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0:00:40:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Welcome to NOON EDITION. I'm Bob Zaltsberg from WFIU-WTIU, along with Sarah Wittmeyer, the news bureau chief of WFIU and WTIU. And today we're going to look back at the year 2019. We've got several topics that we're going to talk about. Sarah, what are all those?
0:00:58:>>SARAH WITTMEYER: It's been a busy year, that's for sure. And I know, Bob, you were able to sit down and talk to a lot of different reporters for today's NOON EDITION. And we have Brandon Smith - he is our statehouse reporter, so he'll be talking about the upcoming legislative session. Brock is our rural affairs reporter - Brock Turner. So he'll be talking about things in particular affecting farmers. And then this could be a year of education at the statehouse - Jeannie Lindsay, our education reporter, will be talking about that. And then you talked to Max Jones. He is the editor of the Tribune Star in Terre Haute. And Mitch Ligon covers local government here for WFIU and WTIU and I'm -you talked to him about all things Bloomington.
0:01:37:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We talked a lot - I talked with those five people. We talked a lot about what was big in 2019, gave sort of a glimpse of what was going to happen in 2020. With Brandon in particular - Brandon's our first interview - we really focused on 2019 - because we're going to do a separate legislative show on 2020 coming up in just a couple of weeks. But I spoke with Brandon Smith about the 2019 legislative session, and here's what Brandon had to say.
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0:02:06:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I'm talking with Brandon Smith, the statehouse reporter for Indiana Public Media. Brandon, glad to have you here on the air.
0:02:11:>>BRANDON SMITH: Absolutely. Happy to be here.
0:02:13:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. So we're going to talk about - first about the 2019 session, the one that just ended. So how would you characterize that session?
0:02:21:>>BRANDON SMITH: It was a bit of a weird one in that there - the story I wrote at the end of it here was that it was a quiet one. There was no big blow ups, no major controversies that a lot of time characterize these sessions. But it was a budget session. That, of course, dominates a lot of time and attention in - every two years in Indiana. So things like teacher pay, funding for teacher pay, the Department of Child Services - a huge boost in DCF funding to respond to a large influx in the number of cases. And then the big gambling bill that kind of reshaped, in a lot of ways, the gaming landscape in Indiana. And a hate crimes law that flared up, but only for very small periods of time in the session.
0:03:06:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So let's talk about a couple of those in a little more detail. So the gaming bill - I mean, the - you know, it hasn't been that long ago that Indiana started allowing some sort of gaming, but it seems like it does expand - well, just pretty regularly.
0:03:22:>>BRANDON SMITH: Yeah. That - this was, though, I think - a lot of people talked about this as the most transformative changes to the industry since the original legislation that authorized riverboats in Indiana. There were a couple of different fronts where you saw huge changes. First of all, the one that affects kind of everybody is the sports gaming legislation. So this was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said sports gaming can be legal everywhere, and so you saw states start to legalize it. Indiana was not the first, but we were pretty early on. And there was no controversy about it. It sailed through the process - at least that particular portion of the gaming bill sailed through the process. In fact, one member of the house got on the floor and said, I can't believe we're not talking more about this because, as one person pointed out, this was not just sports - you know, betting on sports at casinos and at OTBs. This was mobile gaming too, which means you're betting on sports from your living room. This was gaming in Indiana in every living room if they want it. And so that was a huge sea change for the industry.
0:04:30:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: You can see that now, if you watch any television. There are ads all over the TV for how you can bet during games just from - using an app.
0:04:39:>>BRANDON SMITH: And that did give a few lawmakers pause - that idea of, you know, the sort of spread of gaming into every community and into every living room if people want it. But again, there were really very few hiccups on that portion. It just kind of sailed through the process. The other part of gaming, of course, was some - a brand new casino being authorized in Vigo County and Terre Haute, and then a Gary casino being allowed to move completely off its footprint - completely off the water into a brand new prime real estate location, right on the major interstates up there. And so, again, this was a real sea change for the industry.
0:05:16:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We had some changes in alcohol laws too this year.
0:05:20:>>BRANDON SMITH: Yeah. I mean, it - not quite as big as we saw when Sunday sales passed. That was, obviously, the really big one. So we haven't seen anything quite like that. But, you know, there - those keep coming up, sort of like what you said with gaming. We keep seeing folks in the industry coming to the legislature saying, well, we want this, we want that, let's give us this, let's give us that, what are we going to do here and there?
0:05:47:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So you mentioned teacher pay, and I think - you know, we just saw some big rallies for Red for Ed because the teacher pay bill is going to rise up again next year, it seems to be. Well, the next budget year at least. So what happened with teacher pay in 2019?
0:06:03:>>BRANDON SMITH: Well, it depends on who you ask. Teachers will say that they didn't get anything specific. And what Republican legislators will tell you is they put, you know, what they call historic increases in overall K-12 education funding. And their goal and what they want to see happen is, as that money flows down to the school districts, the school districts use that to give teachers pay increases. And we have seen that in some places. But in others, like - for instance, Republicans point to - oh, look at Indianapolis, where teachers in the Indianapolis school district - the largest in the state - got pay increases. Well, that was primarily paid for through a funding referendum that the voters approved. So it's this push and pull - and it's ongoing, as you just pointed out - between the legislature saying, well, we're increasing education funding, so teachers should get raises, and teachers saying, but that's not what the money is going to, which is not always the fault of the school districts. They have to pay the bills. They have to pay the lighting bill, the heating bill for their buildings. I mean, there are costs that go up for them every single year. And so the increases, a lot of times, go to that and can't necessarily get into the teachers pockets.
0:07:20:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So the hate crimes bill - you mentioned that. So how did that end up?
0:07:25:>>BRANDON SMITH: Well, probably not where a lot of advocates wanted it. And again, that comes down to - where did it end up? It depends on who you ask. So as we started out, they were pushing for this expansive list of - in the hate crimes bill that would apply to - you know, not just things like gender and age and race, but also sexual orientation and gender identity. And that was really the hang up for a lot of folks on the religious right, who don't want anything like that enshrined in state law. And so it sailed through the first Senate committee, with that full expansive list - a list that advocates, and particularly Governor Holcomb, repeatedly advocated for. But that senate committee is where that list died because, after that, the senate - the full senate took out the list entirely. The house kind of put a list back in by referencing an existing list of a victim characteristics in state law, but it didn't have gender identity. It didn't even technically have gender. And that left a lot of people with a sour feeling in their mouth. Now, the governor claimed victory, Republican legislative leaders declared victory, the chamber of commerce declared victory, but a lot of advocates - particularly LGBTQ advocates - felt like they were left out in the cold.
0:08:44:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: These all depend on your perspective, I guess.
0:08:46:>>BRANDON SMITH: Exactly.
0:08:47:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Right. So any other big bills that I've neglected to mention before I go on to another quick topic?
0:08:55:>>BRANDON SMITH: Not necessarily a bill, but we did talk about DCS - or I mentioned DCS. We've seen, over the last few years, this huge influx of cases of children in need of services at DCS, and that led to the need for more serious funding increases. Now, they - the governor and the administration had sort of moved money around to boost DCS's budget over the last - over the previous budget cycle. They basically had to enshrine most of that into the permanent funding bill this time around in the budget. But again, not a lot of controversy that. I mean, everybody was supportive of DCS getting the money it needed. It was really haggling over exactly what the number was, and they came to a place, at the end of it, that was less than DCS had originally asked for, but that DCS seemed at least marginally comfortable enough with.
0:09:50:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I want to mention that Brandon's going to be back with us to talk about 2020 and what to look forward to in just a couple weeks - or a few weeks, anyway. We'll talk about that. But before we leave 2019, there were a few personnel issues - well, to - one personnel issue. So Bosma's not going to be coming back as the speaker of the house?
0:10:15:>>BRANDON SMITH: He will be speaker of the house for most of the 2020 session, but he did announce his intention to step down as speaker towards the very end of the 2020 session - to give his replacement a little bit of time in that seat, and then he is going to leave the legislature entirely in May, just after the primary elections, and let whoever wins the Republican primary in his district basically assume his seat for a few months before November's general election. This was something that had been rumored for a long time - a lot of people wondering if Brian Bosma would come back for another term, and ultimately he decided that 34 years in the legislature was enough.
0:10:59:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And, you know, while I have you here, talking about politics in Indiana - names like Richard Lugar and Birch Bayh are at the heart of some of the very best of politics in Indiana, and both of those men died this year.
0:11:13:>>BRANDON SMITH: Yeah, and not too far apart from each other either, which was striking for a lot of people. Giants of Indiana politics - and really, U.S. politics in a lot of ways. I mean, you see the legacies that both of these men have in - really, global politics, certainly in the case of Richard Lugar when you think of nuclear disarmament. Birch Bayh, you think about Title IX - and he's the only person to since James Madison to write two different constitutional amendments - to author two different constitutional amendments. That puts you on a Mount Rushmore for sure.
0:11:50:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Right. OK. Brandon, I really appreciate your being with me today. So Brandon Smith has been here. He is the statehouse reporter for Indiana Public Media. Thanks, Brandon.
0:11:59:>>BRANDON SMITH: Happy to do it.
0:12:00:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right. We'll talk to you later.
0:12:02:>>BRANDON SMITH: Sounds good.
0:12:02:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Bye bye.
0:12:07:>>BRANDON SMITH: Bye.
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0:12:12:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: This is Bob Zaltsberg. I'm with Jeanie Lindsay, who's the education reporter for Indiana Public Broadcasting. And her office is here in Bloomington - as opposed to Brandon Smith, who's in Indianapolis. So Jeanie, covering education in Indiana - it's an - it's always an interesting topic - huge topic...
0:12:28:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right.
0:12:29:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: ...During the legislature and not during the legislature. So what strikes you about 2019? What are your top one or two or three stories? And we can branch off from there.
0:12:39:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right. So, obviously, the legislature - there was a budget year this year - so school funding - teacher pay was a huge thing starting out the year. ILEARN was new this year - we moved to a completely new statewide standardized test. And then we had some virtual school stuff happen over the summer, where we saw some really mismanaged virtual schools that were just raking in millions of dollars and it turned out that that was fraudulent money that's under investigation right now. So - and then teacher pay, you know, has kind of been a theme throughout this year that's spurred a lot of teacher advocacy and action. So that's kind of what jumps out to me.
0:13:22:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, let's dig into a couple of those. Let's talk about ILEARN first. So what were the changes and what's that mean for students in our schools?
0:13:30:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right. So ILEARN's totally new. They have it as a computer adaptive test now, and so the state has really tried to decrease the amount of sitting time that students have for that and make it so the test is asking questions based on their answers. They've, you know, adjusted it to fit the rigor of some nationwide exams. And so we saw a huge drop in student achievement, and that was a huge problem for the way that our school accountability system is set up. And so a lot of people reacted to those scores with a lot of, I guess, disappointment. And there was a lot of fear and worry about what that would mean for school grades, teacher evaluations, things like that. So definitely a big shift that lawmakers are going to be dealing with when they come back in January to - hold schools and teachers harmless is the phrase that they're using.
0:14:25:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: What about virtual schools? So you mentioned that - so they haven't worked quite as well as some people thought they would?
0:14:32:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right. So Chalkbeat is actually a publication that has been doing really good investigative work on this, and so they've been talking about it for a couple of years now. And their work has gotten the attention of policymakers and the governor, and so there's been more attention on keeping those schools accountable. Just given the performance that we've seen - but this year, there were two giant virtual charter schools that were serving kids from all over the state, and they were inflating their enrollment. So that was a huge problem. There is an investigation that's ongoing to figure out, I guess, the extent of it. You know, what was really going on? And there are still some questions about accountability that I've heard lawmakers want to talk a little bit more about when they get back into the session in January. So there's still some stuff. It's not quite as hot, I guess, of a topic as it was, you know, earlier this summer or even last year, but there are still some, I guess, loose ends that lawmakers are hoping to tie up there.
0:15:32:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. So you start out talking about how - it was budget session and just overall funding for the schools.
0:15:37:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right.
0:15:37:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We'll start with that and then we'll get in a little bit more with teacher pay. So overall funding for the schools - were people in the school corporations happy with what the legislature did?
0:15:46:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right. It was kind of a mixed bag. So overall, you know, lawmakers were touting this two and a half increase, you know, over the biennium. But the thing about those numbers is that it was a statewide average. So there are school districts that are getting, you know, way more than 2.5% - more than the rate of inflation. There are schools that are getting less, and some that are losing money. The way the funding formula is set up - that's another thing a lot of people want the state to look more at is just, how do we fund, as a state, you know, schools that have more at-risk students? You know, how do we protect schools from, you know, losing dollars when, you know, their enrollment is going down? So it's complicated, but not everybody came out a winner, unfortunately, with the state budget.
0:16:36:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So who were the winners and who were the losers? Was there a general sense of who won and who lost?
0:16:42:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Well, based off of the formula, there were - you know, schools that are gaining kids, obviously. Charter schools - if you look at the percentage increases, charter schools and the voucher program did get more percentage funding there, and that caused a lot of consternation with public education folks - public education advocates. So there are still a lot of questions that people have around the way schools are funded in Indiana, but that was kind of a difference that was very clear just in the percentages we were seeing.
0:17:16:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So teacher pay - I mean, Governor Holcomb seems to be sort of in the middle of this because he talks about how he wants to increase teacher pay, but he's not maybe increasing teacher pay or pushing it quite as hard as teachers would like, right?
0:17:31:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Yeah. So heading into the 2019 session, you know, as a budget year, a lot of people were hoping that that state budget would, you know, really go to schools and help amp up these teacher salaries, but there wasn't as much movement, not for everyone on that budget, not as aggressive as definitely the teachers unions would have hoped. And so the governor is now kind of relying on and looking towards his teacher compensation commission to do a lot of research. So hopefully coming back in 2021, you know, what he's been saying is that that will be the year that, you know, teacher pay solutions are found and executed. So a lot of people say that that's not fast enough, but that's his plan and he's sticking to it.
0:18:24:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, there was a big demonstration, right? I mean, Red for Ed came was it last month or was it November?
0:18:31:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Yeah, right. November. So it was just before Thanksgiving. And yet there were thousands of teachers. Estimates range from 15 to 20000 teachers were on the statehouse lawn. I was there and there were a lot. So it was definitely a day of, you know, teacher advocacy and noise for sure. And they were sending a message, you know, that they want this to be done sooner rather than later. And it's more complicated than teacher pay to be sure. There are a lot of things on teachers minds about their working conditions what a lot of people in education refer to as student learning conditions. So it's more than just pay, but that definitely is a huge thread throughout that.
0:19:19:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Last topic I wanted to ask you about is Jennifer McCormick, the state school superintendent. So can you update us on what happened with her in 2019?
0:19:28:>>JEANIE LINDSAY: Right, so if you remember in 2018, it was just before the legislative session priorities started rolling out, among hers, she decided to announce that she was not going to run for re-election after her current term. And so lawmakers had already decided that whoever was going to be the head of the Department of Education would be someone selected by the governor. But they wanted to give McCormick time to have two terms, but once she announced she would not seek a second term, lawmakers decided to speed up the timeline for that appointment. So it went from I think 2024 to now 2021 is going to be the first year where Indiana's chief of school is going to be appointed by the governor instead of elected by voters. And so we've seen a little bit of a tonal shift from McCormick just with her tweets, the way she talks about issues. She is very open and ready to talk about what she believes in. So it'll be interesting to see how she navigates this last year as she comes to the end of her term.
0:20:33:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's been Jeanie Lindsey. Jeanie is the education reporter for Indiana Public Broadcasting. Thanks Jeanie. Yeah. Thanks, Bob. All right.
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0:20:50:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I'm speaking with Brock Turner who's the rural affairs reporter for WFIU and WTIU. Brock, great to have you here.
0:20:58:>>BROCK TURNER: Thanks for having me, Bob, appreciate it.
0:20:59:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Absolutely. So in the area of rural affairs, you know, we know we're sitting here in Bloomington. The station is here in Bloomington, but we cover a lot of South Central Indiana and even get into Northern Indiana a little bit, at least north of Us 40 up in the Kokomo area up there. So a lot of that is rural territory. What were the biggest issues in 2019 for people who live in more rural Indiana?
0:21:25:>>BROCK TURNER: Yeah, Bob. I mean, really across the state there's sort of three or four big issues that I think have sort of defined this year for rural communities across the state. The first has got to be I think flooding and the sort of changing weather conditions across the state. You know, flooding really ravaged a lot of farmers and delayed planting across the state to the point where we had farmers who, you know, would have ideally had their crops planted March, April, May, in that timeframe. And there was corn that was not in the ground until end of June pushing into July. So I think that just really - that abbreviated season and delays on that front, flooding across the state, really put put farmers in a bind. You combine that with tariffs on a lot of goods, whether it would be corn soybeans going into China or some trade issues around pork as well. So, you know, so much of Indiana agriculture is not consumed by Hoosiers or even domestically within the United States. So these farmers here really rely on those export markets and sending their product elsewhere. So I think really caused an issue and I think will continue to cause an issue as we look ahead.
0:22:44:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Let me jump in on that for just a second because I think some people might be surprised to realize that all this stuff that's happening on the world stage is having a direct impact on people who are farming in the fields of Indiana.
0:22:57:>>BROCK TURNER: It does. It has an impact on everyone. I think it's sort of this false idea that that economies aren't connected. The farm economy is so reliant on these externalities and these other players. And I think there's also this idea of, oh, well, if we just get, you know, a Chinese trade deal taking care of, like, that'll fix the situation. But that's not really the case either because there's so much. It takes time to build these markets. It's a relationship business. And, you know, whereas corn and soybean farmers might be able to go to their elevators and it might be easier to foster those relationships. For some industries like dairy and pork, you know, it's really an individual one to one transaction so it's a lot harder to build those markets. I was just talking to a dairy farmer earlier who was, you know, really excited about the about the trade deals. You know, when you start digging down deeper, he said, you know, the real work now starts for us. Like we have to go out and find these market securities markets. Like the government's given us the opportunity to now get these markets. Now we have to take advantage of it.
0:23:59:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So I don't want to throw you a curveball but in your your job as a rural affairs reporter roughly how many counties do you think you got to in the state?
0:24:09:>>BROCK TURNER: Oh my gosh, I would say probably around 50, I would say would be a safe number to guess. You know, it's one of those things that I think, you know, farmers are everywhere and what might be an issue for farmers in northern Indiana folks here in southern Indiana - it might be a different - they might feel it is a different way. So I think it's important to sort of to cast that wide net and get a sort of a broad view of what's going on across the state.
0:24:35:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So you mentioned flooding and a lot of people say climate change is behind flooding. Are there other climate change issues that you covered this year involving, you know, people on your beat?
0:24:48:>>BROCK TURNER: When you think about climate change it has a very long, broad reaching effects. I think farmers this year - I think farmers really are keyed in on that. Like, they understand that it's an issue, which I think might surprise some people. I think there are very few farmers that say - that I've talked to that say yeah, climate change is nonexistent. And I think most of them understand it. They're working with it. The extent to which they - you know, folks think humans play a role - that's sort of up to interpretation and certainly varies, but in terms of other stories, I think, you know, there's a lot of farmers across the state who are starting to really look at renewable energy. And maybe that's not completely related to climate change, but farmers I think are really starting to realize that they have a really valuable asset and that's land. And when you're talking about, you know, there's no oil in Indiana. But there is a lot of farmland and as technology continues to improve, I think you're going to see more farmers sort of take that on. You know, I talked to one who is taking acres out of crop rotation that he had corn and soybeans on and he's putting solar panels up. So I think there's certainly movement in that space. And I think that can certainly spell, you know, positive net impacts on the environment. But then you'd also have to get into the regulatory environment and, you know, how is that being incentivized and, you know, as state policymakers and federal policymakers are we giving folks the opportunity to - and giving them a level playing field to actually create those sorts of opportunities?
0:26:21:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: I know you did one story for our city limits project that had to do with some of the damaging effects of agriculture on the environment.
0:26:29:>>BROCK TURNER: Yeah. And I think that some farmers will say that, you know, the net impact is greater. Some will say it's less than. Certainly with cattle and with other sort of large grazing animals, they do have an impact on the environment. And I think farmers are keenly aware of that. Maybe some sort of turn the other way and say, well, it's less than getting on an airplane, and that's probably certainly true. But I think there's certainly a - there's certainly movement in that space, and I think people are aware that everything we do, whether it's getting in the car, driving down the street or, you know, eating a cheeseburger - like, these things have an impact on our environment. And I think that conversation is definitely much more prevalent especially after a year like this where farmers had to see that flooding and they saw the impact firsthand. I think years like this certainly sort of drill that idea even further, that we all are connected.
0:27:26:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So what are you looking ahead - when you look ahead, what do you expect to see in 2020 that affects farmers in rural Indiana?
0:27:34:>>BROCK TURNER: Yeah, I think there's really two major things that I sort of look at and am going to be covering well into next year and that is a Chinese trade deal. I mean, we talk about how reliant we are, how reliant Indiana and Hoosier farmers are on this Chinese market. A lot of people say with the United States Mexico Canada trade agreement that the sort of - you know, the bones have been laid for for a trade deal with China, but I think the win with USMCA is certainly there for a lot of farmers. But there are some who aren't really gonna see the benefits of that. And I think with corn and soybean farmers, a Chinese trade deal is really critical. And there's also sort of been just recently murmurings of maybe some upheaval within the European trade market. So I think trade is going to be a huge topic, especially as we get into this this election year. I think that's going to be a huge deal. And also one thing that, you know, maybe we haven't mentioned is just the continuing evolution of health care in rural communities. You've seen a lot of hospitals close up in rural communities. General, you know, health in those areas - studies show that it's not improving. So trying to find a way to make sure care is and quality health services are going into those areas rather than leaving I think is going to be a really important issue. Governor Holcomb's already talked about how those issues are going to come into this legislative session. I think that's a huge issue that, you know, there's no real easy solution to because the economics don't really line up for large services to go into those areas. I think it'll be really interesting to see what happens there.
0:29:10:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right, a lot of these issues crossover from rural to urban and everything else. But Brock Turner is going to be keeping his eye on the rural affairs and the stories that matter to rural listeners of WFIU here in 2020. Thanks a lot Brock.
0:29:25:>>BROCK TURNER: Thanks a lot Bob.
0:30:13:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Talking now with Max Jones, the editor of the Terre Haute Tribune Star. Max has been on our year end program numerous times in the past where we talk about what's going on in Vigo County, how 2019 was is how we're going to start this and we'll probably take a look ahead into 2020. So Max, you want to just start by encapsulating you know 2019? Maybe start with the election. Did it go the way you expected it to?
0:30:40:>>MAX JONES: The election was interesting on a number of fronts. We had an incumbent mayor win re-election again, and now will serve a fourth term. That's not happened a lot in this city. So we ran through a series of mayors who could only manage to serve one term before they got defeated. And Duke Bennett, the Republican here, has reversed that trend in a big way. He won once again in a very competitive election. He had strong opposition from both the Democrat Karem Nasser and an independent Pat Goodwin. So he had his work cut out for him. So he managed to survive it. He won by about 200 votes. His nearest opponent was Pat Goodwin the independent who made us extremely strong bid to upset Mayor Bennett, but in the end came up a little bit short. So, you know, here we have a mayor now who's won this election - Duke Bennett has won the city election for mayor four times. Three of the four the races have been very close - 100, 200, 300 votes is what his margin of victory has been. But he keeps on winning. So we'll have four more years of Mayor Bennett.
0:32:09:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah let me ask you about Mayor Bennet. So what's the secret sauce? What do you think has made him so electable?
0:32:16:>>MAX JONES: Well I think a series of things that have that have worked in his favor. Certainly he's able to talk about complex subjects in very down to earth ways. He'll talk to anybody. He's not standoffish. He's not what you would say a real political animal in the way that, you know, you can see in other places. Of course, he's, you know, taken advantage of the fact that, you know, him as a Republican in what has traditionally been a Democratic county - he's taken advantage of really a Democratic Party here that has really lost its punch. They don't have a lot of direction. It's hard to tell what, if anything, the party as a whole is doing collectively. There's a lot of infighting in that party. So he's certainly benefited by the fact the party - many in his party, that Democratic Party, support him.
0:33:21:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So let's talk about the casino. Let's talk about the casinos. What's the status of that?
0:33:29:>>MAX JONES: Well, everything is still looking very good. You know, it was sort of thing that came back. Vito county got another shot at that casino license with the legislature this year, and this time it passed. They were able to put together - I think there was enough of a shift in thinking in gaming and ways to reform Indiana's total gaming procedures that Terre Haute was able to slip in, Eagle County was able to slip in and convince the legislature to include it in its reform of its gaming strategies. And the folks here seem to be very happy with it. The casino was placed on a referendum by stipulation in the bill that passed the legislature last year. There was a referendum that the casino referendum passed handily. There never seemed to be any great opposition. There's always some, but it was not in any way organized or didn't coalesce around any particular issue. So it went through well the legislature. There's been - there's one local company that's well Spectacle Entertainment that has the casino licenses in Lake County at Gary, is the company that has applied for the casino license here in Vigo County, and that's for the Gaming Commission right now. They've got a plan to put the casino right on I 70 at State Road 46, and it all looks pretty strong at this point. And whether or not the gaming commission approves, we think probably they will. We haven't seen any indication that there's any problems that have been identified. So I would think that we're beginning to see a move forward. I think there's a, you know, better than a good chance that there actually will be a casino here.
0:35:44:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Let's switch gears quickly to the school corporation because there was a referendum this year, correct?
0:35:51:>>MAX JONES: That's correct. Our ballot was full over here in Vigo county. Not only did the city of Terre Haute have the municipal election but there were two referendums that turned this election into a county wide election and not just a city election so folks in the county could go out and vote because they had these two referendums on the ballot. One was the casino referendum which they passed overwhelmingly. The other one was a referendum with the school corporation. The Vigo County School Corporation was seeking a seven million dollar property tax increase to help it overcome some financial difficulties that the school corporation was having. That was primarily related to the drop in population, the fact that the school funding formula was decreasing the amount of money coming into its coffers, and it was lowering the cash balance that it had been carrying to - was going to be at dangerous levels if it was allowed to continue. So the school corporation under the leadership of its new superintendent Rob Hayworth went on to what turned out to be an extremely effective campaign to convince the taxpayers - the property taxpayers of Vigo County to raise their own taxes. And a lot of people were surprised that the voters approved and it wasn't particularly close. Clearly the school corporation made an effective case.
0:37:28:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well, I want to thank you for being with us again today. It's always a pleasure to talk with you. All right, this was Max Jones the editor of The Tribune Star in Terre Haute.
0:37:40:>>MAX JONES: We're good. Thanks so much, Bob. I appreciate it.
0:37:43:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right.
0:37:43:>>MAX JONES: So we'll be talking to you soon.
0:37:45:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. Take care. So Mitch Legan is here. Mitch is a reporter who covers city affairs for WFIU, and he just started in August. So I hope you're enjoying your time in Bloomington.
0:38:05:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yes. Yeah Bob thank you very much. I am getting acclimated quickly. But it's been good and covering a lot of city stuff, as you said.
0:38:11:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Well the city's always an interesting beat to have. So what were the biggest stories that you covered in the last half of the year?
0:38:19:>>MITCH LEGAN: Well regarding the city that would be you know you can't go anywhere without the UDO. So the UDO would definitely be number one for me.
0:38:26:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's the unified development ordinance.
0:38:27:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yeah. Sorry, sorry. The city zoning guide, and so that was there was pretty technical it was pretty dense, did a lot of that though. It's something a lot of people cared about so that was interesting. So as you said, the unified development ordinance would have been number one.
0:38:40:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So tell me why did people care about it so much? So what does a UDO do that has an impact on people's lives?
0:38:45:>>MITCH LEGAN: So as I said the UDO - basically it's the city zoning guide. And so that is basically clarifies the rules of what you can and cannot do with certain land in the city. So the city doesn't choose what goes there, but it says what can go there. So if you can put X, Y or Z you could put some shops there, you could put some - not retail, some residential stuff, housing, stuff like that. So that is what people really cared about and what was brought up with this unified development ordinance, this iteration of it because the last one was passed about over 10 years ago. I think 2006, 2007. And so what people were really concerned about was the possibility of multi-family plexes being put into these core neighborhoods downtown. And so a lot of homeowners thought that these new multifamily plexes would kind of upset the balance of these core neighborhoods. There were a lot of people with families there. They thought allowing these out of town developers to come in and create multi-family plexes basically break up houses so that you can have up to maybe three people in living in one house kind of in three different apartments - they thought that out of town developers would come in, buy up all these houses and basically start renting them to college students. And the college students would kind of take over town. And so what a lot of people talked about is something similar. I wasn't around then, but back in the 70s, they said something similar happened where they kind of cut out single family zoning in these core neighborhoods and they said kind of college students just ran wild and they were everywhere. So that's what people were really concerned.
0:40:15:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's what they're concerned about but the goal was to try to - there were two goals, it seems to me, if I was reading all of your work correctly. One was to try to provide some more affordable housing. And the other was to try to really attack the whole issue of climate change and environmental issues by having more people live closer to downtown.
0:40:35:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yes. And so while the affordable housing aspect is - nobody knows really for certain if that would happen. So it's a good idea to try to, but it wasn't necessarily that these multi-family plexes would result in affordable housing because, as I said, a lot of these people thought they would end up getting rented out at market rate. But what you said about kind of the climate change, making the city greener - that is something that people were very concerned about because, you know, the city wants to try to keep people closer to downtown because if you're closer to downtown then maybe you don't have to take your car to go somewhere. You can walk. I walk to work - or I walk back from work. I take the bus to work every day. So if you live closer to downtown, less likely you're going to have to use your car, create that kind of those pollutants that the city is trying to avoid. One thing I was going to say is that allowing these people to move closer to downtown - regional opportunity initiatives came out with their housing study, and they say that the city is going to need to add two thousand two hundred thirty six housing units by 2030 because the city is going to be growing. And they think, you know, they're going to need this many to allow all those people to come in. And one of the best ways ROI said to do that is by redoing the existing housing stock. So those multi-family plexes I was talking about - ROI said that would have really helped with kind of the housing diversity and allowing the city to get denser. Obviously, that didn't happen. So the city kind of moved around and it moved around with the - it didn't allow the multi-family plexes but it allowed for accessory dwelling units, other things to kind of allow for that density without drastically changing these core neighborhoods as people might thought.
0:42:10:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. So one other issue that came up before you got here, but you covered a little bit of it at least, was the farmer's market debate. Debate - that's not really the right word, but it was, you know, our Bloomington farmer's market - people love it. People are proud of it. But yet it was sort of just enveloped in controversy this year.
0:42:31:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yep. And so as you said I kind of came in the middle of it. I haven't had a whole lot of time to follow it all the way through, but I've been to one or two meetings, and the one that I recently went to was the Farmer's Market Commission. And they okayed basically a set of rules that now the city will take a look at and figure out whether or not they like. But the big thing that came from that meeting is that the - nobody knows if the farmer's market will be picked up by the city next year. They've got a meeting I believe it's January 9th. And the parks department will figure out whether or not it wants to keep hold of the farmer's market or run it. And if that's the case, if the city runs it, Sara Di is this vendor that has, you know, caused this whole controversy. The city runs it, they can't kick Sara Di out because that's against the Constitution of the United States, the first amendment. You can believe, say what you'd like. So if the city runs it, they're not allowed to kick anyone out. But if the city decides not to run it, there's a possibility that the market could be picked up as a private market. And then that throws a whole different, you know, kind of curveball into this. If it's a private market, they're gonna have to form it and stuff like that. That's a whole headache there. But theoretically a private market could allow or not allow people who, you know, they would want because it's a private market.
0:43:48:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So could it operate on city property?
0:43:50:>>MITCH LEGAN: They could operate on city property. They'd have to figure that out with the city and then that also is going to - that kind of brings us down the rabbit hole with First Amendment stuff again if the city's renting it and stuff like that. So this meeting, as I said, January 9th - it'll be very interesting. I assume a lot of people will be there because as you said people care very deeply about this market.
0:44:10:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Yeah, and, you know, you mentioned Sarah Di. The issue, if people haven't been following it, was that she identified herself as a member of the identitarian movement, which some groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center say is a white supremacist group, right?
0:44:27:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yes.
0:44:27:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: OK. So speaking of activities on public property let's spent just a minute or so on what was going on in Owen county. Mitch also has drawn the Owen county beat basically because there's a lot of news in Spencer and they're very close to our area.
0:44:43:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yeah. I've gotten to know the drive well. It's about 30 minutes over there. This was actually, Bob, I don't know if you knew this. This was the first story that I was pitched. This is literally my first day. They said there was something going on with festival ordinances, but it turned out to be a little deeper than that, which was interesting. And so for those of you if, you know, you haven't been paying attention that much, back in August the Owen county commissioners who kind of run the fiscal government in Owen county - they introduced a change to their festival ordinance in August. And they had originally said they wanted to change it because they had received a petition from taxpayers concerned about these festival costs. They didn't want to have to foot the bill for these festivals. But some citizens in Spencer - they asked for a copy of this petition and that petition actually turned out to be a bunch of form letters complaining about the Spencer pride fest, the LGBTQ fest, saying it was overly sexual and, you know, inappropriate for children. And so the commissioners had brought up this rule change under what they had said was, you know, a petition concerned about taxes, but it was actually, you know, concerned about the Spencer pride group. And so Spencer pride thinks that this ordinance is directly targeting them because of it. They fasted this Monday. It's going to prevent anyone from using the Owen county courthouse for special events. And a lot of people downtown in downtown Spencer are very concerned about that because it's going to make it much harder for people to have an event there. They're going to have to plan for bathrooms, electricity, water, stuff like that. A lot of the downtown businesses think that's going to hurt, you know, the business. And so a lot of the town is concerned not only because they think this is targeting the pride group, but they really think that this is going to economically hurt Spencer and Owen county because the festivals are such a big - you know, such a big deal for their economy.
0:46:25:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Now, I know you came in from Missouri. So the way county government works in Indiana, so the county council actually has fiscal control, the county commissioners, are the group that sets all of the regulations, the rules and all those things. Was there a division between the county council and the county commissioners?
0:46:44:>>MITCH LEGAN: There actually - the county council has has become more outspoken about this recently. I believe it was two weeks ago, Andrew Woodall, who is a county council member, he called for the president of the commissioners, Jeff Brothers, to step down because a lot of the people in Owen County and obviously this council member they think just - it's been kind of shady the way they've gone about it. I should say when they passed it on Monday, they made the ordinance - the revised ordinance available to the public at 8:00 on Monday morning. And they passed that ordinance at like 7:00 on Monday night. So less than 12 hours, and they rammed this thing through. So as the council members have said, and as a lot of the public has said, it's just been kind of under the table. They're just trying to get this through. So it's it's very interesting and we'll all be at the next meeting on January 6.
0:47:29:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: And from a news standpoint you know we always look at conflict. And when you've got one body in one and a county like county council and another body like the commissioners and they're at each other, and the auditor got involved and there was bad blood there. It was just an interesting story.
0:47:43:>>MITCH LEGAN: It definitely is. There have been some people that have been at the meetings asking for the county government to get along. But it's just - it's interesting. That's the only way - that's the best way I can put it, Bob.
0:47:54:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: So before you got here the city had a primary election and a lot of people were elected from the Democratic Party. The Democrats have a very robust primary. But, you know, the general election was anything but robust. I mean, you were here for that. How many races did you have to cover?
0:48:11:>>MITCH LEGAN: For city council? Well, actually I didn't cover any. I was out actually.
0:48:19:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: How many were there?
0:48:19:>>MITCH LEGAN: There were four. There were four county city council races, I believe. I know it was Andy Ruff, Andy Ruff, Chris Sturbaum, Dorothy Granger and Alison Chopra will be going out, and Matt Flaherty, Sue Sgambellari, Ron Smith and Beth - no, Kate Rosenbarger - I speak with Beth a lot in the planning department because I've been covering the studio so much - and so those four will come in starting next year and they will take their spots on the city council.
0:48:53:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Right, and really only Ron and Sue had to win races in the general just because the others lost in the primary. So just looking ahead, I mean, do you feel like you have a handle on how the four going out and the four coming in might change the city council next year?
0:49:11:>>MITCH LEGAN: I will say UDO wise Chris Stirbaum was an ardent supporter of the single family zoning, and I don't - I'm not entirely sure who's taking his place but...
0:49:20:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Kate.
0:49:22:>>MITCH LEGAN: Kate - at least Beth was a little - she was a little more accepting of the multi-family plexes so maybe Kate will be along those same lines.
0:49:28:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: Kate Rosenbarger was definitely on the multiplex side. And, you know, I would just say - so I don't claim to be an expert in a lot of things, but I have lot knowledge from my history in the community, I think. And I would say the, you know, the council, you know, Andy Ruff going off the council Chris Stirbaum going off the council - they're both, you know, liberal guys, liberal Democrats. But the people that have replaced them, Kate and Matt, are - they are probably even more progressive at this point. And they also, you know, they're in a different generation. And a lot of the primary was based on, we need some new leadership in City Council. And so it's gonna be interesting. They're very, very strong on climate change and looking at issues through the lens of climate change. So that might be a little - a little difference. You know, Ron Smith has run before, and Ron's been around a long time. Sue Sgambellari ran for the first time this year. And she you know she'll be she'll be an interesting council member. It's just going to be a little bit different with four new council members.
0:50:35:>>MITCH LEGAN: Okay. Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing how they work.
0:50:38:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: All right so we'll see what else happens in the city of Bloomington in 2020. I've been mean speaking with Mitch Legan here on Noon Edition.
0:50:46:>>MITCH LEGAN: Yes. Thank you Bob. Thanks Bob.
0:50:55:>>SARAH WITTMEYER: And Bob one of the things that we heard mention of a couple of times there in conversations Mitch and Brock was our city limits project. And that's something new - city limits Bloomington that we launched this calendar year. And you came on as editor of that project, which I've been super excited about. I'm curious - what are you looking forward to in 2020, and what were some of the highlights of 20 19 in your opinion?
0:51:17:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: We got a lot of questions about development in Bloomington, various aspects of it including transportation, including occupancy, how commercial and how residential breaks down - all those kinds of things. We did a lot of stories on that. And then climate change - we did a whole bunch of stories on climate change, but some of the questions I liked the best are kind of a quirky ones. You know, we had a question a couple of questions about liquor laws in the state. We had a question about the history of the Jordan River, which Mitch did.
0:51:46:>>SARAH WITTMEYER: Folks who don't know, city limits is a really different model of newsgathering where you get your questions from the audience and then Bob and his team will work to find the answers and maybe invite you along on the reporting.
0:51:58:>>BOB ZALTSBERG: That's right. That's right. All right. Well thank you very much for listening to our show today. For producer Benta Bouthier who's helped us put together this program today, and for Sarah Whitmire who's with me here in the studio as we talk about these stories I'm Bob Zaltsberg, Thanks for listening.