116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Oct. 14, 2021 10:48 am
Tiffany O’Donnell, Amara Andrews, Myra Colby Bradwell and Brad Hart are running for mayor of Cedar Rapids. ► Get to know the other candidates
Name: Tiffany O’Donnell
Office sought: Cedar Rapids mayor
Age: 52 (born Feb. 21, 1969)
Occupation: CEO, Women Lead Change
Campaign website: tiffany4mayor.com
Have you held office before? No.
Personal bio: Tiffany O’Donnell is the CEO of Women Lead Change, a Cedar Rapids-based organization with a global presence dedicated to developing and advancing women leaders. Prior to joining the WLC, Tiffany was a 20-year Emmy-award winning news anchor, spending the last 15 years at CBS2/Fox 28.
Tiffany has been a dedicated Cedar Rapids volunteer for the past 20 years serving in leadership for non-profits including Kids First Law Center, Revival Theatre Company, and the Alzheimer’s Association. She was also Vice Chair of the founding board and member of the capital campaign for the NewBo City Market.
Tiffany is the co-chair for the stateside EPIC Corporate Challenge, a public/private initiative that measures the advancement of women and women of color in public and private organizations.
She is a first-generation college graduate and went to DePauw University majoring in French and Communications. She and her husband, Michael, have been married 29 years and have two daughters, Devon and Luciana.
Why are you running for city office?
I have two reasons for running for Mayor: Devon and Lucci. My daughters. I’m a lifelong Iowan and my husband, Michael, is a 5th generation Cedar Rapidian. We encouraged our girls to pursue their dreams wherever that may be, while hoping that someday they would return home like we did. But will they?
A lack of leadership is setting us back. That we’re “okay with being okay.” I’m tired of watching the cities around us, pass us by. We need to expect more.
I will be a mayor who understands the importance of being out in front telling our story. A leader who says, “We can do better!” I’m a leader who brings optimism and energy and insists that we are a welcoming place, full of opportunity for all our communities within Cedar Rapids.
I will cultivate relationships with local business and organizations, with our neighboring city leaders and with leadership in Des Moines.
This is my home. I want Cedar Rapids to be that brighter city that we know it can be! We can do it, together.
How do you rate the city’s current performance? What areas are going well, and what could be improved?
I’m running for Mayor because I believe we need to expect more for all of the diverse communities who make up Cedar Rapids. Bright spots include the Climate Action Plan and ReLeaf program. Another encouraging plan is EnvisionCR, our city’s roadmap for community development. That said, most people reading this probably don’t know what it is. This highlights a major gap I see with communication and much of it landing on the shoulders of the city’s public face: the mayor.
The mayor needs to be out front sharing issues and opportunities with citizens. I will be a mayor who is open and honest about what’s working and what’s not working. Examples include street repairs that seem endless, neighbors still hurting from the Derecho. We have opportunity gaps among our citizens creating long term barriers for success. Lack of affordable housing and rising property taxes pricing some out of their homes. We have a need for accessible entertainment and recreation for families.
In addition, we need to improve relationships across the board. We can’t have stories like we’ve read this summer about the city and county leadership not getting along. We can’t miss out on critical state funding and be surprised. We can’t be surprised when another major employer decides to leave Cedar Rapids. I’ll be a mayor who builds relationships and works well with others for a better Cedar Rapids.
What are the three largest issues facing the community and what will you do to address them?
First, to move forward, we need to fix what’s broken: streets, Derecho recovery, flood protection. I advocate for an accessible, transparent timeline for street repairs. What are we getting for a 1% sales tax and when? I would also work to create a point person at the city to manage comprehensive Derecho recovery support. We’re not done until everyone is back on their feet. It’s also critical that we speed up flood protection on both sides of the river. We need to push ourselves because a flood will happen again. We should set a maximum completion date for all projects by 2028 - 20 years post flood.
We need to commit ourselves to retaining and supporting our existing workforce and existing businesses while strategically recruiting new people and businesses. For our current workforce, I would encourage support by the City to organizations that train and educate middle skill and trade workers; upskill the workers of today for the job needs of today and tomorrow. For existing and valued businesses, I would hold meetings early and often with company leaders to ensure we are a part of their long-term plans. In addition, I would instill an “Open for Business” culture that allows for swift processes within our city departments. The city needs to be a partner and facilitator, not a roadblock. All of this while strategically recruiting talent and businesses that align with our existing industries including food processing, logistics, transportation, manufacturing, food processing, aerospace/defense, entrepreneurship.
Finally, retaining and recruiting becomes easier when we have a stellar quality of life. People won’t want to leave and even more will want to come here! To do that, let’s create a vibrant downtown on the east and west side. I’ll advocate for support to make our unique neighborhoods 15-minute walkable/bikeable districts. In addition, I’ll seek out innovative ways to provide entertainment and recreation on and off the river, create a heart of our city that unites us all.
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?
The first priority for the city is to retain the business that are here today and it’s also our greatest risk. As a mid-sized city, we’re one major employer closing away from disaster. We can’t have more Toyota’s departing. The city must be a partner to local businesses doing whatever it can to help them grow and be successful. Our city leadership must be building relationships with key local employers to ensure we are part of their long-term plans. How do we get them to bring jobs here rather than move jobs away?
A key part of this is workforce development. The City must be working to grow the workforce of tomorrow through high schools, Kirkwood Community College, trades, and other training. We need to focus on keeping our kids here when they graduate. We need to build the city that will attract workers from here and beyond with affordable housing, local entertainment and recreation, as well as safe neighborhoods.
The city also needs to lean into our entrepreneurial ecosystem. It’s what makes Cedar Rapids unique. We build stuff here. Look at our great history and you can see successes large and small. The city should work with NewBoCo and the Economic Alliance to ensure we have the infrastructure in place to help entrepreneurs get off the ground and then support them to go to the next level. We need to make Cedar Rapids the place to start and grow a new business.
How should the city facilitate more affordable housing options for buyers and renters?
The lack of affordable housing is a major barrier to achieving the growth we need to take Cedar Rapids to the next level. We need multiple tiers of housing support: housing-first opportunities for those moving out of homelessness, Section 8/subsidized housing for those needing a hand up, and affordable market-rate housing for new members of the workforce.
We have some recent good news in the development of new affordable housing projects. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the impact of continued housing sprawl on the city and the opportunity to revitalize our city with infill housing.
We can re-imagine our downtown as a place that provides a variety of housing opportunities. There is land that was cleared following epic flooding, long unused warehousing, and recently vacated office space from changes to how people work. This vision for downtown matches the vision in the new Community Climate Action Plan as well as EnvisionCR – we need to follow through.
I would like to leverage support from Iowa Economic Development Authority workforce housing credits to provide the necessary incentive for developers to take on these projects. In addition, I’d like to pursue ideas for City support to incentivize development ranging from forgivable loans to tax increment financing. We should also consider whether these incentives are better directed to individuals instead of developers. Let’s be creative!
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?
As the CEO of an organization, I understand the dynamics of a changing economic landscape, especially pre- and post-pandemic. This has required me to regularly evaluate strategic plans and the budgets that go along with them. Cuts are often necessary and rarely easy.
The first thing I would do is turn to the City Manager and ask for input and guidance. The City Manager is closest to the day-to-day operation and should have insight into where savings can be found. I would expect department heads to be consulted to get their opinion as well. It must be a team approach. We would most likely pause any new projects and new hiring to prioritize retention of existing staff.
The process is a bit more complex for a city than a business. Budget considerations are made by a City Council and implemented by the City Manager. The Council would need to weigh the impact to City services within the priorities of the community. This is never an easy process, but it should be done in a transparent manner and in the best interest of the community.
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?
In times of crisis, collaboration among the City, County and State is critical. As mayor, I consider it top priority to foster those relationships. When we are offered help, we need to accept the help. Unfortunately, we saw gaps in communication and relationships between the City and County during and after the Derecho. After-action reviews show the need for improved planning and coordination between all parties. The fact City and County couldn’t even cooperate on an after-action evaluation is sad. We spent scarce tax-payer funds unnecessarily to produce reports with competing views rather than a consolidated review.
I would support a regional plan that provided for multiple levels of engagement based on the scope and reach of the disaster. This requires collaboration among key stakeholders including staff, elected officials, non-profit leaders, and neighborhood association representatives. The resulting plan would be released to the community and accessible in a variety of formats.
The immediate need for communication must be addressed in any plan. There would need to be steps in place that would automatically be triggered in a disaster. Examples include city taking over local radio stations, Emergency sirens with voice capabilities providing directions to residents, 2-way radios given in advance to designated and publicly identified emergency neighbor contacts. A plan would need to be publicized and an emergency response, rehearsed.
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?
I support the city’s Community Climate Action Plan and its ambitious goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The best part of the plan is that it was created in consultation with our local businesses, non-profits and individuals so it’s realistic. It’s critical that our local businesses are bought-in for the plan to achieve its goals while maintaining our local jobs and economy.
The plan aligns with the vision that I’ve shared since the beginning of my campaign. I feel that a future growing and vibrant Cedar Rapids can be seen in our great past. Look at our history of culturally diverse, unique neighborhoods with everything within a 15-minute walk, bike or bus ride. NewBo, Czech Village, Time Check, Wellington Heights and others – all unique neighborhoods that provide a place for everyone. This is a basis for the sustainable community and it’s also the model for a city that will appeal to the workers of tomorrow.
What should the city’s state legislative priorities be and how would you help advocate for them?
The first priority is to ensure that Cedar Rapids gets its share of state funding. The news this summer that Cedar Rapids received $9m of a requested $39m in state funding was incredibly disappointing. As the second largest city in the state, Cedar Rapids received the least funding of the six cities who were funded. This seems to happen way too often. We need to work closely with state leadership to ensure they understand our needs and prioritize Cedar Rapids.
My priorities for the state legislature center on funding for economic development, affordable housing, workforce development and childcare. These are the investments that will take Cedar Rapids to the next level. Our state leadership needs to remember that a successful, growing Cedar Rapids is good for the state.
Are there quality of life improvements that could be made in the city? What are they and how would you fund them?
Through our history the Cedar River has been little more than a line that separates the east side and west side. In recent years, it has been a menace that leaves its banks periodically to wreak havoc on our city. As we look forward to a better Cedar Rapids, we need to rethink our relationship with the river. It needs to become a centerpiece for our community. A symbol that unites us.
It starts with downtown and specifically riverfront development. Before much can happen, we need to accelerate flood protection on both sides of the river so that businesses and individuals can move downtown with confidence. We need the fully embrace the river to build the vibrant city center and unique city personality that you see in all successful, growing cities.
A casino is part of this picture. With passage of the referendum this November, the city can pursue a gaming license once again. While far from a certainty, a casino would be game changer for the town and is worth the effort to pursue. At the same time, it’s only one potential piece of a puzzle. The city should continue to pursue projects like First & First and a new downtown hotel as well as development in adjacent neighborhoods. The addition of a mini-golf course was a creative idea and a good start, but our families need more accessible, affordable recreation and entertainment options. Fulfilling this vision will lead to growth of jobs and entertainment options for everyone and reenergize our city.
What steps should the city/city council take to address gun violence?
The first place I would go to stop gun violence is our neighborhoods. Strong neighborhoods have engaged neighbors that help each other and hold one and other accountable. Gun violence is an indicator of a breakdown in our social fabric. I would lean on neighborhood associations to foster better relationships - neighbor to neighbor. Encourage activities and events that bring people together.
As a city, we should support existing organizations that provide support to our youngest citizens at school and at home. Our young people need positive activities and job training/opportunities that provide hope and opportunity for a successful way forward. We can look to existing organizations like LBA and Urban Dream, schools, and neighborhood associations for ways to support our youth.
I would also push to ensure our police are fully funded. They have a difficult job and under-funding will only make it harder. I would look to expand the use of alternative policing like the partnership with Foundation 2 and the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation. Let’s reach our citizens before they turn to violence. We should pursue alternatives to traditional sentencing looking to restorative justice practices that can have long term effects on the community.
Gun violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Addressing its causes is how to reduce it and improve lives. A growing economy with good local jobs and an engaged community will reduce crime including gun violence.