UI, IC work on binge drinking

BY CHRIS CLARK | MAY 11, 2009 7:30 AM

UI Provost Wallace Loh said he plans to ask Iowa City City Councilor Matt Hayek to lunch to reassure him the university is making efforts to promote safer drinking.

That’s after recent meetings and e-mails show city and university officials questioning their counterpart’s commitment to the cause, documents released Thursday in response to a records request revealed.

In a May 5 council meeting, Hayek directly addressed attendees of the meeting — specifically UI representatives — saying he didn’t feel the partnership with the university was strong enough.

Hayek said city officials have made a number of steps to reduce alcohol overconsumption since he was elected, including increasing law-enforcement presence downtown.

But some of the university’s actions looked liked a lack of effort, he said.

Until UI officials do something significant, he said, he doesn’t think leaders can make any progress.
Loh said he understands why councilors might question the university’s progress and took “full responsibility” for not keeping the council updated.

He noted a number of endeavors the UI’s Alcohol Steering Committee has initiated — getting overtime officers from UI police to patrol alongside Iowa City police, proactively reaching out to “high-risk” students, and increasing communication with parents.

“Some of these things have not been publicly announced,” Loh said. “We have not communicated as well as we could have, but I plan to improve that.”

The steering committee is also considering providing free transportation to the Coral Ridge Mall — an attempt to provide drinking alternatives to students, Loh said.

For the council’s part, the most recent step toward a safer drinking culture is a proposed ordinance that would restrict new bars and liquor stores from opening downtown. That proposed ordinance has been passed once, and needs two more approvals to be enacted.

Earlier this semester, three UI experts presented research to city officials showing the relationship among bar density, over-consumption, and related negative consequences.

Loh said the Alcohol Steering Committee — which he and Mayor Regenia Bailey co-chair — has not discussed the ordinance mostly because of full agendas and planning. He also noted that the group is relatively new.

Loh said the zoning issue had not yet been raised at either of the committee’s two meetings or their summit. But if the council asked for the group’s endorsement, he said it would be considered.
UI officials have also raised concerns over Bailey’s role in the alcohol task force.

In an e-mail from early April, she wrote she heard from former City Manager Michael Lombardo that Loh had concerns about her commitment to the project after she didn’t show at the summit.

“Of course I wanted to hear that concern, just as any of us would want to hear concerns about commitments,” Bailey said May 7.

But both Bailey and Loh said they have since cleared up any worries.

“She is fully engaged,” Loh said, noting the committee made good progress at its last meeting. “Things happen, you know? The mayor was simply busy.”

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