Bloomington neighborhood grant approvals delayed to comply with Indiana’s Open Door Law

On the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s (RDC’s) Monday agenda was an item to approve $27,000 in grant awards to seven different neighborhoods.

The image  is from the header of the online application for this year’s neighborhood improvement grants.

The grants have been made annually since 1998, and can pay for a range of projects: neighborhood entrance signs and street sign toppers; restoration of historic sidewalks; playground equipment; public art installations; and landscaping, among other things.

But at Monday’s meeting, assistant city attorney Larry Allen told the RDC that the item had been pulled from the agenda for that day, after a question from The Square Beacon about compliance with Indiana’s Open Door Law (ODL).

RDC is expected to have the recommendations from the neighborhood improvement grant council on its meeting agenda two weeks from now.

On April 19, the neighborhood improvement grant council met to hear pitches from eight different neighborhood groups. That meeting was properly noticed.

However, the grant council held a subsequent meeting, when the members deliberated on and decided their recommendations to the RDC. That meeting was not properly noticed under the ODL, according to Allen.

So the remedy will be to post proper notice, re-hold the meeting, and get the recommendations in front of the RDC in two weeks, Allen said. He said he’d confirmed that the delay would not have a negative impact on any of the proposed projects. “There was some built-in time anyway. And so this allows us just to follow the law like we should,” Allen said.

The recommendations made by the grant council at the un-noticed meeting were for awards to seven of the eight applicants. Continue reading “Bloomington neighborhood grant approvals delayed to comply with Indiana’s Open Door Law”

Analysis: Bloomington’s new redistricting advisory commission

Last Wednesday (Dec. 16), at its last regular meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council approved the creation of a new redistricting commission that will in 2022 be responsible for making recommendations on boundaries for the six city council districts.

The idea of creating such a commission was uncontroversial. It was approved on a unanimous vote by the nine-member city council, which is made up of nine Democrats.

The new citizens advisory redistricting commission will also have nine members, but just three will be Democrats. In addition to the “delegation” of three Democratic Party affiliates, the ordinance also calls for a three-member Republican Party delegation and a three-member delegation of members who aren’t affiliated with either of the two major parties.

Each of the three delegations on the new commission has to include a full-time Indiana University student.

Council president Steve Volan wrote the ordinance. The slogan he gave in support of the basic concept of a redistricting commission was: “We shouldn’t be choosing our voters; they should be choosing their representatives.” Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington’s new redistricting advisory commission”

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”

Bloomington city council votes to offer staff job to current deputy without a search

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City clerk Nicole Bolden, deputy administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas, and administrator/attorney Dan Sherman confer during a procedural debate by the city council in November last year. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Wednesday, Bloomington city councilmembers voted 9-0 to make an offer to Stephen Lucas to assume the role of council attorney/administrator on Aug. 1.

That’s the day after Dan Sherman retires from the job, after around 30 years of service. Lucas is Sherman’s current deputy.

Council president Steve Volan and and vice president Jim Sims were tapped by their council colleagues to sort out the details with Lucas, assuming he accepts the offer. When asked by councilmembers, Lucas had indicated his interest in the upcoming open position. Continue reading “Bloomington city council votes to offer staff job to current deputy without a search”

Bloomington city hall now officially closed due to COVID-19

In a press release issued late Tuesday afternoon, the city of Bloomington announced that city hall, on Morton Street in downtown, is now closed to visitors.

The move is part of several measures being taken on the local, state and national levels to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

Bloomington’s closure of city hall is based on Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s order, issued on Monday, that orders citizens to stay at home and that government activity be limited to “essential government functions.” Continue reading “Bloomington city hall now officially closed due to COVID-19”