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City Council should focus on three paramount issues in coming year

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 10, 2009 7:20 AM

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Another term, another slew of pressing issues.

Iowa City voters elected two new faces and one familiar face to the City Council one week ago. And while the turnout may have been in record low numbers, the challenges the new council faces — ranging from curbing violence to finding a new city manager — are no less important. Iowa City has limited resources, which are dwindling in the wake of a stagnant economy. The new City Council must undertake some serious triage when it meets in January.

Here are some issues the Editorial Board believes the council should address immediately:

City Manager: The City Council should hire a full-time city manager. Iowa City has been without a permanent, full-time city manager since the council fired Michael Lombardo in April. Interim City Manager Dale Helling has performed competently in Lombardo’s absence, but the city needs a long-term commitment. It is unfair for the city to ask Helling — who told the Editorial Board Monday afternoon he has no interest in the position — to assume that role.

The council has pushed back the decision to January, and it should not put it off again. The city manager is the chief administrative officer and essentially runs the city’s departments and services.

The person the council chooses should have a strong academic background in urban planning and economic development and should also have substantial experience in the field.

Once the council hires this individual, it should give the new city manager more autonomy than it awarded Lombardo. The position should be independent and apolitical, but the mysterious firing left suspicions that it was neither.

Public Safety: The City Council should commit public-safety resources to stemming violence in every part of the city. This should involve a citywide effort that addresses distinct problems with the nuances they deserve. The city should appoint a special officer engaged in community organization and youth outreach. The officer should have substantial experience in both areas and reach out to the city’s various problem areas. He or she should act as a liaison among the neighborhoods as well as helping to organize the community and connect with area youth.

The city should also shift downtown police tactics. The police should concentrate their forces on the Pedestrian Mall — rather than inside the bars — and target public intoxication and violence instead of PAULAs.

Fiscal Responsibility: The city experienced significant economic hardship this year, and next year looks no different. The council must learn to live within its means and make hard choices. It should evaluate and prioritize every spending item and cut what it can’t afford without placing additional taxes or fees on the city. The proposed franchise fee would be a drastic move and should not be used for anything other than its intended purpose. The city should not place any additional fees or levies on city residents. At the same time, the city should look for additional revenue sources. It should try to diversify the tax base and develop the city’s resources.

This editorial is not intended to condemn or criticize the council for its past measures. We hope the aforementioned issues will serve as a guide for councilors. We have high hopes for the City Council, but also high expectations. And we expect the newly elected councilors to meet those expectations.


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