Protest at Bloomington park board meeting yields 2–1 vote on farmers market rules of behavior

Bloomington’s board of park commissioners voted 2–1 on Tuesday night to adopt new rules of behavior at the city’s farmers market. Dissenting was the newest board member, Israel Herrera.

The rules specify how and where protests are allowed at the farmers market.

Herrera told The Square Beacon after the meeting that his vote was based on the concerns that meeting protestors had conveyed—from the public podium and their seats in the audience—about the possibility of increased police violence in the coming season, due to the new rules. People who speak up should not be forced to shut up, he said.

The 2–1 tally was enough to pass the measure on the four-member board. One seat is currently vacant. The city’s corporation counsel, Philippa Guthrie, told The Square Beacon the board needs a majority of those present to approve a motion.

The proposed new rules have drawn criticism from market protesters since mid-December last year when they were introduced to the farmers market advisory council.

Tuesday’s meeting protesters included members of the self-monikered Purple Shirt Brigade, who conducted protests at the market last year against Schooner Creek Farm, a farmers market vendor whose ties to white supremacist groups were identified last summer.

Not all the voices in the room belonged to meeting protesters. Based on applause at the meeting for one public speaker, who urged adoption of the rule as a fair compromise, the rules had a lot of public support.

The adopted new rules include new wording with prohibitions against “picketing,
demonstrating, yelling, excessive or unreasonable noise-making, obstructing or
hindering the flow of pedestrians or access to a vendor, and other conduct
disrupting Market activities.”

The new rules also include a reference to a parks department administration policy, which the board also amended at Tuesday’s meeting, on a 3-0 vote. The amendment to the administrative policy added one sentence: “Any person who is asked to leave by a law enforcement officer as defined by Indiana Code and refuses to do so may be subject to arrest.”

The new rules, in conjunction with the amended policy, one meeting protestor said, would increase the likelihood of police violence.

That drew a question from park commissioner Herrera. He wanted to know why the meeting protesters thought the new rules would increase police violence.

The explanation offered to Herrera was based on the arrest of an Indiana University history professor last July—she was holding a sign, protesting white supremacists, outside one of the designated areas for demonstrating at the farmers market.

That incident now appears headed for litigation, based in part on a false arrest claim, because the previous rules were adopted by an ad hoc committee.

Enacting the administrative policy in conjunction with the new rules would prevent anyone in the future from asking for justice based on a false arrest claim—that’s the argument made by the meeting protester. “The only way violence will not happen in that situation is if the person who is exercising their free speech self-censors themselves and chooses to stop,” was the explanation from the protestor at the public podium.

The way the new rules of behavior relegate protest activity to restricted areas around the market was a point to which protesters objected. Board chair Kathleen Mills said based on her own experience in protest movements, she understood the desire to be just “inches away” from the thing you’re trying to protest. But Mills felt that the available areas designated for protests were enough. She said that if protests were allowed in the vendor area, it would make for a “free-for-all.”

On Tuesday, meeting protesters used a technique that could be described as a kind of citizen’s filibuster. The administrative policy and new rules of behavior were items 15 and 16 listed under “other business” on the board’s agenda. A half dozen protestors rose to comment for the allowed two minutes on each of the first few items. Varying from speaker to speaker was the closeness of the connection between the commentary and the topic of the agenda items.

After a few rounds of commentary, board chair Kathleen Mills paused to address the issue by saying she was not certain what the goal was for the protestors. She imagined that one possible goal might be to cause enough delay that the board did not reach the two items at the end of the agenda.

Mills allowed that sometimes the goal of a protest can simply to be annoying. About that tactic, Mills said, “I’m a high school teacher, I can do annoying all day long.”

Based on protestor comments, the point of their protest technique appeared to be to hammer home the idea that every piece of business the park board handles has an impact on racism one way or another. One meeting protestor said she understood the board wanted to complete a lot of business that night, but added, “It’s all impacted by racial justice.”

Mills called for a brief recess, during which commissioners, parks staff and legal staff huddled behind the dais. The play Mills called when they returned was to move the two controversial agenda items up for immediate consideration.

Changing the agenda order was a decision that was met with vocal opposition from meeting protesters. They said it was against the rules to change the published meeting agenda order. Mill said the city’s legal department had assured her that it was allowed to change the order of meeting agenda items.

It’s not unusual for public bodies to change the order of an agenda, sometimes by changing the order at the start of the meeting. Or they can table an item, handling other items first, and then take up the tabled item later. But one protestor questioned whether the reason for the change in agenda order was motivated by the content and viewpoint of the speech by protesters.

The board’s decision to change the order of the agenda fit into another theme that meeting protesters adopted—”following the rules.” City officials wanted the protestors to follow the market rules and the board meeting rules, but city officials themselves were not willing to follow their own rules, protesters said.

On Tuesday, a couple of meeting protesters pointed to a Jan. 9 meeting, when the board voted to maintain city control of the market, as an example of the board not following its own rules, with respect to public speaking time.

On Jan. 9, one public speaker, Charlotte Zietlow, was allotted around five minutes compared to the three minutes given to others. When she rose to speak, commissioner Les Coyne, who chaired that meeting, introduced the 85-year-old Zietlow, after whom Monroe County’s justice center is named: “I’d very much like to welcome the esteemed Charlotte Zietlow who needs no introduction.” Zietlow quipped, “Then I won’t introduce myself.”

When the three-minute beeper sounded, Zietlow asked, “Is that the time?” Coyne replied, “Keep going, please,” adding, “This is a unique person who has contributed a great deal to this community.”

On the topic of racism, one meeting protestor on Tuesday drew a distinction between racists and racist policies. He told park commissioners he didn’t think they were racists when it’s defined as “as an individual person who harbors feelings of racial hatred in their hearts.”

But he called that definition “problematic,” and told commissioners, “The policy that you’re about going to enact is a racist policy.” The outcome of the policy would be racist, he said: “I all but guarantee you’re creating an all-white market.”

The same protestor pointed out that Black Lives Matter (BLM) had called for a boycott of the city’s farmers market.  About the audience at the board meeting, he asked: “Where are the Black leaders of Bloomington? Why do they feel unwelcome here? It’s the same reason they don’t feel welcome at the market,” he said. Black leaders in Bloomington “have written you off,” he said.

The one Black member of Bloomington’s nine-member city council, Jim Sims, told The Square Beacon he supports the BLM position on boycotting the farmers market. “I support the farmers market boycott call, and I will not visit the farmers market as long as known white supremacy advocate are vending…” Sims said that he would still sometimes visit the non-vendor market area known as Information Alley.

Sims said he also understands the reason for the other part of BLM’s call—for subscribers and advertisers to boycott the local paper, The Herald-Times. But he said, “I believe in a ‘free press’ and will not boycott the Herald-Times by canceling my subscription.” On the first Sunday of February, Black History Month, the paper published a sympathetic profile of the farmers market vendor against whom last season’s protests were conducted.

On Tuesday, one meeting protestor cited the State of the City speech  given last week by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, as acknowledging Bloomington’s history of racial injustice.

Offering a chance for a vignette about segregation in Bloomington was another item on the board’s agenda—about the approval of a partnership agreement between the Buskirk-Chumley Theater and the city of Bloomington.

Two stories were told during public commentary of how the old Indiana Theater, now named the Buskirk-Chumley, was de-segregated.

The first story was that the Indiana Theater was integrated when the theater manager asked an Indiana University star football player, George Taliaferro, to visit the theater and sit in the downstairs section where Black patrons were not allowed. Taliaferro did that, and because of his status as a football player, his presence was accepted, which led to the integration of the theater.

An alternate view was presented on Tuesday by a different commenter, who said Taliaferro had in fact gone to the theater with a screwdriver and removed the sign that read “Colored” from the area where Black people were supposed to sit.

Both vignettes are described in Dawn Knight’s 2019 book “Race and Football in America: The Life and Legacy of George Taliaferro.” Based on the book, both stories are true. The episode involving the screwdriver involved the Princess Theater.

The Square Beacon counted at least four different Bloomington police officers who were in council chambers at some time during Tuesday’s meeting.

At one point, when the back-and-forth between commissioners and protesters grew heated, Bloomington’s corporation counsel Philippa Guthrie waved to two officers seated in the back of the room. They exited the city council chambers and re-entered through the other set of doors and positioned themselves off to the side. No arrests were made.

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Mayor’s state of city address reiterates sketch of New Year’s Day local income tax proposal; more info possible at March 5 city council event

Last Thursday’s “state of the city” speech by Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton focussed on the 2020s as a “make or break decade,” in light of the challenges posed by climate change.

The news out of the speech was a planned public meeting  about the topic of a possible increase to the local income tax to pay for climate action initiatives.

The meeting is to be hosted by the city council on March 5 at The Mill starting a 7 p.m. Additional details on the meeting weren’t immediately available from the mayor’s office.

City councilmember Matt Flaherty sent a message to The Square Beacon Friday morning saying that the agenda for March 5 is still in the works. The primary focus will be public engagement and gathering input from the community, Flaherty said. Continue reading “Mayor’s state of city address reiterates sketch of New Year’s Day local income tax proposal; more info possible at March 5 city council event”

$800K in federal community development fund allocations OK’d by Bloomington city council

At its regular Wednesday meeting this past week, Bloomington’s city council approved allocations for $800,000 worth of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.

Doris Sims, who’s director of the city’s  HAND (Housing and Neighborhood Development) department led off the presentation to the city council on the resolution.

The amount awarded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development could turn out to be more than $800,000. If additional funds turn out to be available, the resolution approved by the city council allocates the extra money based on a priority ranking of programs that were not fully funded, or funded at all, in the basic allocation. Continue reading “$800K in federal community development fund allocations OK’d by Bloomington city council”

Non-consensual towing companies in Bloomington now need a license

 

Beginning July 1 this year, companies that tow vehicles that are illegally parked on private property in Bloomington will need a license from the city to provide the service to property owners.

Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously at its regular Wednesday meeting to enact the new law.

Highlights of the law include a $350 annual license fee for tow companies that do non-consensual tows. Those companies can’t charge vehicle owners more than $135 for basic towing, $25 for use of a dolly, and $25 per day storage, to retrieve their towed vehicles.

Companies also have to offer vehicle owners the chance to pay 20 percent of their fees and sign a payment agreement for the balance.
Continue reading “Non-consensual towing companies in Bloomington now need a license”

Transit board tees up March 17 vote on new routes for fall, including one that could go outside Bloomington

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Bloomington Transit board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 (Dave Askins/Square Beacon).

On Tuesday night at its regular monthly meeting, Bloomington Transit’s board got a briefing from general manager Lew May on recommended staff adjustments to proposed new routes.

The board is expected to take a vote on the changes at its March 17 board meeting. The changes are planned to be implemented in August this year. Continue reading “Transit board tees up March 17 vote on new routes for fall, including one that could go outside Bloomington”

$500K placeholder OK’d for master planner of hospital site redevelopment

At its regular meeting on Monday, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) agreed to an amendment of the project description for the redevelopment of the hospital property at 2nd and Rogers streets, owned by Indiana University Health.

A $500,000 placeholder for a master planner was one addition to the project review form approved by the board. The other was an increase of the total project cost, from around $6.8 million to $10 million, to cover the cost of possible infrastructure improvements. Continue reading “$500K placeholder OK’d for master planner of hospital site redevelopment”

Bloomington to seek plan commission OK for parking garage design without extra land

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The view eastward along 4th Street from the northwest corner of the lot where the 4th Street parking garage previously stood. Feb. 17, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Bloomington is still reserving the right to appeal its unsuccessful eminent domain action to acquire additional land to replace the 352-space parking garage that stood downtown at the corner of 4th and Walnut streets.

But in three weeks, at the plan commission’s regular monthly meeting on March 9, Bloomington will present a design for a replacement garage that does not include the additional land, according to a news release issued by the city late Monday. Continue reading “Bloomington to seek plan commission OK for parking garage design without extra land”

Redistricting question served up to state legislators, talk turns again to local issue

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State legislators representing the Monroe County area appeared at an update hosted on Saturday by the League of Women Voters and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.  From left: Rep. Matt Pierce, Rep. Peggy Mayfield, Sen. Mark Stoops, and Rep. Jeff Ellington. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

On Saturday, the League of Women Voters and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce hosted the second in a series of three events tied to the General Assembly’s session calendar, which concludes in mid-March this year.

Like the first such event, held in late January, the idea of re-districting at the local level got some airtime. Continue reading “Redistricting question served up to state legislators, talk turns again to local issue”

Next week’s agenda: Will a majority of Bloomington city council support standing committees?

At a work session held Friday afternoon, city council president Steve Volan and other councilmembers heard again from city staff about Volan’s proposal to establish several four-member standing committees.

The proposal—which is a resolution, not a new ordinance—will appear on the council’s agenda next week (Feb. 19) for a third time. It was first heard on Jan. 8, postponed until Jan. 29, then put off again until next week.

The smaller standing committees would replace the “committee of the whole” in the regular legislative process.

Under Volan’s proposal, the standing committees would also play an oversight role for departments in the administration.

First introduced on Jan. 8, Volan’s initial proposal met with resistance from city department heads. Volan has since clarified that he means “oversight” in the sense of “inspect or examine.” Volan says the standing committees are not meant to exercise oversight in the sense of supervisory authority.

Volan’s proposal has also met with some opposition among the same councilmembers that voted 9–0 on Jan. 8—their first public meeting of the year—to put him in the president’s chair. If the council gives the standing committee resolution a final vote next Wednesday, the tally could be a 5–4 or 4–5 split. Continue reading “Next week’s agenda: Will a majority of Bloomington city council support standing committees?”

Tow me the money | Up for possible vote next week: Bloomington ordinance regulating companies that remove cars parked illegally on private property

Bloomington’s city council will have a proposed non-consensual towing ordinance back on its regular meeting agenda for continued consideration next week, on Feb. 19.

The proposed new local law establishes a licensing regime for companies that remove vehicles parked illegally on private property. An annual license would cost $350 a year.

On Wednesday, after three and a half hours of deliberations by the city council, in its guise as the committee of the whole, some likely differences emerged between the version of the ordinance that will be enacted, compared to the legislation that was first introduced on Jan. 15. Continue reading “Tow me the money | Up for possible vote next week: Bloomington ordinance regulating companies that remove cars parked illegally on private property”