Bloomington city council committee sets group interviews for two public bus board appointments, excludes applicant who’s currently suing the city

Looking southeast at the corner of Walnut and 4th streets in downtown Bloomington at Bloomington Transit’s downtown transit center, on Nov. 18, 2020. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Two seats on the five-member board of the Bloomington Transit board of directors have been listed as vacant on the city’s board and commission website since Aug. 1.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the city council’s four-member standing committee on transportation, they decided to use a couple of group interviews to consider just seven of eight applicants for the two vacant BT board positions.

Not in the mix for the committee’s group interviews will be Republican Andrew Guenther, who ran for the District 2 city council seat in 2019 that was won by Democrat Sue Sgambelluri.

Committee member Isabel Piedmont-Smith objected to the inclusion of Guenther, because he is currently a party to a lawsuit against the city of Bloomington over his appointment to a plan commission seat.

Supporting Piedmont-Smith’s position were the three other members of the committee: Steve Volan, Ron Smith, and chair Kate Rosenbarger.

The committee will make a recommendation to the city council, which will make a final decision. The city council appoints three of the five seats. The mayor appoints the other two.

The two incumbents for the seats on the BT board now listed as vacant are Nancy Obermeyer and Alex Cartwright. They will be part of the set of seven who are being invited to sign up for slots for the group interviews. At the same time the transportation committee met on Tuesday, Obermeyer and Cartwright were handling the business of the board at its regular monthly meeting.

Under the state statute on public transportation corporations, the BT board is required to be balanced for affiliation with political parties.

Obermeyer is a Democrat and Cartwright is a Republican, assuming that this June they both participated in the same party’s primary as in 2019. Participation in the most recent primary of a party is one way the state statute defines party affiliation. Continue reading “Bloomington city council committee sets group interviews for two public bus board appointments, excludes applicant who’s currently suing the city”

Bloomington city commission on public safety pitched by 3 councilmembers, gets lukewarm response from council standing committee

At its meeting last Wednesday, the Bloomington city council’s standing committee on public safety considered an ordinance that would establish a new city commission.

The 11-member commission would be called the Community Advisory on Public Safety Commission, which yields CAPS as an acronym. Its goal, according to the ordinance, would be to “to increase the safety of all Bloomington community members, especially those often marginalized due to race, disability, gender, sexual identity, or sexual orientation.”

According to the ordinance wording, the commission’s membership, which would be appointed by the city council, is to include people who are Black, Latinx, other people of color, people with disabilities, people who are non-cisgender, and members of other marginalized groups.

The ordinance grew in part out of a national movement over the summer that came in response to police violence against Black people, including the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

The ordinance creating the commission is sponsored by three councilmembers: Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith. Of the three, Piedmont-Smith is the one who is a member of the standing committee on public safety. The other three members of the committee are: Jim Sims (chair), Sue Sgambelluri, and Susan Sandberg.

After a couple hours of deliberation on Wednesday, Sims, Sgambelluri, and Sandberg seemed ready to send the proposal back to the full city council without their support—by abstaining from a committee vote.

In the end, they voted to hold another committee meeting on the topic. Continue reading “Bloomington city commission on public safety pitched by 3 councilmembers, gets lukewarm response from council standing committee”

Committee gets more perspective on police as Bloomington city council weighs 2021 budget proposal to swap out sworn officers

A Wednesday night meeting of the Bloomington city council’s standing committee on public safety put some new information about Bloomington’s police department in front of the four-member group.

Committee member Isabel Piedmont-Smith told Bloomington police chief Mike Diekhoff, who was on hand to answer questions, “I was shocked. I was shocked that BPD sometimes uses no-knock warrants.”

Wednesday’s committee meeting, chaired by council vice president Jim Sims, came in the context of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s 2021 budget proposal. The 2021 budget proposes to swap five authorized sworn officer positions for two social workers, two neighborhood resource officers, and a data analyst. The final version of the budget gets presented on Sept. 30.

Piedmont-Smith’s shock was a reaction to the police department’s written answers to questions from committee members. The department’s answers had been given to the committee earlier in the day.

The committee questions included this one: “Does BPD ever serve warrants or for any reason enter homes without knocking?” The written response led off with a simple acknowledgment: “Yes, but they are rare.”

The written response also includes a description of the constraints on no-knock warrants: They’re subject to judicial review, and must get an approval that’s separate from the application for a warrant. They’re supposed to be used only in situations where waiting for someone to answer the knock would be futile or dangerous to the officers serving the warrant.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Piedmont-Smith asked Diekhoff: “Can you guarantee me that a situation like Breonna Taylor cannot happen in Bloomington?”

Continue reading “Committee gets more perspective on police as Bloomington city council weighs 2021 budget proposal to swap out sworn officers”

Public, private nonconsensual towing now squared up in Bloomington

In action taken Wednesday night at its regular meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved a change to local law that makes the fees match for two kinds of non-consensual towing.Cropped-No-Parking-Dunn-IMG_9764

Drivers who get their car towed, because city police ordered it, will now pay the same amount as drivers who get their car towed because they’ve parked it illegally on private property.

The new ordinance increases from $125 to $135 the total base fee that tow companies are allowed charge.

The new local law also requires authorized towing companies to release vehicles after payment of 20 percent of the total fees owed, if the owner signs an agreement to pay the remainder. The ordinance also clarifies that storage charges can’t be assessed until a vehicle has been in storage for at least 24 hours. Continue reading “Public, private nonconsensual towing now squared up in Bloomington”

Bloomington city council’s “committee of the whole” to take second, maybe third try at non-consensual towing ordinance

At its regular meeting last Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council voted to refer a new non-consensual towing ordinance to the council’s committee of the whole for a second time.

Wednesday’s referral to the committee of the whole means the new law regulating towing companies that remove vehicles parked illegally on private property will get further consideration on Feb. 12.  But it won’t get a vote to enact it on that day.

The procedural vote, to refer the legislation to the committee of the whole,  was split 7–2. That’s because councilmembers are not yet in alignment about how they want to use smaller, four-member committees, compared to the committee of the whole, in their legislative process.

It’s been a point of friction since the start of the year.

Some key features of the new law include a $350 annual license and a cap on fees charged to vehicle owners of $125 for the towing, $25 for any special equipment needed (like a dolly), and $25 per day for storage. As currently drafted, the law also requires an option for someone to get their vehicle released by paying 20 percent of fees with a signed payment agreement for the balance. Continue reading “Bloomington city council’s “committee of the whole” to take second, maybe third try at non-consensual towing ordinance”