Candidate Questionnaire: Karen Schmidt
These responses were submitted by Karen Schmidt, a candidate for Bloomington City Council in Ward 6. The questionnaire was prepared by GLT in partnership with the League of Women Voters of McLean County. See more candidate responses.
What in your personal and professional background has prepared you for this position? Include any experience serving in local government.
I have represented Ward 6 in the city since 1999. During my tenure I have worked with all city departments and local units of government. I have worked closely with neighborhoods to create neighborhood associations and watches, putting city resources directly in the hands of our residents. I regularly ask for feedback on Council decisions to be sure my votes are informed by the people I represent. I work closely with organizations throughout B-N to link our residents up to resources outside the purview of the city. Prior to my Council work, I served on the Bloomington Public Library Board of Directors.
In my professional life, I have managed budgets upward of $35 million, and I know how to make difficult budgetary decisions that impact people and programs. As a librarian, I am well-versed in seeking solutions to problems, and in listening to the needs of others. I have a long history of involvement as a board member of many organizations in our community, including MidCentral Community Action, BCPA/Creativity Center, Boys & Girls Club Advisory Council, Downtown Bloomington Association and the West Bloomington Revitalization Project.
Personal experiences have brought me empathy and understanding for others. I have worked since I was 15, including many jobs at minimum wage, and know what it like to live from one paycheck to the next. I bring a keen and personal awareness of issues related to economic, racial and cultural differences and use these experiences to inform how I approach city business.
What would be your approach to building effective working relationships with other aldermen, the mayor, and city staff?
Strong relationships start with mutual respect and the willingness to listen. I work hard to bring that attitude into all my relationships with my colleagues throughout the city. Honest communication, along with creating the opportunity for these conversations to occur, is fundamental.
What new programs or initiatives do you think the city should pursue?
1. I continue to push for a “one stop shop” to make it easy for businesses to work with the city.
2. Our newly formed Technology Commission brings us the opportunity to rethink how the city interacts with companies and citizens, enabling us to streamline operations and realize efficiencies.
3. The arena remains a challenge and I would like to see us set up a process to solicit residents’ ideas and seek new solutions for managing and re-branding this building.
4. I would like the city to be more aggressive about adding internet access in our community, as part of workforce and economic development and to bridge the digital divide.
When is it appropriate for local government to use incentives to achieve an economic development priority? How would you make those decisions?
The city has created an economic incentives document that focuses on a “but for” analysis and provides a menu of different incentives, from enterprise zone opportunities (when available,) to tax abatement, to facade improvement support and up to providing a TIF. These need to be applied consistently and with transparency. When we invoke strategies that impact revenue to other entities (e.g, the schools) we need to be good partners in communicating the details of our economic plans.
What specifically would you support to make Downtown Bloomington a more attractive destination for residents, tourists, and business owners?
We need to take care of some fundamental issues, including trash and parking. Our downtown residents and businesses deserve resolution on both of these. I would like us to find a way to provide basic sidewalk services (cleaning, snow removal) for the whole of downtown. We need to make access to the downtown more pedestrian friendly (East and Madison Streets can be very challenging to cross.) We need to find a way to provide access to public restrooms.
What should be the city’s role in expanding affordable housing opportunities?
The city and its Community Development Division has been a strong partner in providing opportunities for the development of affordable housing. These include partnership with the West Bloomington Housing Collaborative, Habitat for Humanity, and Bloomington Housing Authority. The city has supported applications for low-income housing tax credits to developers, and leveraged HUD money for zero and low-interest loans to enable residents to improve properties. We need to be sure that affordable housing opportunities are available throughout all of Bloomington and not focused on a few neighborhoods.
City staff say O’Neil Pool needs to be replaced and the public library needs to expand. Should the city pursue those projects? If so, how should they be funded?
O’Neil Pool is an important resource for west Bloomington, one that is integral to the neighborhoods surrounding it—for neighborhood stability, for providing access to good park facilities to our youth and families, and for maintaining real estate values. I am very supportive of replacing it, and would like to see us discuss a modest increase in pool fees, a minimal adjustment to our property tax rate, and possible partnership with local pool operators.
The library has a strong plan for expansion, and is a core resource for our community. Financial support for expansion comes from the library levy, which has been adjusted upward this year, and a strong Friends group providing private money. Additional increases in the library levy will require the BPL Board to make a strong case with residents.
A recent Governing magazine investigation found a big disparity in median incomes between white and black households in Bloomington. What can the city do to address this and other inequalities that exist within the community?
The city needs to continue its work to provide employment opportunities to all residents; this includes support of the Trades & Labor, EDC and other workforce development initiatives. Work is underway to more aggressively diversifying our municipal workforce. Through the work of its Human Relations Commission and Public Safety and Community Relations Board, the city has the mechanisms to continue to shape the shared values of being a compassionate and supportive city that extends opportunities to every resident.
What additional steps should the city take, if any, to better protect and serve local immigrants, especially those who are undocumented?
I continue my support for engaging with a communitywide program like Welcoming America. This brings all sectors of the city together—government, the faith community, employers and educators together to work through challenges and provide opportunities for our immigrants to contribute to our neighborhoods, economy, and culture.