Government

Iowa City Council primary hopefuls discuss city's challenges, how they stand out from the pack

Voters can go to regular polling place for Tuesday's primary

City Hall is shown in Iowa City on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
City Hall is shown in Iowa City on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Voters in Iowa City will narrow down the City Council candidates from five to two during a special election primary Tuesday to fill a vacant seat.

The two winners of Tuesday’s primary will face off in the Oct. 2 special election to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kingsley Botchway II, who resigned after taking a job with Waterloo schools earlier this summer. The elected candidate will serve the remainder of the term through 2021 and complete the seven-member Iowa City Council.

Iowa City residents can vote at their regular polling places from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. A full list of polling places can be found on the Johnson County Auditor’s Office website, jcauditor.com.

The five candidates on Tuesday’s ballot are Ann Freerks, Ryan Hall, Christine Ralston, Bruce Teague and Brianna Wills. Here’s more on each of the candidates, listed alphabetically:

Ann Freerks

 

Freerks, 51, works for the University of Iowa’s Office of Strategic Communication and previously served numerous terms on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. Her latest term expired at the end of June, so she said the special election came at the right time.

“I have this huge knowledge base really that I wasn’t quite ready to put out to pasture. And I think that the current council could actually benefit from some of the expertise and knowledge that I have,” Freerks said. “There’s a 17-year record of meeting minutes that anybody can go back and look at ... and there’s no one that has that kind of public record available.”

Freerks said she tries to think about the city’s issues holistically but said it’s key the city ensure more affordable housing and job growth, citing Procter & Gamble’s plan to lay off 500 employees from its Iowa City plant by 2020.

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“We have to continue to create healthy — not just downtown, Northside Marketplace — but all the modes of community business that create our community has a whole,” Freerks said.

Ryan Hall

 

Hall, 25, is a University of Iowa undergraduate student and second-time City Council candidate. In November, he lost the District B seat to council member Susan Mims.

Hall is an environmental planning major. He previously served three years in AmeriCorps as a mentor and tutor, a wildland firefighter and a home energy auditor.

Thanks to his status as a student, Hall said he’s a part of a major voting bloc of Iowa City — students and young adults.

“I think that sets me a part. I just have a unique perspective of the majority here,” Hall said.

Clean water, climate change, transportation, good-paying jobs and a dynamic economy will all be challenges Iowa City faces in the near future, Hall said.

“I’ve been in the community, regardless of campaign cycles, to learn about the issues, to meet people with where they’re at. And I’m deeply committed to continuing to do that work, not just in campaign season,” Hall said.

Christine Ralston

 

Ralston, 39, works in the University of Iowa College of Law. She pointed to her past as a policy analyst and mediator as well as her education — a law degree and a master’s in urban and regional planning — as what set her apart from the other candidates.

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“People can come to me and they can talk to me and they trust me. And it’s easier to find a solution when you’ve got someone who you want to sit across from and brainstorm solutions,” Ralston said.

She said many of Iowa City’s challenges are “growing pains,” referring to a lack of affordable housing for low-income residents.

“There’s a huge gap in supply,” Ralston said. “And that means engaging the public and the private sector. And that’s what it comes down to, using public sector dollars on the lowest income residents and using them to incentivize private sector participation in the development.”

Bruce Teague

 

Teague, 42, is the owner of Caring Hands and More, which helps clients with home health care, professional cleaning and more. He said his work with seniors, people with disabilities and those in hospice, among others, helps him understand those going through hardships.

“I want to be at the table to make sure that our voices are heard. I’m a black man. I’m a gay man. I feel that being at the table is vital to ensure that those that are underserved don’t only get empathy from the current council members but actually get a voice at the table to really directly express the needs,” Teague said.

Economic development is a major issue facing Iowa City in the near future, Teague said, but a “silent beast” for the city is human rights, which he defines as access to food, affordable housing, livable wages and health care, among others.

“When people don’t have their human rights met ... then there’s an overabundance of issues that comes with that. So I think if we began to address the human rights of people in our community then we will see dissipating negative effects,” Teague said.

Brianna Wills

 

Wills, 41, is an executive at nonprofit Old Brick, a historic church building in Iowa City that hosts community events. She previously ran for Iowa City Community School Board.

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Although she said she’s always been interested in politics, the decision to run for City Council came after Wills lost her 12-year-old son, Calder Wills, to cancer.

“What his journey taught me was that you just don’t know how long you have, how many days you’re given, and you really need to use the days you have to really be doing the work that’s important to you,” Wills said.

The biggest challenge for Iowa City in the near future is its growth, Wills said. She said growth in population can strain infrastructure like housing, schools and social services.

Reductions in the property tax backfill from the state will cause the city to tighten its budget.

“We have to really be focusing on that tax base because if we want to spend more, then we need to make more. So budget is a big deal for me,” Wills said, citing her experience budgeting in her nonprofit career.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

 

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