Written by Kurt Christian from the Herald Times
The city’s two Democratic mayoral candidates sought draw a clear distinction between their progressive politics during a Monday evening forum.
Democracy for Monroe County hosted the event to hear the candidates’ thoughts on the city’s annexation lawsuit, taxpayer-funded projects, inclusivity and more. One of the most polarized responses from Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge and incumbent Mayor John Hamilton had to do with the city’s ongoing lawsuit against the state that asserts Indiana’s Legislature took unconstitutional action to block Bloomington’s annexation attempt.
“You’re darn right I think we ought to sue them,” Hamilton said. “It’s an outrageous state government stepping on the neck of city government.”
Hamilton said the city needs to assert its prerogative to institute local decisions, and that this annexation lawsuit is the way to do it. Barge disagreed.
“I think the lawsuit is a waste of time,” she said.
Barge said she would rather establish a memorandum of understanding between the city and the county to ensure a more transparent and procedural approach.
“We weren’t really having conversations. Everyone was playing catch-up,” Barge said. “The responsible thing to do is to annex the places that make sense, first.”
One member of the audience asked how either candidate could consider taxpayer-funded projects such as the Switchyard Park and the Monroe Convention Center’s redevelopment and think they are progressive. Hamilton said his administration’s work on the Trades District, the city’s parks and trails and the purchase of IU Health Bloomington Hospital’s current property move the entire city forward.
Hamilton said he was surprised to learn that Bloomington has one of the lowest tax rates of the state’s top 20 largest cities. He said Bloomington did those things while being fiscally responsible and improving its bond rating.
“We’re not an either-or city. We’re a both-and city,” Hamilton said.
Barge said the right choice in situations where a city is taking on a lot of projects might be to push pause.
“We don’t want to build a park and all of these things on the backs of taxpayers, on the backs of people who are being marginalized,” she said.
Barge promised to always ask who is missing from the table when the city is working toward making a big decision. She said, if she becomes mayor, she wants to make sure those missing voices aren’t exploited.
“We have to be careful not to do tokenism or exploiting people for their information,” Barge said. “If you want to make it a more meaningful interaction, offer to pay someone with experience to share it.”