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City council candidates answer questions at forum for District 5 vacancy



BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The three candidates vying to fill the vacant District 5 seat on the Bloomington City Council answered questions during a forum Saturday ahead of this Saturday’s caucus. The event was organized by the Monroe County Democratic Party.

The three city-council hopefuls are: Courtney Daily, a former local leader with Mom’s Demand Action, Jason Moore the former Bloomington Fire Chief, and Jenny Stevens, who ran against Rana in the May 2023 primary.

District 5, which covers the southeast side of the city, was previously represented by Shruti Rana, who was elected in the November election as the city’s first person of color to serve on the council. Rana resigned earlier this month to accept a position at the University of Missouri.

Under Indiana Law, vacancies in city offices are left to be filled by precinct chairs from the same party, who vote in a caucus.

The caucus to select Rana’s replacement will begin at 1 p.m. on March 2 in the city council chambers at Bloomington City Hall.

OPENING STATEMENTS
Each candidate had time to make an opening statement.

Former Bloomington Fire Chief Jason Moore was the first to go, and used the time to say why he was running to fill the vacancy. Moore, who grew up from a military background, said he has moved around the world his entire life, but “finally found a place he didn’t want to leave.”

Moore resigned from the fire chief position at the end of last year, and said with his experience, could have taken a similar role at a different department in a different city, but chose to stay in Bloomington, because he and his family have enjoyed the life they have

During his opening statement, Moore also detailed what his focus areas would be if chosen to fill the vacancy.

“The community already decided what they wanted,” Moore said.

Moore stressed that the issues Shruti Rana ran her campaign on would be a top priority, but he would also focus on public safety and economic development, particularly affordable housing. Moore also aruged his experience as fire chief is why he thinks he is prepared to step into the new role.

“I’d like to lean in on the past eight years of learning that I’ve gained from this community and I’d like to give in back in a different way,” Moore said.


The next candidate to give opening remarks was Courtney Daily. She is currently the Associate Director for Admissions with Kelley Direct Online MBA, and started her opening statement by describing herself as a mom and wife who has lived in Bloomington for 14 years.

Daily also touted her work with Mom’s Demand Action, which describes itself as a “grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence,” according to their website. Daily said that pushing for tougher gun laws in a state with a Republican supermajority shows she is determined and passionate about what she does.

Like Moore, Daily outlined her areas of focus, should she be chosen to replace Rana: mental health, sustainability, equity, and public safety.

“As passionate as I am about all of these issues, I also am willing and able to recognize that there’s always more to learn about them,” Daily said. “I will admit when I’m wrong and I will work to fix my mistakes.”


Jenny Stevens gave the final opening statement and began by saying she was the other candidate in the Democratic Party primary for District 5. Stevens received 930 votes in the primary, 361 votes less than the 1,291 votes casted for Shruti Rana, who would go on to win the November general election.

“I loved meeting my neighbors at their doors in their neighborhoods, listening to their concerns and their issues and their ideas for making Bloomington better,” Stevens said.

Stevens said she moved to Bloomington in 1995, “for one year,” and ended up liking the community enought that they have lived here ever since. Much like Moore and Daily, Stevens said that affordable housing and public safety are her areas of top concerns, should she be chosen.

Stevens also mentioned infrastructure, including sidewalks and public transport as things residents in District 5 said were concerns.

PUBLIC SAFETY
During one of the first topics of discussion dedicated to public safety, the question was asked if the three candidates would support alternate public safety response methods. Last year, the Bloomington Community Advisory on Public Safety Commission, or CAPS, published a report on alternative public safety methods.

Moore, Daily, and Stevens all said they would at least be open to the idea of adopting new methods.

Stevens said she embraces the idea of alternative-policing.

“There are individuals that look at life and situations very differently,” Stevens said. “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 people suffering mental episodes would benefit from a social worker trained in de-escalation.

Moore said that while he does have some concerns about how the methods would be implemented, he admitted public safety must adapt to the growing and changing needs of the community.

“Status quo will not fix what’s happening,” he said. “It will not stop the burnout of our police officers of firefighters.” Moore said that there are things police officers and firefighters should not be forced to handle, and alternative options may ease the stress that he says some first responders feel when responding to mental health situations.

Daily said that the alternate methods may help reduce the burden on police officers who are responding to mental health related calls, pointing to the current staffing issues within the Bloomington Police Department.

“We need to be proactive, 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.”

HOMELESS CRISIS AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING
In their opening statements, all three candidates mentioned homelessness and affordable housing as something they think Bloomington City Council should address. One question put before the group asked how the city can address the homeless crisis in the context of limited resources.

Moore began by saying the solution to the problem lies in what the city council sees as a priority.

“You know where the politicians support things because that’s where they put the money,” Moore said.

He also pointed to local non-profit groups that are already working on tackling the issue. He says that addressing homelessness is not just a city issue, and that the first step should be supporting the people already doing the work.

Daily said she agreed with Moore, in that she is taking a housing-first approach.

“We have some excellent people in the community who are working on this issue and while the city does need to work to address this, I think we partner even further and encourage organizations…to get everybody working together,” Daily said.

Stevens said she agreed with Daily and Moore, but said that the issue of homelessness goes deeper than just a lack of affordable housing.

“We have to consider that individuals who are experiencing homelessness arrive at that destination from a lot of different paths,” Stevens said. “If we can house them, that is ideal, but then we have to tie the services.”

Stevens said working with the Monroe County Department of Health would allow the city to have extra help in building additional services for people experiencing homelessness.

GOVERNMENT TRANSPARENCY
Another topic addressed at the forum was over whether city government should be more transparent in the decisions city leaders are making. The question was asked of what is wrong with the current system and what the candidates would do to improve it.

Stevens began by arguing the previous administration under Mayor John Hamilton was not transparent. “We had a lot of spaghetti thrown up against the wall and the community did not like it,” Stevens said. “The community wants to be involved.”

Stevens said the new administration under Mayor Kerry Thomson has tried to come off as transparent, but said Thomson has several committees making decisions without the public knowing who is on the committee. As for how to improve transparency, Stevens pointed to how other cities have made decisions by collecting public opinion and encouraging residents to attend city meetings.

Moore, who has served in city government, said that no matter how transparent the city is, there is concerns that there is not enough transparency. “I can’t expect everybody to just come to City Hall,” Moore said. “I think it comes down to elected officials getting out, educating the people.”

Moore said most Bloomington residents are informed of the decisions the city is making through their neighbors, and that it can lead to misinformation.

Daily said she agreed the city could be more transparent. “Transparency is something that the community craves and thrives on,” Daily said.

She suggested that more meetings be open to the public, and including residents in the discussions. Daily argued that city meetings do not feel like welcoming spaces and better outreach can help increase the involvement in city government.