New UISG City Council liaison to look past 21-only

BY NINA EARNEST | APRIL 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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The new University of Iowa student government liaison to the City Council said he hopes to represent student interests in the face of a changing downtown Iowa City.

Last year, Raj Patel campaigned against the controversial 21-ordinance — designed to keep those under the legal drinking age out of the bars after 10 p.m. — as a member of Yes for Entertaining Students Safety.

Now that the ordinance is in place, he said, he has no plans to try for a repeal.

"It is the law of Iowa City now, so we just try to deal with it and make a place where students under the age of 21 can still go," said Patel, who helped gather the 2,500 signatures needed to put the ordinance on the ballot in November 2010.

Instead, he said, he would look into alternatives to the bars for students, though he has to research and consult with other UISG officials before proposing any specific plans.

And although he said he would continue work with the proposal put in place by Elliot Higgins — the recently inaugurated UISG president and outgoing council liaison — to lower the fine for being in a bar underage, he said once that's done, he hopes to focus on issues unrelated to alcohol.

"I just want to ensure downtown Iowa City stays a vibrant place for students for years to come," Patel said.

The fine amount, which can include the $735 charge and an underage drinking fee possibly pushing the total to more than $1,000, is "outrageous," he said

"That can put a student out of college," the 20-year-old noted. "I think the councilors understand that."

City councilors agreed earlier this month to consider a tiered system of fines and vote on the issue this summer. Under the proposal, minors would face a $300 fine for their first offense. With the $235 in fee addition, the total amount of a first ticket would total $535.

Patel said he wants to be "very vocal" in representing the student voice by presenting proposals to make the U-bill more accessible downtown, include more moped parking, and adding lighting in student residential areas due to increased traffic from the 21-ordinance.

And his past opposition to the council should foster productive discourse, rather than be a hindrance, Patel said.

"No one expects people to see 100 percent eye-to-eye on every issue," Patel said. "Democracy is built on different ideas coming together."

Higgins and Vice President Brittany Caplin officially selected Patel for the position last week.

The UISG president said Patel's previous work with the Burlington City Council — where he attempted to instate a Youth Commission after-school program — and his leadership as a UISG senator recommended him for the position.

Any conflict from Patel's stance on the 21-ordinance — largely in disagreement with the councilors — only briefly crossed their minds, Higgins said.

But the president said it is no secret most students — and Higgins himself — oppose the 21-ordinance. And his experience could best represent the student constituency, Higgins said.

"He's not afraid to advocate on behalf of students, even if the council may not necessarily agree," Higgins said. "That's when it's especially important for us to speak up and let them know our perspective."

Higgins presented Patel to the City Council at its formal meeting on April 19.

Councilor Regenia Bailey said she has not spoken with Patel personally but did hear his presentation at last week's meeting.

"He seems to be committed to working as a voice for the students," Bailey said. "That's what I'm looking forward to."

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