Tomilea Allison. Photo by Shannon Zahnle

Tomilea Allison. Photo by Shannon Zahnle


Tomilea “Tomi” Allison acknowledges that she was well into her 13th year as Bloomington’s mayor before she attended a conference about “facilitative leadership” and realized it was a political science term for the way she had always tried to do business.

“Another term you might use is ‘participatory democracy,’” she says. “It’s not top-down leadership. You do have to lead. But when you work together, you’re getting the benefit of all of the talents that are available to you, and you are closer to what the larger number of people want in their community.”

Allison writes about this, and much more, in her new self-published memoir, The Accidental Mayor. The book, co-authored with her husband, James, mostly covers her 13 years in office, from the beginning of 1983 through the end of 1995, and provides Allison’s historical perspective on the events and players who, in many ways, shaped contemporary Bloomington. Topics covered include the master plan that urged compact urban form, the revitalization of downtown, expanded parks and recreation, and the repurposing of the decaying Showers Brothers buildings into City Hall and commercial development.The Accidental Mayor

There were battles with developers and low points, including the monumentally divisive controversy over PCB contamination caused by the Westinghouse Electric factory on the city’s industrial west side. “The PCB issue was impossible,” she recalls. “It was not pleasant. Not any part of it. It was a no-win situation, and I knew it.”

Allison often names names in her account of the times — those of her opponents and her supporters. “I really wrote it to give credit to this great team of people working for the city. It really was teamwork,” she says. “I thought they worked so hard and accomplished so much in those 13 years. I wanted to make sure people knew who did what.”

The Accidental Mayor is available at The Book Corner, the Monroe County History Center, and It was produced by locally based Belmantia Publishing Services. A book signing and reunion of Allison-era city workers will take place at City Hall from 2 to 4 p.m., November 21.