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Bloomington first in Indiana to win walk-friendly award

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The City of Bloomington is now a Bronze Walk Friendly Community, an award given by The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center for its walkability initiatives and programs.

A walk-friendly community, according to the program, represents a town or city improving pedestrian safety and walkability through programming, planning, and policies.

Vince Caristo, Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, says Bloomington was awarded for its great urban trail system and walk-friendly zoning ordinance.

“While not all of our intersections are accessible, our percentage is quite high compared to around the country,”Cariso says.

Bloomington is one of eight communities recognized in the latest round of the program, and the first community to receive the designation in Indiana.

“I think we’ve found that communities in Indiana and across the country have a healthy competition with each other when it comes to these types of awards,” Cariso says, “Bloomington was also the first to have a Complete Streets policy, and that paved the way for other communities to do the same. We can be a resource for other communities who want to do this and also raise awareness that things like this exist.”

The Walk Friendly Community program aims to encourage towns and cities around the country to prioritize a safer walking environment.

 

The Strike Mic – November 12, 2013

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This week on The Strike Mic, a discussion about Indiana University’s luxury dorms, and how they influence higher tuition rates and city-wide gentrification.

Tune in every Tuesday for a new edition of  The Strike Mic, a weekly update from your friends and neighbors working to strengthen the voice of IU students and staff.

Free driving tour of Lake Monroe offered for geology buffs

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Anyone interested in geology will have the opportunity for a free driving tour of Monroe Lake on December 1st. Beginning at the Paynetown State Recreation Area on South State Road 446, there will be stops highlighting the Mt. Carmel Fault, Leesville Anticline, Edwardsville Formation, Harrodsburg Limestone, and Salem Limestone. Jill Vance, Interpretive Naturalist at Monroe Lake, is the tour guide. She will explain geological features, the area’s history, and the many influences on its present landscape. You can register by calling the Paynetown Activity Center at 812-837-9967 by November 25th.

 

Bloomington Utilities Service Board deals with complications working with private contractors

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The Bloomington Utilities Service Board dealt with some complications of working with private contractors at its meeting on Monday.

The City Utilities Department frequently hires companies to perform engineering or construction work.

Capital Projects Manager Mike Hicks explained a recent issue with two of those companies. The contractors are working on projects to improve water mains and to expand the Monroe Water Treatment Plant.

“In the execution of the work, damage was caused to Monroe County Highway roads,” Hicks said, “It’s caused by two factors, one being hauling and the other excavation from work on a water main. Our position is that there are two contractors responsible for the repairs, F.A. Wilhelm and Howl contractors. “

Hicks said the contractors have refused to deal with the issue, despite the city’s attempts to contact them. So, he said the city needs to find a different contractor to repair the roads.

“Monroe County Highway Department wants this work done this season before the asphalt plants close so it’s come to the City of Bloomington Utilities taking action to find a paving contractor to make the repairs,” Hicks said.

The board approved spending $64,000 to pay Milestone Contractors to do the repairs. Hicks said the city would attempt to recoup that amount from the contractors that caused the damage. Later in the meeting, the board discussed how the Utilities Department chooses its contractors. The issue came up when Utilities Engineer Jane Fleig told the board that a large engineering contract would be awarded to the company Donohue and Associates.

Board member Jason Banach asked Flieg about the agreement and Fleig said they have asked for a proposal from an engineer at Donohue, but no bids.

The contract is for the design of a culvert project that extends from 2nd St. to Kirkwood Ave. in downtown Bloomington.

Banach asked why the Department didn’t solicit bids from other companies to do the work, and Department Director Pat Murphy responded.

“We have a long standing relationship with Donahue and we’ve worked with them extensively. They did the initial project, they did the Jordan River culvert and 2nd and Walnut,” Murphy said, “We feel it’s more of a continuation of the project because they know the history of the project and we wouldn’t be starting anew and we think they price they are proposing is fair and reasonable.”

The contract would be for about $400,000. Banach said he has problems awarding such large contracts without getting competitive bids.

“Cheaper isn’t better,” Murphy said.

Board member Pedro Roman said approving an agreement without seeking bids would not be unusual for the board, especially when for engineering contracts.

“We’re talking about engineering, the design, not the actual construction,” Roman said, “We never bid these things.”

Flieg said that, unlike construction contracts, the city is not legally required to solicit multiple bids for professional services such as engineering.

The board will consider whether to approve the contract with Donohue and Associates at its next meeting, which is scheduled for November 18.

State grant money approved to improve twelve railroad crossings

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On October 24th, the Monroe County Commission approved spending state grant money to improve 12 railroad crossings. County Highway Department Director Bill Williams said the work will be performed using a grant from the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The improvements will affect railroad crossing warnings at twelve of the county’s fifteen crossings, including three on Curry Pike and others on Vernal Pike and Liberty Drive.

Volunteers will help anyone with questions about the Affordable Care Act tomorrow

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Local volunteers will again help people understand and navigate the enrollment process for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act Volunteers of Monroe County will be providing information and guidance this Wednesday at the Monroe County library, for anyone interested in the Indiana Health Insurance Marketplace. Wednesday’s fair will be the third the group has presented in the last month.

David Meyer, president of the volunteers, says the upcoming session will have a bigger space, additional process guides that help answer specific questions about the ACA and help people get more detailed resources and information covered.

Volunteers have seen a gradual increase in the numbers of people seeking information at their fairs.

This increase is expected to further escalate, as the December 15 deadline approaches to sign up for insurance coverage as the January 1 of next year.

The Indiana Insurance Marketplace is part of the national marketplace website, so it has suffered many of the same problems as the 25 other states that decided not to establish their own version of the program. However, Meyer says he hears the national website is becoming more navigable.

“What we do at these fairs is work to educate and answer questions for anyone that comes out,” Meyer says, “We also want them to know how health insurance works in general. Our focus is on educating people so they can make decisions for themselves and self-enroll.”

There are 19 insurance companies offering health insurance to Monroe County residents on the Indiana ACA exchange. Meyer and these volunteers will also provide advice to fair visitors who may not be eligible for insurance enrollment under the ACA.

The fair will run tomorrow, November 6, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m, in rooms 1B and 1C on the lower floor of the Monroe County Public Library. Attendance is free of charge, and no documentation is required.

New YMCA in northwest Bloomington opens its doors Sunday for a community tour

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After 18 months of construction, the northwest Bloomington YMCA will have an open tour Sunday afternoon. This is the second YMCA facility in the city. In addition to the usual sports facilities for individuals and families, the new building will also include a licensed child care center.

It will also provide medical services, in collaboration with IU Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Sara Herold, marketing director for Monroe County YMCA, says the new facilities will not be ready for use during the tour.

“We’re banding together to provide facilities and programs that allow people to become healthier,” Herold says, “I just think this is an extraordinary opportunity for the community to come together and see what the new YMCA has to offer.

YMCA has been in Bloomington since the late 1800’s, when it was a student organization. In the 1970’s it began offering swim lessons and fitness classes throughout the town. It wasn’t until 1981 that the first facility was built, on the southeast side of town. Herold says they appreciate the support the community offers them, especially as a nonprofit organization.

“We’re committed to providing safe places and a positive alternatives for children and families to become healthy,” Herold says, “We want to teach sound nutrition and our goal is to make a stronger community by making a healthier community.”

It is estimated that more than 6,700 individuals will benefit from the northwest YMCA. Approximately 80 part-time and full-time jobs will be created because of the new facility.

Visitors to Lake Monroe will have the chance to observe winter eagles as ‘Citizen Scientists’

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Anyone interested in helping track winter eagle activity at Lake Monroe will have the opportunity to attend Citizen Scientist training next week, on November 17. Jill Vance, Interpretive Naturalist at Monroe Lake, gives details about the training.

“This is our second year and we’re inviting people to come out and learn the different phases of life for the bald eagle and the Golden Eagle,” Vance says, “Then they can come out to the lake this winter and track any eagles they see. This will help us track our eagle population on the lake and let our visitors know where the best place to see these eagles are.”

The training also covers the difference between adult and juvenile eagles, common eagle behavior, and how best to observe the bird.

“The more people we have out there looking for eagles the better our data is on how many eagles we have out there on the lake,” Vance says.

The observation period for this project lasts from December 1 to March 31. Anyone who decides to participate is expected to volunteer at least two hours per month, to help personnel record the information.

The training session for Monroe Lake eagle observers will take place next Sunday, November 17 at 6 p.m, at the Paynetown State Recreation Area.

 

Representative Todd Young to have meetings with small groups of constituents on Thursday

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Representative Todd Young will be in Martinsville next Thursday, November 7th to have ten-minute meetings with small groups of constituents. Trevor Foughty is the deputy chief of staff for the office of Representative Todd Young. He says Representative Young is open to talk about any topic his constituents are concerned about.

“This is completely driven by constituents who have the meetings, this is a format we’ve used for the last several years, in addition to town hall meetings or meet-your-congressman type events at coffee shops, and it’s a chance for constituents to talk about things that might not get brought up in other formats, and really get uninterrupted time with the congressman. So people can come talk about whatever they like,” Foughty said.

Foughty said the Representative held similar events in almost every county in the district last year, and said they were very well received. The Representative will be meeting with groups of four or less, which Foughty says gets people more focused attention, and said that constituents get to talk more while the representative listens more.

“What people talk about ranges from some of the big issues that you might read in the paper, to issues that maybe don’t have as much visibility. And it’s a chance for them to bring that to the congressman’s attention. And some people just need case work help with the federal agencies. So we have staff there that’s able to take down notes, and then help those constituents deal with the federal government,” Foughty said.

Registration is first come, first served for 10 minute slots between 3 and 4:30 PM next Thursday in the Morgan County Administration Building in Martinsville. If slots run out for this event, staff can put constituents on a waitlist and they will be called next time Representative Young is able to meet with constituents. Registration is available by calling 9th District Constituent Service Center at 812-288-3999.

Controversy continues to surround lawsuit filed by Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz

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Last week Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced she is suing all ten members of the Indiana State Board of Education for allegedly violating Indiana’s ‘Open Door’ law.

“She specifically believes that it was done without a notice to the public or the superintentendent, who is obviously not just a member of the state board of education but the chair, and she felt she needed to take legal action,” Daniel Altman, Press Secretary for the Department of Education, says.

In the week since, Indiana Attorney General filed a motion to strike down Ritz’s lawsuit. Ritz, a Democrat, says she will continue to pursue the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Office of Governor Pence, who is a Republican, said that, “Pence strongly supports the actions taken by the bipartisan membership of the State Board of Education to ensure the timely completion of last year’s accountability grades.”

In response to the lawsuit, four members of the State Board sent an open letter to Ritz. In the letter, the members request that Ritz drop the lawsuit. They also mention in the letter that, while Ritz claims to work on open communication, the members have been continually frustrated by unanswered requests, missed deadlines, and a lack of progress on critical education issues.

The State Board of Education is housed under the recently established Governor’s Center for Education and Career Innovation. Lou Ann Baker, Director of External Relations for the Center, says that communication between the State Board and Superintendent Ritz, who is Chair of the board, has not been ideal.

“They found out about the lawsuit through the media,” Baker says, “There was concern among the members and all then of the members reached out to communicate to the superintendent.

In the letter, the members ask Ritz to drop the lawsuit and, “Put politics aside and come ready to put the interests of students, teachers and schools first.” Baker describes how the members felt when they learned about the lawsuit through the media, and why it’s important to move forward.

“The members were surprised and disappointed,” Baker says, “I think we’re wasting energy on this topic rather than the many educational topics that need to be completed, managed and need to move forward on behalf of students and educators in Indiana. Education is one of the most critical issues facing Indiana and everyone in the country today, and our board members strongly  believe it’s important to get on with business.”

While Ritz says the alleged meeting happened without her knowledge, members of the board claim the meeting never happened in the first place. Superintendent Ritz will continue to pursue the lawsuit in the weeks ahead.

 

By: Casey Kuhn

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