Iowa City Council Hears Criticism As In-Person Meetings Resumed

The realities of holding face-to-face meetings returned to Iowa city councilors on Tuesday when many residents took the opportunity to criticize their government face-to-face.

The most unique moment of the evening came when a voter used his time on the podium to mockingly present a small gold trophy to Iowa City manager Geoff Fruin.

Dan Kauble, who never mince words at local political rallies, used the last seconds of his three minutes of public commentary to remove the engraved trophy and hand it over to Fruin, saying: “He should receive an award for” the worst manager in town. ‘”

And so Fruin was, courtesy of Kauble, in an exchange that could never have happened over months of virtual city council meetings brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Thank you, Dan. It means a lot,” Fruin said as the trophy was placed in front of him.

Tuesday was a return to some semblance of pre-pandemic normalcy for city leaders, who sat side by side and faced a crowd of 30 members at the 6 p.m. council meeting.

The crowds slowly subsided until about eight o’clock at the end of a fairly routine evening of government business. But many of them didn’t leave until their voices were heard on issues like Johnson County’s Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected police vehicle, a Hickory Trail Estates development project, and even sidewalk repairs. from the city.

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A trophy for "worst city manager" who was introduced to Geoff Fruin of Iowa City by a member of the public is seen at a board meeting Tuesday at the Senior Center.

Face-to-face meetings allow for a more meaningful conversation

Mohamed Traoré, chairman of the Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was one of the members of the public who stepped onto the podium and took the opportunity to address the government body face to face at about some of the many issues he has championed. for practically the past year.

“I really like being able to look them in the eye while I criticize them,” Traore said. “It’s one thing to hear someone’s voice, but it’s another to look them in the eye when they say something to you.”

He said he felt it was imperative that he show up at the meeting to talk about matters affecting residents of the Southern District and the Iowa City Catholic Worker Shelter and Shelter, as many of these people do not have time to attend meetings. .

Board member Pauline Taylor said she was a little eager to resume in-person meetings at first, but was happy to be back after the meeting started and the meeting started.

“It was great to be back and I don’t like to use the term ‘back to normal’ … but back to the routine,” she said.

Iowa City Councilor Pauline Taylor speaks at a council meeting Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at the Senior Center in Iowa City, Iowa.

The Iowa City Council, like many other local governments, held meetings virtually last year using online streaming and broadcasting platforms like Zoom to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On Tuesday, six of seven city council members were in a room at the Iowa City Senior Center, a location chosen to allow for greater social distancing. Councilor Mazahir Salih was present virtually and intervened occasionally to express her opinion on the items on the agenda and to vote.

Some reminders of the pandemic persisted. Audience chairs were moved away and some participants wore face masks or kept them handy.

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Taylor said the council will meet at the Senior Center for the foreseeable future, as it offers a much larger space than the town hall council chamber. The town hall opened to the public on July 1.

Other familiar faces, such as Kauble and Nicholas Theisen, a Coralville resident, spoke during the public comments. Each criticized what they saw as a slow and inconsistent response to a surplus military vehicle being used by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department.

“You said, Mr. Mayor, explicitly that (the city) is not in favor of having militarized equipment – and you didn’t just say an MRAP – you said militarized equipment in our police department. “Theisen said.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors recently asked the Sheriff’s Office to consider an alternative to the massive military-style vehicle the county got in 2014 through a surplus program offered by the federal government because some residents complained of feeling traumatized upon seeing the deployed vehicle. in the streets of the city, saying that it makes the scene look like a war zone.

In a letter signed by Mayor Bruce Teague last month, he said he was “writing to request that the sheriff’s office separate from the MRAP vehicle. A military grade vehicle designed for war zones is not suitable for the forces. local order. It undermines public confidence and confidence in law enforcement and thus interferes with the objective of ensuring the safety of the community. “

Kauble, Theisen and some of the other speakers also called on the city to fire Fruin.

Theisen said he doesn’t think Fruin should always have a job because of the way police reform and the MRAP situation are handled.

“If I’m a little upset about this problem. If I’m a little irritating to all of you it’s because I’m sick of you repeating things like ‘Black lives matter’ or ‘He is. so important that you reform the police service, “Theisen said.” You are not reforming the police service. Geoffrey Fruin is reforming the police service as he pleases. … It expands the power of the police. “

While some residents voiced strong criticism during the public comments, the meeting remained civil and no major disruption took place. When Des Moines City Council resumed face-to-face meetings on June 14, protesters disrupted the meeting, causing it to be adjourned prematurely.

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Angie Jordan, an organizer for the South District Neighborhood Association, also spoke during the public comments to promote the last day of the Diversity Market Saturday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kingdom Center at 611 Southgate Ave.

“What I suggest to everyone who listens to me is to invest in people like me,” she said. “People like me … and all those people who are brown and women, we need investments to make our efforts sustainable.”

Hickory Trail Estates rezoning shrinks to move forward

The planned development of Hickory Trail Estates narrowly passed a second hurdle after council deliberated for nearly an hour. Some residents argue the plan hampers the natural integrity of nearby Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City.

Council voted 4-3 to advance the rezoning order to its third and final reading. Council members Salih, John Thomas and Taylor voted against advancing the ordinance due to concerns about development too close to the park without an adequate buffer zone of trees and how the plan uses a through street rather than dead ends.

The land, owned by ACT, which is located to the northeast of the park, would be transformed into a retirement home and a detached single-family residential project. The 48 acres of land acted as a sort of buffer of green space between the 185 acres of Hickory Hill Park and the developments to the east.

Taylor said plans to develop the land have been on hold since 2013.

A slide of a document for the proposed plan for a development near Hickory Hill Park is seen at a council meeting, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at the Senior Center in Iowa City, Iowa.

Ann Synan, a resident of Iowa City, asked council to consider a previous plan that would create two dead ends, saying it would do more to eliminate traffic problems and preserve the integrity of Hickory Hill Park . She said she thinks the plan should follow the Northeast District’s comprehensive plan more closely.

“We’re just asking for a better plan and that you do the right thing,” she said.

Casey Kohrt, chairman of the board of Friends of Hickory Hill Park, said his group opposed the plan in its current form and also asked the board to reconsider.

“We still believe dead ends can and should always happen where it matters to the environment. This is one of those places,” he said. “You can vote against it.”

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At a board meeting in June, Joseph Clark of Iowa City and Nelson Development of Des Moines with Axiom Consultants of Iowa City said the developers believe this is the best plan possible.

He said that while they were reluctant to make some changes to meet requests from the Friends of Hickory Hill Park and the Planning Commission, the developers have addressed green features, among other concerns.

Iowa City Councilor Susan Mims takes notes during a council meeting on Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at the Senior Center in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa City Councilor Susan Mims said she believes that in a perfect world, every person’s desires can be met. She said she has been involved in zoning laws for 11 years and sometimes projects like this can be controversial with many opinions on what can be done.

“I don’t think there is necessarily anything ideal about this process or perfect about the way it’s done.… I think this meets the Northeast compensation plan, and although it isn’t perfect, I think it’s very convenient for that particular geography, “she said.

Taylor, who voted against second reading, said she was not against development but listened to community members who spoke out against the plan. She said she agreed with them that it does not follow the comprehensive Northeast District plan in its current form without a dead end and a larger buffer zone.

“We have plans in place to guide us in our decisions, so why don’t we follow them? Taylor asked and added, “Hickory Hill Park is considered a unique treasure as it is not a typical neighborhood park.” … It is a natural park that people have described as a respite from city life.

The third and final reading of the rezoning order will take place at the July 27 meeting. Council could either approve it in its current form or reject it for reconsideration by the developer and the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission.

George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge

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