Ordinance Proposes Change In Bloomington Lawmaking Process

A proposal which comes before the Bloomington City Council during the next two weeks could change the way legislation is considered in the future.

Bloomington City Council

Photo: Gretchen Frazee/Indiana Public Media

The Bloomington City Council will discuss how it passes legislation when it considers an ordinance establishing standing committees during the next two weeks.

The ordinance would establish a set of ten committees, each with a specific topic of expertise. Those committees would do the job currently done by a committee of the whole – essentially a meeting of all nine council members a week before the council meets in public session. The current system means a piece of legislation can be proposed, heard by the committee of the whole and enacted within as little as two weeks.

“Our process is unwieldy,” says Sixth District Councilman Steve Volan, the ordinance’s author. “Those who are proponents of it call it efficient and I say that efficiency is a priority, but it should be the least priority. It’s more important for us to be deliberative. It’s more important for us to have time to inquire and to understand fully the issue under discussion.”

Volan’s proposal would convene the standing committees only when an issue needs consideration. Each committee would present a report on those issues during full council meetings, in hopes of shortening meetings of all nine members. But at-large council member Tim Mayer says he is skeptical of the rule and is not sure it would work that way.

“Those people who are not part of that committee will have a host of questions, and I don’t know that it’s going to really affect the outcomes in terms of time spent on task,” Mayer says. “I just think we’re all inquisitive people and want to do the best for our community. That requires time.”

Mayer says it is also problematic that some of the co-sponsors of the legislation – including Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Brad Wisler – did not run for re-election and will be replaced in January. Mayer says the three incoming council members are not necessarily as supportive of the move, so he would like to see more scrutiny of it.

“One of the things that really concern me though is that the committee does have a rules committee and this has not been vetted by the rules committee,” Mayer says.

Volan finds that puzzling, though.

“My response to that is I find it ironic that you think that we should consider whether or not to reestablish standing committees by calling a standing committee hearing.”

Mayer says he does not believe the council should table the issue, preferring to discuss it at the committee of the whole this Wednesday and in public during regular session the following week.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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