Check your voter registration: Election board reviews registration postcard confirmations, no fresh news on registration fraud allegation

At its meeting last Thursday, Monroe County’s three-person election board got an update on the state election division’s effort to update voter registration rolls, with a postcard mailing.

Registered voters should have received a postcard mailing in late May, confirming their registration to vote at the address where the postcard was delivered. Registration can also be confirmed online.  [It’s the “Check Voting Status” option.]

The registration confirmation postcards are part of the state’s process for reducing outdated voter records. For people who receive an accurate card with their name on it, no action is requested.

Election officials want people who received a postcard with a name they don’t recognize to write “Return to Sender” on the card and put it in a mailbox.

That doesn’t cancel anyone’s voter registration, but it does activate the second step in a process the state uses to try to keep voter rolls updated. Continue reading “Check your voter registration: Election board reviews registration postcard confirmations, no fresh news on registration fraud allegation”

Update on good trends for juvenile detention alternatives program heard by Monroe County council

At a Tuesday work session, Monroe County councilors took the necessary steps to ensure $55,000 in funding can be used to support programs that give youth some alternatives to detention.

The specific steps that were given a unanimous vote by the seven-member council involved the creation of some new account lines and additional appropriations. That’s the sort of thing that is the bread and butter of the council, which is the county’s fiscal body.

Councilors also got an update on statistics related to “secure detention,” which counts as one measure of how well the alternatives are working. The trend is in the right direction, which is downward. Continue reading “Update on good trends for juvenile detention alternatives program heard by Monroe County council”

Photos | Cicada-ville: A bad haiku on zoning

Last Monday, I wandered over to the Monroe County courthouse grounds in downtown Bloomington to check the status of cicadas. I saw a cute bunny rabbit, but no cicadas.

On Saturday, I noticed a few cicada shells clinging to the face of the the Alexander Monument when I was covering the rally for the arts. So I figured on Sunday afternoon I would check again.

What a difference a week made. After the jump is a set of cicada photos I took on the courthouse grounds. And here’s my best poetic effort on the topic: Continue reading “Photos | Cicada-ville: A bad haiku on zoning”

Indiana University says: Get vaxxed or get axed

All Indiana University students, faculty, and staff have to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus to start the fall semester.

Some kind of decision on the topic, which was announced Friday morning, had been expected.

Two weeks ago, during Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders on COVID-19 response, IU’s vice president for strategic partnerships Kirk White fielded a question about a possible vaccine requirement.

White said: “We don’t have a mandatory requirement, yet. But I would say that our medical response team has been studying that closely over the past couple of months.”

This Friday, White said there would be an exemption process from the requirement, stressing that it would very narrow. White said, “I’m going to have to say that that’s going to be a really tight exemption process. It will be very limited religious reasons or medical reasons.” Compared to the university’s flu vaccination exemptions, it would be more restrictive, White said.

More details about the exemption process will be posted June 15, White said.

Except for the few who are exempted, White said, the university will be taking a firm stand: “ If you are not vaccinated as a student, your registration for classes will be canceled—you will not have access to normal campus operations, be it your residence hall or classes, or anything else.”

About non-student affiliates, White added, “This will become a condition of employment—having your vaccine series completed.”

Based on White’s response to a reporter’s question during the news conference, the university is prepared to sever its relationship with tenured professors over the vaccination question. Continue reading “Indiana University says: Get vaxxed or get axed”

Monroe County poised for return to in-person government meetings with option for remote participation

Rank-and-file members of the public will be able to participate remotely in future county board meetings, even after pandemic protocols are lifted, and when commissioners start holding in-person meetings.

That was a key takeaway from Wednesday’s Monroe County commissioners meeting.

The current emergency health order from Indiana governor Eric Holcomb, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to expire at the end of May. Local county officials are assuming the order won’t be renewed this time around, as it has been several times before.

The emergency order provided the legal basis for governing bodies, like the Monroe County board of commissioners, to meet with remote participation of members, using video conferencing options like Zoom.

That broad basis for remote participation will end when the governor’s order expires. All other things being equal, that would mean a return to the legal requirements of public meetings in pre-pandemic times, which include an in-person requirement for members of public bodies.

But under a state statute enacted by the state legislature during this year’s session, the members of a governing body can, in a more limited way, still participate in meetings from a distance, by using electronic platforms. [HEA 1437] Continue reading “Monroe County poised for return to in-person government meetings with option for remote participation”

Journalist’s voter registration under different name sent by election board to Monroe County prosecutor as potential fraud: “I was testing the system.”

At its regular meeting last Thursday, Monroe County’s three-member election board voted to forward a case it considers to be possible voter registration fraud to the county prosecutor’s office for review.

Screenshot of May 13, 2021 Monroe County election board meeting. Image links to CATS recording of meeting cued to the spot where discussion of the voter registration case starts.

The case came after the Nov. 3, 2020 election took place, and does not involve ballots that have been cast in an election.

As described at the board’s meeting, the case involved the registration of a voter name that did not match the name on the driver’s license that was used as a credential for the registration.

“It seems like a made-up name,” said Monroe County’s election supervisor Karen Wheeler at last Thursday’s meeting.

Election board chair Carolyn VandeWiele acknowledged at Thursday’s meeting that staff erred when they accepted a name as valid for registration that did not match the name on the credential.

The name of the person now under investigation was not mentioned at the board’s Thursday meeting.

Based on details of the story that were mentioned at the board meeting, The Square Beacon reached out to journalist Margaret Menge, now a Bloomington resident. Menge confirmed that she had submitted information through the online system, with the outcome, as she described it: “They registered a person who doesn’t exist.”

Menge added, “I was testing the system. I don’t think the system is as tight and secure as they think it is.” Continue reading “Journalist’s voter registration under different name sent by election board to Monroe County prosecutor as potential fraud: “I was testing the system.””

Health regs end May 17 in Monroe County, Bloomington | Walk-in vaccine clinic at Assembly Hall May 15

Factoring in the latest Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance, Monroe County’s health officer, Thomas Sharp, is rescinding the current Monroe County health regulations, effective Monday, May 17, at 8 a.m.

Those regulations limit gatherings to 50 people, and require masking in a range of situations.

The announcement came from county health administrator Penny Caudill at Friday’s weekly press conference on pandemic response held by local leaders.

Caudill stressed that there will still be some requirements to wear masks and to maintain distance—for people who are vaccinated or not. Examples given by Caudill are: federal or state property, vaccination clinics, and COVID testing sites.

Other government offices can still require distancing or masking, Caudill said. Local businesses can continue masking and distancing requirements as well, she added. “That is their option. Please be respectful and accommodating of those requests,” Caudill said.

On Friday evening came the city of Bloomington’s notification  that its gathering size limit would also end on Monday, May 17. Continue reading “Health regs end May 17 in Monroe County, Bloomington | Walk-in vaccine clinic at Assembly Hall May 15”

Monroe County commissioners reject mixed-use proposal at Rogers Street, That Road: “We are the county. We are not the city.”

On a unanimous vote taken at their regular Wednesday meeting, the three Monroe County commissioners turned down a proposal to redevelop a 4-acre parcel just south of the current Bloomington city limits, with five residential and commercial buildings.

The conceptual plans in the meeting information packet call for 31 new residences—15 in one building, five in each of three other buildings and one in a fifth building. The petition, brought by Blind Squirrels, LLC, would have constructed attached townhomes, multi-family residences, and commercial space.

Called “Clear Creek Urban,” the proposal was in front of the commissioners, because it was a proposed rezone from different types of residential zoning districts, and a planned unit development (PUD), to a new PUD. A PUD is a kind of custom zoning created to suit unique characteristics of a site.

When she explained her vote against the proposal, Julie Thomas, president of the county board of commissioners, first said that she thinks some kind of development for the parcel is needed. Thomas praised the creativity of the proposal, which was presented by Tamby Wikle-Cassady for Blind Squirrels.

Thomas said, “It’s nice to imagine a sort of a community feel that would have emerged from this—sort of like when you go through Unionville or Harrodsburg or other communities that we have.” Thomas added, “The building design is great. The ability to adapt and to make changes has been really phenomenal. And I want to thank Ms. Cassady for that.”

The problem for Thomas was the project’s density. “While I support the idea of having mixed use, I just think that this is too much density for the county…The first building is going to be very tall [three stories], especially compared to the immediate surrounding community,” Thomas said. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners reject mixed-use proposal at Rogers Street, That Road: “We are the county. We are not the city.””

Monroe County turns map blue for COVID cases, but still in yellow advisory

At their regular Wednesday meeting, Monroe County commissioners heard a bit of good news related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

County health administrator Penny Caudill told them the 92 confirmed positive cases for the week ending on Sunday were low enough to put Monroe County in the blue category for the state’s dual-metric classification scheme.

That’s the first time in a couple of months that the county has been blue. Blue designates the best category, which is “low community spread.”

The other metric, besides the number of confirmed cases per 100,000, is positivity rate. Monroe County has consistently scored in the best category for the positivity metric, due in part to the massive amount of mitigation testing that Indiana University has undertaken.

Mitigation testing, of randomly selected people, by its nature will show a lower positivity rate than testing of those who decide they want a test for some reason.

Based on the number of positive cases, Monroe County is still in the next-best category, but when averaged with the score for positivity rate, the county comes out blue.

Caudill also cautioned the commissioners that under the dual-metric color-coded advisory scheme, the county needs to maintain its blue status for two weeks in a row in order to be considered out from under the cautions associated with the yellow rating. Continue reading “Monroe County turns map blue for COVID cases, but still in yellow advisory”

Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders

A new law (SEA 05) recently enacted by Indiana’s legislature imposes additional requirements for local health orders to go into effect, if they are more restrictive than an order from the governor.

On Tuesday, governor Eric Holcomb vetoed the law, saying, “I am vetoing SEA 5 because I believe it will… restrict necessary flexibility in the law, and further undermine local responses to future public health emergencies.”

Monroe County’s health regulations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic have generally been more restrictive than the governor’s orders, with respect to masking and gathering sizes, among other things.

For example, the current Monroe County health regulations, which are effective through May 28, limit gatherings to 50 people, and require masking in a range of situations.

So at Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s board of heath, members got a briefing from county attorney Margie Rice on the required steps, if the governor’s veto is overridden, which they are anticipating. Continue reading “Monroe County preps for veto override of new law imposing new requirements for local health orders”