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bloomington

Traffic Commission member responds to motion for his removal

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For months, the Bloomington City Council has pursued the potential removal of Greg Alexander, a frequent public commenter — both in council chambers and Twitter — who currently sits on the Traffic Commission. Leading the charge is Councilmember Dave Rollo, who Alexander believes is unfairly prioritizing the Elm Heights neighborhood. Wednesday’s city council meeting will contain further discussion and a possible decision on the matter.

The cause for removal

In the official motion for removal made at a council meeting two weeks ago, Rollo outlines three specific comments made by Alexander that he believes illustrate an inability to serve on the commission without bias. All comments were posted last November.

Councilmember Rollo was not available for an interview before publication.

One is a response to a Twitter thread about the allocation of funds for sidewalks.

“With all due respect, taking things away from elm heights *IS* exactly how the rest of the city gets help,” Alexander writes.

The second comment is a response to former city clerk Regina Moore, who referred to the proposed traffic calming program for Elm Heights as “punching through” her neighborhood. Alexander first asks Moore what is “punching through,” and then follows the question with what Alexander calls an attempt to ridicule Moore’s statement.

“I would really like to know. It sounds like they are going to savagely penetrate your neighborhood and I want to know what they’re going to use to do that?” the Tweet said.

This comment drew particular concern from members of the public and the council, as he used a phrase that has connotations with sexual violence.

In an interview, Alexander recounts his wife telling him he went too far with the comment.

“It was in poor taste,” he said.

The final comment included in Rollo’s motion refers to Alexander’s perception that some city public officials prioritize Elm Heights residents.

The question of removal was first raised at a city council meeting on Feb. 1. Since then, the issue has been examined by the committee on council processes, which recommended the initial motion be revised to include better specificity and a connection to how Alexander’s comments affected his ability to serve on the Traffic Commission. They also recommended Alexander be given at least five days to respond.

[Related: Primary election voting for mayor, city council begins Tuesday]

Alexander’s response

In the midst of these claims, Alexander maintains that these comments were directed toward the way the council privileges a few residents of Elm Heights and not toward the neighborhood as a whole.

One such example is a debate over a four-way-stop at the intersection of Maxwell and Sheridan requested by Elm Heights residents. When the issue was brought to the council, Elm Heights resident Stephanie Hatton was given an unlimited amount of time to present, which is usually not even the case for presentations from city employees.

However, Alexander doesn’t blame residents themselves for receiving special privileges, instead saying residents are victims of the process.

The motion for removal also claims Alexander’s comments have had a chilling effect on public engagement by causing people to feel intimidated, bullied or harassed. Alexander disagrees, saying that of the few people who attend Traffic Commission meetings, Elm Heights residents are overrepresented.

“If they say that I’m scaring Elm Heights away from that commission, factually that’s just not true,” he said.

In Alexander’s official response to the motion for removal, he again claims he is not biased against the Elm Heights neighborhood. Alexander also emphasized in an interview that not everyone in Elm Heights is wealthy, saying that 75% are renters. Still, he said there are several prominent people that live there, such as Mayor John Hamilton and mayoral candidate Kerry Thomson. The median sale price of an Elm Heights home was $585k last month, according to RedFin.

Although the motion claims Alexander violated workplace harassment policy as cited in the city personnel manual, Alexander claims he never received the manual and said the Human Resources department refuses to give it to him since he is not technically considered an employee.

“To say that I’m subject to something that I’m not even allowed to review is preposterous,” Alexander said.

What members of the public have said about Alexander’s comments

At the Jan. 26 city council meeting, one week before the questions of removal were raised, several members of the community spoke out against Alexander’s comments. They included Stephanie Hatton, city council candidate Joe Lee, Natalia Galvan, former city council member Jeff Richardson, IU professor Chuck Livingston and Eric Ost, who is president of the Elm Heights Neighborhood Association.

Hatton read aloud some of Alexander’s comments during the public comment section of the meeting. She said the hatred of her neighborhood was obvious, and that her value was lessened by her address and its associated affluent stereotype.

“Do you think that I pass my time hula hooping in a hostess dress while vacuuming and baking cakes in the shape of stop signs?” Hatton said. “Contrary to popular belief, I work for a living.”

She denounced changes she’s seen in Bloomington, which she called an “ideological corral.”

“Those who do not agree with a particular way of being are branded regressive and elitist, told to sit down and shut up,” she said.

Natalia Galvan said that although she agreed with some of Alexander’s traffic-related opinions, his tone on social media was confrontational.

“No resident should be discriminated against because of the area they live in by a council-appointed commissioner, and certainly no one should be bullied or harassed by a council-appointed commissioner,” she said.

At the heart of the opposition aired during the meeting was a belief that Alexander had gone beyond what free speech allowed and crossed into a level of harassment that would complicate his relationship with certain members of the public who came to Traffic Commission meetings.

[Related: David Wolfe Bender announces he will not withdraw from City Council race]

Alexander receives support from a colleague on the Traffic Commission

Sarah Ryterband, Alexander’s colleague on the Traffic Commission, said she has served on the commission for 10 or 12 years, and has known Alexander for 15 to 16 years.

Ryterband said they both share a commitment to increasing different modes of transportation in the city. She describes Alexander as passionate, but said he approaches issues with deliberation and research.

Ryterband is most concerned by the doors that may be opened in removing Alexander.

“I’m sad that a common council member would choose to do something unprecedented in trying to remove a sitting commissioner,” she said.

History of the commission

The term “unprecedented” has been used a lot in city council meetings discussing the potential removal. In the past, most for-cause removals have been due to repeated absences from meetings, which is a specific reason cited in Bloomington Municipal Code, council attorney Stephen Lucas said in an email.

A recent example of a for-cause removal for a different reason came in 2020, when Mayor Hamilton removed Joseph Bortka from the Parking Commission the same day he was appointed after learning of several anti-LGBTQ statements on his Facebook page.

Ryterband said it was important to look at the whole city equally because less affluent people may not have the time to come to meetings and are not as well-represented as a result.

Logistically, Alexander’s removal would bring the number of vacancies on the commission to two. Ryterband said the commission usually struggles to fill vacancies.

However, Ryterband said Alexander went wrong by managing his disagreements on social media.

“He assumes that when he’s making statements online with people, and getting into arguments about stuff, that it doesn’t cross boundaries, that it’s private in some way,” she said.

She said Alexander challenges people to stick to their values, which can sometimes cause conflict.

“I think that many of us, when we feel shame for being called out in that way, might attack because that’s part of our nature,” Ryterband said. “Unless we’re willing to have enough humility to look seriously at how our values align with the actions we’re taking.”

This story will be updated.

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