Arts supporters on May 22. Holding the “Honk if you love the arts” sign is Ken Buzzard.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton delivers remarks on May 19.
Gabe Gloden, managing director of the Cardinal Stage, addresses the crowd on Saturday.
Image of The Waldron from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup.
A Saturday rally on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington, to support city government funding of the arts, had a celebratory feel.
The feeling was based on the boost that arts groups heard in remarks from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, which were delivered on Thursday.
Thursday’s announcement from Hamilton committed to several of the recommendations in a task force report on the use of the old city hall building at 4th and Walnut streets. The report had been released two weeks earlier (May 6).
The building, which is known as The Waldron, is short for the John Waldron Arts Center. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Courthouse Square Historic District.
Hamilton delivered his Thursday remarks inside the lobby area of The Waldron. One of Hamilton’s announcements that drew applause was the investment of $515,000 in needed infrastructure repairs to the building.
That’s an amount that includes not just the $264,000 in “critical” infrastructure needs listed in the task force’s report, but also $251,000 in “lower priority” items that some in the arts community consider to be essential.
During Friday’s media preview of his proposed budget for next year, Hamilton reflected on this year’s numbers compared to the four budgets he presented in his first term as mayor. “This is my first non-balanced budget,” Hamilton said, “meaning the expenses are higher than the projected revenues.”
Controller Jeff Underwood was on the conference call, so Hamilton was quick to clarify, “in case Jeff falls out of his chair” that the city has sufficient revenues plus reserves to pay for the budget.
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.
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.
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.
The headline to this column could provoke a reflexive response from longtime Bloomington city councilmembers. As a matter of law, they’ll say, it’s not up to them, but rather the mayor to increase the budget for Jack Hopkins social services.
From a legal point of view, I think they might be wrong.
But all nine city councilmembers and the mayor are members of the Democratic Party. So even if they’re right on the legal question, partisanship works in their favor.
Without confronting any of the typical partisan barriers that some cities might face, Bloomington’s elected officials could fund more social services.
At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved an ordinance that gives the city’s mayor and controller more flexibility to act in the context of an emergency, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, without following standard procedures or existing laws.
One of the amendments to the ordinance, adopted unanimously by the city council, inserted a mention of the emergency clause already included in a local law enacted by the council in 2018. The 2018 ordinance imposed a requirement that some fund transfers and some expenditures over $100,000 are subject to city council review.
In a letter sent Thursday to Monroe County commissioners, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, told them he plans to attend their weekly Wednesday morning meeting on Nov. 6.
The mayor’s letter didn’t come out of the blue—it was his response to an invitation sent by commissioners earlier the same day: “[W]e write to invite you to attend our November 6th meeting to discuss this exciting opportunity.”
The “opportunity” to which the commissioners referred was the idea of creating a capital improvement board in connection with the convention center expansion.
Monroe County commissioners Julie Thomas and Penny Githens at the Sept. 4, 2019 meeting of the board of commissioners. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Monroe County Convention center looking southwest at the corner of College Avenue and 3rd Street. Sept. 4, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Twenty elected officials are now scheduled to meet on Monday, Sept. 16, to discuss the expansion of the convention center in downtown Bloomington. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at the existing convention center, on the southwest corner of College Avenue and 3rd Street.
Bloomington’s mayor (1), the city council (9), the Monroe County Council (7) and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners (3) have agreed to come together to talk about how to move the convention center project ahead.
This November will mark the first election, dating back at least to 1967, that not all registered voters in Bloomington will able to cast a ballot for city offices—mayor, city clerk, and the nine-member common council.
That’s because elections are contested in just two city council districts: District 2 and District 3. Voters in District 2 will choose between Andrew Guenther (R) and Sue Sgambelluri (D). In District 3, the choice is between Nick Kappas (I), Ron Smith (D) and Marty Spechler (I).
The Beacon’s voters guide includes short profiles of the five candidates in contested elections and links to other useful information. The guide also includes candidates in non-contested elections.