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Longtime councilor to retire

BY REBECCA MORIN | DECEMBER 17, 2013 5:00 AM

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Taking care of people has long been Connie Champion’s forte. After raising eight children, at least 10 foster children, and now helping care for 20 grandchildren, Champion is hoping to take a break from one of her other roles — the Iowa City City Council.

Champion will attend her last meeting as a city councilor today.

After serving 16 years on the council, the 74-year-old did not run for the District-B seat during this year’s election because she “thought it was time for new blood” and decided to retire.

The Indiana native moved to Iowa City roughly 47 years ago, and she has been involved in a variety of committees and organizations, as well as co-owning Catherine’s, 7 S. Dubuque St., since calling Iowa City her home.

“I was part of the group that got together to save Old Brick because they were going to tear it down, and there was a big hoopla about it, it even made Time magazine,” Champion said. “I got involved in the fundraising to keep that building.”

Before joining the council, Champion served on the Iowa City School Board for nine years before joining the City Council. She was recruited for the School Board after she questioned the board at the meeting.

“[The School Board] had a meeting at Longfellow, and I asked a bunch of questions, and someone came to me later and said ‘You should run for the School Board because you ask good questions,’ ” Champion said.

During her years on the council, she has helped make many changes to the city, which include establishing a homeless shelter and voting for the 21-ordiance.

“I think the culture downtown is a huge success from the City Council,” Champion said. “The 21-ordinance has been very successful, and that is something I didn’t agree with for a long time. I thought the bar owners would start to take control in what was going into their bars, and the bars just started getting worse and worse.”

She also served on the Historic Preservation Committee while on the council. One of the biggest accomplishments she believes the council had during her time was restoring the Englert Theater.

“The city put in a lot of support in that, and so did the county, to get that theater restored and back to theater uses instead of just an old crappy movie theater,” Champion said.

She said the council works together to make all its decisions.

“I didn’t do any of it, it takes the whole council,” Champion said. “It’s not a one-person show.”

Mayor Matt Hayek said Champion benefited the council and always knew the city’s needs.

“She’s the institutional memory and has a real finger on the pulse of the community,” Hayek said. “She is blunt but wise, and I think she’s shown judgment that has benefited the council time and again.”

However, the boisterous 74-year-old could not always have her way. After serving on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, she worked with officials to help inform the community about a new jail and courthouse.

“I think of my biggest disappointment was we never got the city to support a new jail, which is what we need desperately,” Champion said. “I just think that it’s really sad that people just did not want to listen to the facts.”

Johnson County Supervisor Pat Harney, who worked with Champion on the Justice Committee, said she was valuable and always voiced her opinion.

“We mostly worked on the initial needs and ideas and jail alternatives,” he said. “At the same time, we worked with prosecutors and defense attorneys.”

Harney said he also worked with Champion to help establish communication within the Johnson County area and thought the operation was a success.

“We worked together for the communication center,” Harney said. “She was valued in the committee and worked hard getting the communication together and in operation. She did what was best for her city and the county as a whole.”

With some extra time on her hand, Champion hopes to continue to stay busy.

“I think I’m going to become a Big Sister [with the mentoring program Big Brother, Big Sister],” Champion said. “I think that would be kind of fun.”

Although Champion said she would not attend another council meeting after this year, she said she will continue to stay informed.

“I already warned them that I would go harass them if they make any dumb decision,” Champion said. “I don’t like it when they disagree with me. People don’t always agree with me, and that’s all right — but they’re wrong, they should always agree with me.”

Champion said she was happy with her time on council and being involved within the community, even if she wasn’t always sure how she got elected.

“I think there’s two positive things that I do: I have some common sense and I speak my mind and support strongly what I support,” Champion said. “People like that, that’s what they like about me.”


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