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”

Monroe County tax abatement is $240K of enthusiasm for company that brings attention to curb

Georgia-based Proveli, LLC now has final approval for a tax abatement from Monroe County that’s worth an estimated $240,000 over a 10-year period.

The tax abatement is for both real and personal property at the site west of Bloomington on Vernal Pike, where the road jogs north for about a half mile. Continue reading “Monroe County tax abatement is $240K of enthusiasm for company that brings attention to curb”

2 deputy sheriff vacancies to be filled; 3-hour public forum on law enforcement funding gets mixed reviews

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On Tuesday evening, the seven-member Monroe County council, which is the elected fiscal body of county government, held a video-conferenced public forum on the future of law enforcement funding.

Described on the agenda as a “community concerns and law enforcement resourcing meeting” the three-hour event was led by Latosha Williams from the Community Justice and Mediation Center. Attendance by the public reportedly peaked around 150 people.

Tuesday’s town hall was scheduled after a June 4 video-conferenced special meeting of the county council was attended by around 250 people who objected to Monroe County sheriff Brad Swain’s request for an exception to the council’s hiring freeze.  The council imposed the freeze in late April.

Councilors imposed the hiring freeze because they had concerns about the clarity of the county’s financial picture, given the unknown revenue impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The objections to Swain’s proposed filling of two vacant deputy positions came in the context of nationwide and local demonstrations over the May 25 killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, along with other recent police killings of Black men and women.

At the June 4 meeting, Swain withdrew his request to fill the two vacancies. But the hiring freeze expires on July 1, which means that Swain can now fill the two vacant positions, without asking the county council for approval. Continue reading “2 deputy sheriff vacancies to be filled; 3-hour public forum on law enforcement funding gets mixed reviews”

County councilors give final OK for $100K for Monroe County township assistance

At their Tuesday work session, Monroe County councilors gave the final approval needed to authorize up to $100,000 to augment the assistance that township governments normally give their residents.
Stacked Bars for TWP Assistance

Helping residents bridge gaps to pay for essentials like utilities, housing, food, healthcare, funerals and emergency shelter is a routine part of township government service.

But this year, because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, townships are expecting to see more than the usual number of requests. Continue reading “County councilors give final OK for $100K for Monroe County township assistance”

Up to $100K in Monroe County rainy day funds to go towards township resident assistance

Stacked Bars for TWP Assistance

On the Monroe County council’s work session agenda for Tuesday is the approval of an interlocal agreement that will boost township assistance programs by up to $100,000.

The money would come from the county’s rainy day fund.

County commissioners already gave their approval at their regular meeting on June 17.

The move comes as some rent and utilities moratoriums, related to the COVID-19 health emergency, are set to expire.  They’re tied to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s executive orders. Continue reading “Up to $100K in Monroe County rainy day funds to go towards township resident assistance”

County council OKs preliminary step in sign maker Proveli’s tax abatement proposal, would add 60 jobs

A Georgia-based company that recently bought local sign manufacturer Hall Signs is asking Monroe County for a tax abatement worth about a quarter million dollars.

In a preliminary step last Tuesday, Monroe County councilors gave the proposal a unanimous vote. The county council will likely take a final vote at its regular meeting next month, which falls on July 14.

Proveli, LLC is proposing to make about $4.5 million in capital investments over the next four years, adding 60 workers during the same period, who would earn a total of $2.3 million. Annual salaries for the workers—in fabrication, shipping, sales, and administration—would average around $39,000. Continue reading “County council OKs preliminary step in sign maker Proveli’s tax abatement proposal, would add 60 jobs”

Monroe County commissioners order sheriff to enforce laws on courthouse lawn curfew, camping

An executive order from Monroe County’s three-member board of county commissioners, adopted at their regular Wednesday meeting, directs the sheriff to enforce two existing ordinances regulating how the courthouse grounds are used.

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Monroe County’s sheriff Brad Swain (right) and a deputy next to the Alexander Memorial at the southeast corner of the courthouse square around 2:15 a.m. on June 10, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

The order came in response to anti-police-brutality protests that have taken place nightly starting May 29.

The vote by commissioners to order enforcement came towards the end of their Wednesday meeting.

That meant the meeting was bookended with votes related to the protests. At the start of the meeting, commissioners took turns reading aloud a resolution on criminal justice reform, which they voted to adopt without deliberating further on it.

Among the “resolved” clauses of the ordinance is one that says commissioners “respectfully request the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department to continue to develop written policies which implement Eight Can’t Wait principles …”

Protests nationwide and locally were prompted by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, along with other recent police killings of Black men and women. Floyd was killed on May 25 by Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, when the police officer pinned Floyd down with a knee-on-neck hold, a scene that was caught on video. Continue reading “Monroe County commissioners order sheriff to enforce laws on courthouse lawn curfew, camping”

Midnight update: No courthouse grounds curfew enforcement; town hall on law enforcement funding set for June 30

By a bit after midnight on Wednesday morning, no sheriff’s deputies had arrived at the Monroe County courthouse lawn to enforce a local ordinance on hours of use for the grounds. [Updated at 2:24 a.m. on June 10, 2020: Sheriff’s deputies arrived around 12:30 a.m. Details appended below.]

For the last dozen nights in a row, the courthouse lawn, at the corner of Walnut Street and Kirkwood Avenue, has been the scene of protests against against police brutality and for the defunding of law enforcement.

Based on statements from the Monroe County legal department—made earlier in the day and at the county council’s Tuesday meeting—the expectation was that on Tuesday night, the hours of operation for the courthouse grounds would be enforced by sheriff’s deputies.

According to the ordinance, the grounds are open to the public only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. But the 10 o’clock hour came and went on Tuesday night without any intervention by law enforcement. Continue reading “Midnight update: No courthouse grounds curfew enforcement; town hall on law enforcement funding set for June 30”

County, city committees: Open Door Law is a numbers game

Two three-person committees were disbanded by the Monroe County council last Tuesday. One was an “executive committee” established at the start of the year.  The other was a “COVID‐19 budgetary and fiscal review committee” created at the end of March.

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A seven-member county council is a governing body under Indiana’s Open Door Law, and a three-member committee can be, too, if it’s appointed by the council  and it’s been delegated authority “to take official action upon public business.”

Councilors aren’t against the idea of subsets of Monroe County’s fiscal body working on public policy issues. But they want to avoid inadvertent violations of Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL).

Councilors received a five-page memo, dated April 27, from the county’s legal department  with an overview of the ODL requirements and exemptions.

Last Tuesday’s vote made it about a month after the memo was issued, when the council decided to dissolve the two committees. But one member of the budgetary committee, Marty Hawk, had already resigned—around the time the memo was given to councilors.

Several new committees were established by Bloomington’s city council at the start of the year, on a 5–4 vote. It generated enough controversy that councilmembers continue even now on occasion to conduct implicit debate about the existence of standing committees, when they’re deliberating on other topics.

Do the county council’s committees pose risks for ODL violations that the Bloomington city council’s new standing committees don’t? Not inherently. But the numbers work against the county council and for the city council when it comes to ODL violations. Continue reading “County, city committees: Open Door Law is a numbers game”

Monroe County’s council revisits spending decisions, OKs hires despite freeze, gets news of extra income tax revenue

The Monroe County council’s nearly four-hour meeting on Tuesday was capped off with a presentation from councilor Geoff McKim, who relayed some good financial news.

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Screen grab of the May 12, 2020 meeting of Monroe County’s council, conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

Monroe County will receive about $1.4 million in supplemental local income tax (LIT) revenue for its general fund this year. That will be added to the roughly $13.3 million of LIT revenue in this year’s general fund budget.

McKim made a recommendation for use of the $1.4 million, based on the uncertain impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on future county revenues. The county should put the extra LIT revenue in the county’s rainy day fund, McKim said.

No vote was taken on the question. It’ll likely come up at the council’s work session on May 26.

McKim’s recommendation was consistent with the cautious approach the county council took on Tuesday to some spending decisions it had put off from its mid-April meeting.

Some of the decisions, like spending money on refurbishment of the Alexander Memorial, were put off again, while others, like the overhaul of telecom infrastructure in the Nat U. Hill meeting room, got approved.

Also winning approval were some requests from department heads to fill a few positions, despite the hiring freeze that the council imposed at the end of April. Continue reading “Monroe County’s council revisits spending decisions, OKs hires despite freeze, gets news of extra income tax revenue”