Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed

Bloomington’s plan commission is scheduled to convene a regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 13.

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From left to right: Andrew Guenther, who claims that he’s the rightful appointee to the city plan commission seat; Nick Kappas, who served in the seat through 2019; Chris Cockerham who was appointed by the mayor to the seat.

The meeting agenda  includes two residential projects—one on 3rd Street near the police station, and another at Johnson Creamery—which together could mean 179 additional bedrooms for Bloomington’s housing inventory.

Andrew Guenther won’t be helping to decide whether those projects are approved. That’s because the city of Bloomington has rejected Guenther’s claim to a plan commission seat, which is based on an attempted appointment by the Monroe County’s Republican Party chair, William Ellis.

Instead of Guenther, it will be Chris Cockerham serving in that seat on Monday. Cockerham is a Republican, who’s the choice of Bloomington’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton. Cockerham has already served for one meeting as plan commissioner, on June 8, which is what prompted a lawsuit.

A court hearing is now set for Aug. 5. If any part of the hearing goes Guenther’s way, it might not be Cockerham who serves in the seat for the next while. Guenther and Ellis are asking the court to keep Cockerham on the sidelines of any plan commission meetings, until the matter is resolved. Continue reading “Plan commission lawsuit: Injunction filed against meetings; Bloomington wants amended complaint dismissed”

Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat

In the pending lawsuit over the rightful appointee to a city plan commission seat, the city of Bloomington filed a motion on Monday to have Andrew Guenther’s claim dismissed, based on the idea that Guenther lacks standing to file the lawsuit.

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Chris Cockerham (left) and  Andrew Guenther (right) have claims to the same seat on Bloomington’s plan commission. Cockerham, the mayoral appointment, is now serving on the commission. Guenther has filed suit challenging that appointment.

Bloomington’s claim that neither Guenther nor Republican county chair William Ellis have standing is based on Bloomington’s contention that even if the facts alleged by Guenther and Ellis are assumed to be true, they “are incapable of supporting relief.”

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Guenther and GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Guenther and Ellis say that Guenther is the rightful appointee to the seat, under Indiana state law, which says: “The county chair of the political party of the member whose term has expired shall make the appointment.”

Bloomington’s argument for dismissal hinges on the fact that that “the member whose has term expired,” namely Nick Kappas, was not a Republican.

Continue reading “Bloomington files for dismissal of case over disputed plan commission seat”

Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat

On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed over the disputed seat on Bloomington’s plan commission.

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Chris Cockerham (left) took his seat on the plan commission on Monday night, as Andrew Guenther (right) asserted a claim to the seat in the Zoom video conference chat window. A lawsuit was filed on Tuesday over the seat.

In the lawsuit, would-be plan commissioner Andrew Guenther and Monroe County GOP chair William Ellis ask the court to grant a writ of quo warranto, which is a challenge to someone’s right to hold office.

In this case, Guenther and Ellis are challenging the right of Chris Cockerham to hold the plan commission seat, based on an appointment by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, made in early May.

Cockerham has already served as planning commissioner for one meeting, on Monday this week.

In mid-April, Ellis declared his right to make the appointment as chair of the Republican Party. The announcement from Ellis came after Hamilton for several weeks did not fill the vacancy that was left when Hamilton decided not to re-appoint Nick Kappas. Kappas’s term expired at the end of 2019.

How does Ellis argue that he has the authority as Monroe County GOP chair to make a plan commission appointment that’s normally made by the mayor? Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed in dispute over Bloomington plan commission seat”

Habitat for Humanity PUD, Trinitas site plan OK’d by Bloomington plan commission, as seat remains disputed

Bloomington’s plan commission gave approvals to two significant petitions at its Monday night meeting.

The first was a request to rezone about 12.5 acres just east of RCA Community Park, as part of a planned unit development (PUD), so that 70 single-family homes can be built there. As a rezoning, the PUD will now be considered by Bloomington’s city council.

The second petition was the final plan approval of a roughly 1,000-bedroom project proposed by Trinitas Development, for 39 acres nestled in the southeast corner of the I-69 and SR 45/46 interchange. The plan commission had previously recommended approval of the project’s rezoning. Bloomington’s city council agreed, on a unanimous vote in early March.

Monday’s meeting was Chris Cockerham’s first as plan commissioner since receiving an appointment from the city’s mayor, John Hamilton, to replace Nick Kappas, who served through the end of 2019, but was not re-appointed.

The fact that Cockerham’s seat is still disputed was evident from the message conveyed on Monday during the plan commission’s meeting by Andrew Guenther, using the chat feature of the Zoom videoconference platform, on which the meeting was conducted.

“On April 16th, 2020, in accordance with IC 36-1-8-10, Monroe County Republican Party Chairman William Ellis appointed me, Andrew Guenther, to the Bloomington Plan Commission,” Guenther wrote.

Guenther added, “Mr. Ellis and I make a final request today that Planning & Transportation, as well as the Plan Commission, deny Mr. Cockerham’s appointment and recognize myself, Andrew Guenther, as the legal and rightful appointee to the Bloomington Plan Commission.”

A lawsuit over the appointment could be filed as soon as Tuesday. Continue reading “Habitat for Humanity PUD, Trinitas site plan OK’d by Bloomington plan commission, as seat remains disputed”

Sgambelluri takes city council District 2 over Guenther by 26-point margin

Spirits were high Tuesday night at Monroe County Democratic Party headquarters on Madison Street. Both Democrats in the only contested races for Bloomington’s municipal elections hand just won seats on the city council in 2020. Ron Smith won a three-way race in District 3.

Sue Sgambelluri won her race in District 2 against Republican Party nominee Andrew Guenther. She received 365 votes (63 percent) to Guenther’s 218 (37 percent). That included a plurality for Sgambelluri in each of the district’s six precincts, among early voters and Election Day voters alike.

The closest tally inside the district was the one-vote margin in Bloomington 14 precinct among Election Day voters—Guenther had 19 votes compared to Sgambelluri’s 20. Continue reading “Sgambelluri takes city council District 2 over Guenther by 26-point margin”

Campaign finance injects interest in Bloomington’s District 2 city council race

In late August, at a Democratic Party caucus, District 2 Bloomington city council candidate Sue Sgambelluri offered the gathering her thoughts on Democrat Marty Spechler’s run for the District 3 seat as an independent: “First, I want to congratulate District 3 on having replaced District 2 as the most interesting race this year. Well done!”

As a matter of politically piquant interest, the Democratic Party’s internal kerfuffle in District 3 has now been eclipsed by the campaign finance reports filed last week by Republican Andrew Guenther, who is Sgambelluri’s opponent in District 2. Guenther’s level and sources of financial support have led to official statements on behalf of both their political parties. Continue reading “Campaign finance injects interest in Bloomington’s District 2 city council race”

Bloomington city council campaign filings: Party support means Republican candidate enjoys 20-to-1 funding advantage over Democrat

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The banner for early voting hangs at Election Central at 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington. Early voting starts Oct. 21. The deadline for filing campaign finance reports for the period ending Oct. 11 was last Friday at noon. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Friday at noon was the deadline for pre-election campaign finance filings in Bloomington’s city council races. Election Day is Nov. 5.

The campaign finance forms filed for Bloomington’s District 3 city council race by were pretty much politics as usual.

One District 3 candidate, independent Marty Spechler, didn’t file the paperwork by the deadline, which is not smiled upon by election officials, but is not all that uncommon. The other two District 3 candidates, Democrat Ron Smith and independent Nick Kappas, together raised in the neighborhood of $3,000.

But the way that sum was divided between the independent and the Democrat was maybe a little unusual for Bloomington’s political culture, which is mostly dominated by Democrats. The $2,350 in itemized contributions collected by Kappas for the filing period was more than twice as much as the $973.22 shown on Smith’s paperwork.

Definitely unusual was the  nearly 20-to-1 funding gap between Republican Andrew Guenther and Democrat Sue Sgambelluri in District 2.  Guenther’s contributions totaled $37,375, compared to $1,919.70 for Sgambelluri. That includes $8,000 for Guenther reported separately as a large donation, after the reporting period ended.

The largest part of contributions to Guenther’s campaign, including the separately reported $8,000, came from the Monroe County Republican Party. Added to the $22,500 donated to Guenther by the party since the reporting period started (on April 13), it would bring Guenther’s Republican Party total to $30,500.

The Republican Party’s filing shows that of its  $31,790 in itemized contributions, $30,000 came from a single donor, Doug Horn.

On Nov. 5 this year, city council Districts 2 and 3 are the only districts where elections are being held. Elections are not being held in Bloomington’s other four districts because the county election board cancelled them, because none of the races were contested there, and no citywide races were contested. Continue reading “Bloomington city council campaign filings: Party support means Republican candidate enjoys 20-to-1 funding advantage over Democrat”