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UI institute to aid Postville

BY ASHLEY HAUGO | FEBRUARY 18, 2009 7:50 AM

The UI Institute of Public Affairs will help devastated Postville plan a new future — free of charge.
Over the past nine months, the small Iowa town of Postville has been hammered by a devastating trifecta of events: a crippling economic downturn, a history-making flood, and, most notably, one of the largest immigration raids in the nation’s history.

As Postville residents work to get back on their feet, the Institute of Public Affairs will step in to lend a hand.

The institute, a part of the UI College of Law, is an outreach service of the university and assists in maintaining and strengthening the effectiveness of Iowa’s local governments, according to the institute’s mission statement.

“[These services] mean to the community that we are getting support from the state. There are other agencies helping us and we’re not left to deal with this situation on our own,” Radloff said.

Because of Postville’s dire economic circumstances, the institute waived its service fees, Jeff Schott, the institute’s program director, said.

“We knew it was overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s a small community, and it has very difficult problems.”
The cost of the institute’s services, which combines a base fee depending on the city’s population and additional costs such as lodging, travel, and meals, would likely amount to more than $4,000 for Postville, Schott estimated.

While the financial value of the institute’s services may not be large, waiving the fees might have determined whether Postville could receive the aid.

“I don’t believe we would have gone out and sought [institute’s assistance] because financially we don’t have the resources,” said Darcy Radloff, Postville’s city clerk-administrator.

Schott noted the institute offered free service only once during fiscal 2008, when it worked with community members in Palo, Iowa.

Trisca Smetzer, Palo’s assistant city administrator clerk, said the institute’s services came without a price tag because of the damage the city experienced from the floods.

To aid Postville, Schott will meet with a community group to help them develop a strategy for mid- and long-range planning.

While Postville officials approved the institute’s involvement last week, Radloff said, the process will not begin until April.

“Right now, we’re kind of in a limbo situation,” Radloff said, noting the future of Agriprocessors, the kosher-meat factory that was subjected to the imigration raid in May 2008, will determine what direction the town’s future takes.

For the city, the difference between reopening the bankrupt plant to full capacity or closing it down completely would mean finding housing for 400 to 700 employees or dealing with 240 people out of a job, Radloff said.

Even though formal discussions and planning have not yet begun, collaboration has already been an important part of the project.

Since the raid, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission has been coordinating the state’s response to the events in Postville. As a state agency that works for the governor, the Commission helps link communities with state resources, said Ralph Rosenberg, the group’s executive director. With this intermediary role, Rosenberg approached the institute in January and suggested the Institute aid the town with strategic planning measures.

“[Officials] need to undertake this type of planning for the survival of Postville as a prosperous community,” Rosenberg said. “[Postville] has to act proactively now rather than reactively.”


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