Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance

A proposed new Bloomington law that would provide some protections to encampments of houseless people has been referred to the city council’s committee of the whole.

On Wednesday night, after the proposed law’s first reading, the city council decided that its committee of the whole will meet next week, on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m., to deliberate on the encampment protections.

Under local law, no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.

The ordinance could have been referred to the council’s four-member standing committee on public safety. But that motion failed on a 4–5 vote.

Voting for referral to the standing committee on public safety were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger.

The city council’s public safety standing committee is made up of Piedmont-Smith, Volan, Susan Sandberg, and Jim Sims.

That means the public safety committee members were split 2–2 on the question of whether to refer the proposed encampment protections to their smaller group of four, compared to the group of all nine councilmembers.

With a referral to the public safety committee no longer a possibility, the vote to send the proposed new law to the committee of the whole was 9–0.

The contentious vote on committee referral was consistent with ongoing skirmishes among councilmembers over the creation and use of standing committees. Continue reading “Bloomington city council makes procedural debate out of prep for deliberations on homeless encampment ordinance”

Analysis: Bloomington city council scrutinizes its committee structure, annual budget process

At a work session held on Dec. 21, Bloomington’s city council reviewed the way it handles ordinary legislation during the year.

Based on “city council” by Thomas Deckert from the Noun Project

Ten days earlier, on Dec. 11, the council had reviewed the way it handles the main piece of legislation it approves every year, which is the city’s annual budget.

Based on discussion at those two meetings, 2021 could see some changes in the council’s legislative procedures compared to 2020, even if those changes might not be radical.

The city council’s 2021 activity could play out in part based on the answer to two key questions.

The first question: How big a role will four-member standing committees play in the ordinary legislative process? Several new standing committees were created by the council this year, on a 5–4 vote taken in February.

The possible impact of standing committees on the council’s legislative process was the focus of a report compiled by the city council’s legal researcher about durations of all meeting types over the last six years.  The report was the basis for the city council’s discussion at its Dec. 21 special meeting.

Whether legislation in 2021 is referred to a four-person standing committee, the council’s committee of the whole, or no committee at all, could be affected by the council’s choice of a president at its first meeting of the year on Jan. 6.

The second question: Is there a point on the calendar when the city council could have a chance to have a meaningful impact on the mayor’s proposed budget?

A highlight of the budget process, from the city council’s point of view, has traditionally been its “budget advance” meeting held sometime in the spring. Councilmembers outline the kinds of elements they want to see in the budget that gets proposed by the mayor in August.

Having participated in the development of quarter century’s worth of city budgets, on Dec. 11 this year, deputy mayor Mick Renneisen sized up the role of the city council’s budget advance this way: “I’ve yet to hear anything in the budget advance that has significantly impacted our budget.” He added, “It’s too general and it’s too soon.”

That leaves the door open to scheduling of city council budget input later than spring, but earlier than late August. Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington city council scrutinizes its committee structure, annual budget process”

Opinion: Bloomington’s new city seal ordinance delivers insight into a possibilities for better legislative process

An ordinance that establishes a new city seal for Bloomington does not appear on the city council’s regular meeting agenda for Wednesday, Dec. 2.

Yet that is the date when it was proposed by the city clerk to be effective.

Those two morsels make for some pretty thin civic gruel in the post-Thanksgiving news cycle. But it’s not too thin to feed a proposal that would tweak the city council’s legislative process.

One part of the approach served up here would change a single line of the local code, which prohibits any debate on a new law when it is first introduced to the city council.

The other change to the process would make routine for all legislation a practice that the city council already uses for the annual budget: Councilmembers submit written questions, which are then answered by staff in writing, and posted for the public to review.

Before looking at that proposal in a little more detail, it’s worth adding a little meat to the legislative soup of the city seal. Continue reading “Opinion: Bloomington’s new city seal ordinance delivers insight into a possibilities for better legislative process”

Bloomington city council’s “committee of the whole” to take second, maybe third try at non-consensual towing ordinance

At its regular meeting last Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted to refer a new non-consensual towing ordinance to the council’s committee of the whole for a second time.

Wednesday’s referral to the committee of the whole means the new law regulating towing companies that remove vehicles parked illegally on private property will get further consideration on Feb. 12.  But it won’t get a vote to enact it on that day.

The procedural vote, to refer the legislation to the committee of the whole,  was split 7–2. That’s because councilmembers are not yet in alignment about how they want to use smaller, four-member committees, compared to the committee of the whole, in their legislative process.

It’s been a point of friction since the start of the year.

Some key features of the new law include a $350 annual license and a cap on fees charged to vehicle owners of $125 for the towing, $25 for any special equipment needed (like a dolly), and $25 per day for storage. As currently drafted, the law also requires an option for someone to get their vehicle released by paying 20 percent of fees with a signed payment agreement for the balance. Continue reading “Bloomington city council’s “committee of the whole” to take second, maybe third try at non-consensual towing ordinance”

Pitch for Bloomington city council standing committees seen by executive branch as a fastball

“Is council a co-equal branch of government or isn’t it?” That’s a rhetorical question posed by Steve Volan, this year’s president of Bloomington’s city council, about the relationship between the council and the city’s administration.

Volan asked the question during a contentious work session held last Friday afternoon in city hall’s Hooker Conference Room. All nine councilmembers attended at least part of the session, along with a dozen and half staff members, among them several department heads and deputy mayor Mick Renneisen.

The friction that emerged between Volan and staff members, and with some of Volan’s city council colleagues, stemmed from a pending resolution, introduced by Volan at the city council’s first meeting of the year, on Jan. 8.

Volan proposes to use existing city code to establish seven four-member standing committees. Already established is a land use committee, to which zoning legislation has been referred for the last two years. Continue reading “Pitch for Bloomington city council standing committees seen by executive branch as a fastball”

Bloomington city council punts question of standing committees to end of January

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council began its year with an organizational meeting that featured a split vote.

What generated some controversy at the start of the term was a proposal from newly named council president, Steve Volan, to use existing local code to establish several four-member standing committees. They would add to the existing land use committee.

Six of the nine councilmembers, led by outgoing council president Dave Rollo, wanted to postpone a vote on Volan’s proposal for three weeks, until Jan. 29. Susan Sandberg was vocal in her opposition to establishing standing committees, pointing out that she’d heard similar proposals three times before from Volan, during her time serving on the council.

Three councilmembers, including Volan, would have been content to postpone the question until next week, Jan. 15. But they thought the three-week wait was unnecessary. The 6–3 vote to postpone until Jan. 29 came after about 90 minutes of debate.

Near the start of the meeting, the naming of  Volan as president, Jim Sims vice president, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith parliamentarian was done by a unanimous voice vote. Continue reading “Bloomington city council punts question of standing committees to end of January”

Bloomington city councilmember: It’s now time for standing committees, and time limits on speaking turns

lighter cropped 2020-01-05 volan committees IMG_5192
At its Friday, Jan. 3, 2020 work session,  Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan introduces the specifics of one possible approach to establishing a slate of four-member standing committees, to which the city council could refer legislation. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

At a work session held on Friday, Bloomington city councilmember Steve Volan introduced a proposal he’s put on the agenda for the council’s first meeting of the year, on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Volan’s resolution would use existing city code to establish several four-member standing committees, adding to the already-existing land use committee. The land use committee is the subset of councilmembers to which planned unit developments (PUDs) have been referred for the last couple years, after getting a first reading in front of the council.

Much of Friday’s discussion focused on the role of standing committees in the process of approving legislation. But Volan’s arguments for standing committees include the idea of better equipping the council, as the legislative branch, to carry out its defined role as a check on the executive. Continue reading “Bloomington city councilmember: It’s now time for standing committees, and time limits on speaking turns”