Skip to main content

Page last updated on March 7, 2019 at 9:52 am

Thanks: City Council. All elected officials. Reps IU. Ivy Tech. MCCSC. The OOTM staff who worked very hard for this evening. Especially to all the 700 workers every day every hour doing their part. People are working very hard and deserve recognition. And thank you all for being here and those watching CATs or other media. Thank you for caring about your city government and our future path.

Thanks to Sounds of South for the wonderful music. (my son Eric singing along with the group!). And thanks so much to Professor Ross Gay, a treasure of IU and Bloomington, for the moving poetry…..and to my family Dawn and Eric and Matthew.

Not quite 20 years ago, Robin Chase was sitting around Boston thinking about how she wanted more mobility but didn't want to own a second car in the family. She and a friend thought how cool it would be to have a convenient way to share a car among themselves, and others. The friend had been in Berlin where she saw something like that in action. Before long Robin and friends founded Zipcar. It started as one green VW bug named "Betsy." Betsy was parked in front of Robin's home, with a key hidden under a pillow on her front porch and a piece of paper in Betsy's glovebox where you wrote down when you used the car and the time you brought it back. Sixteen years later Zipcar has 10,000 cars and a million members around the world -- including here in Bloomington -- and has revolutionized, with others, how we move around. Especially young people. And also including me The more we can do to reduce individual car trips and increase and make more affordable the shared economy the better.

Robin's story of starting Zipcar is charming and inspiring. I share it tonight, especially, because of what Robin has said about the process. When Zipcar began, there were lots of reasons to think sharing cars wouldn't work well. But Robin's mantra was: "Trust people. Believe in honesty. Think people are good. Trust in those things. By doing so you make them happen." And she did those things, and did make it happen. Most directly she said: "Let's build the world we want to live in."

Let's build the world we want to live in. For us that starts with LET'S CREATE THE CITY WE WANT TO LIVE IN. It's up to us. Not the federal government. Not the state government. Not the media or the bloggers or the dividers or the fear-mongers, we'll talk more about some of them in a bit, but ….. it's us. In these challenging, scary times, it's our time.

Bloomington is full of people like Robin Chase -- people thinking about how our city ought to operate or how people ought to relate to each other …. people helping refugees resettle and working hard to welcome more, helping the homeless get a home, helping the addicted get treatment, starting a business, helping protect children, and animals. Helping our planet. And more.

I'm not ignorant of reality and pressures -- what we can control locally and what we cannot. But I believe we must do what we can do. We must believe in people. Work for the future….

I'd like to do three things with you tonight. Let's review 2016 and what we've done together. And then let's talk about 2017 and where we're headed. And finally I'd like to think with you about the extraordinarily challenging political environment in which all this is happening, and Bloomington's role in it.

Section I - 2016:

On my first day as Mayor, January 1, last year, I loosely borrowed from Dr. Seuss and Horton Hears a Who when I said I believe government needs to "Say What We'll Do. And Do What We Say." That's a basic rule.

Last year in the State of the City address, I outlined several significant challenges facing our city - the economy; crime and public safety; lack of investments in infrastructure; challenges in city operations (sanitation and water quality for example); lack of attention to employee training/skills; and threats to our public education system. I also pointed out two structural challenges needing attention, of annexation and regionalism

d on dozens and dozens of house parties Dawn and I attended, as well as lots of conversations with other people, I identified four Key Areas of emphasis for us going forward -- SAYING WHAT WE'LL DO -- to respond to challenges such as these, and to pursue the opportunities in front of us. Those four areas were:

  • Jobs/Economy

  • Affordable Housing

  • Public Education

  • Innovative and Transparent Government

So how did 2016 go? Did we DO WHAT WE SAID? Here are some highlights:

JOBS/ECONOMY: (and the underlying quality of life issues):

  • We activated the Trades District with 3 projects thus far, including the announced North American headquarters and design center of Tasus

  • Our Wage Growth Task Force developed six strong, specific recommendations to move us toward a more equitable, dynamic economy for all (you'll hear more about those in the weeks ahead)

  • We approved plans and schedule for the new Switchyard Park, which will enhance our quality of life and economic vitality

  • We are working closely with IU Health and IU to plan for the largest investment in Bloomington's economy in decades, the Regional Academic Health Center, as well as the transition from the current hospital site

  • Regional collaborations grew as we worked with the county, the Regional Opportunity Initiative and more.

  • We made great strides on the exciting city-wide Broadband fiber project, which I'll discuss more in a moment


  • With City Council we created a New Housing Development Fund, to let us make significant local investments in affordable homes

  • Several new projects were announced that created or supported new affordable units, including Evergreen for low-income seniors and PedCor at the Trades District for low-income renters. Crawford 2 is adding more permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless; Urban Station is creating permanently affordable downtown workforce housing, and for the first time, with Dunn Hill, investors in market-rate, transit-oriented student apartments will be funding affordable units as well.

  • Beyond those projects, we're continuing to advocate for and seeking to experiment with Tiny Homes, Accessory Dwelling Units, and an Inclusionary Zoning program

  • 2016 saw lots of work on the city's new all-important Comprehensive Master Plan, which will be presented this year

On PUBLIC EDUCATION All I want to say is THANK YOU Bloomington, because the critical Referendum was passed with a resounding 81% of the vote. Thanks to all who worked on and supported that investment in our future.

INNOVATIVE & TRANSPARENT GOVT (Both transparency and innovation are fundamental in our government. We've been working hard at it):

  • We've created B-Clear and a Dashboard to share dozens of data sets, with more every month, to help the public know and analyze what's going on in every facet of government, from finances to public safety to streets and parks and animal welfare; it's your government and your information;

  • We've held weekly public availabilities, either myself or department heads, at the Farmers Market and many other venues. I've also scheduled weekly one-on-one meetings with any resident on any topic they choose. And our anonymous tipline lets anyone can share information helpful to the city.

  • I've insisted that our administration always shares information, whether good or bad, like we've done over the past year with the water quality challenges, non-working parking meters, ever-changing timing on I-69 construction, and more.

  • I convened an outside Fiscal Task Force and implemented their report to assure tight controls to prevent fraud and waste.

  • An Innovation Task Force recommended a new department and innovation fund to support change and experimentation.

  • With Council support we have made historic investments in public safety equipment and our water utility infrastructure

  • And it's gratifying that after extensive collaborative dialogue, a new four-year labor contract was approved by our firefighters and the city administration.


Beyond these four categories, I'll share just a few of the many examples of the good activity all around us…..

At the Animal Shelter from 2015 to 2016, we had a 40% reduction in euthanasia rates, and a 40% increase in foster homes taking at risk-animals. More than 2,300 animals were adopted in 2016, 100 more than in 2015. And we promised an ANNOUNCEMENT tonite and this is one: we have just approved the design and a $2 million upgrade to the Animal Shelter, for next generations of services for animals (and for our scores of employees and volunteers).

Locally, LOTS is going on with solar power…..SIREN's and others' efforts have been fantastic. Just last year, Bloomington's solar installations went up 20% from 150 to 180. And our solar production went up 35% to nearly 1.5 Megawatts! As the city installs solar on our police station and the Showers building, we expect in 2017 to see another 30% growth in solar production. And perhaps even more exciting, as we've offered wholesale rates for the solar panels to individuals, we've had more than 250 people attend information sessions, and nearly 90 have signed expressions of interest for the shared purchase program!

Public Art flourishes too. As just one example: three new public-private partnerships for beautiful murals, with Vectren, Bicycle Garage and Civil Street, and Rhino's youth adding more than 600 linear feet of new outdoor art to brighten our city!

We all should be very proud of progress we've made and the momentum we are building together. As it has been my privilege to see up close, the people of Bloomington can have confidence and take pride in your government: its work ethic, expertise and values. Could I ask all the city council members to stand please? Stay up please. And the department heads who work so hard every day, please stand. Now I want to ask all city employees in the house, please stand. And stay standing. And all volunteers on any city board or commission please stand as you are able? And all of this happens only in collaboration -- would all our partners in county and township government also stand -- stay standing please. And with the incredible array of nonprofit and civic organizations active in Bloomington, would all who have ever volunteered with or worked with any nonprofit and civic organization please stand. OK and now anyone who has attended a city council meeting (hint hint, this is a council meeting). This is Bloomington Strong. Bloomington United -- and please give yourselves a generous hand!!

Section II - 2017:

2016 was a very busy year for all of us in City government. And 2017 I promise you we will be keeping up the pace. We have a LOT on our plates going forward.

Let me itemize just some of the issues and opportunities that I am confident we will be addressing in 2017:


  • In the Trades District we will keep our focus on job growth

  • And the new Regional Academic Health Center and the current hospital site will receive serious community planning

  • In my view we must expand the downtown Convention Center - in full partnership with our County government and in a high-quality, architecturally significant way. It's a critical downtown asset, and the I-69 corridor is a new threat to downtown civic vitality.

  • As I've previously outlined, our community would benefit from more creative financing partners for small businesses, affordable housing, energy and nonprofit sectors, so I'm excited about a SECOND ANNOUNCEMENT THIS EVENING that in collaboration with the Community Foundation the city will work to establish an independent community development financial institution (a CDFI) to help meet those needs. Together the city and the Community Foundation have committed $150,000 to support development of this CDFI that can partner with existing financial institutions to accelerate job creation, sustainable affordable housing, and our clean energy and nonprofit sectors. I want to thank the Community Foundation's leadership in joining in this entrepreneurial local effort.

  • With changes coming from I-69 (Eventually?!), our full regional engagement and integrated planning with our county and regional partners is critical. Charting our course forward will be essential, in the upcoming Comprehensive Master Plan, the Unified Development Ordinance, and more this year.

  • My last word for the evening on jobs and the economy is BROADBAND. World-class digital connectivity is the 21st century equivalent of the 20th century's electricity and water. After extensive work with community partners, and an international review process, last December I announced a potential collaboration with Axia, a visionary digital infrastructure company. I'm very pleased that we have several representatives from Axia with us tonight. We are in the middle of a very important process to determine Bloomington's digital future. Axia is actively researching and engineering a city-wide, open-access, gigabit speed fiber network for Bloomington residents. If that engineering is successful, which we should know within a few weeks, then it will be up to us as a community to indicate whether we want to go this direction. Again, if the engineering is successful, Axia will conduct an "Expression of Interest" campaign, in which we all, residents, will indicate whether we are interested in their construction of this network. More to come on all that, but I will be asking for your support in enabling Bloomington to make real progress and be a model city in reducing the digital divide that continues to threaten our equity and opportunity.

On AFFORDABLE HOUSING what I can say is we must continue and redouble our efforts. We've made incremental progress, but I look forward to working closely with the City Council to implement and experiment with new approaches. This is a fundamental challenge that we must meet head on -- to assure Bloomington is a city that works for people from all walks of life. We're not where we were a year ago, but we are not where we need to be. We need to be more imaginative, more persistent, more open-minded, about what can work in this, Indiana's most expensive housing market.

Our efforts to build a more INNOVATIVE and TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT will continue:

  • Earlier this week the Sanitation Work Group released its recommendations for implementing the modernization of our system. 2017 should begin weekly recycling pick up, automated equipment to protect our workforce, continued volume-based pricing for trash, and implementation of direct billing to eliminate the need for those stickers.

  • Last night the City Council at my request BEGAN the process formally to consider the first major city annexation in a generation. I am committed to transparency on this as all matters, and we have a lot of discussion ahead. Let me assure you we will all work together on these issues in the months and years ahead -- it's about creating the community that we want to live in -- efficient and well planned for the future, coordinating well all the layers of government. Bloomington has done this together many times in our 199-year history, and I am confident we will work together for a good outcome.

  • Public Safety will continue to be a fundamental focus. Last week our Police and Fire Chiefs jointly reported on Public Safety in 2016. And 2017 will see recommendations continue from our Downtown Task Force. I applaud the outstanding efforts of our public safety employees and our wider community, and I encourage all of us to continue to work together toward a more safe, civil, and just Bloomington.

  • We will continue to invest in our city employees. We budget at least 1% of payroll for training. For the first time in many years all employees are receiving regular performance evaluations. We are instituting 360 degree reviews of all city managers. And I sincerely thank the Council for supporting in 2017 a living wage with benefits for ALL full-time city employees.

  • With the Council we continue our responsible investment in our infrastructure of equipment and trails, roads, sidewalks, intersections. New data like the Overall Condition Index Maps for streets and sidewalks will help all of us mark our progress and set our priorities? Data on how long it takes to fill a pothole helps us assure continuous improvement.

  • And finally, at this very moment, scientific surveys are in the hands of 3,000 randomly chosen residents, to give us our first objective data about attitudes, goals, priorities, and more. Results will be public and discussed in the weeks ahead. I'm excited to work with Council and all of you to learn from and act on that information

These are all areas I look forward to addressing and working on together. It's a very significant, perhaps unprecedented, combination of activities and opportunities. I am energized to continue our progress, as we experiment, learn, fail, improve, create, borrow, repeat, all together.

And there's one more thing I know we need to be working on in 2017, because this time next year, when we're gathered together, we will be commencing our Bicentennial Year as a city and county. We turn 200 years old in 2018! So hold onto your hats, because we have a whole lot to celebrate at age 200!!

Section III, HIGH Stakes:

Take a breath. Think about all that we are doing together -- what we've done, and what we're planning. Here in Bloomington.

I want to close by talking about Bloomington and our place in the world. Of course what we do here matters a great deal to us. But it matters to more than just us. It matters to the rest of the state, to the country, indeed to the world. And it matters to future generations.

Step back a minute to think about the context of the state and national government. I'm no historian, and it's hard to see history while you're in the middle of it, but seems to me we're still in a major struggle that dates all the way back to our nation's founding about the role of government in what they called our great "experiment." During the past century, in the New Deal an active government essentially was the partner/supporter of the people, and in the Reagan/Gingrich eras government was explicitly named as the enemy of progress.

Overall it was and is a debate about the power of government, of We the People, to improve lives, increase opportunity and justice, to do good. I can't help note that in the 20th century our federal government led our success in the face of three threats to our way of life and very existence: the global depression of the 1930s, the fascist movements driving WWII, and the Cold War and Communist ideologies. And oh yes, we averted potential global nuclear destruction.

Despite these great achievements -- and many many more -- some still think of government as the enemy of our own future and progress. And today, the party that has been so hostile to the positive role of government is at its most powerful position across the country in 100 years.

So today, TODAY, we're in a very challenging political environment. How's that for an understatement? I think I know where our minds go first. But let's start closer to home.

State government seems bound and determined to control local decisions from Indianapolis, tying our hands against common-sense approaches we would choose to take, about Guns (as I wrote about last year, decrying pistols at our pools and machine guns on parade, or with Campus-Carry proposals now); plastic bag bans, sanctuary city bans, annexation straight jackets, shared car and shared rental units controls, property maintenance controls, local transit funding restrictions, or possibly prohibiting solar net metering, or affordable housing strategies like inclusionary zoning, and on and on. It is exasperating -- maddening -- that a state legislature wants to act like a city council. Let me say this clearly to the state legislature in Indianapolis: we have a great city council here in Bloomington, and PLEASE JUST LET THEM DO THEIR WORK!!

Let the state focus on the basics IT should do -- how about taking care of the state's infrastructure -- including completing the road we drive to and from Indianapolis -- and how about protecting LGBTQ rights, and health care, and passing hate crime legislation, and fair legislative districts, and how about protecting basic reproductive rights? How about investing appropriately in real PUBLIC schools and pre-K support? That would be a decent focus.

And our federal government.

Frankly my friends, we are heading into uncharted waters. Dangerous and uncharted waters. In the 28 days of the new Administration, we have seen incredible threats to our national future and continued statements of bigotry and misogyny and fear-mongering and alternative facts.

I don't know where we're ultimately headed, but I hear terrible threats and attempts: plans for border walls, human round-ups and deportations; DEregulation of industry and RE-regulation of our most personal decisions; DISregard for the courts and laws and apparent HIGH regard for Russian despots and the Alt Right. I hear plans to cripple public education and climate change protection. Alternative facts are repeated ad nauseum while science is ignored. And for goodness sakes can't they hear us demand that they drop their plans to destroy our century-old Planned Parenthood.

I don't know where we are ultimately headed, but I do know this: Bloomington didn't change on November 8th or January 20th. Our values and our people -- we remain who we are, with respect for all, with diversity in our DNA, with compassion and commitment to justice. We will not shrink. We will not falter. We will not fail.

We know better in Bloomington….We know that at its best government, on behalf of all of us in the community, provides the foundation for the beautiful work and activities of diverse, creative, caring individuals and families and organizations that make up our community, that define our future. Our government protects our safety, with police and fire and regulations. It invests in our basic institutions like public education, transportation, energy. And it protects our liberties and freedoms, so we can think, worship, speak, love, travel, dream, and create, as we wish.

Yes, Bloomington is special. It's a wonderful place. There is no place just like us. But, we are not alone. We are not isolated. In fact, we're in a great big family of American cities working to create fulfilling lives and opportunities. American cities are the engines of our national economy and the creative centers of our diverse culture. I believe American cities can change the world. Together, we are changing the world.

Like in our families we are proud of our siblings, as a U.S. city, we should be very proud of our sibling cities, what so many of them are doing across the country. If you read or watch what mayors all across the US are saying in speeches just like this…...Local-funded pre-K in Dayton. Affordable housing focus in Austin. Safety for refugees and immigrants in San Francisco and Los Angeles and New York and Chicago. Distributed local power grid in Boulder.

We need to be part of that movement, of leading from the bottom up…..We are stronger knowing there is a movement. We won't have the same help from the federal or state government.

The challenges we face in cities -- they are with us every day. We must embrace them as responsibilities and opportunities.

And we in Bloomington, aren't we right in the middle of these challenges? Right at the center of the debate about our country's direction? We're a blue city in a red state. What better place than a progressive, university city, with a manufacturing history in a midwestern state, a welcoming and creative environment, at a sustainable scale for an urban/rural mix -- what better place to show how we can succeed together?

I like a book called "Small, Gritty, and Green. Bloomington is Small, Gritty and Green. Or can be. Small enough size to get things done, at a good human scale, with a great and convenient quality of life. We're gritty, knowing how to make things, full of practical sense, with a strong infrastructure of streets and utilities etc. to base on. We're green with an ever more sustainable economy with energy, food, transportation, given our scale and geography. And one more thing I'd add, we're GLOBAL, with people and connections from all around the world, in our university and businesses and arts and organizations.

We have a big future ahead, and let me just briefly suggest items we should think about together LOCALLY. How might we rise to meet them? I'm looking to the City Council, and to institutions in our community, and to all of you as individuals. I don't know that we will tackle these in 2017, but I want to encourage us, challenge us, to consider them together:

  • Local Water - we're halfway through Lake Monroe's 100-year designed life. But we haven't done a serious study about its quality and protection for decades. Overall, our water sources deserve more attention and planning. Perhaps that could be part of a Bicentennial effort?

  • Local Food There are so many reasons to invest in local food and agriculture: economics and jobs, resilience, environmental, moral. Bloomington is wonderfully situated surrounded by rural land. How can we increase our local food economy and local food consumption, for jobs, for health, for sustainability? Perhaps supporting a food hub to strengthen both the producer and consumer side makes smart sense?

  • Local Energy How do we accelerate the changing field of new energy? And make it more affordable for more people? And consider larger installations like at our water utility plants, our reservoirs, using more localized production and microgrids? Can we build more resilience?

  • Local Pre-K efforts The Wage Growth Task Force urged support for and increase of quality pre-K education opportunities in Bloomington. Some cities do this around the country. Perhaps our community should develop local support for more quality pre-K programs, and more affordability, to assure that every kid in town has a fair shot.

Those are just four ideas. No doubt you have plenty more. I have to say I really like Bloomington's prospects. Nothing's automatic, but we are so well positioned, so today's institutions like Cook and IU and Ivy Tech and IU Health can thrive. And also so tomorrow's innovative companies and organizations grow in Bloomington -- from Secretly Group in the music business to NCS servicing sophisticated research centers, and providing quantum computing materials, to Envisage with cutting-edge security software, to 39 Degrees North and Cigital, and Solution Tree, to B-Town Diner and Lucky Guy Bakery, to Lotus and Middleway House, and Shalom and The Hub, and Sprout Box and Upland and the Uptown and so many more.

We in Bloomington must create the community we want. We live in Indiana, and the United States, and planet Earth. But we act here. Together. We create and sustain a city where the artists, the entrepreneurs, the workers, the volunteers, the parents, the students, the shop owners, the dreamers, the teachers, the nurses, where we all live together.


I close with a reminder. Democracy is a relay race. Bloomington's story is a relay race. We are all relay runners in the great journey of democracy. And it's a LONG relay race. A series of marathons. The ultimate ultra-marathon -- striving toward more justice and opportunity, and handing it off to the next generations. Indeed there's no finish line, really, we hope.

Sometimes during this relay race the terrain is smooth and downhill, the weather is warm, and the wind is at our backs. It's a beautiful run. At other times our turn requires running up steep hills and through raging storms and strong headwinds and straight-out pain. Our forerunners ran through wars and global depressions and slavery and a great deal more ….But the relay hasn't stopped for 240 years.

Now, today, here, we help carry the torch. All of us.

It's ironic, of course, that the Statue of Liberty, a statue of a woman holding the torch of liberty high, was dedicated at America's centennial, when women didn't have the vote, and wouldn't have the vote for another 45 years. They certainly didn't have liberty in America.

For most of our history, we kept many runners sidelined from democracy's relay race. To our perpetual damage and shame, our relay was run with generations of great Americans barred from the main track: People of color. Women. Native Americans. Immigrants. People of different faiths or no faith. LGBTQ+. People with disabilities.

When barred from the track, of course, people were still there, steadfastly pressing and urging their desire to be a full partner in the great relay….Our country's and our city's story has been one of people demanding to be full partners, and our country and our city getting stronger and stronger as more and more join in the great relay.

But we face difficult times now. Very difficult. I'm not sure what this next leg of the relay race will be like. Powerful forces are trying again to exclude some of us, to hold us back, drag us down. Make NO MISTAKE, we need ALL of us in this relay. And Bloomington -- all Bloomingtonians -- must carry our baton proudly and high and far…...

And I know that we are good at this as a community -- we are really good at getting through tough times and keeping the relay going…..we've been thru it...we will run through it together.

I know last summer a new lifeguard saved the life of a 5-year old at a city pool. I know last week a firefighter administered a life-saving dose of naloxone. I know a Downtown Resource Officer helped a person in homelessness find a warm place to sleep. I know a group of high schoolers helped build a new home for a hard-working family. I know hundreds of people are ready to open their homes and hearts to refugees seeking peace. I know a woman in danger found a safe place for herself and her family. And I know thousands of Bloomingtonians are sending emails and writing checks and calling offices and volunteering and rallying in plazas and marching in the streets, and rolling up our sleeves to do our part.

This is our Bloomington. Together, LET'S CREATE THE CITY WE WANT TO LIVE IN!!

Thank you so much for your presence here, and your commitment to each other and to Bloomington.

As noted by Council President Sandberg, this meeting is now adjourned. Please join us in the lobby for refreshments.