Monroe County election headquarter renovations OK’d ahead of 2020 primaries

On Wednesday morning at their work session, Monroe County commissioners approved about $39,000 worth of renovations to the old Johnson Hardware Building, aka Election Central, at 7th and Madison streets.

According to election supervisor Karen Wheeler, the work is supposed to take about three weeks. That should mean it will be done well before the May 5 primary election. Continue reading “Monroe County election headquarter renovations OK’d ahead of 2020 primaries”

Vote on governing entity for convention center expansion project put off until Jan. 8 as more time needed to dot i’s in CIB ordinance

Two years and five days ago, Monroe County commissioners councilors voted 4–3 to enact a 1-percent food and beverage tax.

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From left: Monroe County commissioners Lee Jones, Julie Thomas, Penny Githens at their Dec. 18, 2019 meeting. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The convention center expansion, which the tax is supposed pay for, will need to wait a few more weeks to get a governance structure.

Monroe County commissioners voted Wednesday morning to put off until Jan. 8, 2020, a draft ordinance that would have exercised their power under a state statue to adopt an ordinance establishing a capital improvement board (CIB).

Chair of the board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, said the ordinance was “not quite ready for prime time.”

But it appears that the city of Bloomington and Monroe County have put the major differences behind them that have stalled the project since late May.

Formation of a CIB, which is now expected early next year, will answer the question of governance for the long-planned convention center expansion project.

The timing of holidays this year means that no meetings of the commissioners will take place over the next two weeks. That makes Jan. 8 the next possible regular meeting for the CIB ordinance enactment. Continue reading “Vote on governing entity for convention center expansion project put off until Jan. 8 as more time needed to dot i’s in CIB ordinance”

A capital improvement board for convention center governance as soon as Wednesday?

Based on discussion at a meeting of Bloomington and Monroe County officials last Thursday (Dec. 12), a capital improvement board could be established as soon as this Wednesday to provide governance for an expanded convention center.

Thursday morning’s meeting of the county council and the county commission was attended by deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen. Continue reading “A capital improvement board for convention center governance as soon as Wednesday?”

Monroe County’s council loads legislative gun, levels it at food-and-beverage tax as prelude to Wednesday’s convention center negotiations

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Monroe County’s council on Dec. 10, 2019. From left: Cheryl Munson, Peter Iversen, Trent Deckard, Eric Spoonmore, Kate Wiltz, Geoff McKim, and Marty Hawk. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

[Update at 1:18 p.m. Dec. 11, 2019: This piece has been updated at the end to include action from Wednesday morning]

At their Tuesday night meeting, Monroe County councilors helped set the stage for Wednesday morning’s negotiations between county commissioners and Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, about the governance of the convention center expansion project.

Will it be a statutorily-enabled capital improvement board (CIB) or a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that decides the site plan, acts as the architect’s client, and eventually owns the facility?

The county council’s stage-setting work included approval of a resolution that expresses the council’s support for the CIB option, with a 3-3-1 split of appointments between the city and the county on the seven-member board. The county and city would get three appointment apiece, with the seventh member appointed by the first six.

But on Tuesday, the county council also set in motion what had previously been more or less an implicit threat: If the county commissioners cannot agree on a governance model and put it in place to implement the $59 million project, the county council will exercise its power to sunset the food and beverage tax. The county council enacted the tax two years ago on a 4–3 vote.

Two alternatives were given a first reading on Tuesday to sunset the tax. No votes were taken. [Ordinance A] [Ordinance B] Continue reading “Monroe County’s council loads legislative gun, levels it at food-and-beverage tax as prelude to Wednesday’s convention center negotiations”

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”

Monroe County commissioners: Equal county-city representation is “only way” to move convention center expansion forward

Set for Thursday night in Bloomington’s city council chambers is the third in a series of meetings between city and county elected officials about the planned expansion of the county convention center.

short letter Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 12.38.43 AMA short letter from the three Monroe County commissioners, sent Wednesday to Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, will help now set the mood for  Thursday’s meeting.

The single sentence in the letter, which dispenses with salutation and closing, runs 27 words:

The only way we will consider moving forward with the Convention Center Project is with the County having an equal representation of membership on the oversight board.

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.

In previous written and oral exchanges, it has been evident that representation in the governing entity—whether it’s a building corporation, a capital improvement board, or a 501(c)(3)—is a point of acute disagreement between county commissioners and Mayor Hamilton.

For a seven-member capital improvement board, commissioners have proposed either a 4–3 or a 3-4 split. Hamilton has countered by saying that he thinks 6–1 or 5-2 in the city’s favor would reflect better the city’s financial contribution to the project.

Based on Wednesday’s one-sentence letter, commissioners are not willing to negotiate the point. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners: Equal county-city representation is “only way” to move convention center expansion forward”

Monroe County chooses Hart Intercivic for voting equipment purchase

At the work session following their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners confirmed a choice of vendor for some new election equipment: Hart Intercivic, out of Austin, Texas.

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Monroe County attorney, Jeff Cockerill, opens RFP submissions for election equipment at the county board of commissioners meeting on Oct. 23, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The other competing vendor was Election Systems & Software (ES&S), out of Omaha, Nebraska.

Based on the recommendation of a seven-person committee, the three commissioners voted to direct their attorney, Jeff Cockerill, to initiate discussions on writing a contract to purchase the equipment from Hart.

The base cost proposal from Hart was $837,411, which is less than the estimated figure of $1 million the county has been using for the project. Continue reading “Monroe County chooses Hart Intercivic for voting equipment purchase”

“It’s time to just throw some dynamite on this thing,” says new Monroe County council president, who’s in favor of capital improvement board to re-start convention center expansion project

At their regular meeting on Tuesday night, Monroe County councilors handled a raft of routine business before a scheduled presentation from county attorneys on the legalities of capital improvement boards (CIBs).

The presentation and commentary from Jeff Cockerill and Margie Rice confirmed in more detail, what was already generally understood—that a CIB could handle all aspects of the convention center expansion project, which has made no visible progress in the last five months.

The presentation on CIBs was enough to persuade the current six members of the seven-member county council that it is the right tool in the short term for the next phase of the project, and the eventual ownership, oversight and operation  of the expanded convention center. A CIB can hire architects, engineers, accountants, attorneys, and consultants and acquire land for a capital project like the convention center expansion.

As a part of the presentation, councilors also heard that a building corporation would need to be formed, in order to avoid going over either the county or the city’s constitutional debt limit. That limit is 2 percent of the value of the taxable property in the geographic area of the respective governmental units.

A general consensus formed on Tuesday’s meeting that the tentatively scheduled third meeting of city and county elected officials on Nov. 21 should include just two items: the site plan (northward versus eastward expansion); and the formation of a capital improvement board.

On Tuesday, which of the county councilors was most supportive of moving forward with a capital improvement board was a close call. Continue reading ““It’s time to just throw some dynamite on this thing,” says new Monroe County council president, who’s in favor of capital improvement board to re-start convention center expansion project”

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”

Bloomington mayor, Monroe County commissioners schedule public meeting: Charting course to catch better winds for becalmed convention center expansion?

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.

Administrator for the board of commissioners, Angie Purdie, told The Beacon on Friday that the mayor will be first on the agenda under new business. Continue reading “Bloomington mayor, Monroe County commissioners schedule public meeting: Charting course to catch better winds for becalmed convention center expansion?”