IU Health president makes plea on COVID-19 vaccination: “Get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.”

Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, which includes Bloomington and Monroe County, said on Friday: “My personal and professional plea to each of you is to get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.”

Registration for vaccination appointments, which are currently limited to frontline healthcare workers and those older than 70, can be done online, or by calling 211.

Shockney followed up a few minutes later with a challenge: “I put a challenge out: Let’s be the first county to achieve herd immunity.” In ballpark numbers that would translate into 70 percent of Monroe County’s population of about 148,000, or 103,600 people.

Shockney was speaking during Friday’s weekly news conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response. Continue reading “IU Health president makes plea on COVID-19 vaccination: “Get the vaccine when your opportunity comes.””

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, second enforcement action of the day.

Updated at 12:22 p.m. on Jan. 15. The city of Bloomington issued a statement on the topic. “The City will continue actively collaborating with the entire community and region, including other governmental entities (Monroe County government and township trustees) service providers, those with lived experience, faith communities, and philanthropic agencies, to identify short- and long-term alternatives for our residents experiencing homelessness.”

The statement includes information about where the people’s belongings had been taken: “Switchyard Park maintenance building at 1601 South Rogers Street where they may be retrieved today from 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. and Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. starting next week.” The statement also says, “Anyone seeking information about available services including emergency shelter may call 211.”

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”

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”

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”

Contested Bloomington plan commission seat goes to Sandberg

On Wednesday at its first meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council decided on a 5–4 vote that Susan Sandberg, not Isabel Piedmont-Smith, would serve as its appointment to the city plan commission in 2021.

It was a night when the council settled on a raft of appointments of its own members to various boards and commissions.

That included the appointment of Sandberg to the city plan commission. She’s served on the nine-member group for the last couple of years.

Sandberg’s appointment to the plan commission was the only one that required a vote of the council to settle the question of which councilmember would serve. A couple of other competing councilmember interests were resolved when one deferred to the other.

Voting for Sandberg to serve on plan commission were: Sandberg, Dave Rollo, Jim Sims, Sue Sgambelluri, and Ron Smith. Voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

The plan commission this year will be in the political spotlight probably by the end of January, when it takes up the question of zone map revisions and proposed text amendments to the UDO.

Continue reading “Contested Bloomington plan commission seat goes to Sandberg”

New Bloomington city council president Jim Sims: “This is a transition of leadership, not a transfer of power.”

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council chose Jim Sims as its new president for 2021 and Sue Sgambelluri as its vice president.

It’s a requirement under state law that the council selects a president and vice president from among its members at the first meeting of the year. Sims served as vice president in 2020.

During the meeting, which was held by video-conference due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Sims took the virtual gavel from Steve Volan, who served as president during 2020. Volan presided over Wednesday’s meeting up to the point of the officer elections.

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, rioters who supported U.S. President Donald Trump, despite his election loss, had stormed into the Capitol on the day when Congress was supposed to certify the 2020 Electoral College votes.

The transition between city council presidents was peaceful. Said Sims, “This is a transition of leadership, not a transfer of power.”

Sims is one of three at-large representatives on the nine-member council, which is the legislative branch of the city government. The other six councilmembers represent geographic districts of the city. Sgambelluri represents District 2, which covers the northwest side of town.

The other officer chosen on Wednesday was Matt Flaherty as parliamentarian. Though it’s not required for city councils in Indiana to choose a parliamentarian, it’s written into Bloomington’s local law.  Like Sims, Flaherty is an at-large representative, elected by voters of the whole city. Last year, Isabel Piedmont-Smith served as parliamentarian.

The vote on the new officers was unanimous.

Flaherty and Sgambelluri are two of the four councilmembers who were first elected in 2019, and now have one year of city council service behind them.

In August of 2017, the Democratic Party caucused Sims into a the seat left vacant by Timothy Mayer’s resignation. So Sims now has three and a half years of experience serving on the council. Continue reading “New Bloomington city council president Jim Sims: “This is a transition of leadership, not a transfer of power.””