116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids has convened a citizen panel for its once-a-decade review of its charter, the document that governs the municipality and establishes its council-manager government, dictates the elections and nominations process and details powers of the city and its top officials.
Under the city’s current form of government, this marks only the second time this process has occurred since Cedar Rapids voters in June 2005 adopted a “home rule” charter. The charter required the council appoint a Charter Review Commission in 2011 and every 10 years after that to review the governing document and recommend changes for the council to consider.
The document establishes a council made up of a part-time mayor and eight council members who are elected to four-year terms. It outlines the duties of the city manager, one of three individuals appointed by the council along with the city clerk and city attorney.
The council in November appointed to the commission Gary Streit as chair, Mugisha Gloire, James Klein, Dave Lodge, Mary Kay McGrath, Jim Sherman, Amy Stevenson, Monica Vallejo and Monica Vernon. The group’s first meeting was Monday.
In 2011, the commission decided against tweaking the number of council members despite some citizen suggestions, as the form of government was still new. Panel members did recommend staggering elections so that five or four council members would be on the ballot every two years, instead of the previous 6-3 stagger. It also clarified the duties of the mayor pro tem.
Under the 2011 review, Streit said former Mayors Kay Halloran and Paul Pate created work groups who were each assigned three sections of the charter to identify areas they saw as needing change. He said the 2022 commission also will form three work groups to divide up recommendations.
There also will be public input sessions before the commission advances any recommendations. Opportunities for feedback will be shared via social media, the city website and through letters to some key stakeholders. Streit said outreach also should be done with vulnerable segments of the city population in mind.
“We’re not going to make any final decisions unless we give the public an opportunity to speak,” Streit said.
Although the review process is just beginning, the commission indicated some interest in taking up elections changes.
Vernon, a former council member and the executive director of the Czech Village and New Bohemia District, said she was interested in reconsidering the timing of city runoff elections.
She voiced support for moving to a ranked choice voting system in which voters pick their favorite candidate and then rank other candidates. Ranking decides the winner if no candidate receives a majority of the votes. But City Attorney Vanessa Chavez said current Iowa law only allows for one system or the other — a primary with a general election or a runoff election.
Many cities have primaries, but Cedar Rapids’ charter uses runoff elections when no candidate wins a race in the general election.
Having a runoff seems to make people think of the November election as a primary, Vernon said. And she noted late runoffs run into holiday time, meaning attention spans are diminished.
“You do this whole buildup … and I’m just thinking about people really getting out and exercising their right to choose that person,” Vernon said.
The commission will continue to meet over the next several months. Work is expected to be finished about May 1.
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