Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership

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This Square Beacon file photo is from a joint meeting of city and county officials on the convention center expansion that took place in 2019.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave a speech last week on Thursday, released in a Facebook video, that revealed the basic approach the city will take to spur a local recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19. It’s a program the mayor is calling “Recovering Forward.”

The speech prompted a response from county elected officials in the form of a pointed press release issued late this Friday afternoon.

By way of background, the mayor had sketched out the initial part of his recovery plan at a Bloomington city council work session the Friday before. To jump start the effort, the initial part of the plan includes a request to the Bloomington city council for a $2-million appropriation.

Overshadowing the rest of the speech was the mayor’s renewed pitch for an increase to the local income tax, something he’d announced as a goal on New Year’s Day. The amount of the proposed increase last week was reduced—from a half point to a quarter point—compared to the proposal he’d made earlier.

The way the local income tax works is already a point of friction between Bloomington and Monroe County government.

But escaping mention in the local press was this passage from the mayor’s speech:

I’ll note that the City’s recovery investment can and I believe should be in parallel with a similar county government investment in recovery, with their also-healthy financial reserves. I’ve urged our colleagues in county government to expand their support for eviction protection, for our public health system, for the criminal justice system reforms so sorely needed, and for other recovery needs.

That paragraph from the address, among others, piqued the interest of the mayor’s “colleagues in county government”—who wondered why the mayor felt it was his place to urge them to do anything at all.

They wondered even more why the mayor was urging them to do things they believe they’re already doing. Continue reading “Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership”

Bloomington mayor renews call for local income tax increase, reduces ask from 0.5 percentage points to 0.25; says 2021 budget for sworn police officers will decrease

Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton has renewed his call, made at the start of the year, for the Bloomington city council to increase the local income tax.

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Screen shot of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s July 16, 2020 Facebook video. (Image links to video.)

Such a tax would apply to all residents of Monroe County.

The additional revenue from the income tax would still go towards climate action and sustainability initiatives. But the 0.25-percentage-point increase suggested by Hamilton on Thursday is half the 0.5-point increase that Hamilton had proposed on New Year’s Day.

Another highlight from Thursday’s message from the mayor, which could be overshadowed by reaction to the income tax proposal, is an indication that recent calls to “defund the police” have resonated with the mayor at least a certain degree.

From the mayor’s Thursday speech: “Our budget for 2021 will propose significant changes in the police department, including reductions in funding of badged officer positions and increases in non-badged positions…” Continue reading “Bloomington mayor renews call for local income tax increase, reduces ask from 0.5 percentage points to 0.25; says 2021 budget for sworn police officers will decrease”

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”

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”

IU law professor Dawn Johnsen, wife of Bloomington mayor, tests positive for COVID-19

In a news release issued late morning on Friday, the city of Bloomington announced that Dawn Johnsen, a law professor at Indiana University and married to John Hamilton, mayor of the city, has tested positive for COVID-19.

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Dawn Johnsen, Indiana University professor of law, and John Hamilton, mayor of Bloomington, visit the farmers market in summer 2019. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The test result was received Thursday, April 9, according to the release.

According to the release Johnsen has been self-isolating at home since she started experiencing symptoms. The release also indicates that Hamilton feels healthy but has self-quarantined since Johnsen’s diagnosis and will stay at home for 14 days, checking his temperature regularly.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, tiredness, and dry cough.

The city of Bloomington previously announced the positive tests of two city employees—a firefighter and a parks and recreation worker. Continue reading “IU law professor Dawn Johnsen, wife of Bloomington mayor, tests positive for COVID-19”

2020 Bloomington city council: Out with the old, in with the new

At the last city council meeting of the year, on Dec. 18, 2019, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, delivered proclamations to the four outgoing councilmembers.

On Jan. 1, 2020, four new councilmembers were sworn in to start four-year terms, along with the five returning councilmembers, the mayor, John Hamilton, and the city clerk, Nicole Bolden.

Starting around noon on New Year’s Day in the city council chambers, the oaths of office for Bloomington’s 11 elected officials were administered. Continue reading “2020 Bloomington city council: Out with the old, in with the new”

Convention center expansion: City councilmembers, county commissioners look to post-Thanksgiving work based on commitment to equal representation

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Excerpt from draft MOU extension, red-lined by the city in spring 2019, for continued work by a nine-person steering committee on the convention center expansion.
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On Nov. 21, 2019, city and county officials met for the third time on the convention center expansion. From left: city councilmembers Susan Sandberg and Dave Rollo; Mayor John Hamilton; county councilor Eric Spoonmore, and county commissioners Julie Tomas and Lee Jones. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Thursday night in Bloomington’s city council chambers, city and county elected officials convened their third meeting since mid-September about the convention center expansion .

It was hard for the watching public on Thursday to discern much forward progress for the project. It has been stalled since late May, when a nine-member steering committee made a preliminary site plan and size recommendation.

The project is an expanded 30,000-square-foot exhibit space with a 550-space parking garage. It’s estimated to cost $59 million, of which about $15 million is for a parking garage.

On the question of governance options, Thursday’s meeting established that the mayor is not alone in favoring a 501(c)(3) over a capital improvement board. Two city councilmembers, Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Chris Sturbaum, expressed support for the non-profit option. County commissioners strongly favor a capital improvement board.

So on that issue, it’s possible that opinions are now, after Thursday’s meeting, more clearly divergent than they were before.

But county councilor Trent Deckard told The Beacon he thought the meeting was “incredibly positive,” even if it might be hard to see. A key positive outcome identified by Deckard: “There was a coalescing of views around equal representation.”

By “equal representation” Deckard meant the oral commitments that individual city councilmembers gave, at around the one-hour mark of the meeting. They committed to the idea that the representation on the expansion project’s eventual governing body would be evenly split between the county and the city.

The eventual governing body could be a 501(c)(3) or a capital improvement board. Continue reading “Convention center expansion: City councilmembers, county commissioners look to post-Thanksgiving work based on commitment to equal representation”

County commissioners, mayor meet about convention center: Points of conflict come into sharper focus

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, attended Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Monroe County three-member board of commissioners to talk about how to move the convention center expansion project forward. He acted on an invitation made by commissioners after a meeting of county and city officials on Tuesday a week ago.

The project has made no progress on the preliminary site plan recommendation made by a nine-member steering committee in late May.

Wednesday’s meeting did not produce any consensus for a path towards a design and construction phase of the project. Some of the points of disagreement between the mayor and the commissioners did come into sharper focus. Continue reading “County commissioners, mayor meet about convention center: Points of conflict come into sharper focus”