Opinion: Bloomington is 52% serious about gun crime

In mid-February, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, and chief of police, Mike Diekhoff, among others, appeared at a press conference to present the city’s annual public safety report.

What is obviously missing from this chart?

The event was framed by Hamilton like this: “By sharing public data about the full range of public safety issues, we embrace accountability, …to identify persistent problems in order to address them transparently.”

One statistic reported in February was that 2020 showed a 52-percent increase, compared to 2019, in the number of cases where a gun was used to perpetrate a crime.

That’s a big jump.

Like other news outlets, The Square Beacon included that percentage figure in its report of the press conference.

Not long after The Square Beacon’s article was published, a reader asked: So what were the actual numbers of gun crimes each year? Long story short: Nobody seems to know.

Of course, the reader’s question was a fair one. It’s a question The Square Beacon should have asked without prodding from a reader.

After a phone call with the police records division, two formal records requests under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act, and email correspondence that included the legal department, the mayor, the deputy mayor, the city’s communications director, the president of the city council, and the chief of police, all of which stretched over about three months, the reader’s question remains unanswered.

Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington is 52% serious about gun crime”

Analysis: Bloomington’s new redistricting advisory commission

Last Wednesday (Dec. 16), at its last regular meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council approved the creation of a new redistricting commission that will in 2022 be responsible for making recommendations on boundaries for the six city council districts.

The idea of creating such a commission was uncontroversial. It was approved on a unanimous vote by the nine-member city council, which is made up of nine Democrats.

The new citizens advisory redistricting commission will also have nine members, but just three will be Democrats. In addition to the “delegation” of three Democratic Party affiliates, the ordinance also calls for a three-member Republican Party delegation and a three-member delegation of members who aren’t affiliated with either of the two major parties.

Each of the three delegations on the new commission has to include a full-time Indiana University student.

Council president Steve Volan wrote the ordinance. The slogan he gave in support of the basic concept of a redistricting commission was: “We shouldn’t be choosing our voters; they should be choosing their representatives.” Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington’s new redistricting advisory commission”

Column: Indiana’s public access counselor opinion shows Bloomington’s city council has a transparency problem

On June 10 this year, Bloomington’s city council decided to hire then-deputy council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas to replace the retiring Dan Sherman. Lucas had been serving as Sherman’s deputy for about nine months.

Just after the meeting when the council voted to hire Lucas, The Square Beacon filed a request under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for an email message described during the meeting by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

The email message, from council president Steve Volan to the other eight councilmembers, was described as including the dollar figure for a proposed salary, and the logic supporting that level of compensation.

The city council provided the email to The Square Beacon, but redacted a substantial portion of it.

Responding to a formal complaint by The Square Beacon, Indiana’s public access counselor has recently issued an opinion that says, “[T]he email, if at all a factor in the decision, should be made public. This is even more so when the email was teased during a public meeting.” The email clearly factored into the council’s decision to hire Lucas at the proposed salary.

The opinion continues: “As a deliberative body, it certainly seems disingenuous to argue that documented deliberative material is off limits when those materials are referenced in a public meeting.”

The opinion also notes that the APRA provides the basis for a potential lawsuit against the city council: “There is indeed a cause of action for arbitrary or capricious exercise of discretion in withholding public records. The Council will be well served being mindful of this going forward.”

In light of the public access counselor’s opinion, the city council finally produced the un-redacted email message.

Based on the un-redacted email, among the facts that the city council tried to shield from public view was a choice not to follow the advice of the human resources department in setting a salary range. The salary range suggested by human resources, as reported by Volan’s email, looks like it was about $10,000 lower than the one used by the council. Continue reading “Column: Indiana’s public access counselor opinion shows Bloomington’s city council has a transparency problem”