The Bloomington City Council debated a measure that would dissolve eight committees during its meeting Wednesday night. Ultimately, the council arrived at a stalemate and opted to postpone a vote on the legislation after contentious deliberation.
A standing committee is a permanent committee established to create and refine legislation regarding a specific subject matter, according to Bloomington Municipal Code.
The legislation, sponsored by Councilmembers Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri and Jim Sims, would dissolve eight standing committees, including the Climate Action and Resilience Committee, the Sustainable Development Committee, the Land Use Committee and the Transportation Committee.
“Our intent is to simplify, to clarify and to get back to some basics that are going to make us less focused on the process as a council and more focused on the policy issues,” Sandberg said.
Councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty and Kate Rosenbarger all indicated they would oppose the legislation when it eventually comes to a full vote. Volan asked how council members could be expected to effectively address specific issues without committees dedicated to them.
“If the sponsors think that there is no need for a standing committee on climate, from where do they think action will come?” Volan said.
Sandberg said many issues don’t require a standing committee to address them. Sandberg instead wishes to direct the issues to a Committee of the Whole, which is a committee composed of every council member and is able to debate legislation under informal rules without the urgency of a final vote, according to Bloomington Municipal Code.
Sandberg said if council members truly believe an issue requires a committee, they can create a special committee to instead address it rather than using a standing committee.
A special committee is a committee normally composed of fewer council members for a limited time to address a somewhat brief issue, according to Bloomington Municipal Code.
Volan, along with some of the other dissenting council members, felt this legislation would make council operations more confusing for community members to understand. He said most cities in the state use standing committees and that Bloomington is an outlier.
“Other cities do not look at us and think ‘We should be more like Bloomington,’” Volan said.
Flaherty introduced amendments to the legislation which would protect the Administration Committee, the Climate Action and Resilience Committee and the Land Use Committee from being disbanded. Piedmont-Smith, Volan and Rosenbarger were all in support of this amendment. Flaherty needs five of the nine votes for the amendment to pass.
“We are in a climate crisis, as the headlines and climate disasters around the country and world demonstrate on a weekly basis.” Flaherty said. “In my view, now is not the time to decrease our focus on climate change matters.”
Sandberg argued climate change-related issues would be better handled by the full council in a Committee of the Whole rather than by a single standing committee with fewer council members.
“Some of the most critical issues we deal with as council do not have a standing committee,” Sandberg said.
Volan argued Sandberg’s measure would unnecessarily extend the time it would take the council to pass and debate legislation.
“Part of the idea was we break down the work, and that the four members on a given committee work on behalf of the other five, not to exclude them from speaking or deliberating,” Volan said.
Council members were unable to come to a consensus and postponed the vote on the amendment and the ordinance until their meeting Jan. 19.