6th and Washington streets in downtown Bloomington. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

It was the ninth round of grant awards, which brought the total amount awarded by the county to just over $300,000 to 32 different entities. One of Wednesday’s awards, for $6,000, went to Misfit Toy Enterprises, a karaoke service.

The other grant approved on Wednesday, for $23,225, went to the Monroe County History Center.

At Wednesday’s meeting, history center director Susan Dyar thanked commissioners, telling them that a fundraising gala had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, so generating revenue has been a struggle. The center re-opened to the public on Tuesday, she said.

The history center’s award is the largest of the grants given by the county under its program. Continue reading “Monroe County passes $300K mark in food and beverage tax allocations for relief of COVID-19 impacts”