Speed Bumps Bring Implied City Powers To Light

The decision making process for installing the speed bumps on West 3rd Street brought up some issues with departmental powers.

Speed bumps

Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU-WTIU News

The speed bumps on West 3rd Street were installed after the city council approved them, the board of public works voted against them and Kruzan then ordered them to be installed.

This is the second story in a two-part series on the installation of speed bumps on West 3rd Street.

Bloomington City Council considered suing Mayor Mark Kruzan’s administration over the installation of speed bumps. The conflict arose, in part, because there are possible conflicts between documents outlining where decision-making authority lies. The debate brings to light issues concerning implied powers within city government and has caused a small group of lawmakers to look into how to fix the problems.

Breaking Down City Code

When the Bloomington Board of Public works reviews a project under the auspices of the city’s Neighborhood Traffic Safety Program, or NTSP, it has two options, as outlined in the NTSP’s guidelines: It can, of course, approve a project. But what happens if the board doesn’t give the go-ahead? The NTSP has this to say on the matter…

“If a project is not approved, it will be referred back to the engineering staff to address the Board’s concerns.”

But the minutes of the meeting in which the West 3rd Street speed bumps were rejected show that may not be what happened. The following transpired between City Planning Department Director Susie Johnson and board members Charlotte Zietlow and James McNamara:

“Johnson asked the board members if the board is stating there are no concerns that the board would like staff to address.  McNamara stated that is his intention in the way he phrased the motion.  Zietlow agreed.”

It’s not that the board didn’t have concerns – they agreed with concerns raised by the engineering department. So does the letter of the ordinance give them the option to halt the project enough that city council members considered filing a lawsuit?

Consider also what city code says about the board of public works’ duties…

“The board shall be the chief administrative body of the city and shall have control of the day to day operation of the Department of Public Works, and shall have the authority to allow and approve claims.”

The Language of the Law

Twice city code speaks in the affirmative when talking about the Board’s responsibilities.

“I think every time you’re given the authority to do something, you’re also given the authority not to do that,” says board president Charlotte Zietlow. She says the power to deny claims is implicit to the law, which it very well may be.

State law says a public works board may “condemn” projects, but it also says that city councils can include even those condemnations in capital expenditures – or projects on which the city spends money. The speed bumps cost the city $800 to install, making them a capital expenditure.

Tim Lanane has worked on the issue of conflicting language both as a state senator and a former attorney for the City of Anderson. He says if it all appears murky, that’s probably about right.

“Any member of the [Indiana] General Assembly will tell you that the more you legislate, the more you have to legislate,” he says. “I think there’s probably enough of a gray area here that you could definitely get differences of opinion on what the ultimate authority is by the various bodies.”

The Problem With the NTSP

So how do city leaders plan to deal with the problem? City Councilmen Steve Volan, Andy Ruff and Marty Spechler last week convened the first meeting of a task force designed to reform the way such processes are handled.

One area where there is agreement among almost all sides concerned? The NTSP was never designed to handle disputes like the one about the speed bumps. Volan says that’s made adversaries of people who otherwise might be allies.

“We expect our civil servants to follow the letter of the law, and when the letter is really unclear, as it is in the NTSP, what are you going to do?” Volan says.

Mayor Mark Kruzan says he is in favor of doing away with the NTSP altogether.  He maintains its power over road projects duplicates what the city council can already do by ordinance.

The mayor and others, though, say they worry removing the language entirely could irk some city residents, who may feel that their voices are no longer heard as loudly concerning projects in their neighborhoods. In short, before any changes are made to city code, there may be more speed bumps in the way.

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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