116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Name: Dale Todd
Office sought: Cedar Rapids City Council, District 3 (incumbent)
Age: 64 (born Aug. 19, 1957)
Occupation: Vice president of development, Hatch Development Group
Campaign website: daletodd.com
Have you held office before? Commissioner of Parks and Public Property, 1998-2002; Cedar Rapids City Council District 3, 2018-present
Personal bio: I grew up in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods in the 1960s and came to Cedar Rapids to attend Coe College in 1974. I channeled my experiences in Chicago and Cedar Rapids to graduate from what was then Mount Mercy College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and criminal justice. I was one of the early leaders of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association in the 1990s and immediately worked to address the challenges of crack and other drugs as they appeared in our community. As the Commissioner of Parks and Public Property from 1998 to 2002, I helped lead the revitalization of our parks system by expanding acreage, rebuilding aging infrastructure and making our system one of the most progressive in the country. I have worked for the Hatch Development Group for 10 years, creating award-winning affordable housing communities throughout Iowa. I was reelected to city government in 2017 and have concentrated my energy on disaster recovery, public safety constituent services and neighborhood stabilization.
Why are you running for city office?
Cedar Rapids is my home and I care about its people and the future of this city. For me public service has been a part of my life. My parents taught me that you get involved and try to make the world a better place. You give back to your community and those that need help. I look at things and try to find solutions and I have a lifetime of connections and experiences that allow me to connect people who need help to services and those who might be able to help.
These are serious times that demand experienced leadership on tough issues. I have a track record of making common sense decisions that keep our community safe and moving forward in the right direction. I have a proven track record that reflects this belief, and I am humbled that this community has been incredibly kind throughout the years to trust me
I take my work seriously and believe that the oath of office is something to abide by.
How do you rate the city’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
I am basing my observations on over 30 years of being involved in local government and studying how other cities perform and operate. Our city is a city that works, it is fiscally sound. It is also a city that has survived two of the worst disasters in our nation’s history. While we can always do better, I do believe that this is one of the most productive phases of growth and revitalization that our city has experienced in decades. We are rebuilding our downtown and much of our infrastructure. This includes flood and disaster recovery and the impact that the ongoing pandemic has on our economy. Our employees are dedicated, and our city departments are run efficiently, professionally operated, and responsive to change. Tourists are returning and our hotels are once again busy. New restaurants are opening, and most residents feel safe. Improvements have been made to the ice arena and Kernel’s ballpark and people are enjoying the trail system and parks. In comparison to other cities Cedar Rapids is in great shape. We are moving forward on climate change plans and have accelerated our flood control improvements. What needs to be improved is how we communicate this message to the public. People are not aware of much of this progress and if someone constantly tells you on social media that there is no progress, then that is the message that you come away with. It is not accurate nor indicative of the challenges we have faced and the progress that has been made since the disaster.
What are the three largest issues facing the community and what will you do to address them?
Our first challenge is the continuing recovery from the pandemic, derecho and 2008 flood. These challenges form a trifecta that influences our daily decision-making, city budget, economic recovery and mental well-being. We need to stay focused on efforts to rebuild, retain and create sustainable jobs, and recruit people to fill the positions that are currently empty.
Public safety is of paramount importance to me. If you do not feel safe in your home and neighborhood, it makes it tough to think about other issues. While crime data indicates a downturn in some types of crime, I am troubled by some of the trends that I am seeing here and nationwide. Crime no longer just impacts small pockets of our neighborhoods, but today reaches all quadrants. While shots fired data is currently down, the randomness and trauma that it leaves in its wake is incredibly damaging. For those who live adjacent or near a house that has been targeted for retribution, the constant mental angst is debilitating and leads to neighborhood destabilization. The prosecution of those who continue to make choices that lead to acts of gun violence will continue to be a priority in my next four years, so will the continued creation of jobs, recreational opportunities and after-school programs to provide positive opportunities for those caught up in the cycle of gun violence.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the challenge our community faces with homelessness and people with co-occurring mental health challenges. This is an issue that all cities are struggling with. You work with your nonprofits as best you can. We have had success with our Downtown Ambassadors program but housing the chronic homeless is very labor intensive and requires significant supportive services and space, which at this point is limited. We are putting short term solutions in place, but this issue will require some tough discussions with service providers to develop long term solutions. Since many of the homeless are downtown in my district, I look forward to the continued discussion. I am also going to suggest that as a council we need to devote more resources and staff to the issue. It is not going away.
Interfering with our ability to tackle these issues is an underlining level of mistrust, misinformation and breakdown in our social discourse. Facts don’t seem to matter that much, and our social media has grown toxic and weaponized. What is needed is a collective cleansing and the building of a community vision to tackle the issues identified as priorities. This collective vision was shaped in past community building exercises like Foresight 2020 or the neighborhood rebuilding planning exercises after the flood of 2008. Today if you asked our community what it stands for you would get 20 different answers. We need to chart a course for our future together, I call it Vision 2025.
What do you see as priorities when it comes to the city’s economic development? What areas do you think the city has the potential to grow in? What are most at risk? What would you do about it?
We learned during the pandemic how fragile certain sectors of our economy are. The lesson I learned was of the importance of a diversified economy, one that encompasses all sectors moving together in a unified manner. City government leads by providing an ethically and efficiently run organization that is responsive and provides the necessary infrastructure and services that help business and industry thrive. There is a healthy balance between attracting new business and helping existing business expand and sustain their model. While incentives certainly play a role, I am interested in attracting new business based on the quality of life that our community provides not on the amount of financial incentive a business might gain.
We learned how fragile our restaurant and entertainment sector are in a pandemic and recession. We were flexible with rules to promote more outdoor dining. The current labor shortage on operations is a real crisis that has resulted in closures. We are working with our partners at Kirkwood to help with this need. By building on the innovation that is already happening in our community we should cultivate a culture that encourages start-ups and new investment in research and technology. By valuing diversity and equity in the workplace we strengthen our economic base and creating citywide job training opportunities and connections like we did by bringing “Urban Dreams,” to assist with job training for those who need help. We are also helping business by creating the amenities that appeal to recruiting and retaining workers. Place-making and the creation of destination attractions like the NewBo City Market, Imon Ice Arena, Kernels Stadium, trails, pools, affordable workforce housing, entertainment and safe neighborhoods. The needs for child care and quality schools can all impact our business sectors, this is where city government can be a part of the solution.
We work hard to make things happen and not stand still.
How should the city facilitate more affordable housing options for buyers and renters?
As someone who builds affordable housing for a living here are my thoughts: The real issue is poverty. What is not being built is housing for people and families who meet or are below the poverty level. Developers do not build these units because this type of housing requires more supervision and management. What needs to happen is local nonprofits who provide supportive services need to expand their visions and business models so that they develop their own housing projects. Foundation 2 is doing this with a project that will house young adults who have aged out of the foster care system. It was a bold step for the nonprofit to take but it creates a win-win. Government is here to provide financing and technical expertise. Solid partnerships between good landlords, nonprofits, developers, and the city are needed to tackle as the barriers for those to affordable housing, this includes people with disabilities, mental illness, legal background challenges, high rent and high deposit amounts. A personal issue for me are people with complicated backgrounds or mental illness who are taken advantage of by landlords who provide substandard and dangerous housing. They prey on these clients who have no other options for housing. We need to have an honest discussion about the realities of the marketplace and how we can put pressure on substandard landlords to encourage them to improve their housing model.
If you were forced to cut the city’s budget, how would you approach these reductions? What areas would you look to for savings and why?
I have worked hard over the years to get city staffing levels to a point where we have an adequate workforce to respond in a timely manner to service requests, without being overstaffed. Our budget is fiscally sound, and our level of borrowing is a model for other communities. We have enough in savings to respond to emergencies without raising taxes. We also have been very aggressive in creating public private partnerships that allow us to leverage resources. I would suggest that we need to have a serious discussion about the duplication of services between the city and county government. For instance, “why do taxpayers pay for two separate climate change plans?” This is something that could have been done in tandem.
The city and Linn County Emergency Management each completed after-action reviews of their respective derecho response. Should the groups work together to develop a regional plan? What other improvements need to be made to the emergency response plan and what will you do to advance the conversation?
Of course, the groups need to keep working together to develop plans; they need to continuously practice, practice and practice. ’m involved in efforts to develop new protocols to address gaps that we identified during disasters — like how we can communicate when there is zero power?
During the derecho, I was in the Incident Command Center working directly with the people who were on the front lines — including representatives from the utility companies — there are hundreds of success stories that will never be told. The community has never heard these stories and it remains a disservice to the people who put their lives on the line. My point is, many things worked and worked well. It was more than just luck; there was a plan, and it was executed. In disasters, there are people who can fall through the cracks and yes, we did have some who were impacted in a way that we can improve upon. We identified service providers who managed In disasters before but because of COVID had limited capacity.
The city is committed to improving its response and working in tandem with others. This is a work in progress, and we will continually seek input and look for ways to improve. But having been involved in previous disaster-planning exercises, I never would have imagined a hurricane event with 140-mile-an-hour winds that decimated our power grid and damaged our entire community. No one did. Now we know better.
The city recently unveiled its climate action plan. Do you support the plan and the idea of net zero carbon emissions by 2050? Are there other things you'd like to see the city do to address climate change?
As I have said in The Gazette, “There is no city in America that understands the impact of climate change on our community more than Cedar Rapids.” I will continue to work with our local utilities to reduce the use of coal and internally we will begin to implement the action items identified in our climate action plan that was developed in partnership with the community. I would also like to see a task force that identifies opportunities to incorporate more solar energy into the mix. Local developers are already designing their building to meet the challenge that change in our climate is having on our community. Planning for heat events, polar vortexes, additional flooding and other disaster related events needs to become part of our DNA. Incorporating climate action plans and emission reduction into our corporate culture makes good economic sense. Building these concepts into the fabric of our neighborhoods helps create a sustainable community, imagine one with green jobs, neighborhood gardens, energy efficient housing, this is not a dream but easily can be our reality if we follow the city's newly adopted climate action plan.
What should the city’s state legislative priorities be and how would you help advocate for them?
Large urban cities have been on the defense in recent years in terms of their relationship with the Iowa Legislature. Our charge has been to fight against unfunded mandates and to preserve our ability to capture revenue and govern. We have seen numerous policies that have a negative impact on our ability to govern and we are constantly in triage. At the same time we have worked in tandem with the State of Iowa and legislature on issues of flood protection, economic development, affordable housing, disaster recovery and many more. We pick our battle wisely and maintain decent relationships with key decision-makers. The message that we try to convey is that when Iowa's second largest city does well, so does the rest of Eastern Iowa and the State. We cannot afford an urban rural divide so we try to accomplish mutually achievable goals.
Are there quality of life improvements that could be made in the city? What are they and how would you fund them?
Working every day to make sure that people feel safe in their community is the first step we can take when improving the quality of life for residents. We do this every day. The ability to make a phone call and have police, fire and ambulance within minutes is huge. Not all cities can guarantee that efficiently. Building trails that can be used for transportation and recreation, improving traffic flow (Collins Road by Lindale). When it comes to neighborhood parks, we are replacing playgrounds and the surfacing on our splash pads. We are planting trees in neighborhoods and creating public spaces where people can interact and build a sense of community. Connect CR is a national model of a successful public-private partnership, this is a game changer for enhancing the entire community’s quality of life. We have more projects like this in the pipeline. Cedar Rapids will be a national model for rebuilding, revitalization and how cities can recover from disasters and the pandemic.
What steps should the city/city council take to address gun violence?
The issue of gun violence became a priority for the council in 2018. We have been aggressive in not just allocating resources to the issue but making it a stand alone priority for council and staff. The police department has always been aggressive, but our community never really had a comprehensive strategy to combat the issue. Today we have more than just a framework, the infrastructure is coming together. This includes the PCAT team which is charged with seizing illegal weapons and arresting violent criminals. Having helped start the SET Task Force the work that this group is doing is helping to build the community voice and is critical to our success. The city is providing a slate of recreational and job-related programs and all efforts are geared toward building a community voice that says “gun violence is not an acceptable choice,” Building a strong relationship with national experts like Thomas Abt and David Kennedy has help drive some of our strategy and key decisions. Working in partnership with other community organizations and building bonds of trust throughout our community with a professional and accredited Police Department. When people continue to make choices to engage in gun violence then our formal partnerships with the ATF and U.S. Attorney’s office come into play. For these individuals we encourage the U.S. Attorney through the Safe Streets Task Force to send these folks to federal jail. I have zero tolerance for gun violence.