Column | Supporting Bloomington’s Comedy Attic staff during the COVID-19 shutdown: A matter of civic pride

Last summer, right when I started putting a full effort into reporting for The Square Beacon, Bloomington’s city council took its summer break. For six weeks, from the second half of June, through the end of July, the city council didn’t meet.

That’s normal.

What isn’t normal is that city elections last year took place in just two of the city’s six council districts. Continue reading “Column | Supporting Bloomington’s Comedy Attic staff during the COVID-19 shutdown: A matter of civic pride”

Bloomington city council looks to maintain normal legislative pace for assigning emergency powers to mayor

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Now added to the agenda of next Tuesday’s meeting of Bloomington’s city council is an ordinance that’s designed to provide some additional administrative powers to the city’s mayor, John Hamilton.

The additional powers are meant to provide some flexibility for the city’s executive to act swiftly in response to emergent issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As currently drafted, the ordinance includes a mix of permanent and relatively temporary measures. One part of the ordinance would amend the city code on human resources policies. That part would be permanent—it would be made a part of local law. But the wording of the new policies in the code means they’re triggered only if a national or state disaster emergency is declared.

Two other parts of the proposed ordinance appear to be worded so that they apply only as long as Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s current statewide disaster emergency order is in effect. That order has been extended through May 5.

Tied to that specific order, the mayor is given power to act under the state’s emergency management statute to waive various requirements for governmental action. The city controller is given broad authority to “approve payment of all necessary expenditures.” Continue reading “Bloomington city council looks to maintain normal legislative pace for assigning emergency powers to mayor”

Column | Buskirk-Chumley, Function Brewing: Two signs of life in downtown Bloomington

For the last week or so, the marquee of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Kirkwood Avenue in downtown Bloomington has featured a quote from Mr. Rogers—some advice to young children about looking for the helpers.

Helpers are now in demand, of course, because of the impact everywhere of the COVID-19 viral pandemic. To reduce the chance for spread of the disease, and pursuant to a couple of different orders from the governor, the Buskirk-Chumley is closed through May 5. That leaves space on the marquee for messages that promote something other than performances. Continue reading “Column | Buskirk-Chumley, Function Brewing: Two signs of life in downtown Bloomington”

Monroe County’s election board chair on June 2 primary: “We’ll continue to encourage voting by mail as much as we can.”

It’s possible that Indiana’s state election commission will make a decision at its April 22 meeting to eliminate in-person voting from this year’s primary election, now scheduled for June 2.

As they wait out the roughly three weeks until a possible state-level decision, Monroe County election officials are hoping that most voters will eventually take advantage of the vote-by-mail option, which already been made available to all voters for this year’s primary.

The date of the primary has already been delayed by four weeks, in a decision the state commission made last week.

The changes to the timing and manner of the primary elections in the Hoosier state are motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading across the world. Reducing the opportunity for person-to-person transmission of the virus is a part of myriad protocols now in place across the state and locally. Continue reading “Monroe County’s election board chair on June 2 primary: “We’ll continue to encourage voting by mail as much as we can.””

Bloomington parks and recreation staffer second city employee to test positive for COVID-19

In a press release issued Friday morning, the city of Bloomington has announced that a second city employee has tested positive for COVID-19. The confirmed positive case  announced on Friday was for a parks and recreation department employee.

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Playground equipment and workout stations are closed in Bloomington. Trails are still open. This is a view south where the B-Line Trail runs next to Switchyard Park.

According to the press release, the parks and recreation worker was placed on leave Monday, March 30, and tested for COVID-19, because they were showing symptoms consistent with the virus. The positive result of the test was returned yesterday (Thursday, April 2), according to the release.

According to the press release, the city is now tracing the parks and recreation employee’s contacts and following Centers for Disease Control guidelines

This is the second positive COVID-19 test for a city of Bloomington employee. The first, for a firefighter, was reported last Saturday.

According to Friday’s press release, the firefighter received medical clearance on Friday and is expected to return to duty on Saturday (April 4).
Continue reading “Bloomington parks and recreation staffer second city employee to test positive for COVID-19”

Census 2020: University, city working against COVID-19 to get Bloomington college students counted, local census numbers currently lagging behind rest of state

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Annotated screen shot from Our World in Data

[Note: The census can be completed online by visiting this link to the US Census. https://my2020census.gov/]

About six weeks ago, on Feb. 20, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave his annual “state of the city” address. The mayor’s basic theme was “everyone counts”—a riff on the decennial census that’s taking place this year.

Before the speech, in the lobby of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, where Hamilton delivered his remarks, Beverly Calender-Anderson was passing out literature about the census.  She was encouraging people to make sure they get themselves counted. Calender-Anderson is director of Bloomington’s community and family resources department.

As the proceedings were called to order at the Buskirk-Chumley, city council president Steve Volan took some time at the podium to add a piece of “flair” to his lapel—a button promoting participation in the census.

In his brief remarks on the census, Volan focused on the importance of getting students counted correctly: “Students are to be counted, as the census says, where they ‘usually reside’. So it’s important that everyone who is in Bloomington be counted here.”

At the time, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States was 15. Now six weeks later, the confirmed case count across the country is more than 200,000. Indiana’s confirmed cases are doubling about every four days, and this week passed 3,000. Continue reading “Census 2020: University, city working against COVID-19 to get Bloomington college students counted, local census numbers currently lagging behind rest of state”

Bloomington farmers market to use pre-order, drive-through pickup to start season due to COVID-19 protocols

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Bloomington farmers market ordering screen (Screen grab on April 2, 2020)

Bloomington’s farmers market will start off the year on a pre-order, drive-through-only basis, due to the required protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details of the drive-through-only approach were revealed in a press release issued late Wednesday this week. Orders for this coming Saturday, April 4, the scheduled opening day of the summer market, have to be placed by the end of the day on April 2.

Also in future weeks, the market will operate on a Thursday ordering deadline for Saturday pickups.

[Updated at 1:24 p.m. on April 2, 2020: Marcia Veldman, farmers market manager, told The Square Beacon that by early afternoon on Thursday, around 500 orders had been received.] Continue reading “Bloomington farmers market to use pre-order, drive-through pickup to start season due to COVID-19 protocols”

Owners or employees? Bloomington city council’s planned $2-million COVID-19 relief gets scrutiny

At its meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council took the next procedural step towards getting $2 million worth of already-collected food and beverage tax revenue, into the hands of the private sector.

The goal is to provide bridge funding for local employers and employees who have been impacted by the COVID-19 viral epidemic.

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Row-wise from top left: city council deputy administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas, CM Ron Smith, CM Jim Sims, city council  administrator/attorney Dan Sherman, CM Sue Sgambelluri, CM Matt Flaherty, CM Dave Rollo, CM Kate Rosenbarger, CM Isabel Piedmont-Smith, city clerk Nicole Bolden, CM Steve Volan, and CM Susan Sandberg. (Screen grab from April 1, 2020 meeting of the Bloomington city council conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.)

The bridge is supposed to span the time it will take for more robust federal aid to land in local hands.

The step taken by the city council on Wednesday was to hear a first reading of a $2 million appropriation ordinance, made possible by the positive recommendation of the food and beverage tax commission at a meeting convened last Friday.

Based on the timeline sketched out on Wednesday by city controller Jeff Underwood, the money could be ready for distribution as soon as the end of next week, April 10.

The steps involved would include a city council approval of the appropriation at its second reading at a Tuesday, April 7 meeting.

The appropriation would then need a final sign-off by the Indiana Department Local Government Finance, which Underwood hopes to get by April 10. At that point, the money would be available, Underwood said at Wednesday’s meeting.

To whom should that money be available? Continue reading “Owners or employees? Bloomington city council’s planned $2-million COVID-19 relief gets scrutiny”

Square Beacon Benchmark: A routine push for public access during a pandemic

I mark the start of every month with a fundraising pitch, to support The Square Beacon’s approach to coverage of Bloomington and Monroe County local civic news.

In that way, April is no different from the start of any other month. What is different, of course, is that we now find ourselves in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This is the logo of the B Square Beacon.

So the only sensible way to start is to thank those of you who already support The Square Beacon with a monthly financial contribution.

Thank you!

Most people’s resources are stretched thin right now, due to pandemic-related issues. And it’s fair for many people to think about conserving their resources, instead of investing in local news reporting.

It should be an easy choice between a contribution to an independent local news operation like The Square Beacon and a donation to the myriad nonprofits and bricks-and-mortar businesses that have been devastated by COVID-19.

They are in greater need than The Square Beacon.

From traditional institutional networks to grass-roots efforts, it’s not hard to find ways to give financial support to people who have an urgent need. Continue reading “Square Beacon Benchmark: A routine push for public access during a pandemic”

Bloomington’s city council now set for next step in consideration of $2M for economic relief of businesses and workers

Annotated R-OUT Unemployment Initial Claims Monroe County 2008-2020

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A screen grab of Tuesday’s (March 31, 2020) Zoom-based meeting of the Bloomington city council’s  sustainable development committee. In the main frame is Alex Crowley, Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Bloomington area local businesses can now seen on charts and graphs.

The pandemic has spiked the county’s initial unemployment claims to four times the number seen during the highest week of the 2008–2009 economic downturn. Even higher numbers could be recorded next week. Unemployment numbers are released on Tuesdays.

In addition to fresh unemployment figures, this Tuesday brought a first detailed look at Bloomington’s effort to use $2 million of food and beverage tax money, as well as other funds, to provide economic relief to businesses and workers .

That’s when the Bloomington city council’s four-member sustainable development standing committee heard a report from an economic stability and recovery (ESR) working group formed by Mayor John Hamilton. Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council now set for next step in consideration of $2M for economic relief of businesses and workers”