Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case

The day after Monroe County’s health department announced that Alpha Epsilon Pi and Indiana University had reached an agreement to shut down the fraternity through next summer, Indiana’s five supreme court justices heard oral arguments that could impact how Greek organizations are defined in the state.

Screenshot of Indiana Supreme Court oral arguments in City of Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals v. UJ-Eighty Corporation on Sept. 24, 2020 Speaking (yellow box) is assistant city attorney Larry Allen.

The case heard by the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday morning involves a decision by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals dates back to summer 2018. A key question of law: Can a city rely on a university to decide what counts as a fraternity when it comes to the definition in the city’s zoning code?

Thursday’s oral arguments were unrelated to the recent AEP shutdown, or the COVID-19 county health regulations the fraternity apparently violated.

But COVID-19 did get a specific mention Thursday morning, from chief justice Loretta Rush, who opened proceedings by thanking people who’d sent well wishes for her recovery from the pandemic virus.

On Thursday morning, the court heard arguments on two questions. The first was whether the court would accept transfer from the court of appeals. That is, the court is still weighing whether to issue a ruling in the case at all. One option is to neither affirm nor reverse the court of appeals ruling, which went 2–1 against Bloomington. Not accepting transfer would let the court of appeals ruling stand.

The other question on which the court heard arguments on Thursday was the usual one: Was the court of appeals right? Specifically, was the court of appeals right in saying Bloomington’s zoning code violated the US Constitution because it delegated to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance?

The authority in question is the ability to determine if an organization is or is not a fraternity or sorority.

Continue reading “Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case”

New Bloomington commission floated, would oversee funds from higher local income tax rate

On Wednesday night at a special meeting, Bloomington’s city council started its deliberations on a proposal to increase the countywide local income tax by a quarter point. The debate will continue on Sept. 16.

A new seven-member Sustainable Development Fund Advisory Commission (SDFAC) could be created by the Bloomington city council that would control spending of about $4 million in funds that would be generated by the extra quarter point added to the rate through an increase the council is considering.

That amount would take the rate from 1.345 percent to 1.595 percent. The higher rate would generate about $4 million annually for Bloomington. A little more than $4 million would be generated each year for Monroe County government and the town of Ellettsville.

A public hearing and a vote is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Under a proposed ordinance released to the public a few hours before the city council’s special meeting, a new city commission would have some control over expenditures from the extra revenue.

Under the ordinance, a new non-reverting fund would be created, called the Sustainable Development Fund.

Future ordinances and resolutions requiring expenditures from the fund would be subject to approval of a new seven-member commission, called the Sustainable Development Fund Advisory Commission (SDFAC).

Under the new ordinance, without a majority recommendation from the seven-member commission, the city council could not adopt an ordinance requiring an expenditure from the new fund.

Membership on the new commission would consist of: the mayor, three councilmembers and three citizens. That means an ordinance requiring expenditures from the new fund could be blocked by a coalition consisting of a single councilmember and three citizens.

The ordinance creating the new commission got a first reading on Wednesday, but no discussion, because under local code no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.  It will be considered at a second reading on Sept. 16.

Wednesday marked the first public deliberations by the city council on the possible income tax increase. A city council work session held last Friday was limited to asking questions of the administration.

On Wednesday, four councilmembers indicated some level of support. The other five can be analyzed as undecided. Continue reading “New Bloomington commission floated, would oversee funds from higher local income tax rate”

Bloomington’s wait begins: State’s appeal of annexation ruling now fully briefed

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Indiana state capitol in Indianapolis, late August 2019. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Continuing its methodical path through the judicial system is an appeal by the governor to the Indiana Supreme Court. The state is seeking to  overturn a lower court ruling made in April, which found that a 2017 law blocking Bloomington’s annexation process was unconstitutional on two separate grounds.

On Friday, the State of Indiana filed its reply to Bloomington’s response to the state’s initial papers. With that, according to the state’s online document system, the case in front of the state’s highest court is now “fully briefed.” Continue reading “Bloomington’s wait begins: State’s appeal of annexation ruling now fully briefed”

State’s first brief now filed with Indiana Supreme Court in appeal of lower court decision on special Bloomington annexation law

After a couple of quiet months, late July has brought some activity in the legal proceedings about the state legislature’s enactment of a 2017 law, as a part of the biennial budget bill. The law blocked specifically Bloomington’s attempt in 2017 to annex some land into the city.

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The green area is the total of a few separate annexation areas proposed by the city of Bloomington. The basic outline shape is the boundary of Monroe County.

Indiana’s attorney general has filed the first brief on behalf of Gov. Eric Holcomb, in an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court, which seeks to overturn a lower court ruling made earlier this year in April. The lower court ruling, in favor of Bloomington, found that the law violates two parts of the state’s constitution: the prohibition against special legislation; and the single subject rule.

After the state’s notice of appeal was filed, a four-week extension was granted by the court for filing the state’s first arguments. The deadline was this past Thursday, which is when the state’s first brief  was filed with the Supreme Court. Continue reading “State’s first brief now filed with Indiana Supreme Court in appeal of lower court decision on special Bloomington annexation law”

Bloomington annexation lawsuit update: Deadline for appeal brief extended until July 25

In 2017, Indiana’s state legislature passed a law terminating the annexation process that Bloomington was undertaking at the time. The city of Bloomington filed suit and in late April won a judgement in the Monroe Circuit Court against the state: The court concluded that the annexation law, passed as a part of the budget bill, violated two different parts of the state constitution.

order granting extension

The state of Indiana has already taken the first step to appeal the Monroe County court’s ruling—to give formal notice of appeal.

The state’s deadline for the next step, filing a brief with the state’s Supreme Court, would have been this Thursday, June 27. The time limit is 30 days after the date when the trial court clerk gave notice that the record was complete—which was May 28.

But the state filed a motion—which was unopposed by the city of Bloomington, and granted by Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush—for an extension of the deadline by four weeks. So the state now has until July 25 to file its brief. Continue reading “Bloomington annexation lawsuit update: Deadline for appeal brief extended until July 25”