Younger, more diverse Cedar Rapids council takes office

Average age of council members drops by nearly a decade

CEDAR RAPIDS — As five new members of the Cedar Rapids City Council were sworn in to office Tuesday, the average age of the nine-member board dropped by nearly a decade and left it without any representatives who were in office during the flood of 2008 that has shaped the city since.

A 32-year-old information technology professional is the council’s youngest member in more than a decade.

Ashley Vanorny is the youngest since Sarah Henderson, who took office at age 31 in 2006. Vanorny also represents the biggest change in age from her predecessor, Justin Shields, 75, who is 43 years her senior.

“This is an opportunity where the City Council is going to reflect what our workforce looks like,” said Vanorny, who represents southern District 5. “It’s something during canvassing I heard a lot of: We need younger people; we need a younger voice on council.”

Vanorny, Tyler Olson, 41, Dale Todd, 60, Marty Hoeger, 45, and Mayor Brad Hart, 61, were officially sworn in during a ceremony to join four others who remain on the City Council.

The newly constituted council marks a notable transition from before:

l The new council represent nearly a decade decrease in the average age, from 62.8 to 53.7.

Three of the new council members are at least 15 years younger than those they are replacing.

Besides Vanorny’s example, Tyler Olson is three decades younger than Ralph Russell, 71, who did not seek re-election to his at-large seat. Hoeger is 15 years younger than his predecessor, Kris Gulick, 60, who did not seek re-election to his north-of-the-river District 1 to run for mayor.

On the other hand, Todd is a year older than Pat Shey, 59, who did not seek re-election in the central District 3.

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Hart is four years older than Ron Corbett, 57, who did not seek re-election as he runs for governor.

l The council has more diversity of ages, gender and race than the previous council.

The previous council was all white. Two of its members were women and its youngest members — Susie Weinacht and Scott Overland, who both remain on the council — were 54.

The council now has three women, and an African-American in Todd.

Todd, who also served as parks commissioner from 1998 to 2002, is the only black — man or woman — to have ever served on the council.

“I think the more diverse the council is the more representative of our community we can be and the better we can serve the community by advocating for all voices,” Vanorny said.

l And no member of the council was serving in office during two of the seminal moments in the city’s recent history — the change of the form of government in 2005 and the flood of 2008.

Three of the four returning council members — Weinacht, Ann Poe, 65, and Scott Olson, 71, who is Tyler Olson’s uncle — were on the board during another seminal event: the public’s vote in 2013 to extend a local-option sales tax extension for streets, which became Paving for Progress. The other returning council member, Overland, was not elected until 2015.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said he does not believe the new council will be at a loss for institutional memory because many were involved with the key issues from other perspectives as Cedar Rapids dealt with the flood and changed its form of government.

Tuesday’s swearing in ceremony culminates an election cycle where the lack of younger voices in city government was a theme. Nine out of 17 candidates who ran for office in November were 45 or younger, and six of them were 36 or younger.

Younger candidates, though, did not translate into younger voters.

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The average age of voters in the Nov. 7 regular election ranged from 57.6 in District 3 to 61.7 in District 4, compared with a range of 58.7 in District 3 and 5 to 60.7 in District 4 in the 2013 election.

“No question there was talk during the campaign that younger people in Cedar Rapids needed a voice on council,” Tyler Olson said. “They are going to have that. It is easier for people to be engaged and have a voice with an entity they can see looks like (they do).”

He said younger voices will bring new perspectives, but that won’t necessarily result in different outcomes.

Mark Stoffer Hunter, a historian with The History Center, said younger elected representatives dot city government back to the city’s earliest days.

Matt J. Miles already was serving as commissioner of accounts and finances when he took over as mayor at age 30 after the murder of John T. Carmody in 1909, Stoffer Hunter said. Miles was re-elected in 1910.

George Greene was 38 when elected mayor in 1855, and John Hamilton was 35 when elected mayor in 1878, Stoffer Hunter said.

“So this is not too unusual,” he said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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