City officials urge lawmakers to pass hate crimes legislation

By Ernest Rollins from the Herald Times

Local officials are urging Indiana lawmakers to pass a hate crimes law this session.

In a letter to Indiana Senate Leader Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, Bloomington officials and others call on lawmakers to support hate crime legislation that would “allow judges to increase sentencing when it has been determined that a crime has been motivated by bias against a victim’s characteristics that include, but are not limited to, their race, religion, color, sex, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, housing status or status as a veteran.”

Some notable signatories include people with the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, the city council and clerk, the Monroe County Council and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners.

“Hate crimes and prosecuting them are sadly topical in Indiana in 2019,” Mayor John Hamilton said during a Facebook live town hall meeting Wednesday.

During the event, Congregation Beth Shalom president Lesley Levin said any law that passes must also address reporting requirements and enforcement.

Bloomington Police Chief Mike Diekhoff said Indiana law enforcement agencies currently are required to report hate crimes that occur in their community to state and federal databases. However, Diekhoff said, Bloomington is one of the few agencies that do so. And even though it’s required, he said there are no penalties if an agency does not report hate crimes.

Bloomington Human Rights Commission member Barbara McKinney said the city passed a human rights ordinance that tracks reports and provides ways for citizens to report them and offer support to victims.

Indiana is one of five states that does not have a hate crimes law on its books.

Talk of changing that picked up momentum in recent months, and a number of bills have been filed on the issue. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has expressed his desire to have a hate crimes law passed by the close of this year’s legislative session.

But supporters may face an uphill battle at the Statehouse. Some legislators question the need for the law, while others have stated their opposition.

Diekhoff disagreed with the concept that a hate crimes law would be akin to policing a person’s thoughts. And supporters of passing a law argue that incidents of hate crimes are under reported, in part because many police agencies don’t follow requirements and also because victims are hesitant to report to authorities.

Some are against the law because of the low number of hate crimes that get reported. Another hurdle is the concern of some lawmakers about who should be included. During a recent visit to Monroe County, State Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, described the bills being discussed at the statehouse as those with lists and those without. Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President Erin Predmore said that for some legislators, extending protections to transgender people is a sticking point.

While some members of the Monroe County community urge passing the law, others do not.

The Coalition of Central Indiana Tea Parties has sent state legislators a letter requesting they reject all attempts to pass a hate crimes bill. A Monroe County native and Indiana Conservative Alliance leader, Robert Hall, is one of the people who signed the letter.

The coalition argues that a hate crimes bill is constitutionally suspect as it violates Article 1, Section 23, of the Indiana Constitution, which states “the General Assembly shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.”

Coalition members also cite the low number of reported incidents, and refute claims that companies will think twice about doing business with Indiana without a hate crimes bill on the books. They say businesses consider other factors, such as taxes and regulation, when making decisions.

Hate crime bills also do not align with the values of many Hoosiers and are unjust as victims of identical crimes are cared for less because “they don’t fall under a list of politically protected crimes,” the letter states.

“These bills are unconscionable because they show contempt for the moral and religious views of millions of Hoosiers by including ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected categories,” the letter says. “Such bills suggest that disapproval alone — even when expressed lovingly and peacefully — constitute hate or a hate crime.”

Even though the possibility of Indiana having a hate crimes law by the end of session is undecided, discussion of the issue is important. Doug Bauder, director of Indiana University’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center, said he hopes legislators reach out to those minority groups to try and understand their experience and points of view.

The proposed legislation challenges lawmakers “to start to think about what experiences may be like for other groups that live in Indiana,” Predmore said.

City launches "Year of Food" initiative

By Ernest Rollins from the Herald Times

Bloomington officials have designated 2019 as the Year of Food, as they launch an initiative meant to strengthen the local food economy and address issues such as hunger and food equity throughout the community.

As part of the initiative, the city plans to hire a value-chain coordinator who will examine the local food system and supply chains and take steps to improve them. Responsibilities will include connecting local growers to buyers, identifying and finding solutions to overcome barriers to growing the local food system and creating local demand for local farm products.

Autumn Salamack, the city’s assistant director of sustainability, said the effort will educate people about the local food landscape.

“We thought about this Year of Food as a way to really kick start that conversation and really amplify the existing efforts that are already taking place within the community through a lot of organizations and social services providers,” Salamack said.

The new position will be partially funded through a United States Department of Agriculture Local Food Promotion Program grant awarded to Purdue University and Indiana University.

Jodee Ellett, community engagement coordinator for the IU Sustainable Food Systems Science Initiative, said the grant is about $500,000 for three years. Along with the funding the city’s value-chain coordinator, it will provide funding for three other similar positions around Indiana.

Salamack said the grant provides $22,000 per year for the position’s salary and travel. She said the city will contribute $20,000 per year as a grant match for the job.

Ellett said the rest of the grant funds will be used to increase the ability of growers to receive food and safety training. She said the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act is a barrier for growers, and the additional training money will address that challenge.

Some of the grant money will go to the food science department at Purdue University to develop food safety programs for home-based vendors and users of kitchen shares like One World Enterprise in Bloomington.

Salamack said the city will be using the recently adopted Sustainability Action Plan as a guide to address a number of food issues facing the community. She said the sustainability action plan lays out three goals for the city: increasing equitable access to healthy food, increasing the amount of food produced in gardens and increasing economic opportunities.

“During the Year of Food, we will work with our partners at IU and in the community to strengthen the market for local growers and producers,” Mayor John Hamilton said in a press release. “When our farmers have a reliable local market, we all have a more reliable and resilient source of nutrition in our own backyard.”

The city’s plan to educate citizens will include special events throughout the year, starting with the screening of the movie “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

Salamack said the city also plans to study food deserts in the community, where at least 20 percent of people in a given area live in poverty and more than 33 percent live more than a mile from a supermarket.

She said the USDA identifies the IU campus and the area that includes Broadview, Southern Pines, Sunflower Gardens, Rockport Hills and Evergreen Village neighborhoods as food deserts. Salamack said the Bloomington Food Policy Council has also identified the Crestmont, Reverend Butler, Walnut Woods and Maple Heights neighborhoods as areas at risk for food insecurity as well.

“We are not going to solve food insecurity in the year, but it would be great if everybody in the community understood what our challenges are, what our opportunities are,” she said. “And we can say here’s how we are taking steps to address those things.”

Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Reelection, Parking

By Joe Hren from IndianaPublicMedia.Org

City workers got through the first snow storm of the season, Thursday will be the first architect meeting on the convention center expansion and the mayor's next step in city-wide high speed broadband.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: You've officially recorded your reelection commitment, so 2019 will also be a campaign for your second term. Why run again?

Hamilton: Well I feel very privileged to be in this job, it's a wonderful community and I feel like we've made a lot of progress over three years and like many mayors would tell you, a lot of the work you do takes a long time, you're building the city momentum for decades to come. And we'll be having a lot of discussion about that in the campaign season ahead.

Hren: Catalent announced a $100 million expansion with 200 new jobs by 2024. To go along with that the state is offering tax credits that are performance based… and I hear the city is working on an incentive package. What’s in the works?

Hamilton: We are working on abatement, that will go through city council. In the new economy, the word unicorn is a company that then sells for a billion dollars, and for a community to have a unicorn is a big deal. Catalent is really our first unicorn. 

To have a major new enter into the community, expanding from Baxter and Cook to add a major third life science company is a big deal in terms of the climate and ecosystem. It's a positive sign this is a community people can thrive in.

Hren: I've been told to ask you about high-speed broadband, one of your initiatives that seemed to take a hit back when Axia backed out of a city deal, is the process still moving forward?

Hamilton: Digital infrastructure is hugely important for Bloomington. And the not just Bloomington, but the United States is behind the curve in digital infrastructure. We have private providers that are providing access. I continue to believe that we need to work to continue that access. 

Hren: We have a question from Ann on email, "With the stated objective of streamlining the process to make building easier in Bloomington, the draft UDO proposes changing the power to grant variances and waivers of zoning regulations from citizen appointed boards to an in-house decision-making process which reduces public input.  Does this fly counter to the mayor’s oft touted goal of making government more transparent?"

Hamilton: It actually doesn't change what we have. Right now there are certain projects that just go to staff if they are a certain size and type. Then there are those that go through the plan commission in the bigger public input. The UDO doesn't change that, the UDO actually tries to split it into three pieces, it creates a new middle ground that does try to say... if you build what we want, this UDO suggests we want to give you a streamline process and if you don't build what we want, you'll have more intense scrutiny.

So it's really not changing the overall structure, it is adding a category where we can try to steer more development toward what we want as a community.

Reviewing Hamilton's first three years in office

By Kurt Christian from the Herald Times

As John Hamilton enters his fourth year as mayor of Bloomington, this year’s municipal elections will reflect whether he’s delivered on his promise to “say what we’ll do and do what we say.”

Hamilton has used that Dr. Seuss reference as a refrain since his inauguration remarks in 2016, when he said his administration would be efficient, transparent and have better citizen engagement than prior administrations.

He immediately set the standard for his mantra by listing Bloomington’s jobs and economy, affordable housing, public education and innovative government as top priorities.

“I ran for office because I felt like Bloomington had opportunities ahead of it, challenges in front of it, that needed to be met,” Hamilton said this week. “We’re in a better shape today than we were three years ago.”

But for all the advances Hamilton’s administration claims in those endeavors, there have been missteps to balance the scales along the way.

A failed annexation attempt, strained intergovernmental relationships, a lack of transparency surrounding the purchase of an armored vehicle — and more.

‘String of Pearls’

One of the most readily available demonstrations of what the Hamilton administration has focused on — and seized upon repeatedly in public remarks — is what Hamilton calls the city’s ‘String of Pearls.’

Hamilton gave that name to four major landmarks along the city’s B-Line trail: the Trades District, the Monroe Convention Center, the IU Health Bloomington Hospital property and Switchyard Park.

The 12-acre portion of the city’s technology park, called the Trades District, predates the current administration. But it wasn’t until March 2018 that Hamilton and other community leaders broke ground on the city’s technology hub.

The journey to that milestone included the district’s first dedicated private investor, construction of the Trade’s District’s new affordable housing, the renovation and launch of The Mill, regional partnerships with Indianapolis and Columbus and more.

“That’s a huge step into the new economy for us, and that’s really important for a place that doesn’t make color televisions or elevators or refrigerators anymore,” Hamilton said of the city’s past manufacturing giants — RCA, Otis Elevator and GE.

Hamilton inherited an uncertain future for the IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s 24-acre campus. As the hospital’s plans to partner with Indiana University to relocate the hospital to the Ind. 45/46 Bypass materialized, Hamilton counted the city lucky. That good fortune carried over, and early last year, hospital officials agreed to sell the current hospital property to the city at a deep discount.

“We’ve seen cities where the departure of a hospital from a downtown site was very destructive and expensive and a drag on the city locations around it for many years, even decades. I was very concerned about that,” Hamilton said.

City officials negotiated a $6.5 million purchase price for a clear site scrubbed of environmental hazards. The Hamilton administration has since contracted with a nonprofit urban planning institute and interviewed master developers to bring plans for new housing, offices and community space to life.

Another inherited project more than a decade in the making is expected to become a reality the same month as the fall election: the $34 million, 58-acre Switchyard Park.

“What I inherited was the responsibility to execute, listen and make sure we’re doing it as well as we can,” Hamilton said. “If that were the only thing that were happening in my tenure, I would be excited.”

The Monroe Convention Center and its planned expansion has been problematic for Hamilton, who has been criticized for straining the city and county relationship by privately meeting with architects. Community leaders involved in the project did not respond to a request for comment Friday regarding Hamilton’s role in the process.

The Hamilton administration’s chapped government relationships extend beyond south central Indiana, to the state and federal levels.

Affordable housing

The more than 600 bedrooms of affordable housing created or preserved in Hamilton’s first three years were brought about by a variety of methods he outlined in his first State of the City address.

But Hamilton’s effort to incorporate inclusionary zoning was squashed by state lawmakers.

“It just means we have to be more creative,” Hamilton said. “The legislature ties a hand behind our back, we’ve got to use the other one and build it up stronger to get what our community wants.”

The city has created a pilot program for accessory dwelling units, helped launch senior living options for low-income citizens and leveraged more than $10 million through a new community banking institution for developers to use for affordable housing.

“We’ve got to tie the engine of our prosperous city to protecting affordability, or we will gentrify and we will make it impossible for people of moderate means and low means to be able to live in this city,” Hamilton said.

His administration also launched the Housing Development Fund and solicited developers for cash in lieu of on-site affordable housing, a practice that’s legal but likened to bribery.

Hamilton rejects that characterization. He said asking for a contribution is similar to the way the city can require developers to provide green space in their projects.

Hamilton said the federal department of Housing and Urban Development has reduced funding in recent years and as a result, cities must develop affordable housing on their own.

He is behind the community push for affordable housing, but points out it’s not free. “It has to be paid for and made economically viable in some way,” Hamilton said.

Annexation

Monroe County residents had their own economic concerns about the Hamilton administration’s 2017 attempt at annexing around 10,000 acres into the city.

Geoff McKim, a county council member, said he attended just about every meeting about annexation. He said a majority of residents at those meetings were against the proposal.

“As you can probably imagine, what I heard from county residents was overwhelmingly negative,” McKim said.

Curious as to how the annexation might impact taxing units, McKim calculated the details on how the county’s lower tax revenues might be balanced by new services. He said he never heard an adequate proposal for how the county would recover that lost tax revenue.

“That was the argument form the taxing units, but the argument from the residents was that they felt like they were going to be paying more money and having more regulation, and they didn’t feel the benefits would outweigh the potential costs.”

That debate was cut short when the state legislature approved its 2017 biennial budget bill with a section effectively terminating Bloomington’s annexation attempt and prohibiting any further attempts to annex until 2022. The city announced it was suing the state and Governor Eric Holcomb shortly after. Hamilton said the city filed its final briefing in lawsuit last week and Bloomington officials will present before the court in the coming months. Already, he anticipates whoever loses will file an appeal.

“I guess litigation will take the gas out of all kinds of things. It just means you’ve got to sit and wait for the court. We’ll see what happens,” Hamilton said. “Litigation will take its merry time.”

Transparency

Hamilton sees the city’s move to activity-based budgeting, which directly links spending to actions and their outcomes, as another form of transparency. He’s also planning to involve local youth in the new budgeting format.

B-Clear, the city’s data portal with more than 150 data sets open for the public’s use, helped the city earn a top ten ranking in the Center for Digital Government’s 2018 Digital Cities Survey. The B-Clear portal was one of the first initiatives launched by the Hamilton administration.

Another of the city’s websites aimed at transparency drew harsh criticism late last year for including the full names and addresses of all individuals who died from a drug overdose in Monroe County in the past 10 years, including minors. Hamilton said the city learned from that experience that full transparency can sometimes be painful.

Other times, it can be loud. Protesters interrupted Hamilton’s State of the City Address in 2018 to argue that the city’s decision to purchase an armored vehicle was too secretive, and that such a vehicle would serve to militarize the police.

Later that month, Hamilton admitted the city could’ve been more forthcoming in its decision. The Bloomington City Council has since passed legislation to ensure a more public review of such purchases in the future. More recently, Hamilton said the core of the debate was not about transparency, but about whether the city should even have the vehicle.

Fiber

The city’s plan for a ubiquitous, community controlled and revenue positive fiber infrastructure is not dead.

“I’ve probably spent more time myself on that effort than any other individual project because I do think the digital infrastructure of our community is essential, it continues to be essential to our future,” Hamilton said.

After hosting a symposium and advertising the city’s interest to the world with a request for qualifications, the city chose Canadian fiber infrastructure provider Axia as its chosen partner. That relationship dissolved when the company’s capital sources decided not to invest. Hamilton said one positive to come from the failed partnership was that other fiber providers increased their services in response to the competition. In the meantime, the city has had ongoing negotiations with two more companies since the Axia deal fell apart.

Hamilton also feels the current federal administration’s response to innovative and consumer-focused digital infrastructure was a step in the wrong direction. He said the state government has its own anti-government bent, one that’s dominated by rural and conservative voices.

“Indiana will not be a successful state without very successful cities making up its economy and culture and its social centers. To have successful municipalities, successful cities, you’ve got to get your boot off the neck to let cities innovate, differentiate, follow their strengths and pursue their opportunities,” Hamilton said.

Herald Times Guest Column: What Is a cdfi friendly bloomington?

By Mayor John Hamilton

What would Bloomington be like if significantly more financing were assembled to support affordable housing, community projects like day care, senior centers or health clinics, and mom-and-pop small businesses? We hope to find out soon.

On Dec. 17, a new nonprofit organization launched in Bloomington to help scores of other nonprofits in town, and also nontraditional entrepreneurs. “CDFI-Friendly Bloomington” (CFB) will bring new financing and new expertise to boost these vital and valuable local efforts. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) are mission-oriented lenders certified by the U.S. Treasury as responsive, community-focused institutions that fund low-income neighborhood developments, social service providers and other projects that are typically hard to finance. Since the federal CDFI Fund began in 1994, more than 1,000 CDFIs have been rebuilding communities around the country.Over the past couple decades, I worked in the CDFI field and saw how much difference they can make in neighborhoods and in people’s lives. The bank I helped found in DC has provided more than $1 billion in financing and supported many thousands of affordable homes and jobs.

But no CDFIs were active in Bloomington, until now. CDFI-Friendly Bloomington is a new partner, newly capitalized with $4 million, half from public funds and half from private funds committed by four local banks. CFB will hire a local expert to be a matchmaker between local deals and outside CDFI financing.

Here’s how it will work: First, the matchmaker will work with local projects or businesses needing financing, and in parallel encourage existing outside CDFIs to lend locally. (Already more than 20 projects have been identified as potential users of CFB with more than a dozen outside CDFIs interested.) Next, with a potential connection established between a local project and an interested CDFI, CFB will partner with that CDFI to bring their low-cost, risk-tolerant financing along with technical expertise to help get the deal done. For example, suppose a developer in Bloomington needs $1 million to rehab 10 decrepit homes into decent, affordable housing. But a local bank can finance only half the need because of the risks and insufficient property value. CFB can partner with a mission-driven CDFI from, say Chicago, with each lending $250,000 to the deal. Together with the local bank, the team now can get the deal done.

With this collaboration, more affordable housing projects, after-school facilities, or community health clinics — any project typically considered too risky to finance — can become reality. And there’s extra incentive for these outside CDFI lenders to invest here in Bloomington. By putting ourselves on the map as the nation’s first CDFI-friendly city, Bloomington has caught the eye of prominent national CDFI supporters like Bank of America. Bank of America has pledged to match any CDFI loans made in Bloomington, dollar-for-dollar, with 10-year loans at 1 percent interest to the participating CDFIs. This extra boost should help accelerate interest in the Bloomington opportunities.

This CFB project has resulted from strong collaboration between the city administration, the community foundation, and local leaders over the past two years. Since its establishment, CFB has already attracted attention from national experts asking how to replicate the model of attracting multiple CDFIs to operate in a smaller market like Bloomington. With CFB, Bloomington is poised to attract partnerships from CDFIs in our region and around the country, to help us finance up to $50 million over the next five years in investments that strengthen our safety net while growing jobs and wages — affordable housing, community facilities and small businesses. It’s a creative collaboration among the private, philanthropic, and public sectors, and it’s part of Bloomington’s bright future.