The very basics of how Bloomington’s city council works

Bloomington’s nine councilmembers meet in regular session twice monthly, on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 7:30 pm.¬†

It may seem like we meet more often than that. That’s because we do. Let me explain.

Any item we consider — an ordinance, an appropriation ordinance (not the same thing), a resolution (non-binding) — must be introduced during a regular session. Its introduction is called a “first reading.” During that session, the resolution is only read out loud, letting people know that we’re going to talk about it the next time we meet.

Well, if we waited until the next regular session to discuss the resolution in public, it might be considered, and accepted or rejected, in the course of a few meager hours. But everyone wants to get some vague idea of where the public, the mayor’s office and administration, and fellow councilmembers stand on the issue at hand before councilmembers go spouting off about it during a regular session.

So, to get this idea, the council meets in a “committee of the whole,” where we get a formal presentation on the resolution by whoever’s sponsoring it, and then we get to grill people about it. Then we take public comment on the resolution. Then councilmembers get to make final comments, then we vote on a recommendation to our future selves a week from now as to whether the resolution ought to pass (“yes”) or not (“no”). Then we go home.

Since the vast majority of resolutions require deliberation, the council conducts regular “committee of the whole” meetings on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, also at 7:30 pm.

At the next regular session, the resolution gets its “second reading,” which is also its final reading. We go through the same process as the week before, but usually it’s only to resolve major hang-ups that came up. Councilmembers then vote to adopt the resolution (“aye”) or reject it (“nay”). If the ayes have it, the resolution becomes official, or the ordinance becomes law.

There you go, that’s the basics. It’s all televised on public-access (which we might lose soon thanks to the greedy Baby Bells, more on that later) and then webcast by HoosierNet so you can watch all the gory details.

On the fifth Wednesday of the month, we rest. Also, we take a month off between the first regular session in August and the first in September. And we skip committees of the whole between the last regular session of December and the last one of January. Oh, and Spring Break. Hallelujah.

P.S.: No, I don’t get a per diem for traveling to council meetings.

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