By The Gazette Editorial Board
Our choices for the two at-large seats on the Iowa City Council have both proven themselves in elected office.
Matt Hayek, also the mayor for the past two years and the only incumbent seeking re-election, has been a steady, productive leader. He has helped guide the city through the controversy of the 21-only bar ordinance and into new directions for downtown and economic development during his first term.
Raj Patel has been the University of Iowa student liaison to the city council after serving two years in UI student government. His age, 20, brings assumptions of energy and enthusiasm, which he clearly possesses. But it also belies a high level of maturity and deep understanding of how local government works.
Hayek said the city’s biggest challenge is finances because “we’re being squeezed like never before in recent history,” feeling the effects of the national economic doldrums that are reducing state and federal revenues to cities, as well as flat local property values. He’s realistic but won’t rush to cut city services. Already, the city is not filling positions vacated through attrition. And he appropriately insists that the city needs to be fairly reimbursed for services that benefit other communities, such as the animal shelter and senior center, if they’re to continue on that scale.
With Iowa City already at the third-highest property tax levy rate in the state, and at a higher valuation structure than most communities, Hayek wants to hold the line on that tax rate.
The mayor has helped forge a more productive relationship with the University of Iowa on both social and economic development issues.
He insists that recent public-space rules OK’d by the council aren’t intended to “sanitize” the flavor and vitality of the ped mall downtown. We have been critical of some of those policies and hope he and the council aren’t prone to overreacting or micromanaging where they don’t need to be.
We like the mayor’s stand on tax increment financing (TIF): look at some increase but retain the sunset practice and relatively short terms, and don’t use it to take a business away from a neighboring city.
Hayek likes what he sees so far in the new city manager’s efforts to improve business transactions within the city’s processes. That’s important to existing businesses looking to expand and to competing better for new ones.
While city leaders recently have devoted more resources to southeast side crime concerns, the problems haven’t disappeared, and Hayek should be sure the council’s attention doesn’t either.
No university student has been elected to city council in more than three decades, but Patel is a solid candidate to end the drought.
He struck us with his work ethic and knowledge of business, rooted in his family’s hotel business, as well as his understanding of city issues that he’s clearly been following and researching. He supports job creation, not raising taxes, as the best way out of the budget squeeze.
Two other candidates also are in the race.
Jarrett Mitchell, a young, small-business owner downtown, impressed us with his ideas about development and sustainability, as well as motivating more people and voters to get more involved. He’s well-versed in most local issues.
Michelle Payne, who has climbed the ranks to supervisor during a long career with MidAmerican Energy, has an admirable, sincere desire to serve her community. She should expand on her understanding of local government and the key issues.
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