Bloomington’s plan commission is scheduled to convene a regular monthly meeting on Monday, July 13.
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.
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.
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 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.
A lawsuit filed by Monroe County officials in federal district court on Wednesday claims that the US Forest Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Forest Management Act in its adoption of a plan to log, burn and apply herbicide to sections of the Hoosier National Forest just southeast of Monroe County.
The project activities proposed by the forest service include clear cutting about 400 acres, and some kind of tree removal from another roughly 3,000 acres. Also a part of the mix are herbicide spot treatments on about 2,000 acres. About three miles of new roads are supposed to be built along with eight miles worth of temporary roads.
The project area overlaps with part of the Lake Monroe watershed. That’s a substantial part of the objections to the project, because the lake provides drinking water to the city of Bloomington and much of the rest of Monroe County.
At its meeting held on Monday afternoon, Monroe County’s environmental commission voted unanimously to join the county as a plaintiff in the lawsuit that’s being prepared against the U.S. Forest Service. [Updated May 14, 2020 at 10:24 a.m. The lawsuit has now been filed.]
The use of the word “restoration” in the name of the project was a point of objection for Julie Thomas, president of the county’s board of commissioners, at their March 18 meeting. Thomas said, “I really resent that they call it a ‘restoration project’, because that’s just…doesn’t fit.”
A ruling issued by Indiana’s court of appeals this past week says that if a car without a permit is parked in a private permit-only lot, a towing company can tow the illegally parked car without waiting 24 hours, even if it’s the only car parked in the lot.
On Wednesday, Bloomington filed with the Indiana Supreme Court its response to the State of Indiana’s appeal of a lower court ruling made in April, which found that a 2017 law blocking Bloomington’s annexation process was unconstitutional on two separate grounds.
Bloomington’s brief uses words like “nonsense,” “preposterous,” and “outlandish” in its response to some of the State’s arguments.
The law, enacted by the state legislature in its 2017 session, was included as part of the biennial budget bill that year. The law’s inclusion in the budget bill is one reason the Monroe County Circuit Court found it to be unconstitutional. The annexation law violated the state constitution’s “single subject” rule for legislation, according to the circuit court.
The circuit court found that the 2017 annexation law also violated the state constitution’s prohibition against “special legislation.” It’s a prohibition that doesn’t rule out legislation affecting just one municipality, which the 2017 annexation law does. Both sides agree that the 2017 law affected only Bloomington and was designed that way. The legal question is whether the special law falls within the definition of “permissible special legislation”—a kind of question on which courts have ruled in the past.
So the first briefs, which have now been filed by both sides with the Indiana Supreme Court, include dozens of citations to previous rulings on the question of what counts as permissible special legislation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At a Tuesday afternoon hearing lasting around an hour, the two sides in an ongoing annexation lawsuit between the City of Bloomington and Gov. Eric Holcomb presented oral arguments.
Judge Frank Nardi did not issue a ruling from the bench. The March 26 hearing was held at the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.
The City of Bloomington filed the lawsuit in 2017 over the state legislature’s decision to build into its budget bill a change to state annexation law. It was a change that effectively singled out Bloomington and paused any annexation plans by the city for five years.
Bloomington contends that because the new annexation law was incorporated into the 2017 biennial budget bill, it violates the State Constitution’s requirement that legislation be confined to a single subject.
Bloomington’s lawsuit also states that the new annexation law violates the State Constitution’s clause prohibiting “special” legislation. The constitutional claim involving special legislation hinges not merely on the fact that the new annexation law applies only to Bloomington. The claim arises from the city’s contention that the attempted justification for the law’s unique application is not adequate.
To some extent, the two sides spent their time on Tuesday rehashing arguments they’d already submitted to the court.