116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Candidates running for Iowa City Council discussed nine topics — including climate change, the Johnson County mine resistant armored vehicle (MRAP) and inequalities faced by some residents — during a Tuesday night forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County.
They differed, particularly on the MRAP and the MidAmerican Energy solar farm the city council rejected in 2020.
Three candidates are running for two at-large council seats in the Nov. 2 municipal election — current Mayor Bruce Teague; ACT senior manager Megan Alter; and Jason Glass, vice chairman of the city’s Human Rights Commission.
Shawn Harmsen is running unopposed for the District B seat, currently held by Susan Mims, who is not seeking re-election. At-large council member Mazahir Salih also is not seeking re-election.
Using the MRAP
Candidates differed on whether a mine-resistant armored vehicle — or MRAP — should be kept in Iowa City neighborhoods.
The vehicle was acquired by the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 and has been deployed seven times by the Iowa City police since it was acquired.
Four of those times were in the city’s south side, which has a higher percentage of residents of color. Both the council and the Johnson County supervisors have been discussing use of the vehicle and possible alternatives.
Teague and Glass mentioned the increase in gun violence in the city. Teague said there are reasons for the vehicle to be used but that there is a need for other solutions.
Glass favored guidelines on how the vehicle should be used but said it’s a “tool that we need in our toolbox” to respond to dangerous situations, such as when there is an active shooter.
Alter, who lives in the south city district, said the MRAP appears threatening to residents and does not appear to be a form of protection. She is not in favor of using it in Iowa City neighborhoods.
“There's been no warning when these have come through for reasons I understand, in theory, but the reality of seeing something that looks like a tank come down your street, when that's not what it's intended for, is very frightening,” said Alter, adding another option needs to be thought of to keep officers safe.
Harmsen said two things can exist simultaneously — keeping the community and police safe while also acknowledging the militarization of police is not the way to do that.
“I think the more that we use any sorts of tools that look like something that's going to be approaching a battlefield, the less it belongs in our communities,” Harmsen said. “Luckily, there might be some other options out there.”
Candidates were asked if they supported the council’s decision last year to reject a 19-acre solar energy farm MidAmerican Energy proposed in Waterworks Prairie Park, 2875 N. Dubuque St. The city council unanimously voted against the proposal.
Alter acknowledged rejecting the project was a popular decision at the time but said not moving forward with the energy farm was a “missed opportunity.”
She stressed the urgency of addressing climate change and said she would push for solar panels on all municipal buildings.
Glass and Harmsen said they did not agree with the council’s decision.
Glass noted part of the city’s federal pandemic relief funds could be invested in climate action.
“I think we could really accelerate some of the things that are already going on there and maybe this is a way to resurrect some of that work and maybe that specific project,” Glass said.
Teague, the only incumbent and part of that council vote, said the city’s climate action plan goes “beyond just one site.”
The city council created its first greenhouse gas emissions target and climate action
That plan and greenhouse emissions target, created in September 2018, was updated 2019, when a Climate Action Commission also was created.
"It really comes down to where will the council really begin to make great plans,” Teague said. “We have a commission that is working hard, and I really do believe that, as time goes on, this commission will continue to present great opportunities to the council and for this community.”
Racial, social inequities
Alter said a “practical solution” to address racial and social inequities is to provide people an opportunity to move forward. Part of this, she said, is seeing what residents need.
Alter called the south district a “retail desert,” saying it makes life more difficult for residents and disenfranchises them. She said she is “determined” to get the right kind of retail in the South District to help build a more thriving neighborhood.
“I don't want to gentrify. We have an amazing, diverse and inclusive neighborhood,” Alter said. “I want it to be the right size for the area, and I want that kind of attitude to proliferate throughout the city.”
Harmsen and Glass said the city needs to continue to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Teague said it is important to support and uplift individuals who are having challenges. “There’s a lot to this question, and I will say it starts individually,” he said.
Earlier in the night, Teague stressed how important lived experience is. Being a Black man and a member of the LGBTQ community, Teague said he is running for re-election because it is important to have someone with “lived experience” to represent residents.
“It is important that a voice of one with lived experience is so important to be a part of the policymaking within this great city,” Teague said.
“Our city has grown 10 percent with the last census, and I think it's very critical that we continue to not only talk about our values, but make sure that there is someone at the table that has lived experience that can really represent the people within this community.”
Asked about priorities for spending the $18.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, all candidates brought up how people excluded from the federal stimulus checks — such as undocumented workers — should receive payments.
Alter said child care is an issue that wasn’t discussed much during the evening but is something that “absolutely touches on the three prongs of what makes a strong community: equity, economy and the community itself.”
"This is not just a woman's issue,” Alter said. “It's not just a family issue. It hits every single part of our community. It's an economic issue. It is also a community issue. It’s an education issue. This is something that I truly believe if we can attack this, we actually will make some great dents in the work that we're trying to combat.”
League member Maggie Elliot moderated the forum, which is available for viewing online.
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