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City Council passes first consideration on amending City Charter

BY BILL COONEY | APRIL 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City City Charter will soon get an update thanks to the Charter Review Commission and now the first vote by the Iowa City City Council.

The City Council passed, 6-0 with Councilor Terry Dickens absent, the first consideration to amend several sections of the Charter on Tuesday evening.

Changes to the City Charter were proposed by the Charter Review Commission, which is required to go over the Charter every 10 years.

The commission submitted the recommended changes to City Council on March 9. The City Charter requires the council to either pass recommendations or send the recommendations to be voted on by the public.

The commission's recommendations include a new preamble, giving the mayor power to add items to the City Council agenda, validity of petitions, and various other changes to language throughout the charter.

The commission put in a large amount of time engaging the community and gathering public input, Mayor Pro Tem Susan Mims said.

“There was a lot meetings, a lot of time, and a lot of good discussion on issues that weren’t unanimous,” she said. “We got some changes out of it, and we’ll move forward and do it again in 10 years.”

One of the biggest recommended changes also included increasing the number of signatures required for a valid petition. The number will now be changed to 3,600 signatures; the previous required number was 2,500.

The changes also include allowing anyone eligible to vote to sign petitions instead of only allowing registered voters to sign. 

Despite the measure passing, some city councilors weren’t 100 percent pleased with the changes.

City Councilor Rick Dobyns said the number of required signatures might not have been raised high enough.

“It’s really surprising how low that number is,” he said. “It’s great that we’re one of the only cities in Iowa where petitions can get things done, but the number of registered voters on the petition should be higher.”

Some of the new wording in the preamble of the Charter isn’t as clear as it could be, City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said.

“The new language rightly emphasizes that Iowa City belongs to all of its residents and all share responsibility for it,” he said. “What I do not see is any acknowledgement of nonresident property and business owners. The proposed wording makes it sound as if residents ‘own’ the city.”

Dobyns said he felt the entire commission process could do a better job of changing the City Charter if it became a separate entity that answered only to voters and bypassed the City Council entirely.

“If you remove the City Council from it, then you remove the politics,” Dobyns said. “The way it’s currently set up is bad for the council. If you take the council out of it, you increase checks and balances, which benefits the council and Iowa City.”


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