116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Nearly two months after being approached with a proposal for a new position to serve as a 'cheerleader” for efforts to address systemic causes of youth gun violence - largely intertwined with issues of race and poverty - and break down silos between organization working on their own solutions, Cedar Rapids City Council members remain undecided.
Council members say it's more than just money - the request from Linn County supervisors was for $100,000 - but rather whether such a role duplicates efforts and if the money could have a greater impact spent in other ways.
'I haven't heard anyone on council express to me they would not be in favor of having someone in this position,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said. 'It's just, is this the best way, the most effective way, to spend $100,000 in addressing issues in the SET Task Force?”
Hart, who said in his view the 'process hasn't been completed,” was part of an 80-minute, at times heated discussion hosted Thursday by The Gazette's editorial board. Officials from the city, county and Cedar Rapids school district participated in discussing where the Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities - or SET for short - effort goes next.
Those same entities, along with law enforcement, housing specialists and residents, participated in an 18-month task force studying youth gun violence after a rash of shootings and deaths.
The SET group completed its work in early 2017 with a book of recommendations. A subset of the task force vetted the recommendations with community stakeholders. The need for a position outside of local government working full-time came from those meetings, said Supervisor Stacey Walker, who drafted the plan.
Walker proposed the plan to city officials in February and March, and has met with most if not all of the council members individually.
Some requested a business plan and job description, and he created them, although his hope is the entities would agree in principle on the concept and then work together to flesh out the details, he said
'At a certain point, and this may be where it gets a little contentious, I just felt like these questions were a red herring,” Walker said. 'To me it doesn't seem like a difficult concept to grasp what we are asking for is someone to help break down silos that exist between entities and government and someone who can champion this work.”
Walker said the dollar figure could be reduced, but he wanted the city to 'put more skin in the game.”
Mary Wilcynski, a visiting professor at Coe College and former school principal, who participated by phone, suggested if it was a 'sexier issue than poverty” there would not be such consternation.
Walker urged Hart to put the matter on a City Council agenda where the issues could be discussed in public. Hart said if there is enough support to pass, it could be on the agenda at one of the next meetings, but likely wouldn't come up publicly if there is not enough support.
Among those in attendance, Hart and council member Tyler Olson said they were still considering the options. Council member Dale Todd supports Walker's plan and urged the matter to come to the full council.
City Manager Jeff Pomeranz attempted to address what he viewed as a misperception the council did not care about the issues because it had not already signed on to a new hire. His office prepared a list of initiatives and investments addressing task force objectives worth more than $3 million.
From the school district, Superintendent Brad Buck suggested Walker provide models from other cities that have proved successful. School board President John Laverty suggested the entities sign a memorandum of understanding about the plan.
Laverty suggested holding off on the plan until after June 5. Walker is in a primary election then, and Laverty noted some have speculated Walker has political motives.
Walker, who is black, refuted the sentiment, saying 'it's not good politics for me.”
'Talking about poor people and communities of color is not good politics in the city of Cedar Rapids,” he said, 'so there is no issue of political convenience here.”
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