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What Happened To The City Of Bloomington's Evening Ambassador?

A close shot of Bloomington City Hall.

(Ethan Burks, WFIU/WTIU News)

In an effort to enhance public safety, Bloomington Mayor Hamilton added a position within his administration called the After-Hours Ambassador.

That position was approved by city council in the 2019 budget, but the person hired for the job is no longer there. Our City Limits project was asked about the future of the position.

Four years ago, in Mayor Hamilton’s first year in office, the city created a Safety and Civility Justice Task Force. It was out of that task force that the idea of adding an evening ambassador position in city hall was formed.

“We were looking at how to make things downtown more safe and more civil for all the people that use downtown whether it’s businesses or patrons or people who are experiencing homelessness," said the city's director of the Community and Family Resources Dept., Beverly Calender-Anderson. 

Calender-Anderson said it was her job to do research for this new position and find suitable candidates.

“The original position was called the Night Mayor in Iowa City, and I talked to the people in Iowa City and I talked to some other people who had similar positions," Calender-Anderson said. "Different cities called them different things, ours was called the After-Hours Ambassador.” 

Calender-Anderson said about 15 or 16 cities across the country have this type of person within their government to act as a liaison outside of regular business hours.

“To be that eye downtown after hours because you interface with city hall basically from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.," Calender-Anderson said. "So, if there’s something going on and you have questions after 5 p.m., there’s usually nobody in city hall that you can reach.” 

In 2018, Mayor Hamilton put the position in his 2019 budget, which was then approved by the city council.

Shortly after, Calender-Anderson said she found the ideal applicant and her name was Jenna Whiteaker.

Whiteaker had a background in law enforcement from working for the Indiana University Police Department. She began working in this new ambassador role July 1, 2019.

“She was there to look and see the beginnings of issues. So, if there were trash issues that weren’t being picked up or if there were bars that seemed to be overserving, she could alert the proper department within city hall," Calender-Anderson said.

But Calender-Anderson said one of the biggest issues Whiteaker dealt with was homelessness.

“She was letting people know what some of the rules and the laws were about panhandling. When you could and couldn’t do it, and then just talking to people and getting to know them," Calender-Anderson said. "Letting them know it was okay for them to be there, but reminding them to clean up any trash.”  

Calender-Anderson said overall things were going well and the new position was proving to be a vital asset to the city.

But this past April, Whiteaker was offered a new job out-of-state, and she decided to take it right as the coronavirus pandemic began.

“We posted the position. We got applications, and then city hall shutdown because of the pandemic," Calender-Anderson said. "My attention as the person who would be doing the interviewing got diverted.”

Now, the vacant position is back on the table after Mayor Hamilton kept it in the 2021 city budget.

“That is a position that we are keeping, which is a relatively new position and from my perspective really part of our entire public safety slash public engagement effort, and we’re still looking for somebody," Hamilton said. 

The 2021 budget successfully passed through city council. Calender-Anderson said the After-Hours Ambassador has a salary range between about $40,000 and $65,000 per year depending on the person’s qualifications and experience.

“We’re just looking for that person that has that heart to help. Some background with mental health services, de-escalation or knowing the social service community is a plus," Calender-Anderson said.

It’s important to note that five new positions were also created within the Bloomington Police Department in the 2021 budget including two new Neighborhood Resource Officers and two social workers.

READ MORE: Bloomington Passes 2021 City Budget, Police Staffing Increase Approved Last Minute 

When asked if keeping the After-Hours Ambassador would be a redundant use of city funds, Calender-Anderson said the position is still needed.

“There is crossover, but they are not the same thing," Calender-Anderson said. "The neighborhood resource officers sort of work in the neighborhoods. This person was specifically for downtown.”

Calender-Anderson said the city hopes to begin evaluating candidates by the end of November, and then hire someone by the end of the year.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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