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”

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 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”

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”

COVID-19: Sidewalks still getting built; Bloomington Transit buses still running, with 90 percent fewer riders

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Looking south along Adams Street where it intersects with Kirkwood on Monday, March 30, 2020. The backhoe framing the Bloomington Transit bus is working on the installation of a new sidewalk on the east side of the street running along Rose Hill Cemetery towards Cresent Donut Shops. The sign on the donut shop indicated it is open for business, which is allowed for take-out food service under the stay-at-home order. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

As Indiana approaches starts the sixth day of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s stay-at-home order—issued to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus—Bloomington’s road construction projects continue.

And public buses are continuing to run, but still on a spring break schedule. Continue reading “COVID-19: Sidewalks still getting built; Bloomington Transit buses still running, with 90 percent fewer riders”

Bloomington firefighter tests positive for COVID-19

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A Bloomington fire station on March 28, 2020. The city’s press release did not release information identifying the station where the COVID-19 firefighter worked. This photo shows the station on 4th Street in downtown, and is included only to identify the topic of the story, not to suggest that it was the 4th Street station where the firefighter was assigned. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon.)

In a statement released Saturday evening (March 28), the city of Bloomington has confirmed it learned earlier the same day that a Bloomington firefighter has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the press release, the firefighter was one of three firefighters recently quarantined after potential or confirmed exposure to the COVID-10. It was five days earlier, on March 23, when BFD was notified of the firefighter’s confirmed exposure.

And at that point, the firefighter was immediately isolated from on-duty crews and placed on self-quarantine at home, according to the press release. Continue reading “Bloomington firefighter tests positive for COVID-19”

$2.2M in food and beverage tax money now queued up for Bloomington, Monroe County COVID-19 economic relief, pending guidance from state’s board of accounts

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Screen grab of the March 27, 2020 meeting of the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC), which was conducted on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

At its Friday afternoon meeting, the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) unanimously approved a request to use $2 million in already-collected tax money to assist businesses inside the city of Bloomington that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The request came from Bloomington’s city council, which voted unanimously on Wednesday to make the request of the FABTAC.

Friday’s vote by the FABTAC concludes, for now, its role in the effort to use proceeds of the 1-percent tax to provide economic support to businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Previously, the FABTAC had approved a request from Monroe County commissioners to use $200,000 of the county’s share of the money to assist businesses outside the city of Bloomington.

Details on the distribution of the money will now be sorted out by the city and the county for their respective shares. Continue reading “$2.2M in food and beverage tax money now queued up for Bloomington, Monroe County COVID-19 economic relief, pending guidance from state’s board of accounts”

Indiana’s stay-at-home order allows for outdoor recreation, governor still wants people to keep distance between each other

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Looking south in Switchyard Park on Thursday, March 25, 2020. The yellow caution tape wrapped around the playgrounds and exercise stations means they’re are off limits. The B-Line Trail in the right of the frame is open for walking, running, and bicycling. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

At a 2:30 p.m. press conference on Thursday, Indiana’s governor Eric Holcomb was asked by a reporter to respond to criticism that his stay-at-home order didn’t go far enough.

The order is supposed to help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which has killed 17 people so far in Indiana since the first case was confirmed on March 6. Three weeks later the number of confirmed cases stood at 645.

The order, which went into effect on Wednesday, allows for a raft of exceptions, for businesses considered “essential”—including retail stores that sell alcoholic beverages and businesses that provide real estate services.

Was the order having an impact? Holcomb’s answer: Yes.

Holcomb’s response included the fact that his stay-at-home order has a requirement on the continued operation of essential businesses. They’re supposed to continue to operate only if they can maintain a six-foot distance between people, including customers standing in line, a concept that’s now called “social distancing.”

Holcomb applied the same social distancing concept to outdoor recreational activities. Allowed under the stay-at-home order are, for example, walking, hiking, running, or bicycling.

Holcomb encouraged people who go outside, especially on days like the one the day before, when skies were sunny and temperatures hit the mid-60s.

Holcomb said, “Yesterday was a great day to be outdoors, and I encourage people to get out and walk their dog.” He immediately added, “Or get out and walk their cat, if they want.” Continue reading “Indiana’s stay-at-home order allows for outdoor recreation, governor still wants people to keep distance between each other”