County commissioners agree to put Benton Township on path to join Monroe County Fire Protection District

Benton Township residents can mark their calendars for a meeting on March 23 or 24 or 26 at 6:30 p.m. to be held at the Unionville Senior Center next to the township fire station out on SR45.

The topic and agenda of each meeting will be the same—a proposal for the township to join the Monroe County Fire Protection District (MCFPD).

Benton Township will follow a process similar to the one that saw Van Buren and Bloomington Townships join the fire district last year. Based on decisions made last year, by January 2021, the geographic area of the MCFPD will include Van Buren, Indian Creek, Clear Creek, Perry and Bloomington townships.

Benton Township would be added to the fire district starting in 2022. Continue reading “County commissioners agree to put Benton Township on path to join Monroe County Fire Protection District”

County council forwards request for information on local ICE policies to Monroe County’s sheriff

The Immigration Justice Task Force (IJTF), a self-organized group that counts members from area religious and non-profit organizations, addressed the Monroe County council at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Those who took the public podium on Tuesday called on the county council to help support their requests for information from Monroe County’s sheriff, Brad Swain, about specific connections between the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

That’s something the councilors agreed to do, telling their attorney, Margie Rice, they wanted the information requests forwarded from them to the sheriff.

There’s also a chance that some kind of resolution or proclamation could be developed to express the county council’s view, even if it’s not binding on the sheriff. Continue reading “County council forwards request for information on local ICE policies to Monroe County’s sheriff”

Commissioner on land contributions from city, county for convention center expansion: “We are really far apart on this one.”

 

After meeting for more than two hours on Monday night, city and county officials were maybe incrementally closer to hammering out an interlocal agreement that’s meant to help move forward a $44-million convention center expansion project.

The current convention center is located at College Avenue and 3rd Street.

On Monday, elected officials reviewed the newest draft of the interlocal agreement, which is intended to supplement statutory requirements for the eventual formation of a capital improvement board (CIB).

Sticking points are the same as those identified at a meeting earlier in the year: the way appointments are made to the convention and visitors commission; and which parcels of land will be contributed to the new CIB by the two sides.

Of the two topics, it’s the land contributions where city and county officials have the more serious disagreement. President of the county commissioners, Julie Thomas, said about the land issue: “We are really far apart on this one.”

The city wants to see all the city- or county-owned land in the vicinity of the convention center put at the disposal of the CIB. County officials want to contribute just the parcels to the CIB that are known to be needed for the current project. [city proposal] [county proposal]

The two sides are hoping for a next meeting on March 2.

May 19 will be the one-year mark for the time the project has been stalled, since a steering committee voted to recommend a northward instead of an eastward expansion of the existing convention center facility.  The yet-to-be-formed CIB is supposed to make the final choice of the site plan.

Continue reading “Commissioner on land contributions from city, county for convention center expansion: “We are really far apart on this one.””

Bloomington city council’s “committee of the whole” to take second, maybe third try at non-consensual towing ordinance

At its regular meeting last Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted to refer a new non-consensual towing ordinance to the council’s committee of the whole for a second time.

Wednesday’s referral to the committee of the whole means the new law regulating towing companies that remove vehicles parked illegally on private property will get further consideration on Feb. 12.  But it won’t get a vote to enact it on that day.

The procedural vote, to refer the legislation to the committee of the whole,  was split 7–2. That’s because councilmembers are not yet in alignment about how they want to use smaller, four-member committees, compared to the committee of the whole, in their legislative process.

It’s been a point of friction since the start of the year.

Some key features of the new law include a $350 annual license and a cap on fees charged to vehicle owners of $125 for the towing, $25 for any special equipment needed (like a dolly), and $25 per day for storage. As currently drafted, the law also requires an option for someone to get their vehicle released by paying 20 percent of fees with a signed payment agreement for the balance. Continue reading “Bloomington city council’s “committee of the whole” to take second, maybe third try at non-consensual towing ordinance”

2020 primaries of local interest all but set: 3-way race among Democrats to replace Stoops; 7 total county council candidates

gradient for primary cropped-2020-01-02-johnson-hardware-building-IMG_5161Candidates for major party nominations to 2020 elected office had until Friday at noon to file their declarations.

By that deadline, officially-declared candidates for Monroe County area state and local offices featured a mix of predictable names along with some that were possibly not-so-predictable.

In the familiar, predictable category are incumbents for the four countywide offices that handle different statutory functions, all Democrats. Auditor Cathy Smith, treasurer Jessica McClellan, coroner Joani Shields, and surveyor Trohn Enright-Randolph were the only people to declare candidacy for their respective offices.

In the not-so-predictable category—except maybe for voter history wonks—was Trent Feuerbach’s entry in the state senate District 40 race—as a candidate in the Democratic Party’s primary. It’s the party affiliation that might be surprising. Continue reading “2020 primaries of local interest all but set: 3-way race among Democrats to replace Stoops; 7 total county council candidates”

Primary election prep for board includes: briefing on new voting equipment, recruiting paid election workers, clarifying why vote centers won’t be used

More than $800,000 worth of new voting equipment landed in Monroe County on Monday. The delivery came from Hart Intercivic, based in Austin Texas.

It was no surprise. That was the expected news out of Monroe County’s election board meeting on Thursday afternoon. Hart Intercivic had indicated the delivery  would come in early February.

The delivery of a semi-trailer-truck load worth of election equipment, and preliminary testing of the equipment was one of the major topics of discussion at the board’s meeting.

Another main topic was raised during public commentary by two members of the College Democrats at Indiana University Bloomington. They advocated for establishing the Indiana Memorial Union as a universal vote center, where voters from any precinct could cast a ballot.

Board members reviewed some of the reasons why that can’t happen this year, but might in the future. Continue reading “Primary election prep for board includes: briefing on new voting equipment, recruiting paid election workers, clarifying why vote centers won’t be used”

Amid “absurdity” Bloomington’s city council OKs mixed-use development on Pete Ellis Drive with 344 bedrooms, 19K square feet of commercial space


In a unanimous vote on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council approved a planned unit development (PUD) for the empty lot on the north side of the Longview Avenue, between Pete Ellis Drive and 7th Street.

The new zoning will allow for construction of a single four-story building with 344 bedrooms and 19,000 square feet of commercial space, enclosing two interior courtyards on the east and west sides of a structured parking garage with a total of 306 parking spaces. Continue reading “Amid “absurdity” Bloomington’s city council OKs mixed-use development on Pete Ellis Drive with 344 bedrooms, 19K square feet of commercial space”

Bloomington public safety report: 2019 was “tough year” with a few bright spots

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Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, introduces the public safety report for 2020 on Tuesday morning at Bloomington Police Department headquarters on 3rd Street. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

On Tuesday morning, Bloomington officials presented the city’s 2020 public safety report, a summary of activity and outcomes for the 2019 calendar year.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, introduced the three presenters: police chief Mike Diekhoff; community and family resources director Beverly Calender-Anderson; and fire chief Jason Moore.

Hamilton called 2019 a “tough year” because of rises in gun violence and violent crime. Against that, mayor pointed to increased funding for programs that are meant to de-escalate situations before they become violent, the new social worker who works in the police department, the new crisis diversion center, and a new substation in Switchyard Park.

Despite the increase in violent crime, the overall crime rate for the city of Bloomington decreased by 4.7 percent in 2019, it was reported on Tuesday morning. Continue reading “Bloomington public safety report: 2019 was “tough year” with a few bright spots”

Opinion: It’s time to rethink closed door caucuses for Indiana city councils

caucus closed doorA 1980 article in the Valparaiso University Law Review states that the political party caucus exemption in the Open Door Law (ODL) here in the state of Indiana is “a major potential weakness in the act, and is virtually impossible to police.”

The same article mentions that there have been few problems with the caucus at the local level, either because it is not abused or else is used discretely enough to avoid criticism.

At lot has happened since 1980. But the law review article also mentions, as a point of curiosity, that up to that point there had been “few complaints by the press.”

Consider this column to be a complaint by the press. Continue reading “Opinion: It’s time to rethink closed door caucuses for Indiana city councils”

Bloomington files notice of appeal on rulings in 4th Street parking garage eminent domain case

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The view to the northwest from the corner of Walnut and 3rd Streets. Left is the 222 Hats building the city wants to use eminent domain to acquire.  Right is the empty lot where the 352-space 4th Street parking garage once stood. Feb. 3, 2020 (Dave Askins/Beacon(

In a filing made last Friday, Jan. 31, Bloomington gave notice of an appeal of rulings made against the city in the 222 Hats eminent domain case involving the replacement of the 4th Street parking garage. Continue reading “Bloomington files notice of appeal on rulings in 4th Street parking garage eminent domain case”