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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton on masks, remonstration, lead testing

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Hello, everybody. Thanks for joining us. If you haven't seen this before, we do this every week. It's ask the mayor on WFIU. I'm Joe hren for WFIU WTIU news. It's the third Wednesday of the week. But this is a odd month because the first Wednesday was the first so we do this. The show actually airs on radio on Wednesday. We record this on Tuesday. Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton allows us to do this live on Facebook. We appreciate that. Thanks for being here. Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton.

Unknown Speaker
Oh, so good to be with you again. Joe. Nice to see you.

Unknown Speaker
Well, so we'll start with COVID. I want to get to some annexation stuff. Of course we have a wrap up on the lead contamination report that just kind of came out. I want to get your take on that. But before we do we want people to know who are watching or listening to this that you can submit questions to add or to news at Indiana public media.org. We're also on Twitter at Ask the mayor. Let's just start back we always do. Indiana University Health hospitals are requesting help from the Indian National Guard. There's an increase in statewide cases. Student COVID-19 cases also on the rise. Are you surprised that we're still here? It's not going away?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, Joe, I think the short answer is yes. I'm surprised and disappointed. If you had you know back last summer, we were really hoping July First in July 4 Holiday was the turning point we had vaccinations we had really declining rates and then delta and the surge hit the whole country, including Indiana, late in the summer into the fall, we had a really serious increase in cases with that variant, we were getting a little better. And then frankly, it's been a real surprise. So we've had such a hit late this year, the hospital is maybe going to hit numbers as high as they've ever had, we get people getting really sick. This is before a new variant is all still the Delta variant. And it's very frustrating and dangerous. We have we don't have enough people vaccinated and boosted that's what it's going to take. We're you know, all of us are working really hard. And thank you. No, thank every day, the health care workers, emergency responders, first responders, everybody who's helping the essential workers get things, get things going here, but it's it is very frustrating. And it's dangerous, where we're losing people to serious this this preventable disease. So I don't know where we're going, Joe, we're going to keep encouraging everybody to protect your family and your friends and your workplace. With vaccinations, we're, you know, we have a massive mandate, we're still the only county in the state with a massive mandate indoors. We think that is one of the reasons were one of the best counties in the state if overall, if you look at our numbers, but we're still having way too much variance spread around among us.

Unknown Speaker
Just for some context, some of the reporting that we've done, this is the first time Indiana has reported more than 30,000 cases in a single week since mid January. Of course, that was that was before the vaccine. And just like you said, we just seem like we're in the same situation. Monroe County, the only with the mask mandate. But some of the questions I've seen are, what good is a mask mandate? If it's not enforced, enforced? I mean, you can stop at a hardware store, a sporting event, a grocery store, and you kind of look around and we're maybe at about 50% compliant, does that bother you?

Unknown Speaker
Well, let me say this. If you've traveled to other places, both in the state or around the country, I think you may be shocked at how few masks there are compared to what we have in Monroe County. So I do agree, I urge and wish we had full more full compliance with the mass mandate. But I, I do think a lot of people are doing the right thing. And I think it's very helpful to have the requirement and to have people doing that. I know there's problems at basketball games, and there's problems at certain locations. But overall, we have way more masking here going on and in many, many, many other places. And I do think that's one of the reasons that our numbers are better than they are than many places around us. We're still, you know, we've seen a three or four fold increase in cases here in Monroe County over the last few weeks. And look, if this were just a cold, and it were an inconvenience, that would be one thing. But this we are still losing people, people, I heard of a 42 year old who died. The other day, we were losing people who we shouldn't be losing, and their hospital beds filled up with COVID patients, meaning the hospital can't treat a bunch of other people. So it's a really serious disease. And I'm sorry, I do encourage everybody to mask, but we're doing a lot better than than virtually any place I've been visiting lately. I'll tell you

Unknown Speaker
just want to get your take on something US Senator Mike Braun said he doesn't support government mandates around the COVID-19 vaccine, including efforts to stop companies from requiring it. And this is a quote he says because we've been spending trillions of dollars to get businesses to keep employees through this whole venture. What's your take your side, of course, being a mayor and wanting businesses to survive and thrive. And his take on the COVID mandates vaccine mandates?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I just I just have a completely different view of this. Nobody is requiring we're trying to help businesses operate and open and succeed and thrive and vaccines and Max and masking are not stopping businesses from opening and thriving. They're helping them getting more people vaccinated and those who don't vaccinate, requiring They mask themselves is the way businesses succeed. You know, we had 11 employees test positive last week. It's the highest Week Ever since the pandemic started in city employment, because this variant is still around now. The ones who are vaccinated can come back to work more quickly to keep everybody else safe. And we're very careful about that and following the protocols, but I just Senator Braun, I believe unfortunately is kind of On the political end of this stuff, it is the it is the vaccinations and the masking that help our businesses thrive and open. And that's what we're focused on. Making sure happens here in Bloomington as much as we can

Unknown Speaker
mentioned a few times IU Health Bloomington hospital, I thought it'd be a good segue to ask if you've been briefed or have any information about how the move went over there? Or are there any issues that maybe came up with the city in terms of moving something that's so vital and so essential, and it's been there in that one location for so many years? And now off the bypass? Not downtown anymore? Is are you hearing anything this early, and I know it's only been a week or so since they moved?

Unknown Speaker
Well, it was a big day on December 6, and I was at the new hospital on December 7, and did get the reports that while of course, any enormous move like that there's surprises or bumps or whatever, but it really went as smoothly as they could have hoped. Overall, everyone was transferred successfully. The new hospital opened up on December 6, then is operating and the old one closed, the one that did operate for more than 100 years at second and Rogers. So that's now closed and kind of fenced off to keep everything safe. It's an enormous thing for our city. Joe, I don't want to I do want to remind people, this is a single biggest investment in the city ever in our history in terms of dollars and impact, I think for the generations to come to have this new regional academic health center. Fact it's it's serving COVID patients right now, we just talked about how many ways it's helping serve COVID patients better and all the other patients that they serve. So IU Health has had to manage a pandemic and manage a once in a century move at the same time, it went smoothly, we congratulate them on that. And we continue to thank them for their 1000s of dedicated employees who are all helping keep us safe with vaccine requirements, by the way for those employees to keep us safe. Just to remind all the businesses this is this is how we keep our healthcare operating to

Unknown Speaker
no news on you know, getting ambulances. Okay, there or through game traffic. I know, there was some issues that were thought upon the last few years about that new location.

Unknown Speaker
Well, I'll tell you, I, my my, my my breathing in my heart rate relaxed when I got to the stoplights that were new, and they were all working and the turn signals and all that stuff. Because I was thinking what if that hadn't hadn't worked on that first day, there's some new traffic patterns out on the east side of town. I haven't heard any problems, Joe about interactions. So with Publix, there's a new bus route that's running to the hospital. Now. There are new traffic lights. So everybody watched for that on the bypass on the east side. But I think it's gone as smoothly as we could hope. And, again, thanks to IU Health and their commitment, as you mentioned, for the first time in the pandemic, they've actually brought in National Guard, troops, citizen soldiers to help them manage the COVID uptick. So they're they've got their hands full out there. But so far as I know, it's all going smoothly.

Unknown Speaker
And then this really sets the stage for what the city wants to do with the former site. Can you give us a little bit of a timetable of what people can see because I've been by it too, and I see the fences are up and the signs are covered. And it's it's a little eerie over there right now.

Unknown Speaker
You know, it is it is a big change. And one way I thought of a December six was kind of a pivot point. There were of course a years of development of the of the new hospital before December 6 2021 That involved design and financing and construction and all that that led to the opening on December 6 and similarly there's gonna be years of deconstructing and changing and redoing the the current site which is now vacant, so it'll be phased there'll be different things people will see the first activities will be probably visible next summer, next spring and summer. And and two things will happen one, the block east of Rogers, so between Rogers and the Beeline and between first and second street is the first to be redeveloped and you'll start to see some demolition there and some re re stitching of new streets and a greenway and a bunch of really great improvements based on the master plan. You'll also see the main hospital building it'll be it's a really a deconstruction process. It's a removal of valuable things that will be through next year. This is a multi year redevelopment process. We've talked about it before. It's really a once in a century opportunity to redevelop it but it's going to take some time. So ask for patients. The master plan his visit is certainly welcome people to look at that at the online on our city website. And you'll start to see some stuff moving in the spring and summer. I think but we have great opportunities ahead to build more housing, affordable housing, market rate housing, some new green space, commercial space. And we're really excited about the opportunity to create what we call a new hub in the heart of downtown. So watch for that.

Unknown Speaker
One asked about new report came out Friday from the city that said lead levels from that controlled burn are under idem limits. I think this may be then the second report that we received from you more More recently, is this kind of considered closed? Or is there more testing still to come?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, thanks, Joe. It's kind of going back to the controlled burn that our fire department conducted on a house for training purposes. That controlled burn resulted in ash, including paint chips from that house that was ultimately burned down for training, getting spread through the wind, inadvertently and unpredictably, to to some area houses. You know, I want to thank Chief Moore, in our fire department, they stepped in immediately and did a lot of door to door work. We hired some consultants, third party folks working with the Health Department locally, as well as the Department of Environmental Management. I do think the report that we just released now, weeks later, just last Friday, really helped put a pin in what happened and understanding it and clarifying that the lead that was cleaned up, there were led paint chips that had been carried in the smoke, that that's cleaned up. As far as I can tell, there's no legacy of lead dust, there was no, the air testing showed no raised levels, we actually even did blood testing of firefighters and individuals from the area, none of that showed any lead contamination, the soil has been sampled and showed no lead contamination and such. So I look, we learned our lesson that was mistake, we shouldn't have done that in an urban setting. And we won't do it again. And Chief Moore has apologized, and I apologize. I'm sorry, we did it. It was inadvertent. And we followed all the rules. But actually now chief Moore's getting asked to go up and talk to the state and maybe even nationally about what we learned and help them to show people the right way to do it, and the wrong way to do it. So I hope some good can come out of it. But I do think that we're very pleased that that testing that this third party company did showed no lasting damage, no contamination of individuals or, or soils or such. So we do hope we can turn the page on this.

Unknown Speaker
So is that then saying that this is pretty much closed? Or will who? Or what should residents do right now? I mean, is it considered safe?

Unknown Speaker
Yes, it is it for vegetable gardens for activities, the leaf, we tested leaves, and there was no problem with those as well. So from our perspective, all the testing that has now been done, and we don't plan anymore, and the third party company said you don't need to do any more this is this is complete and done. That this chapter is over, we learned from it. There'll be discussion. I know chief Moore is going to be doing some conferences and meetings about it. And there may be Council action, I'm not sure. But it does appear from all the testing that we've gotten so far that everything is in good shape at this point.

Unknown Speaker
Any final cost to the city numbers that you have.

Unknown Speaker
I haven't seen that Joe, I think it was maybe a little over $100,000 was kind of estimated in the contracts. I haven't seen whether it actually cost that much or not. But but that was so not and let me just also say that we we did train 94 firefighters or something about around that number in live fire burns. And that was the point of this. And that was very helpful. And we had a bunch of new firefighters who who get the chance to keep up the great work that they do. We've had for years with no fire fatalities in our community. We're very proud of that. And we want to make sure we got well trained folks. And so that is one good thing that came out of this. But we'll figure out how to do it differently in the future.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, just I want to switch over to annexation, just get an update. We're still in the demonstration period until January 6. I've been meeting with some of the petitioners and claim that they have enough signatures to stop a lot or most of the annexation, although nothing is official, it has to go through many different the county auditor, the city, the back of the county auditor, are you getting any updates? And what kind of results are you expecting?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we're really just waiting like you, Joe to see the final numbers. You know, annexation? Again, it's a long process. It's a public process. I think it's unfortunate that the state stepped in and illegally stopped it the way they did and then in our view illegally added new conditions to changing the changing the waivers that we've got from folks who agreed to be part of the city so that that all may have to get worked out depending upon what the what the numbers show Next month, but we've, you know, we've done what we can to try to make our case and make clear that this is a very natural and important part of a city, that people who get services like sewer and water in agree to be part of the city as the neighborhood's densify that it, as we've done hundreds of times in our history during the annexation is the right step to help keep a thriving city in the center of this whole region. And I continue to support it and think it's the right thing. And I hope people will recognize this as how Bloomington continues to grow and thrive and be the center of this region for the for the next several years. So we're kind of in a waiting pattern right now. And then after January, when the remonstrance period is over, it'll probably get into some work from the lawyers to figure out where we are.

Unknown Speaker
I did speak to the auditor's office yesterday just to try to get an update from that end, from that end of it, and told me that the city is not using that 2019 law that went into effect and still going by 2017. But the auditor's office is going by that 2019 law that you mentioned about, you know, the the waivers, and we've been of course talking about for quite a while, I guess I'm just curious, why not follow what the law is now?

Unknown Speaker
Well, it's it's I mean, there's some technical issues. But the basic issue, Joe, is that for many of these properties, and homeowners and property owners back over the last 1015 more years, 20 years, the city at different times. And under state law, the city extended, for example, sewer service, to these places and said, If we give you this service, you will agree to become part of the city when it's time. And all of those waivers were done and the city provided our half of that deal with the sewers. And now the legislature has attempted to say that deal is no longer valid. And our view, just as a legal matter is that they can't do that, when the only reason they could do it was because they illegally stopped us in 2017 that you can't you can't do something illegal and then get a get a benefit to change from a down the road. It's kind of clean hands doctrine, I guess is the notion and that but different people have a different view of it that may have to get settled in the court. We'll see. But But overall, the I think the point the city has is one annexation is a natural and normal and very frequent thing. We stopped for a little period, but it's a natural thing for the city to do to bring develop neighborhoods into the into the city. We've done it hundreds of times over our whole history. And second, specifically when when this deal was exchanged of sewers, for agreeing to come into the city that is an important transaction that should be honored.

Unknown Speaker
And you know, I hear of course, what you're saying I talked to a law professor. And she said she just she says I don't think the legislature can reach back in time and undo a private contract. And like you said, that's something that could be played out in court. But I guess my question is more along the lines of it. Isn't the city also being unconstitutional by not following that that law that's now in place and has not been in court yet?

Unknown Speaker
Well, Joe, let me be clear, we're not we are following the law. That decision about whether a waiver is valid is not something the city decides. And it's not something that the auditor decides ultimately, ultimately a court decides that so there can be different views about that. But we're not not following the law in any way. We're following all the annexation law. And we will we will advocate for the city's position in in any legal proceeding to make sure that the city taxpayers who've been paying for all this and this and that utility city residents who paid for all the extensions that they're treated fairly to and not had a had a deal changed after the fact by the legislature.

Unknown Speaker
Okay, I just want to make sure I'm clear, because I don't want to give wrong information, because I was told by the auditor's office that the city is not following that 2019 law. That was waivers.

Unknown Speaker
That's not correct. Those The question is not the city doesn't determine which waivers are correct. We believe certain ways about them. But ultimately, a court decides that the city will certainly advocate that we believe that 2019 law cannot change the rule in the middle of the annexation that was illegally stopped. But we're not not we're following all the laws right now. And we'll continue to

Unknown Speaker
wanted to kind of I know we're close to time here. So I wanted to this is our last show of 2021 before the New Year, and I've been asking all the mayors kind of give me one of the biggest challenges that they've they've had to deal with this year. And then maybe another point of something that you're really proud of that you did get done or the city got done this year.

Unknown Speaker
Well, thanks, Joe. I mean, when I think back on 2021, of course, the pandemic is the overarching story that continues. The health emergency as well as the economic impact of that I'm very proud that the city council in our community has responded so actively proactively the way everyone in the community has. Virtually everyone responded so thoughtfully, and with great benevolence and and care of each other, the passing of recover forward, which is more than $15 million of recover money from the American rescue plan Act, as well as our own reserves, which is focused on jobs and on supporting healthy recovery and sustainable recovery and more housing for people who are unhoused. And people who need housing. huge investments in solar energy and efficiency and all those things part of recovering forward I think, are really a great investment that we're making. annexation was a big activity. This year, we passed a new zoning code unified development ordnance you know, that was a really big deal this year. We, I we shouldn't forget the cicadas, we had to deal with the case. It's kind of a little memory now about what that was, like, you know, but I'm really proud of the of the mostly of the work of the community and coming together in the face of a very challenging pandemic, and working together, not only to respond to the pandemic, and help the businesses and employees get through it, but also to invest in the future, a more sustainable and more inclusive future that that I'm really excited about as we as we turn the page into 2022. And hope we'll be able to chart a new path

Unknown Speaker
that way. We really, really appreciate having you on the show and hashing things out here. And hope that you'll join us again next year in 2020.

Unknown Speaker
Do I look forward to a Joe everybody have a good safe holiday season closing out? 2021? We'll see you on the other side.

Unknown Speaker
All right. Thank you. And don't forget, you can also join us news at Indiana public media.org. Thanks for watching. Happy New Year Happy holidays to everybody.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Zoom)

Hamilton says the latest controlled burn lead report is the last test in the area, the city is waiting for finalized remonstration report to determine if legal action is necessary, and the mask mandate is keeping COVID cases low despite the recent uptick.

In this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Facebook Live Zoom event Tuesday. 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. Here are some highlights.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Hren: Last week was the first time Indiana has reported more than 30,000 cases in a single week since mid January. Monroe County is the only one with the mask mandate. But, what good is a mask mandate if it's not enforced?

Hamilton: If you've traveled to other places, I think you may be shocked at how few masks there are compared to what we have in Monroe County. So I do agree, I urge and wish we had full more full compliance with the mask mandate. But I do think a lot of people are doing the right thing. And I think it's very helpful to have the requirement and to have people doing that.

I know there's problems at basketball games, and there's problems at certain locations. But overall, we have way more masking here going on than in many other places. And I do think that's one of the reasons that our numbers are better than many places around us.

braun-interview-shot-at-straw-poll-in-january_tyler-lake.jpg
U.S. Senator Mike Braun, Indiana

Hren: U.S. Senator Mike Braun said he doesn't support government mandates around the COVID-19 vaccine, including efforts to stop companies from requiring it. What's your response as a mayor who's also trying to get businesses and employees back to work?

Hamilton: I just have a completely different view of this. We're trying to help businesses operate and open and succeed and thrive and vaccines and masking are not stopping businesses from opening and thriving. They're helping them getting more people vaccinated and those who don't vaccinate, requiring they mask themselves is the way businesses succeed.

Senator Braun, I believe unfortunately, is kind of on the political end of this stuff.

iu health bypass

Hren: Do you have any information about how the IU Health Bloomington Hospital move went? Or are there any issues that maybe came up with the city?

Hamilton: It was a big day on December 6, and I was at the new hospital on December 7, and did get the reports that while of course, any enormous move like that there's surprises or bumps or whatever, but it really went as smoothly as they could have hoped.

Haven't heard any problems about interactions with the public, there's a new bus route that's running to the hospital. There are new traffic lights. So everybody watch for that on the bypass on the east side.

residents watch a controlled burn of a house on South High Street last Friday.

Hren: A new report came out Friday from the city that said lead levels from the controlled burn are under IDEM limits. Is this now considered closed?

Hamilton: We hired some consultants, third party folks working with the Health Department locally, as well as the Department of Environmental Management. I do think the report that we just released now, weeks later, really helped put a pin in what happened and understanding it that the lead was cleaned up, there were lead paint chips that had been carried in the smoke, that's cleaned up. As far as I can tell, there's no legacy of lead dust.

We actually even did blood testing of firefighters and individuals from the area, none of that showed any lead contamination, the soil has been sampled and showed no lead contamination and such.

I'm sorry, we did it. It was inadvertent. And we followed all the rules. But actually now Chief Moore's getting asked to go up and talk to the state and maybe even nationally about what we learned and help them to show people the right way to do it, and the wrong way to do it.

From our perspective, all the testing that has now been done, and we don't plan anymore, and the third party company said you don't need to do any more this is this is complete and done.

Adopted Bloomington Annexation Areas

Hren: Remonstration is underway and some residents say they have enough petitions to overturn annexation. The county auditor's office says the city is not following the 2019 waiver law in the remonstration signature count. As we've talked before, they city says that new waiver law is unconstitutional. Ultimately the auditor will release the official remonstrance record, but is the city not following the 2019 law?

READ MORE: Annexation Petitioners Going Door To Door; Mayor Says Remonstration Could End Up In Court

Hamilton: Let me be clear, we are following the law. That decision about whether a waiver is valid is not something the city decides. And it's not something that the auditor decides ultimately, ultimately a court decides that so there can be different views about that. But we're not not following the law in any way. We're following all the annexation law. And we will we will advocate for the city's position in in any legal proceeding to make sure that the city taxpayers who've been paying for all this and this and that utility city residents who paid for all the extensions that they're treated fairly to and not had a had a deal changed after the fact by the legislature.

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