Interview #125: Bloomington, IN City Clerk Nicole Bolden (with podcast)

This podcast interview is available on iTunesStitcherPlayer FM, and right here:

Nicole Bolden is a longtime employee of the Bloomington clerk’s office and is in her first term as the elected clerk. She reminisces about weaponry in the council chamber, her attempt at live tweeting the meetings, and a parking garage debate that stood out.

Q: You have been the clerk for almost four years and before that, I know you worked for the city clerk, sometimes being the fill-in person at the council meetings. How have the meetings changed in the ten years that you’ve been working for the city?

A: I don’t think the meetings have changed dramatically. In some respects they have calmed down. We used to have some citizens who were very active and engaged in the meetings, sometimes to comic effect. Most of our council members are pretty long serving, so they know what they’re doing. They have an established routine.

Q: What is some of the comic relief that we’re missing out on nowadays that you used to see at the microphone way back when?

A: We used to have citizens who would come in and talk about various things that concerned them, but they would also record themselves while standing at the podium. You would see people who were filming things for their own YouTube broadcast or podcast. There were people who would show up with hatchets. There were people who would show up with costumes.

Q: You had me at “hatchet.” Was this a prop hatchet or was this a threat?

A: Neither, it was just a hatchet that our citizen was carrying with him. He still comes to meetings occasionally. He sometimes comes with things that may cause a bit of concern, but that is what he is allowed to do.

Q: Indiana is a wild and lawless place, I love it.

Bloomington, IN City Clerk Nicole Bolden

I noticed that last fall you live tweeted the council proceedings for one or two meetings and then you stopped. Why did you give up on such riveting tweets as

A: You know, there just didn’t seem to be a huge appetite for that type of tweeting. It’s something that we’ve discussed returning to, but for the moment it is one more thing to juggle during an already busy meeting. I have to be honest, I’m not great at tweeting. I feel a little old sometimes because I don’t know all the abbreviations people use!

Q: In the December 12, 2018 meeting, Council Member Allison Chopra complained about how meetings go way too late. If the council members have to stay late, you have to stay late. What are your thoughts on the duration of the meetings?

A: When I decided to run for city clerk, my family laughed at me. They said, “how on Earth are you going to be able to handle those meetings that go past your bedtime?” When I started, our council meetings used to start at 7:30 p.m., not 6:30. So that was one change that Allison successfully spearheaded through, which was getting the meetings started earlier in the hopes that when we did have longer meetings, people wouldn’t be leaving at 11:30 or 12 at night.

Q: During a contentious debate last year about whether to construct new parking garages, I noticed something unusual in the public comment. One of your employees in the clerk’s office spoke to the council on the topic. What have you told your employees about getting involved in council meetings?

A: I have told them that they are welcome to express their opinions to the council at any given time. I have also asked them that when they are speaking to the council, to make it clear they are speaking for themselves and not on behalf of the office.

Q: Is that a luxury that employees of other departments have? Or because you’re an elected official, do you have more freedom to tell your employees, “if you want to get a little political, have at it”?

A: I’m a separately-elected branch, so I don’t have the same chain of command that other departments have who all ultimately respond to the mayor. I don’t know of anybody who’s ever been told to not speak at a council meeting, but I know there are some people who may think twice.

Follow Nicole Bolden on Twitter: @ClerkNicoleB

#16: Bloomington, IL 5/9/16

Every seat was filled at the Bloomington city council meeting–with Boy Scouts no less! Either those fellas were getting their Sitting-Through-An-Ordeal merit badge OR something special was happening.

Turns out, it was a little bit of both.

Mayor Tari Renner started off with a long string of proclamations:

  • National Nursing Home Week (theme: “It’s a Small World with a Big Heart”)
  • Emergency Medical Services Week (theme: “EMS Strong”)
  • Economic Development Week (theme: “Uhh…pass”)

And finally, said the mayor, “something that’s near and dear to the heart of our citizens who have driven on our streets, who have flushed our toilets–” uh, National Street Toilet Week?–“and that is Public Works Week.”

Then his eyes lit up. “Oh, man! Our star of all stars! Delvar Dopson! Good to see you, man!” Mayor Renner’s smile was so big, it was like he was staring at his long lost brother.

Instead, he was staring at the public works director and sanitation worker Delvar Dopson. “Delvar was able to reach out to this young girl in the route that he goes,” the director explained. “And she made this great comment about him, ‘the awesome smiley garbage guy,’ and she wanted for her birthday to just meet him. And so it was just one of those cute, sweet stories. The sucker went viral!

Local hero Delvar Dopson

Dopson got wild applause and the proclamation from the mayor. “I remember you before I was mayor for being at the gym together,” he swooned. “I was just using regular weights and you were bench pressing the trucks from the public works department.” The two muscular men parted ways and the meeting continued.

There was a proposal on the table to give city manager David Hales a new contract with a raise. But Alderman Kevin Lower rained down a Hales-storm.

“It certainly does not reflect our current economic conditions in the municipality,” he warned. “I feel my thumb on the pulse of many of my constituents who just don’t feel like they can afford” to pay for a raise.

Alderman David Sage was offended on behalf of the city manager. “I’m always amazed we simply do not extend the courtesy of publicly saying ‘thank you’ for the job that you do.” He gazed longingly into Hales’s peepers. “I’m extremely proud to have you as the city manager of Bloomington.”

The vote was 8-1 for the raise–Alderman Lower being the one.

Alderman David Sage: “I wish I could quit you, city manager.”

Mayor Renner was ready to wrap when Alderman Jim Fruin remembered something important. “I assume you’re going to say something about–” he gestured–“the Boy Scouts?”

“Oh!” the mayor suddenly recalled. “Okay…Alderman Lower?”

The alderman finally drew attention, at the end of an hour-long meeting, to the antsy and exhausted young audience. “The city council will probably agree with me…sometimes they don’t,” he acidly glanced at his colleagues. “The lessons that you are learning right now in Boy Scouts…I have put many of those lessons to work in my adult life and it’s something you can’t find anywhere else.”

The council, for once, agreed with him.

Clearly the meeting was an endurance test for more than just the Boy Scouts

Final thoughts: At the end of the day, the city manager got his raise, Delvar Dopson got his proclamation, and Alderman Lower got to drop some wisdom on the youth. Win-win-win! I give this meeting 10 out of 10 stars.