How will voters get to know council candidates before the municipal elections this fall? Bloomington has made no announcements as to when public attendance at City Council meetings will resume. For the time being, we can get a sense of how our current council members think and how they vote by listening in on their sessions online.
Three Bloomington Councilmembers are up for election this November. Nathan Coulter (At- Large) and Patrick Martin (Ward IV) have announced their intention to run for re-election. To our knowledge, Jack Baloga (Ward III) has not yet made his intentions known. This election will be conducted through Ranked Choice Voting for the first time.
The recent council debate to phase out the sale of flavored tobacco products in Bloomington is illustrative. Mike Hanks, of the Sun Current, wrote an article posted on May 6 that reported that the Council voted not only to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes at the end of this year, but to also prohibit new licenses from being issued in the city. Bloomington is the first to implement such a ban in Minnesota
Four councilmembers (including Nathan Coulter) voted for the ban, while two (including Patrick Martin) voted against it. Jack Baloga was not present. The split essentially mirrored the testimony of Bloomington residents and business owners.
All of the councilmembers recognized that reducing the consumption of tobacco and e-cigarettes by young people is of value. However, Patrick Martin noted that there are only a limited number of dedicated tobacco product stores in Bloomington. They are open to adults only and do not have other means of generating revenue to support their business. The ban would arbitrarily deprive these business owners of the ability to sell otherwise legal products without compensation. And it would do nothing to prohibit the sale of these products in cities and towns around Bloomington.
Shawn Nelson expressed his concern that the city’s plan was going too far. He pointed out that adults have the freedom to smoke, even if it risks their long-term health.
This argument did not sway Nathan Coulter. Having made the personal decision that tobacco use is bad, he had no hesitation to impose that decision on others. He dismissed the point that e-cigarettes may help smokers quit, saying there was evidence that they have negative consequences. He was not bothered that the city’s restrictions directly interfere with the free market. He held that the City had a responsibility to protect the health of its residents. It did not concern him that they could simply drive to stores in a neighboring city to buy their tobacco or e-cigarettes.
One could argue that this is evidence of smoker suppression, that it will impose undue hardship on the poor, minorities, and the elderly who live in Bloomington, but discussion along these lines was not reported in Mike Hank’s article.
It is clear that some members of the Bloomington city council are certain in their belief that they know better what is good for the residents and business owners in Bloomington. They do not see a strong reason to consider input from those that might have a different vision, even those that have worked hard to build a business or create a home here. You may think that you have the freedom to ride your motorcycle without a helmet or engage in a contact sport, but there are clearly some on our city council who may soon exercise their better judgment on your behalf.
We recommend that you pay attention to the proposals that come before the city council and the positions taken by your representatives. It will help to inform you so that you can exercise your better judgment on or before election day this November.
The City Council will hold a public hearing on May 24, 2021 to get citizen input and then vote on restricting the development of new self-storage facilities. Again, this will be instructive to see if the City Council seriously considers the public input, or if the City Councilmembers have already made their decisions.
Council meetings are scheduled for most Monday evenings starting at 6 pm. CLICK HERE to learn how to watch or listen to the meeting, to provide public comment during the meetings, to contact the Council Secretary prior to the meeting, and to view the meeting agenda and documents.