Some Bloomington councilmembers who've been holding monthly constituent sessions at city hall have pivoted to Zoom, an online videoconferencing platform, in the wake of changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Isabel Piedmont-Smith (District 5) will hold a constituent session on Saturday, March 28 from 11-noon. Click here to access the meeting via Zoom. Additional details are on her Facebook page.
Sue Sgambelluri (District 2) plans to hold a Zoom session for constituents on Saturday, April 4 at 1:30 p.m. Details will be forthcoming on her Facebook page and website.
Assuming the stay-at-home directive is still in place, Matt Flaherty (At-Large) will hold a constituent hour via Zoom or other online platform on Saturday, April 18, with details to be announced on his Facebook page.
To reach your elected officials directly, get contact info on the Chamber's Elected Officials Directory.
The Indiana Election Commission approved moving the state's primary election from May 5 to June 2, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has effectively shut down the state, nation and many parts of the world.
The commission, at its March 25 meeting, also ordered that any registered and qualified Indiana voter can vote using an absentee ballot by mail. Normally, voters must provide a specific reason for absentee voting.
These actions were enabled by Gov. Eric Holcomb's declaration of a public health disaster emergency effective March 6, 2020, in response to the pandemic.
Read the Election Commission's order here. More information on absentee voting is on the Monroe County Election Central's website.
In a letter sent to the Indiana Election Commission, Chamber CEO Erin Predmore asked commissioners to eliminate restrictions for voting by mail in the May 5 primary election, due to COVID-19 concerns.
"During these unprecedented times, Hoosiers who are registered voters should be able to receive and cast their ballot by mail rather than voting in person," Predmore stated. "This proposed change has received strong bipartisan support. We urge the Indiana Election Commission to take decisive action to help protect the health of our state’s residents while maintaining the basic functions of democracy."
This change has received support from the state GOP and Democratic parties. Currently, voters must provide a reason to cast an absentee ballot by mail. Those reasons include being at least 65 years old, being unable to get to the polls because of illness or lack of transportation, or having disabilities, among other reasons.
Want to weigh in? Emails can be sent to Indiana Election Commissioners at email@example.com.
Click here to apply for an absentee ballot by mail. More information about the May 5 primary is available on the Monroe County Election Central website.
The City of Bloomington is hosting a forum on Thursday, March 5 to discuss priorities for a new Sustainability Investment Fund and a possible increase in the local income tax to support the fund. The event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Mill, 642 North Madison St.
According to a city press release, the format will include a brief presentation, followed by opportunities to discuss topics with subject-matter experts. Those topics include the city's "comprehensive response to climate change, how the fund might support social equity, and the possibilities the fund could create in areas from transit and other mobility options to sustainable housing and green infrastructure, among others."
A light meal will be provided. The city is also asking residents to share comments and suggestions about the Sustainability Investment Fund via this online form.
On Jan. 1, Mayor John Hamilton announced a proposal to increase the local income tax by 0.5% for Monroe County residents, raising about $16 million annually – half for the city, half for the county – to be used for economic development purposes. Hamilton proposed using the city's share for sustainability initiatives that have not yet been determined. The tax could be enacted if approved by the majority of the Bloomington City Council.
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce supports efforts to make government at all levels more transparent, consistent and accountable. As part of our advocacy efforts on this issue, the Chamber has launched a transparency initiative to track the work of local government and to identify ways that openness and access can be improved.
“Open government gives our members and the broader community the ability to be more informed and to influence decisions, which in turn will help build economic equity, equality and accessibility,” said Erin Predmore, the Chamber’s President & CEO.
The City of Bloomington and Monroe County government already take actions related to these goals. Many public meetings, but not all, are recorded by Community Access Television Services (CATS) and are broadcast live or available later on the CATS website. The agendas, packets and meetings for many public meetings, but not all, are posted online. Many meetings, but not all, are noticed in a timely and accessible way.
The Chamber is tracking 82 councils, boards and commissions that govern and advise the City of Bloomington and Monroe County. We are tracking whether meeting minutes, agendas and packets are posted online in a timely way, and whether contact information is posted for these entities. As of January 2020, 45 are in the “red zone,” with up-to-date information unavailable in at least two of the four categories that we’re tracking. We will continue to monitor these groups and post updates on our Transparency in Government site.
We can do better. Here are some ways that local government can improve.
“Elected officials often encourage residents to get involved in local government, but don’t remove the barriers that prevent people from engaging,” Predmore said. “Easier access to information, a true commitment to transparency, and systemic changes are needed as we aspire to more inclusive decision-making for our community.”
Four state legislators reviewed actions of the current Indiana General Assembly Session and answered questions from residents at a Feb. 15 Legislative Update forum. The event was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
Legislators in attendance were Sen. Mark Stoops (District 40), Rep. Peggy Mayfield (District 60), Rep. Matt Pierce (District 61), and Rep. Jeff Ellington (District 62). The panel was moderated by Mary Morgan, the Chamber's Director of Advocacy & Public Policy.
The final forum of this legislative session will be held on Saturday, March 21 from 9:30-11 a.m. at Bloomington City Hall, 401 N. Morton.
Click here to watch the Feb. 15 forum on CATS. Coverage from the B Square Beacon: "Redistricting question served up to state legislators, talk turns again to local issue."
February is Black History Month, the perfect time to reflect on our community’s diversity. It’s also a time to challenge ourselves, take a hard look at where we fall short – we’re not as diverse or welcoming as we’d like to believe – and take steps to strengthen those areas.
In the past year, the Chamber has made a commitment to supporting the work of black business owners in Bloomington and Monroe County. We’ve started an affinity group that meets regularly to strategize about how to raise up their voices and tackle issues specific to growing their businesses.
We also surveyed black business owners to get a better handle on their economic impact. The 27 respondents reported a total of $2.557 million in gross annual revenues, employing nearly 60 workers. In total, they reported 237 years in business, reflecting a depth of experience and the important role those businesses have played in our community’s history.
The Chamber is honoring part of that history – and acknowledging the often-uncomfortable legacy we share – by placing an historical marker at People’s Park to highlight the significance of that location.
In 1968, an African American student named Clarence “Rollo” Turner led protests against racial discrimination that were met with open hostility in Bloomington. That fall, he opened the Black Market in the location where People’s Park is located today. It sold books, clothing, records, artwork and other crafts made in Africa or by African Americans and acted as a cultural center for black students at Indiana University.
On December 26, 1968, the Black Market was firebombed, and the entire store destroyed leaving Bloomington residents to grapple with the brutal and harsh realities of racism. Two Ku Klux Klan members were eventually convicted of the arson. In 1970, IU students began developing the vacant lot into People’s Park, a place for activism, recreation and free expression.
The marker, awarded by the Indiana Historical Society, will be placed in People’s Park with a celebration on May 1. We’ll be providing more details about the event soon and hope you can join us.
Before then, February is full of Black History Month events: discussion panels, lectures, performances, film screenings and other activities throughout the community. I urge you to check out the calendars for Indiana University and the City of Bloomington to find at least one way to get involved.
Our past is still very much present – the things that make us proud, as well as the things we struggle to overcome. I hope you’ll join me in working to build a community that embraces everyone.
Note: This column by Chamber CEO Erin Predmore was published in the February issue of BizNet, a Chamber publication in partnership with the Bloomington Herald-Times.
A vacancy has opened on the Bloomington Board of Park Commissioners, following the recent resignation of Lisa Simmons Thatcher. Her resignation was announced at the board's Jan. 28 meeting.
The Chamber encourages our members to join advisory groups that guide the City of Bloomington and Monroe County government. Click here to apply for the Bloomington Board of Park Commissioners. Appointments are made by the mayor.
This is the second change in membership over the past few months on the 4-member Board of Park Commissioners. Last year, long-time member Joe Hoffmann stepped down. Israel Herrera was recently appointed to that seat.
The Board of Park Commissioners meets on the 4th Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. at Bloomington City Hall, 401 N. Morton. The group oversees the city's Parks & Recreation Department, which includes the Community Farmers' Market.
Interested in serving on other boards or commissions? Click here for information about the City of Bloomington's advisory groups. For a list of Monroe County boards and commissions, click here.
Four state legislators shared their insights about the current Indiana General Assembly Session and answered questions from residents at a Jan. 25 Legislative Update forum. The event was organized by the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
Legislators in attendance were Sen. Mark Stoops (District 40), Rep. Peggy Mayfield (District 60), Rep. Matt Pierce (District 61), and Rep. Jeff Ellington (District 62).
Upcoming forums will be held on Saturday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, March 21. Each forum runs from 9:30-11 a.m. at Bloomington City Hall, 401 N. Morton.
Click here to watch the Jan. 25 forum on CATS.
Read the Herald-Times coverage here (paywall): "Area lawmakers discuss healthcare, redistricting and more at forum."
Read the B Square Beacon coverage here: "State legislator to Bloomington redistricting advocates: 'Show us on a local level.'"
At the Chamber's 2020 Legislative Preview luncheon, six of the seven state legislators who represent parts of the Bloomington/Monroe County area were on hand to provide updates on the current Indiana General Assembly session, which began Jan. 6. The event was held Jan. 17 at the Bloomington Country Club.
Legislators on the panel were: Sen. Mark Stoops (District 40), Sen. Eric Koch (District 44), Rep. Bob Heaton (District 46), Rep. Peggy Mayfield (District 60), Rep. Matt Pierce (District 61), and Rep. Jeff Ellington (District 62).
Click here to watch the event on CATS.
Click here for the Herald-Times report: "Legislators discuss economic development challenges at chamber luncheon."
Listen to the discussion in a special episode of the Chamber's 3 Things Podcast: "Local Legislators Sound Off."
Director of Advocacy & Public Policy