Monroe County commissioners set Nov. 16 meeting to get public feedback on planned convention center expansion

A public input session on the future of the Monroe County convention center has been set for Monday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. It will be conducted by video conference.

President of the county board of commissioners Julie Thomas made the announcement at the end of the board’s regular Wednesday morning meeting.

When The Square Beacon touched base with county council president Eric Spoonmore, he said, “It’s a good idea,” to have a meeting on the topic. Spoonmore added that it’s important to reach out to Bloomington officials to make sure they are included in the meeting.

The backdrop to the announcement includes an uncontroversial six-month pause to the project caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But before that, the project had already been stalled for 10 months in a controversial way, over governance issues. The architect for the project has not yet been contracted for the building design.
Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners set Nov. 16 meeting to get public feedback on planned convention center expansion”

Monroe County commissioners OK contract with BLM Bloomington for anti-racism training, don’t require other electeds to take it

At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved a $6,000 agreement with Black Lives Matter Bloomington for a day of anti-racism training next year.

The six-hour day of training by eight BLM facilitators is currently scheduled for Jan. 30, 2021. But that date could change by agreement between the commissioners and BLM.

Also at their Wednesday meeting, the commissioners approved revisions to the Monroe County personnel manual that, among other items, address the kind of training that will be provided by BLM. It won’t require elected officials to take BLM’s training.

Commissioners had postponed the revisions to the personnel manual from the previous week. Some wording in an initially proposed added section had caused county councilors to amend the 2021 salary ordinances. The councilors’ amendment tied the ordinances to the personnel manual as it stood, before any revisions were made.

The initial revision had read: “[A]ll elected officials and full time employees will be required to participate in a training…”

The version approved by commissioners on Wednesday reads: “[A]ll full time, non-law enforcement, employees, with the exception of those working under the authority of the Prosecutor and Board of Judges, will be required to participate in training.” Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners OK contract with BLM Bloomington for anti-racism training, don’t require other electeds to take it”

Monroe County election board mulls investigation of unlawful electioneering at polls by voter wearing COVID-19 mask with candidate’s name

Monroe County’s election board could eventually wind up conducting an investigation of unlawful electioneering by a voter at the early in-person polls.

The voter has been described as wearing a COVID-19 mask with a candidate’s name printed on it, inside the polling location at Election Central, while voting was taking place. The voter, who was allowed to cast a ballot, refused to swap to a different mask or turn his own inside out.

That appears to be a violation of Indiana’s state election law, which says that electioneering is not allowed inside a polling place.

The definition of electioneering includes “expressing support or opposition to any candidate” and “wearing or displaying an article of clothing, sign, button, or placard that states the name of any political party or includes the name, picture, photograph, or other likeness of any currently elected federal, state, county, or local official.” [IC 3-14-3-16]

It was an election worker who gave the county election board a report on the matter at its Monday morning meeting, which was held to square away any remaining issues before Election Day.

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the voter could wind up charged with committing a Class A misdemeanor, according to Matthew Kochevar, who is co-general counsel for the Indiana Election Division.

The punishment for a Class A misdemeanor is up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

To get to an outcome involving jail time and a fine, the county election board could investigate the electioneering allegation at a public meeting of the board under[ IC 3-6-5-31],  Kochevar wrote in an emailed message to The Square Beacon. The election board could then vote to forward the matter to the county prosecutor under [IC 3-6-5-32], as a violation of the electioneering statute, Kochevar said.

According to a statement issued by Monroe County election board member Carolyn VandeWiele late Monday, she spoke to the Monroe County prosecutor’s office and confirmed: “They will prosecute any offenses that we bring before them.” Continue reading “Monroe County election board mulls investigation of unlawful electioneering at polls by voter wearing COVID-19 mask with candidate’s name”

Election board adds 5 more hours for early voting in Monroe County: “Our voters need to vote.”

The line at early voting in Monroe County, Indiana at Election Central (7th and Madison) on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The time for early in-person voting in Monroe County has been extended on Thursday and Friday (Oct. 29, 30) by one extra hour—until 7 p.m. Early voting on those days will start the same time as previously scheduled, which is 8 a.m.

On Saturday (Oct. 31), an hour has been added to the start of the day and two hours tacked on to the end, to make for a 10-hour day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The county has one in-person early voting site, at 7th and Madison streets, aka Election Central, in downtown Bloomington.

The extra time was added by the three-member county election board in a unanimous vote taken at its Monday morning meeting.

The board was reacting to the long lines that have persisted at the one early voting site in the county, since early voting started three weeks ago.

On Saturday (Oct. 24), the line started off wrapped around the whole block from 7th and Madison streets, south to 6th Street, west on 6th to Rogers Street, north on Rogers to 7th, and back to Madison. The waiting time to vote has in some cases approached two hours and has consistently ranged between an hour to an hour and a half.

The election board is made up of Carolyn VandeWiele, the Democratic Party’s representative, Hal Turner, the Republican Party’s representative, and the county clerk, who is Nicole Browne, a Democrat. Continue reading “Election board adds 5 more hours for early voting in Monroe County: “Our voters need to vote.””

Courthouse closed as Nov. 10 fall property tax deadline approaches, treasurer describes ways to pay

As the Nov. 10 deadline for paying fall property taxes approaches, Monroe County treasurer Jessica McClellan is making a push to make sure residents know what their options are for making tax payments.

The county courthouse building is closed, except by appointment, due to the COVID-19 pandemic precautions. That’s an extra reason McClellan is trying to get the word out this year about how to pay.

For folks who want to deal with a live human being, facemask to facemask, appointments can be made by calling the treasurer’s office at 812-349-2530. McClellan says it will likely switch callers to voicemail: Leave a message and it will be answered in the order it was received.

For those who want to use the mails, the address is: PO Box 2028, Bloomington, IN 47402. To count as on time, the tax payment has to be postmarked by Nov. 10.

That’s more lenient than the law that applies to absentee ballots. Ballots have to be received (not just postmarked) by the clerk’s office no later than noon on Election Day.

For taxpayers who don’t want to send their payment through the mail, but don’t feel a need to hand deliver their payment to another person, a dropbox has been installed at the north entrance to the courthouse. Continue reading “Courthouse closed as Nov. 10 fall property tax deadline approaches, treasurer describes ways to pay”

A look back at 2016 Monroe County results, 2020 early voting continues at 100 voters-per-hour pace

Saturday’s early in-person voting total in Monroe County was 825.

That daily total was the smallest number so far in the first three weeks of early voting. But that’s because it was the first day of Saturday voting, which offers just seven hours of voting time.

Saturday’s pace of around 118 voters per hour was the highest throughput of any day so far.

Early voting takes place at just one location, Election Central, at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington.

Based on the roughly 15,000 early in-person voters so far, and the remaining hours of in-person early voting that are available, around 21,000 people might be expected to have voted in person before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Last week’s number of mail-in absentee ballots requested was put at around 14,000 at last Tuesday’s meeting of the election board.

If voter turnout this year matches the numbers from 2016, which was the most recent presidential year election, that would mean just shy of 60,000 voters.

Peeling off this year’s early in-person and mail-in numbers from 60,000 would still leave at least 25,000 people voting on Election Day. They would be casting their ballots at one of the 28 polling locations around the county where they are assigned to vote.

On average that would mean every polling site on Election Day would be handling around 890 voters over the 12-hour voting period. That works out to about 74 voters per hour.

But that’s if the same number of voters turn out this year as last year. It could be a lot more. For every 1,000 additional Monroe County voters who cast a ballot this year, the 28 polling sites will need to handle another three voters per hour. Continue reading “A look back at 2016 Monroe County results, 2020 early voting continues at 100 voters-per-hour pace”

Early in-person voting continues Saturday in Monroe County, pace so far around 100 voters per hour

Friday set another daily high for early in-person voters in Monroe County: 1,114. That eclipsed by a half dozen voters the previous high of 1,108, which was set on Thursday.

Through the first 14 days of early voting, the total of early voters stands at 14,142.

Remaining days to vote in person include this Saturday (Oct. 24), weekdays the following week, next Saturday (Oct. 31) and the final Monday before Election Day.

Election Central, where early in-person voting takes place, is at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington—the old Johnson Hardware building.

The voting totals on Saturday are almost certain to be lower than the average of about 1,000 per day that have been tallied through the first 14 days. That’s because Saturday voting hours are shorter—seven hours compared to 10 on weekdays. (For voting times and days, check Monroe County’s Election Central website.)

If the same pace of voting is maintained on Saturday, about 700 people will make their way through the line by the end of the day, which has generally wrapped at least halfway around the block.

At Friday afternoon’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 pandemic response, president of the county commissioners, Julie Thomas, said, “I personally waited an hour and 45 minutes to vote and it was worth every moment.” She added, “Everyone in line was wearing a mask, we were standing six feet apart. So it was really heartening to see that and we really appreciate the voters for doing that.”

The only early voting location in Monroe County is at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington. Continue reading “Early in-person voting continues Saturday in Monroe County, pace so far around 100 voters per hour”

Monroe County commissioners put off changes to personnel policy after councilors tweak salary ordinance

On Wednesday morning, a vote on changes to Monroe County’s personnel policy got postponed by the board of commissioners.

Several of the proposed changes to the policy had a certain routine quality.

One was the conversion of sick time to personal benefit time. That conversion meant deleting requirements for physician statements after three days. A third revision changed bereavement time from five days to three days.

Also apparently uncontroversial, at least for the commissioners, was another change that added a section called “Competent and Inclusive Workforce.”

The section reads in part, “[A]ll elected officials and full time employees will be required to participate in [cultural sensitivity training, implicit bias training] approved by the Board of Commissioners, or the Prosecutor, or the Board of Judges.”

But on Tuesday, the night before, when the county council took its vote on the 2021 budget, the seven-member fiscal body took a step that affected the commissioners’ decision. The council uncoupled the salary ordinances—for elected officials and county employees alike—from any changes the commissioners might make to the personnel policy. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners put off changes to personnel policy after councilors tweak salary ordinance”

Monroe County gets GO bonds OK’d before expected pre-election news of rebounding economy

At its meeting last Tuesday, the Monroe County council handled two $3-million items.

One was a transfer of $3 million to its rainy day fund. The other was a final approval on issuance of $3.1 million in general obligation bonds. The amount includes $3 million worth of capital projects and another $100,000 to cover transaction costs.

Those items will now provide some of the background for the county council’s first reading of the 2021 budget, on Monday starting at 5:30 p.m.

The rainy day fund transfers came in the context of a negative impact to local income tax revenue that’s expected in 2022. In that year, revenue will be based on individual earnings in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The timing of the bond issuance came before the general election in a presidential year and before Thanksgiving—two events that can affect bond ratings, according to county attorney Jeff Cockerill. Continue reading “Monroe County gets GO bonds OK’d before expected pre-election news of rebounding economy”

9K Monroe County residents vote early in person in first 9 days

The tally of early voters in Monroe County on Friday was 1,199. That was the fourth day in a row that set a new daily high.

Early voting started last week on Tuesday (Oct. 6). Over the first nine days, 8,954 ballots have been cast. That’s an average of just a smidgen under 1,000 a day, or 100 an hour.

At that same pace, the 208 hours of early voting that are scheduled before the Nov. 3 election would yield a bit under 21,000 early-voted ballots.

Added to the roughly 13,000 mail-in absentee ballots that have been requested would make around 34,000 total early votes this year, which is a few thousand more than the 31,000 in 2016 who voted early in person or absentee by mail.

Election Central, in the old Johnson Hardware Building at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington, is the only early voting location in the county. Lines have extended down Madison to 6th Street, out 6th Street to Rogers Street and halfway back to Madison.

The advice from those at the head of the line, to those who were arriving to head to the end of the queue, was to head west on 7th, not south down Madison, because that would make for a shorter walk.

Reports of waiting times ranged from around an hour to as long as an hour and a half.

Those times are not as long as some reported in other parts of the country, but that has not made some Monroe County voters feel any better about waiting an hour in line. Some people have given up and made plans to try again on a different day.

Some observers have reported that less busy times are from 1:30 to 2 p.m. and from 5:30 to 6 p.m.

Voters in line at 6 p.m. are still allowed to vote. Continue reading “9K Monroe County residents vote early in person in first 9 days”