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The Indiana Daily Student

city politics

District 5 city council candidates discuss public safety, homelessness at forum

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Three candidates running to fill the vacant District 5 seat on the Bloomington city council shared their plans and priorities, if elected to the governing body, during a forum Saturday at the Monroe County Public Library.  

Former city councilmember Shruti Rana, the first woman of color elected to city council, stepped down from her seat Feb. 7 after serving in the position for around two months. Rana, who accepted the positions of assistant vice chancellor for inclusive excellence and strategic initiatives and professor of law at the University of Missouri in September 2023, resigned so her family could relocate to Missouri.  

The forum took place one week before eight Monroe County Democratic precinct chairs will vote to select a candidate to replace Rana during a caucus at 1 p.m., March 2 in City Hall. Candidates interested in participating in the caucus must submit their statement of interest to the MCDP by 2 p.m., Feb. 28.  

Three candidates former Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore, local activist Courtney Daily and former city council candidate Jenny Stevens participated in Saturday’s forum. 

Daily is listed as one of the eight precinct chairs who can participate in the March 2 caucus, meaning she can vote for a candidate for the vacancy. 

Candidates’ backgrounds  

Moore resigned as the city’s fire chief in December 2023 after serving in the role for seven years. In his resignation, he alluded to issues within the fire department as the cause for his departure. Moore, who grew up in a military family and is an Air Force veteran, said that for the first time in his life, he feels he has found a place to call home in Bloomington. According to his LinkedIn profile, Moore served as a captain, dispatcher and battalion chief for James Island PSD Fire Department in South Carolina from 2007-16. He also served as a staff sergeant for the U.S. Air Force from 2000-05, where he was deployed to Qatar, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. 

“With all the things we’ve done here in Bloomington and as the fire chief, I could have gone anywhere,” Moore said. “I may not be the person whose been here the longest, but I promise you that I’m someone who has dug in really deep here because I do love it.”  

Daily, who has lived in Bloomington for almost 14 years, led the Indiana Chapter of the grassroots movement Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America from 2017-20. She is currently the associate director for admission for Kelley Direct Online MBA. According to her LinkedIn, she also worked as an adjunct faculty member for Ivy Tech Bloomington and taught at St. Mark's Nursey School and Kindergarten.  

"I am well-seasoned in going toe-to-toe with the representatives at the state house who are diametrically opposed to everything that I am advocating for,” Daily said. “I have learned that maybe when things don’t go my way I can step back and recalibrate and keep advocating.”  

Stevens ran in the May 2023 District 5 Democratic primary but lost to Rana. She has lived in Bloomington since 1995 and has volunteered for the Monroe County Community School Corporation, TEDx Bloomington, the Girl Scouts and Leadership Bloomington-Monroe County. She has worked in roles coordinating grants and programs for IU and the University of Cincinnati, according to her LinkedIn profile.  

Stevens said during the forum that her experience managing budgets and leading projects has prepared her to serve as a city council member.  

“I have held robust leadership positions where I am in charge of millions of dollars from multiple funding agencies developing budgets, developing proposals and being a project manager,” Stevens said. “I want to bring that sensibility of how we really have to work on big things together and how we will have to work over years on these big things.”  

Public safety 

Toward the beginning of Saturday’s forum, the three candidates shared their perspectives on using alternate public safety response methods besides the police force, such as having medical experts respond to drug overdoses or mental health crises rather than a sworn officer.   

Stevens said she would support these alternatives to policing in the community.  

“I’m realizing that there are individuals that look at life and situations very differently and sometimes when they have an incident out in public, they don’t need a police officer to come that would actually accelerate the situation,” Stevens said. “They would do much better if they had a social worker or some trained de-escalation expert that doesn’t need a gun and doesn’t disrupt some of the valuable work that the police force might be doing.”  

Drawing on his experience working with first responders as fire chief, Moore said while he holds some concerns about exactly how these new models could be used, he agrees in principle that there needs to be a change in public safety.  

“Status quo will not fix what’s happening,” Moore said. “It will not stop the burnout of our police officers or firefighters. It will not fix the escalation of all these issues.”  

Daily said she thought using policing alternatives to help handle mental health related calls could help relieve the short-staffed police department. During a meeting with the mayor’s office to discuss the city’s public safety Feb. 21, Bloomington Police Department Chief Michael Diekhoff said the department is short-staffed by around 20 officers. She also said the city should invest in mental health resources in the community. 

“We need to be proactive and not reactive,” Daily said. “The more that we can meet the needs of our community, the less that we will have to respond to crises like this.”  

Homelessness  

When asked how he thought Bloomington could address homelessness in the area, Moore said the city should do more to support community groups providing resources for unhoused individuals.  

“How can the city better support all the people who are already the experts in doing this work?” Moore said. “[We need] to create new safety nets, because we cannot continuously rely on 911 as the bottom level safety net for everyone.”  

Daily said in addition to supporting community groups like the Shalom Center and Heading Home of South Central Indiana, the city should increase support for the Community and Family Resources department. Daily also thinks city leaders should emphasize a housing first approach, which aims to provide individuals with permanent housing without preconditions or barriers to entry, when finding solutions for homelessness.  

Like Daily, Stevens said she supports a housing first approach. Stevens also said the city needs to partner with the Monroe County government to access resources through the county health department. Additionally, she said, if elected to the council, she would support more funding for the Jack Hopkins Social Services Grant program, which allocates funding to social service agencies for projects that make a difference in residents’ lives.  

Affordable housing  

Daily said affordable housing is both Bloomington’s greatest challenge and opportunity for improvement. 

“Unfortunately, our state legislature has determined that cities cannot control rent, so we have no opportunity to be able to do that,” Daily said. “So, we need to find some other incentives working with landlords and building more affordable housing.”  

Moore also believes housing availability is one of the most important issues to District 5 constituents.  

“Talking to folks, it’s not necessarily that they can’t afford a house, it's that 'I’ve served the purpose of living in this house, and I’d like to downsize but there’s nowhere to go,’” Moore said.  

Stevens said the city needs to build more workforce housing, or housing for those whose income is above the threshold to qualify for affordable housing but below that needed to pay for market-rate housing. However, Stevens also said the city needs to incentivize businesses to grow and pay workers higher wages.  

“We have to be aware of where we are thriving in the community and where we are not thriving,” Stevens said.  

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