CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials are being noncommital on a proposal to hire an employee or two to focus on advancing goals and recommendations arising from a nearly three-year multiagency task force studying the “vicious cycle” of youth gun violence and poverty in Linn County.
City Council members say they will consider the request but need more information. They also point out progress already is being made without such a hire, including seeing a drop in the crime rate, establishing the Neighborhood Finance Corporation to help improve neighborhood housing and training for police on being aware of implicit biases.
“I am trying to fully understand what is it they want to do,” council member Susie Weinacht said. “We took the recommendations at the end of (the task force), and moved forward with it and produced measurable results.”
The position or positions could be based at the United Way of East Central Iowa and overseen by a board of those with a vested interest in the outcomes, said Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, who was co-chairman of the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force and is now rallying support to bring the 2017 SET report to life.
Walker said in the two-position structure, the lead would focus on convening different groups and breaking down silos that prevent separate institutions from working together to address systemic issues. The second would focus on helping people navigate the system to find resources. In the single staff person model, the person would do a combination of the two jobs.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors approved $100,000 in startup money and an ongoing commitment of $50,000 to sustain it. Walker has asked Cedar Rapids to match the funding level.
“Everyone knows this is an all-hands-on-deck issue,” Walker said. “My chore is to get four council members to put this on an agenda and then the majority to vote for it.”
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Walker emailed city staff and council members in February with an overview of the proposal, documents about the budget and a letter of commitment from the supervisors to continue funding the initiative. This week he has meetings scheduled to review the proposal with interested council members.
Walker also hopes to get the Cedar Rapids Community School District involved, though he wasn’t yet sure what the ask would be given school budget constraints. Phone and email messages seeking comment from school board President John Laverty were not returned.
A diverse group of city, county, school, religious, law enforcement officers and others began exploring gun violence and poverty in September 2015 after the shooting death of Aaron Richardson, 15. A rash of additional teen-involved shootings brought more attention to the cause of the SET task force.
Council members Dale Todd and Ashley Vanorny say they support the funding request.
“While the city does an excellent job, this is something that deserves full attention, and by that I mean creating a position to implement the findings of the SET task force,” Vanorny said.
“We shouldn’t be defensive or afraid to have the discussion. We should be actively encouraging and driving this process. I commend the county for its willingness to step up and try to make something happen,” Todd said.
Not all council members are on board, at least not yet. Some questioned whether the position would duplicate existing roles.
“I am still trying to gather information about what the ask is and what the ask is for, and go through our process and talk to staff to see if this is a good use of taxpayer money,” said Mayor Brad Hart.
Council member Scott Overland said he, too, needs more information.
“My main question is if somebody is hired, what is the job description? What are they going to do specifically?” Overland said. “I need the confidence to know the only way to do some of this is through an additional staff person. I would need to justify the cost and there would need to be measurables, just like anything else.”
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