E-mails detail UI officials’ support of 21-ordinance


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To ensure his suggestion of making Iowa City bars 21-only succeeds, Mayor Matt Hayek requested specifc support from the University of Iowa — including direct advocacy from UI President Sally Mason, e-mails obtained by The Daily Iowan show.

The day after Hayek suggested councilors pursue a 21-ordinance, e-mails among UI Provost Wallace Loh, interim Vice President of Student Services Tom Rocklin, and Mark Braun, Mason’s chief of staff, indicate the mayor requested:

• a letter of support from Mason to city officials
• that Mason speak in support of the ordinance at the City Council’s March 23 meeting
• phone calls from Mason to city councilors urging their support for the measure

Tonight, the Iowa City City Council is expected to approve the measure in its final reading, which will make Iowa City bars off limits to those under 21 after 10 p.m.

In the e-mail, obtained under the state’s open-records law, Loh emphasized the importance of university support for the initiative.

“No need to call Hayek,” Loh wrote about the request for personal calls. “He thinks he has 6 solid votes; the only dissenter is [Councilor Regenia] Bailey.”

He continued: “Ideally, [Hayek] says, the letter of support and the phone calls would occur next week, when councilors will start feeling the pressures to not support the proposal.”

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In an interview, Loh emphasized that the university willingly offered its support. Advocating for issues that affect UI students is normal, he said.

Mason complied with the first request, penning a letter of support to the City Council, in which she said the UI will impose harsher consequences for off-campus drinking.

Regarding the rest of the requests, Mason did not make personal calls to councilors and was unable to attend the March 23 council meeting, UI spokesman Tom Moore said.

However, Mason plans to attend tonight’s City Council meeting to express her support for the ordinance. Other officials — including Rocklin and Loh — have attended previous meetings and may also attend tonight’s.

UI administrators have been involved with the issue since February.

“I brought it to the university’s attention,” Hayek said. “The reason I did so was that I sensed there might be interest on the council level in pursuing that kind of ordinance.”

Hayek said UI involvement in the discussion makes a positive difference for several reasons.

For example, UI officials helped reveal to councilors Iowa City’s status as a “destination” town, where 19- and 20-year-olds can travel to easily obtain alcohol.

Also, university officials have been vocal in their promise to expand programs that will increase entertainment options for students as well as hold them more accountable. And most importantly, Hayek said, the university has offered the City Council information on public-health concerns.

“We can be helpful because we have specific knowledge of our students,” Rocklin said. “That can be very important in this decision.”

It’s not clear whether such university support would have made a difference in 2007 when the 21-ordinance failed, said Hayek, who was not serving on the City Council then.

“I’m sure it would have helped,” he said. “But it is what it is. The important thing is the university has expressed a real interest in being an active partner on this issue and thus far has been immensely helpful.”

Meanwhile, current support from UI officials doesn’t break any ethical codes in Iowa. But if the issue goes to a public vote in November, official university support could be an ethical violation.

“[UI officials] cannot use their money or resources to advocate an outcome in a ballot issue or to become involved with a political candidate,” said Charlie Smithson, the executive director of the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board.

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