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‘Transparency’ the word of the day for city council

BY AMANDA McCLURE | FEBRUARY 25, 2009 7:39 AM

As Iowa City officials prepare to allocate funds from the federal economic-stimulus plan, they aren’t worried about the transparency of their actions.

President Obama has told officials across the country that he would use his full power to “expose and crack down on them” if they misuse funds from the $787 billion stimulus package.

Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said the council works through every public outlet possible to make sure Iowa City residents are informed about the council’s actions. This includes holding open meetings and giving access to city records.

“We’ve always been transparent about our budget. I can’t imagine circumstances where we would go off script,” she said. “It’s got to be regular spending to a certain degree. It’s silly to alter our plans just because there is a lot of funding coming in.”

Iowa is set to receive roughly $1.9 billion from the stimulus package.

Though state officials have allocated funds to programs and cities, the exact amount Iowa City will receive is still being discussed.

The city maintains a three-year capital-improvements plan, and when stimulus funds become available certain projects may be accelerated, Bailey said.

Councilor Mike O’Donnell said the council will always remain open and clear.

“I don’t think we have to make any extra efforts to do that,” he said. “This council takes extra steps to make sure that openness is business as usual.”

Bailey said one reason Obama may be concerned is due to non-transparent governments in other parts of the country — a problem she said Iowa doesn’t have.

“I think in Iowa, we do have a generally transparent process and good dialogue with citizens about where the money is going,” she said. “That may not be the case in other areas around the country.”

Though government responsibilities vary from city to city, she said, the council is always working to keep Iowa City residents informed.

“We’re not building any bridges to nowhere,” she said. “We have an expectation in this city, and I think we uphold that.”

After weeks of debate over benefits for Iowa City residents, the City Council held a public hearing Tuesday before its decision to put a 1-cent local-option sales tax on a ballot.

“We’ve done all we can to make this clear and accurate for our community members,” Councilor Mike Wright said. “At this point, it’s up to the voters to approve the funds for flood relief.”

Bailey noted the complexity of the stimulus package, as well as the fact that Iowa City residents on advisory boards provide public input when designing city projects.

“If citizens become aware of opportunities for funding that they don’t think the city is doing, this is a time where coming forward would be helpful,” she said.

O’Donnell said no matter what the council decides to spend stimulus dollars on, the needs of Iowa City residents are always considered the top priority.

“You get the money and try to get biggest bang for the buck for our community members,” he said.


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