Benton Township now in Monroe Fire Protection District, Washington Township in queue

At its weekly Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County’s board of commissioners approved the inclusion of Benton Township in the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD). Benton Township will become a member on Jan. 1, 2022.

Sooner than that, Benton Township will start getting backup fire protection from the district for its volunteer fire department. A $450,000 contract between the MFPD and Benton Township will bridge the year between the end of Benton’s contract with Northern Monroe Fire Territory—because the two-township NMFT is dissolving—and the start of its membership in the MFPD.

The NMFT is dissolving because one of the two NMFT members, Bloomington Township, is joining the MFPD starting Jan. 1, 2021. The other NMFT member, Washington Township, is in the queue to join MPFD starting in 2022, on the same timeline as Benton Township. Public meetings on the topic for Washington Township start Sept. 30.

Last year, Van Buren Township, like Bloomington Township, was approved for inclusion in the MFPD. Continue reading “Benton Township now in Monroe Fire Protection District, Washington Township in queue”

Column: Poll workers get paid as much as $165, so sign up early

OK, Monroe County, the headline pretty much says it all. Read more about getting a gig as a poll worker at the Monroe County Election Central website.

Temporary driver’s license issued on Sept. 1, 2020. Registration to vote was accomplished with the same trip to the BMV. The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3 election is Oct. 5.

Working the polls is honest work for honest pay. Here in Monroe County Indiana, poll workers get paid up to $165 plus $25 for training. That’s for inspectors. The pay for clerks and judges is $135.

A bunch of workers will be needed for the Nov. 3 election this year—more than usual.

Why? The COVID-19 pandemic means there will be more mailed-in absentee ballots this year, even if no-excuse absentee voting has not been approved like it was for the primary.

Those mailed-in ballots have to stay in their envelopes until Election Day. Only then can they be opened. That takes a lot of hands, in a short span of time.

The usual crew of poll workers includes a lot of older folks. Precautions against COVID-19 are being taken at polling sites. But some regulars might not feel 100-percent confident about working the polls this year, given their age bracket’s higher risks connected to COVID-19 infection. That means others will need to step up. Continue reading “Column: Poll workers get paid as much as $165, so sign up early”

COVID-19: Bloomington mayor cuts crowd size limit to 15 after university students flout 50-person max

In a joint press release from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton and Indiana University provost Lauren Robel, it was announced mid-day Friday that the mayor is imposing a 15-person limit on the size of gatherings.

That’s smaller than the previous 50-person limit specified in the current health order for Monroe County, which is meant to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The message in the press release warns: “Sanctions for students who do not adhere to IU’s COVID-19 health and safety precautions will be swift.”

The university has implemented a policy on violations of COVID-19 prevention protocols that includes punishments like suspension or expulsion from the university.

The current Monroe County health order, issued by health officer Thomas Sharp on July 22, limits non-commercial gathering to 50 people.  The county’s order is in effect until rescinded.

The mayor’s order, limiting gathering sizes for non-commercial events to 15 people, is effective immediately, starting at noon, Aug. 21. It’s effective until it’s rescinded. Continue reading “COVID-19: Bloomington mayor cuts crowd size limit to 15 after university students flout 50-person max”

Indiana election commission keeps tight rein on absentee voting rules, extra mailed ballots to be opened by hand

At Friday morning’s meeting of Indiana’s four-member bi-partisan election commission, Democrat Anthony Long offered Republican Paul Okeson a good old fashioned political horse trade—ballot envelope opening machines in exchange for future consideration of relaxing absentee voting rules.

nov. 3 new poll vote

By the end of the meeting, that deal was dead and there was nothing left to say that was going to be persuasive to either side. As Okeson put it, “I don’t want to beat the horse after it has expired, so to speak.”

Democrats on the election commission wanted the commission to enact no-excuse absentee voting—as it did for the primary election—in light of the concerns that some voters have about getting infected with COVID-19, if they vote in person.

Republicans point to the fact that during the primary election, the state was still under a stay-at-home order from Indiana governor Eric Holcomb. Now, the state is at stage 4.5 of a 5-point plan to return to normal.

The impact of the commission’s impasse on Friday was that 91 of 92 counties in the state will need to open absentee ballot envelopes by hand.

Continue reading “Indiana election commission keeps tight rein on absentee voting rules, extra mailed ballots to be opened by hand”

Indiana’s election commission de-certifies write-in Green Party candidate for Monroe County judge after Democratic Party challenge

On Friday morning, Indiana’s four-member bi-partisan election commission voted unanimously to take Al Manns off November’s general election list of certified candidates for Monroe County circuit court judge.

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From left: Jennifer Crossley, chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party; Al Manns, currently a write-in Green Party candidate for the Division 1 circuit court race; Randy Paul, co-chair of the Monroe County Greens.

Manns had filed as a Green Party write-in candidate for the Division 1 seat, after losing the Democratic Party’s June 2 primary to Geoff Bradley.

It was his loss in the Democratic Primary that led the party to challenge Manns as a certified write-in candidate, because he had failed to win the party’s nomination for that same seat in June.

For its challenge, the Democratic Party was relying on a state law commonly known as the “sore loser” law. [IC-3-8-1-5.5]  The statute says that if someone loses a primary election, they’re not able to be a candidate for the same office in the next general election.

So a week ago, Monroe County Democratic Party chair Jennifer Crossley challenged the write-in candidacy that Manns wanted to mount. Continue reading “Indiana’s election commission de-certifies write-in Green Party candidate for Monroe County judge after Democratic Party challenge”

On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments

A committee of the Monroe County tax council voted Tuesday morning against a recommendation to allocate $353,700 of public safety income tax money to support requests made by four rural fire departments in the county.

cropped PSLIT meeting Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 11.04.32 PM
Screenshot of the Aug. 4 meeting of the PS-LIT committee of the local income tax council of Monroe County. It was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform.

The potential direct allocation of funds to the fire departments would have made up about 4.5 percent of the $7.8 million that the committee was using as a conservative estimate for the total amount it could allocate for 2021.

The distribution of local income tax revenues for 2021 is based on 2019 income tax filings, which have been delayed because of relaxed deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote on the seven-member PS-LIT (public safety local income tax) committee was 2–5 for the direct allocation of the funds to the Monroe County Fire Protection District, and fire departments serving Richland, Bean Blossom, and Benton townships.

The tally flipped to 5–2 for the committee’s vote on its recommended allocations for 2021 public safety income tax revenue.

The dispatch center—which is a public safety answering point (PSAP)—is recommended to receive its requested budget of $2,247,490.

The remaining amount is recommended to be divided, through a property-tax-footprint-based formula, among Bloomington, Monroe County, Ellettsville and Stinesville. In round numbers, that works out to about $2.8 million for Bloomington, $2.5 million for Monroe County government, $165,000 for Ellettsville and $1,100 for Stinesville. Continue reading “On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments”

IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge

At IU Health’s hospital in Bloomington, the area’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases has pushed administrators to find ways to make space for new patients.

A month ago in Monroe County, the seven-day average of confirmed new positive COVID-19 cases had settled around 2. That has increased to around 17 at the end of July. Not every positive case requires hospitalization. But those increased numbers have pushed IU Health’s Bloomington facility towards its capacity.

On Friday, MaryAnn Valenta, IU Health’s regional director for strategic integration, said the hospital is responding to the recent surge by reducing the number of elective procedures and transferring patients to other hospitals inside and outside the region. Where they’re transferred is based on “the location that makes the most sense to each patient based on bed capacity.”

Valenta’s remarks came during Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 response with local leaders from the city, county and university. Continue reading “IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge”

New choices in election of Monroe County at-large councilors

After the June 2 primaries, voters in Monroe County could choose up to three from five different candidates for at-large county councilor—three Democrats and two Republicans.

cropped art for Larrin Wampler story

Now they have a choice of six, even after one of the Republican’s withdrew from the race. Zachary Weishheit, a Bloomington police officer, withdrew his candidacy on June 22.

Replacing Weisheit on the Republican ticket will be Larrin Wampler. She is described in a GOP press release as an occupational health nurse who manages the occupational health and industrial hygiene program for the Indiana National Guard and civilian personnel.

The additional choice in the race for at-large councilor will come in the form of Janna Arthur, a Bloomington resident who’s weighed in at public commentary during recent county council meetings in support of reduced policing and reduced funding for law enforcement agencies. Continue reading “New choices in election of Monroe County at-large councilors”

Monroe County COVID-19 cases continue to surge, hospital numbers up, zero deaths for nearly a month

Sunday’s noon update of the State of Indiana’s COVID-19 dashboard showed no additional COVID-19 deaths in Monroe County. That’s two days shy of a month since the county’s last COVID-19 death was recorded, on June 21.

But the dashboard showed that a recent surge in positive cases continues unabated. More than two dozen cases each day were logged on Friday and Saturday.

The previous high had been 18 cases. That brings the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Monroe County to 472.

Last week, some uncertainty about future testing capacity was raised by state and local officials. Continue reading “Monroe County COVID-19 cases continue to surge, hospital numbers up, zero deaths for nearly a month”

Local prosecutor charges two in July 4 Lake Monroe case, victim wants feds to prosecute as hate crime

Two weeks ago on July 4, an incident took place in the woods at Lake Monroe. Vauhxx Booker has described his role in that incident as “almost the victim of an attempted lynching.”

On Friday morning, county prosecutor Erika Oliphant announced that she had filed charging documents in the Monroe circuit court about two people in the incident.

The filing of charges was based on the investigative report and evidence given to the prosecutor’s office by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which handles law enforcement for Lake Monroe public land.

Sean M. Purdy is alleged to have committed criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, and intimidation—all felonies. Jerry Edward Cox II is alleged to have committed aiding, inducing or causing criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, and intimidation. Those are all felonies. Cox is also alleged to have committed two misdemeanor batteries.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform, Booker and his attorney, Katherine Liell, gave an update on the status of the FBI investigation. “We continue to cooperate with the FBI—we trust them more than we trust DNR. And so Vauhxx has already submitted to quite a lengthy interview.” Continue reading “Local prosecutor charges two in July 4 Lake Monroe case, victim wants feds to prosecute as hate crime”