Meet Keith Wiggins, candidate for Cedar Rapids City Council District 5
Name: Keith Wiggins
Address: 2703 Dawn Ave. SW
Seat seeking: District 5
Educational background: Business Administration education at Ashford University
Why are you running for council?
Wiggins: I believe that I am an asset to the business community because no one else running in District 5 has the experiences and cultural diversity exposure I have. I served 3 years on the Civil Rights Commission for the City and I serve on the Iowa Capital Investment Board for the State of Iowa. I have traveled and lived in many different countries getting immersed into diverse cultures, this developed my ability to find common ground with all sorts of people. I worked in the Wind Industry as a Quality Engineer traveling and living all over the United States. My main job responsibilities included quality assurance, management, troubleshooting, problem solving, process improvement, waste management, budget goals, quick thinking and being versatile. My skills, and education, in business plus the fact my family’s business is celebrating 20 years in business and that I have owned and operated a successful business of my own just goes to show I have the passion and skill set that would support local business. When I was in commercial real estate for about four years I worked side by side with many business owners and investors developing invaluable skills that will benefit the business community when I am elected. I am passionate about economic growth in Cedar Rapids and I will work harder than anyone to ensure that growth happens and local businesses find the support and interaction they need.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Wiggins: Safety, Revenue losses, Infrastructure
The city is facing some major revenue losses. The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision to turn off traffic cameras on I-380, which have generated more than $3 million per year for the city. Now, the state is threatening to do away with the backfill, which in Cedar Rapids is worth about $4 million per year. What is your plan to balance the budget if those losses come to fruition?
Wiggins: Any plan has to have several other contingency plans and an exit strategy, if I were on council when these cameras were enacted I would have presented other contingency and exit plans as a pro-active approach. There are many ways to make up the loss revenue that could come from this change, with my skills in process improvement and use of six sigma methodologies I believe I can reduce waste dramatically. We can also reach out to our communities to have a vested interest in the budget as well as an increase in sales tax.
Some big fish have expressed interest in opening shop in Iowa, including Amazon and Toyota and Apple recently announced plans to build in Waukee. What specifically would you do to put Cedar Rapids in the best position to land a major new company?
Wiggins: I would get in front of all stakeholders and put great minds together around a table to encourage these large companies to locate their businesses here in Cedar Rapids Iowa. I would show all of the perks of locating business in our city plus learn from these stakeholders what exactly they are looking for when site selecting. With my experiences brining businesses and investors to the area when I was in Commercial Real Estate I feel I have to necessary skills to accomplish this.
There’s very real possibility one of the area’s largest employers, Rockwell Collins, could see its HQ leave Cedar Rapids. This would lead to a negative impact on jobs and philanthropy to local nonprofits. What would you do as an elected official to prevent this from happening or to minimize the impact?
Wiggins: I would hold several stakeholder meetings and find a common ground with everyone involved. We do not know what the terms are for what UTC wants in order to be encouraged to keep their new headquarters here in Cedar Rapids so we need to identify those needs. We have a beautiful city and the current employees of Rockwell love our communities and city in which I am confident UTC will recognize during their consideration.
One of residents top complaints in road conditions. Now we are a few years into a 10 year, 1 cent local-option sales tax targeting street repairs. It’s called Paving for Progress, and we’ve started to see streets improved, such as 42nd Street. What is your assessment of Paving for Progress? Is it working or isn’t it? And, do you favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program?
Wiggins: I feel that this program is way to late in the game in terms of needs to the community. I also feel this is a beneficial program that still needs to be reviewed and improved, such as the time constraints and street evaluations. I also believe that there are better economical ways to improve our streets than what is currently being done.
Another frequent complaint from residents is the city’s efforts to become more walkable and bikeable, notably building sidewalks in established neighborhoods and road work downtown which has included converting one way streets to two way streets, removing stop lights in favor of stop signs and adding bike lanes. Do you support these efforts and why? And would you do anything specifically to speed up or halt these initiatives?
Wiggins: I absolutely support the improvements of walkability in our city and the economic improvements of our downtown districts. I do feel that some neighborhoods do not need sidewalks whether that be physical or painted.
Cedar Rapids is some $200 million short of the money needed to build a flood protection system. Elected officials and city staff have tried a variety of methods to shake loose federal money for flood protection. They’ve lobbied local congressmen and senators, lobbied in Washington, D.C., worked with the Army Corps, and pushed unsuccessfully for a local sales tax increase for flood protection. What would you do differently to get federal aid for flood protection? What if any back up plan do you have to fill the funding gap?
Wiggins: Continuous efforts toward lobbying for funds and presenting a new improved plan for a local sales tax increase. I would also reach out to current land owners and/or business owners with incentive programs (tax abatements, TIFFs, etc.) to develop their properties that would increase flood protections on their property.
Last year and earlier this year, the City Council faced a difficult decision when Commonbond Communities wanted to build an affordable/homeless housing complex called Crestwood Ridge Apartments in a northwest neighborhood that vehemently opposed the project. While several neighbors pointed to concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, others said that type of project would bring down property values and could introduce questionable people into the neighborhood. City Council members were torn about whether to side with the electorate or endorse a project many acknowledged was needed in the community. How would you have voted and why?
Wiggins: I honestly feel that the community in this area really rose up and made a loud and clear representation of their concerns and needs. I feel that their voice was not heard correctly by some city officials, I can promise you this, I will get involved with our communities and in a situation like this I will return calls and emails, I will hold community meetings to discuss these issues and try to find common ground. I support these programs and groups like Willis Dady and Common Bond but it is clear that the community that would be directly affected by this development did not want this in their area. A new locations should have been considered.
Cedar Rapids has leaned heavily in recent years on Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development with programs for downtown development, job creation, restoring brownfields and grayfields, historic restoration, sustainable improvement, community benefit, and urban housing. Virtually every high profile development has included some form of public subsidy. As one example, the city is proposing a $20.5 million public subsidy for a 28 story, $103 million downtown high rise with a grocery store and hotel called One Park Place. Is this the right approach? Is it too generous? Please explain.
Wiggins: I feel more responsible criteria needs to be considered when awarding TIFFs to certain projects. These projects need to bring jobs, improve the community, encourage innovative thinking and progress in our community. I would also refocus our TIFF program to existing buildings such as the vast vacancies we have in office buildings and other spaces. I would encourage incentives to these owners to redevelop their properties and re-purpose their properties.
Following a series of shootings involving teens, a joint task force of city, school, police and community leaders joined forced to develop a plan called Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities. City staff and council have said they will work to implement the plan although some have questioned the level of commitment and progress and whether the city should bring in outside help. What do you think of the city’s progress on the SET program and what approaches would you advocate to address youth and gun violence?
Wiggins: I have taken a “boots on the ground” approach to many issues and this is one of them, I have spoken to the Police Chief and I have gone on a 10 hour overnight ride along to really see what our safety concerns are in our city. I noticed that a lot of the calls are due to mental illness and that needs to be addressed. Better training to officers would be considered in order to deal with mental illness. Allowing our officers to cite offenders more often. I will work to build neighborhood associations and encourage them all to be active in their communities. Creating, and bringing back youth programs that focus on troubled youth and communities. I will encourage educational and outreach programs along with new innovative social media efforts to economically reach out youth.
Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?
Wiggins: There is no other candidate running for city council district 5 with as much diversity and experiences as I have. Being a businessman I know the importance of issues pertaining to small businesses alike. As a commercial realtor I know how to bring people together for the “deal” and I know what to bring to the negotiating table. As a father of 5 I know the importance of family and the upbringing of our children. As a quality engineer in the wind industry I know what it takes to help manage multimillion dollar projects and the importance of renewable energy. As a combat veteran I know the importance of teamwork, the bigger picture, and sacrifice. I know what it takes to make the hard decisions and to serve a cause greater than myself.