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Iowa City Charter Review Commission holds first public input forum

BY BEN MARKS | SEPTEMBER 24, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City Charter Review Commission held its first public input forum Tuesday to hear comments from the public regarding changes in the Iowa City Charter.

The Charter is a document that regulates the city’s organization, the duties of the city manager, campaign-contribution restrictions, and the process of election of the mayor and City Council, among other things.

The Iowa City government has been built on its foundation for 40 years.

To keep it relevant, the Charter requires the City Council to appoint a special review commission every 10 years to review the document.

“Our job is to make recommendations to the  City Council and propose changes,” said Andy Chappell, the head of the Review Commission. “The City  Council then has the option of either adopting those changes as presented or putting those changes to a public vote.”

The nine-member commission began its task in April, said City Clerk Marian Karr, a process that must take no longer than a year to complete.

This was the first public input forum the commission held.

“This particular one is the time for the public to let the commission know the changes that the public may want to the charter,” Karr said. “They have decided that the first one will be to hear citizen comments and not respond or have their recommendations ready.”

Based on the concerns expressed on Tuesday, the commission will determine what the topics of future public forums will be and how many.

Karr said there will be at least one more before next April.

Of the many suggestions that were put before the commission, many of them dealt with the same few issues, such as whether the City Council’s pay should increase to meet that of a part-time position.

People say they are worried that with stipend for the council so low, the only people who will be able to afford to serve on it will be increasingly of retirement age, or wealthy business owners, which some said cuts out representation of a significant portion of the population.

“I think that the City Council is so part-time, so underpaid, that they basically just end up rubber stamping whatever the city manager and their staff — who are doing a lot of good work and a lot of work — [say],” said Iowa City resident Mike Carberry, who attended the charter meeting.

Other topics discussed included whether the mayor should continue to be elected from among the council rather than being elected directly by the people or whether the city should change the distinction it draws between eligible and qualified electors when it comes to the process of voter-led referendums and initiatives.

Qualified electors are those who are eligible and have registered to vote, while eligible electors are those who are eligible to vote but have not registered.

As the charter stands now, only qualified electors have the ability to sign petitions for referendums and initiatives in Iowa City.

Many of the citizens who spoke voiced their concern that this significantly increased the difficulty required in gathering enough signatures on a petition to make a change to government, and some said they believe that the current law is illegal and violates Iowa’s Election Day voter-registration law.

However, a couple of people did not support altering the charter.

“I think voting in this country is a privilege and a responsibility,” said Iowa City resident Bob Elliott, a former city councilor. “Anyone who does not even bother to register to vote, I am not terribly interested in what she or he has to say.”


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