116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Megan Alter, candidate for Iowa City Council at-large
Oct. 13, 2021 5:00 am, Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 8:35 pm
Megan Alter, Bruce Teague and Jason Glass are seeking two at-large seats on the Iowa City Council. ► Get to know the other candidates
Candidate: Megan Alter
Office sought: Iowa City Council at-large
Age: 51 (born Dec. 3, 1969)
Occupation: Senior Manager, Content Development and Solutions at ACT, Inc.
Campaign website: meganalterforcouncil.com
Have you held office before? No.
Personal bio: Megan Alter lives in the South District with her husband, two children, and menagerie of cats and birds. Like many people in Iowa City, Megan moved here for graduate school; once she earned her Ph.D. in English literature Megan taught as a visiting professor in the English department and the Sexuality Studies program before moving to ACT. She is currently a senior manager in the English Language Arts Department. In the community, she is part of the leadership team for the South District Neighborhood Association; a Big Sister for seven years; a former Board Director with Iowa Women’s Foundation and a current Board Director with Summer of the Arts. At ACT, she served as the chair of its Corporate Giving Committee, and co-chaired ACT’s United Way Drive twice. She is serving her second term on the Iowa City Housing and Community Development Commission. During COVID, she co-founded Neighborhood NESTS, which created micro-hubs for at-risk students and families in need in the Iowa City Community School District.
Why are you running for city council?
I want to make a better normal for our community. We’ve all heard that we “want to get back to normal,” but the truth is we shouldn't go back. We need to move forward in terms of equity, the local economy, and creating a stronger community that more people can enjoy. We have a tremendous moment to effect real change through more access and opportunities to help people’s daily lives: things like making child care a municipal consideration, not an individual one; to increase much needed retail in the South District; to increase affordable housing programs throughout the city. I am the co-founder of NESTS, which emphasized for me the need for sustained solutions to these issues. We began NESTS to help with technology and educational supports and quickly worked to add wraparound help like food, social and mental services, and clothing. While Iowa City has so much to offer, we simply must make essentials readily accessible to more people so more people have the opportunity to enjoy Iowa City. I have extensive local experience and I believe in the power of local effort and action. Because of the activities and people I’ve been involved with over the years I know firsthand the way to get things done is with passion, collaboration, flexibility, and persistence. I am a proactive candidate who will bring issues from the community onto the agenda, not just react to them. I am eager to bring my experience to City Council to make a better normal for us all.
How do you rate the city’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
I believe the City Council’s priorities are in the right place: protecting residents from COVID and its variants with as much authority as it can. And the city, as directed by council, has been working through its resolution to make Iowa City more equitable. The priorities are there. However, I want to see a continuing sense of urgency that produces demonstrable progress on the big issues. Equity concerns should not be limited to discussions revolving around the TRC (though I also believe the commission has an important role to serve in the community). My point is that council could improve by remembering the big picture and its commitments to equity across multiple agencies and priorities that serve people in the community more effectively. Case in point: Council successfully created a separate budgetary pool for affordable housing some years ago. It is time for council to discuss best uses for this pool of money and reexamine its current agreements with developers when it comes to providing affordable housing. Specifically, council should be more proactive in terms of extending or making permanent the number of years developers must maintain affordable rents. This has been brought up in previous campaigns and I see no changes and little discussion about it. An additional, complex action item relates to restructuring the ICPD. As a city, we cannot allow slow down or become so incremental that little actually changes. Without persistent attention, inertia takes over.
What are the three largest issues facing the community and what will you do to address them?
My chief priorities are to improve challenges caused by systemic and economic inequities and increase opportunities for people to enjoy what Iowa City offers. First, we cannot afford to wait for federal or even state policies/programs to solve our child care crisis. Too often considered a woman's issue, this is often the reason why child care isn't tackled as a municipal concern. But a lack of child care affects every family member and every sector of our community: it is indeed a matter of equity, economy, and community. Iowa City must partner with local groups (public and private and including JoCo, ICABP, ICCSD, UI) to unpack and begin work. There are many options to consider, but first and foremost the city must get involved. Another issue is honoring the commitments stated in the BLM resolution. Not merely statements but promises, fulfilling the 17 points on the resolution is underway, but the work must continue to completion. After that, the city's commitment to equity must be ongoing and intentional. I have not explicitly mentioned the resolution in my campaign because my entire platform addresses matters of equity in the community. But we must not lose sight of what has already been committed to. Finally, the city must continue to strengthen all of Iowa City's districts; this includes bringing much needed retail to the Southeast side. I strongly recommend recruiting and supporting local retailers and entrepreneurs to fill this need.
How should the city facilitate more affordable housing options for buyers and renters?
I was a Housing and Community Development Commission when the initial proposal was put before us for the South District Homeownership Program. This program allows longtime renters the opportunity to buy their homes. As a commission, we provided recommendations to better support these potential first time homeowners; now, 3 years later, the city is expanding the program on Taylor. This has long term positive implications for stabilizing affordable housing as well as supporting household financial strength (and generational economic stability) because people earn instant equity through homeownership. Because of the massive upsides created by this program, I am in favor of expanding it to additional neighborhoods in the city. Planning and zoning ordinances fundamentally determine what can be done in neighborhoods. They also have been used historically to segregate by income and race. Therefore, I am in favor of the form-based codes proposed for the South District (a model of what this looks like in terms of neighborhoods is evidenced by the Peninsula, with smaller houses, mixed use, multifamily dwellings). Lots and new housing construction are expensive in Iowa City. By zoning for smaller lots and for mixed use, new homes can be first homes for people. In terms of rental units, for those with <30% AMI, I favor creating more local housing choice vouchers and expanding support for elderly renters (the highest proportion of head of household and acutely affected by low income).
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 would look at previous budgets to see where the least impacts or least effective expenditures live. The key for me is to see moneys spent to keep the city healthy (broadly defined), and where possible improve people's daily lives in terms of essentials and in terms of quality of life. I am also mindful of what the council and city have already committed to addressing. There has been a lot of public anger around the size of police budget; I would like to look at it more closely to see if and how funds could be reallocated to further equity goals while still supporting with public safety. Those two components can be and are true at the same time. However, the larger the budget is, the more it makes sense to examine it for cost savings and potential reallocations that may well help with public safety, for instance, but are not housed in that department. More broadly, I would look for cost savings in larger department budgets, examine long-term projects that could be pushed back or delayed (while also looking at the cost of delay), and determine, along with the rest of council and staff, what the city's priorities are in a year (or years) where the budget is smaller or expenditures exceed scope. My approach to reduction is to make sure as much as possible that people do not feel a major negative impact in their lives based on the city's need to reduce its budget. That means programs supporting shelter, food, utilities, first responders and the like should not be affected.
What do you see as the most important pieces of the city’s “Preliminary Plan to Restructure the Police”?
The key pieces of the preliminary plan focus on creating stronger professional mental health supports and making sure the public is aware of this resource. In particular, there are a cluster of related items which will/should reframe call-outs as police led and instead look to emphasize mental health. These include integrating mobile crisis services into the dispatch process (effectively helping triage calls), work with CommUnity and other local entities to expand Mobile Crisis Service following models provided by Guidelink and Cross Park Place. The addition of the CommUnity Crisis Law Enforcement Liaison is an important step to have taken and I hope that the partnership shows success. I remain a proponent of the work performed by the civilian Community Service Officer position and would like to see if that civilian position can create deeper roots in the community to build trust. I believe that the components of the plan addressing proactive rather than reactive actions are important frame-shifting perspectives to consider the future of policing. To that end, I believe holding quarterly town halls, as proposed in the plan, are excellent and consistent ways for the public to have a voice and for the police to know firsthand what residents are experiencing and to get "real time" accounts of how the police force's actions have been perceived, how they might do better, and gather input. These townhalls will be difficult but ultimately will create space for true communication.
What should the city's state legislative priorities be and how would you help advocate for them?
There are five legislative priorities the city should support:
1. More local autonomy and authority for the Community Police Review Board, including granting the CPRB the ability to know what actions have been taken after providing recommendations to the city manager and police chief regarding board decisions.
2. Continuing to support child care bills to ensure that families and child care professionals are supported (e.g. support staff training to provide professional and safe places for children, help families avoid the cliff effect [where people lose benefits if they earn a little more money; the effect is they lose needed benefits and are effectively poorer]. This is especially true for families who rely on child care assistance vouchers).
3. Support a living wage to help alleviate equity and economic hardship and fill open jobs.
4. Get rid of the permit-less carry gun law.
5. Help eradicate COVID by reversing the ban on mask mandates. As a councilor, I would support the city working with state legislators, advocacy groups, and other municipal leaders including the University of Iowa in order to gather consensus, create more strength, and to provide evidence of the impact of these current state-mandated laws and bills.
Are there quality of life improvements that could be made in the city? What are they and how would you fund them?
All of the issues I have discussed throughout this questionnaire directly relate to quality of life improvements: access to affordable child care; creating retail options in the South District and adjacent Eastside; expanding and stabilizing affordable housing; creating a safer community and better relations between the ICPD and residents of color. I also champion more robust programming and refreshed facilities from Recreation Services for youth, senior citizens, and residents. Providing access to inclusive and enjoyable activities (preferably in neighborhoods throughout the city) is, to my mind, absolutely a quality-of-life issue that invests in healthy neighborhoods. I am pleased that funding is already earmarked by the city for this large-scale improvement project. With in-person activities returning to Iowa City, I would like to see continued investment in music, the arts, and performance — not only providing it as entertainment, but to invest in programming for youth in the community. To fund some of this, I would like to see some of the public art funding used for this purpose. Finally, I am committed to finding better uses for the IC Marketplace. Too much of it is empty and it is in a central location for the east side. I would love to gather updated public input about what should go into this space; there are several attractive possibilities that could refresh the area. There may be incentives from the state to help finance/incentivize improvements.
What steps should the city/city council take to address gun violence?
I was recently awarded the distinction of a Gun Sense Candidate by Moms Demand Action, and I take my cues from their excellent work. At the same time we must work to disrupt cycles of gun violence by having fewer guns on the streets, disrupting cycles of gun violence also means identifying root causes and mitigating them. We must invest in our communities. A lack of access and opportunity for good paying jobs, lack of access to mental health support, limited affordable housing and few choices of where to live, daily transportation struggles, food insecurity, few community centers that are welcoming and nearby to create healthier and safe environments … all of these elements contribute to gun violence through stress and trauma. I am committed to working on initiatives that will improve people’s daily lives which will reduce intense stressors, and create safer communities in the long term. That said, we must work locally and effectively to combat gun violence now. We must to make it more difficult to obtain guns in our communities. We need adequate oversight over the sales of guns and ammunition; we also need to track the types of gun violence, create community outreach positions and mentors. Iowa City could benefit from creating an interagency working group not limited only to the ICPD to review all shootings in order to work on prevention. If it isn’t limited to the ICPD there may be additional solutions to be had by bringing in a wide range of relevant experience.