Election board reviews balloting, tees up hearings on electioneering charge, fine for late finance form

At its meeting on Thursday, Monroe County’s election board set its next meeting, on Feb. 4, as the time when it will hear charges of electioneering at the polls during early voting.

Screen shot of Jan. 7, 2021 Monroe County election board meeting. Election supervisor Karen Wheeler is holding up a list of incomplete registrations that she wants board members to sign.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board reviewed candidates with delinquent campaign finance forms.

Thursday’s board meeting included a report on a survey of people who worked the polls for the 2020 elections. The survey showed mostly positive results.

The elections also heard a review during public commentary from a voter’s perspective, given by longtime poll workers Marge and Jim Faber.

Marge Faber told the board, “As a voter, I want to tell you, that was the most fantastic voting experience I’ve ever had.” She added, “And given my age, that means over 60 years worth of voting, because I’ve never missed an election.”

After suggesting some additional signage for the Arlington Elementary School location, Faber wrapped up, saying, “Otherwise, it was fantastic. I should have written you a note earlier, and I forgot.” Thursday’s board meeting marked Faber’s 88th birthday.

At Thursday’s meeting, the chairship of the three-member board transitioned from one party’s appointee to the other, in a longstanding mutually-agreed tradition. Republican Party appointee Hal Turner, who chaired the board in 2020, passed the virtual gavel to Democratic Party appointee Carolyn VandeWiele. The third member of the board is the Monroe County clerk, who is currently Nicole Browne.

In his introductory remarks, Turner commented on the previous day’s events in Washington D.C. when pro-Trump rioters had stormed the Capitol.

“Yesterday, we saw not just an illegal act by 52 people who invaded the Capitol building, but also a gross insult to our democracy and the republic that makes our form of democracy possible,” Turner said.

Turner continued, “But the sanctity of the Constitution ultimately prevailed. And good women and men were not deterred from their sacred constitutional obligations. To quote our Indiana senator Todd Young, on the steps of the Capitol yesterday, ‘When it comes to the law, our opinions don’t matter. The law matters. I took an oath under God.’”
Continue reading “Election board reviews balloting, tees up hearings on electioneering charge, fine for late finance form”

Contested Bloomington plan commission seat goes to Sandberg

On Wednesday at its first meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council decided on a 5–4 vote that Susan Sandberg, not Isabel Piedmont-Smith, would serve as its appointment to the city plan commission in 2021.

It was a night when the council settled on a raft of appointments of its own members to various boards and commissions.

That included the appointment of Sandberg to the city plan commission. She’s served on the nine-member group for the last couple of years.

Sandberg’s appointment to the plan commission was the only one that required a vote of the council to settle the question of which councilmember would serve. A couple of other competing councilmember interests were resolved when one deferred to the other.

Voting for Sandberg to serve on plan commission were: Sandberg, Dave Rollo, Jim Sims, Sue Sgambelluri, and Ron Smith. Voting for Piedmont-Smith were: Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Kate Rosenbarger, and Matt Flaherty.

The plan commission this year will be in the political spotlight probably by the end of January, when it takes up the question of zone map revisions and proposed text amendments to the UDO.

Continue reading “Contested Bloomington plan commission seat goes to Sandberg”

New Bloomington city council president Jim Sims: “This is a transition of leadership, not a transfer of power.”

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council chose Jim Sims as its new president for 2021 and Sue Sgambelluri as its vice president.

It’s a requirement under state law that the council selects a president and vice president from among its members at the first meeting of the year. Sims served as vice president in 2020.

During the meeting, which was held by video-conference due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, Sims took the virtual gavel from Steve Volan, who served as president during 2020. Volan presided over Wednesday’s meeting up to the point of the officer elections.

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, rioters who supported U.S. President Donald Trump, despite his election loss, had stormed into the Capitol on the day when Congress was supposed to certify the 2020 Electoral College votes.

The transition between city council presidents was peaceful. Said Sims, “This is a transition of leadership, not a transfer of power.”

Sims is one of three at-large representatives on the nine-member council, which is the legislative branch of the city government. The other six councilmembers represent geographic districts of the city. Sgambelluri represents District 2, which covers the northwest side of town.

The other officer chosen on Wednesday was Matt Flaherty as parliamentarian. Though it’s not required for city councils in Indiana to choose a parliamentarian, it’s written into Bloomington’s local law.  Like Sims, Flaherty is an at-large representative, elected by voters of the whole city. Last year, Isabel Piedmont-Smith served as parliamentarian.

The vote on the new officers was unanimous.

Flaherty and Sgambelluri are two of the four councilmembers who were first elected in 2019, and now have one year of city council service behind them.

In August of 2017, the Democratic Party caucused Sims into a the seat left vacant by Timothy Mayer’s resignation. So Sims now has three and a half years of experience serving on the council. Continue reading “New Bloomington city council president Jim Sims: “This is a transition of leadership, not a transfer of power.””

Monroe County adds $90K to CARES pass-through distribution, brings total to $460K

Monroe County has now passed through nearly half a million dollars to local businesses and government entities from its total $4.7 million CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act allocation.

At their Wednesday meeting, county commissioners approved another $90,516 in reimbursements, bringing the grand total to $459,901.

The county’s program started with the county government acting as a clearinghouse of sorts, by passing through to the state the claims submitted by local businesses and governmental units—like the library and townships—for non-payroll expenses related to COVID-19.

The state eventually asked the county to submit the county’s own expenses for public safety, which were enough to get reimbursement to the county of the whole $4.7 million. Continue reading “Monroe County adds $90K to CARES pass-through distribution, brings total to $460K”

Monroe County asks food and beverage tax group to recommend use of tax proceeds for convention center debt

At their Wednesday meeting, Monroe County commissioners decided to send a request to the local food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) that they be able to use “any and all” of the county’s share of food and beverage tax proceeds for existing convention center debt and management expenses.

Historically it has been innkeepers tax revenues that have been used to pay the convention center debt service. But  innkeepers tax revenues have have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Food and beverage revenues are also down due to the pandemic, but not by as much.

Under the state statute on food and beverage taxes, the request needs to go before the seven-member FABTAC and get a favorable recommendation, before the tax revenue can be used the way the commissioners are requesting. Continue reading “Monroe County asks food and beverage tax group to recommend use of tax proceeds for convention center debt”

Limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in Monroe County: “We’ve been giving what we can give.”

Since Dec. 21, about 500 people a day in Monroe County have been getting their first of two required shots for the COVID-19 vaccine at the IU Health Medical Arts Building clinic.

The total number who have received that first shot now stands at 4,333.

That was the update given to Monroe County’s board of health members on Tuesday afternoon by Amy Meek, nursing supervisor for IU Health.

Based on that 500-per-day pace of COVID-19 shots, it would take a little over a year for 70 percent of the county’s roughly 150,000 residents to receive the required two doses of vaccine. The 70 percent figure has been cited as the minimum percentage needed to achieve herd immunity.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the pace of vaccination struck health board members as slow.

Asked for a breakdown of the bottlenecks, Meek said the problem is not staffing, it’s vaccine supply. “We’ve been giving what we can give.” She added, “We can’t have more appointments than the vaccine inventory that we have.” Continue reading “Limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine in Monroe County: “We’ve been giving what we can give.””

Bloomington’s proposed water rate increase: Residential customers would pay 22% more, reducing but not eliminating subsidy to others

A proposed water rate increase by the city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) would have the average residential customer paying about $45 more per year in water fees by 2024.

The proposal got a first look from the finance committee of the city’s utilities service board (USB) at its Monday afternoon meeting.

The proposal that CBU is making, for all classes of water customers, will first go to the full USB, and eventually to the city council in February. After that, it will still need to get approval from the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC).

The rate increase for Bloomington’s residential water customers works out to around 22 percent more than they pay now. That’s a smaller increase than for any other class of customer.

But the 22-percent increase is more than it would be, if the cost of service were distributed perfectly across all customer classes.

Residential customers now pay more than their fair share of the cost of providing water service, according to a cost-of-service study done by Indianapolis-based Crowe LLP.

The rate increase proposal from CBU would make progress towards reducing the subsidy provided by residential customers, but would not eliminate it.

Other classes of customers that are now subsidized by residential customers are: commercial, governmental, interdepartmental; industrial; wholesale; Indiana University; and irrigation. Continue reading “Bloomington’s proposed water rate increase: Residential customers would pay 22% more, reducing but not eliminating subsidy to others”

Monroe County starts 2021 with another death due to COVID-19

On Sunday, Indiana’s department of health dashboard noon update recorded one additional death in Monroe County due to the COVID-19 pandemic virus. It came on the first day of the year.

That brings Monroe County’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic to 98. The first one was recorded on April 11.

About half of Monroe County deaths, 46 of them, have been recorded since the start of December of last year.

The current trend for deaths in Monroe County looks like it is dropping from its peak of 14 cases, which came during the week of Dec. 7, to half that for the most recent full week.

Statewide, the rolling 7-day average daily number of deaths is also showing a downward trend, from a peak of around 85 in mid-December, to about 70 by the end of the year. Continue reading “Monroe County starts 2021 with another death due to COVID-19”

Opinion: Preserving live closed captions for post-pandemic times should get focus now

Monday of Christmas week was the last meeting of 2020 for Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC).

It was a landmark event for a city of Bloomington government meeting.

It was not special because the meeting was held using Zoom’s video-conferencing platform. Video-conferenced public meetings have been standard since the spring. That’s when Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency health order made remote participation legal for government officials.

What made the RDC meeting special was the automatic closed captioning and live transcription function for the Zoom video-conferencing software, which had been activated for the first time.

The following week, the regular press conference of local leaders about COVID-19 pandemic response also featured Zoom’s automatic closed captioning and transcription.

The improved accessibility of meetings to the Deaf, or people who are hearing impaired, is an obvious benefit.

It’s a benefit for everyone. Continue reading “Opinion: Preserving live closed captions for post-pandemic times should get focus now”

Monroe County auditor at swearing-in ceremony: “If you love people, please mask up.”

Monroe County officials who won election in November took their oaths of office at noon on Friday, New Year’s Day.

Screenshot of Jan. 1, 2021 swearing in ceremony of Monroe County elected officials. The green highlighted square is auditor Catherine Smith, who encouraged people to mask up. Image links to FB video of the ceremony.

The 50-minute-long ceremony was hosted by the Monroe County Democratic Party. Election winners were all Democrats.

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic, which added another death to Monroe County’s count on Friday, was reflected in the venue for the ceremony—a Zoom video conference, live streamed on Facebook.

Those who took the oath of office were: judges Kara Krothe, Valeri Haughton, Geoff Bradley; auditor Catherine Smith; treasurer Jessica McClellan; coroner Joani Shields; surveyor Trohn Enright-Randolph; county commissioners Julie Thomas and Penny Githens; and county councilors Trent Deckard, Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson. Continue reading “Monroe County auditor at swearing-in ceremony: “If you love people, please mask up.””