Name: Jorel Robinson
Address: 1500 Fifth Ave. SE
Seat seeking: Mayor
Occupation: Productivity Specialist, GoDaddy
Educational background: Certified Business Credit Advisor
Why are you running for council?
Robinson: I am running for city council to be Mayor for many reasons but let’s start with my love for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I was born here, bred here, and one day I will pass here. I see the city for its great potential and know deep within the power to make this city into a place of leading and being innovative in this state, to gain the type of base of people that will allow for the sustainable growth we are looking for. I also took a look at all of the current leadership on city council and who was currently running for those seats as well as Mayor. My thought was the only way I win is if young people show up the other candidates are splitting a lot of the same votes I want to change the demographics. With what is happening in our nation, with the potential for great growth right at our door step it is a perfect time for young people who are going to live in this city and have to deal with these decisions long after these elected officials are gone. We should be involved, meaning the younger population of Cedar Rapids who are the future should have some direct input now.
What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?
Robinson: Infrastructure: The infrastructure of Cedar Rapids, will help determine in the future how we all deal with the new condition’s we face as well as a growing population. This also lends itself to the overall value of our community. Having a city that is appealing to the eye is not a bad thing.
Economy: Growing our base of people here in Cedar Rapids allows us to cut back on the unnecessary charges and fees that keep piling up down at city hall. Also, a look at processes where people can expedite services such as permits and dealing with the city overall, has really gained grounds in other cities and gained a revenue people have an option for and in many cases, are willing to take. Having more people live and work as well as more businesses setting up eliminates the need for more charges and allows more ideas and development in Cedar Rapids.
Education: This is an area where a better relationship with the city can impact our youth in many ways. As a city we should be looking at ways for schools to keep the doors open in the summer time. Also, having activities and things to do.
The city is facing some major revenue losses. The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision to turn off traffic cameras on I-380, which have generated more than $3 million per year for the city. Now, the state is threatening to do away with the backfill, which in Cedar Rapids is worth about $4 million per year. What is your plan to balance the budget if those losses come to fruition?
Robinson: There are options for Revenue that would need a hard look and consideration. I do not agree with us finding ways to fine our citizens if we are not going to give them any real punishment besides “pay up”. The city should be looking at innovative and exciting ways for our city to either have opportunities to invest or develop our city. They have discussed casinos, as well as a possible water park. I’d also say looking at the things that are underperforming in the city (golf courses, ice arena) and how they can be improved, and where we can possibly lower costs in other areas. If you give the residents of Cedar Rapids a chance at the info and knowing how it will impact they community.
Some big fish have expressed interest in opening shop in Iowa, including Amazon and Toyota and Apple recently announced plans to build in Waukee. What specifically would you do to put Cedar Rapids in the best position to land a major new company?
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Robinson: They want to see a place that has a growing population, a place that has young people. They want great education, low crime, things to do. Most of these things are checkable on the list but some can use great improvement. We also have other companies with great success stories with opening and operating in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and that is what we should build on. Just looking at a company like Go-Daddy they are looking for all people but they want to see a young diverse work force, close commutes for their workforce, positive thinkers, people willing to find the answer, great schools, and things for the workforce to do in recreational time in the area. Those are many things that tech companies and companies with boards show. Happy workforce produces and all of those things lend themselves to that. We have the all the tools to check every box of being a great place to be but we have work to do. Is this a place where kids who are born who will want to raise a family here and continue on is the question we have to ask ourselves?
There’s very real possibility one of the area’s largest employers, Rockwell Collins, could see its HQ leave Cedar Rapids. This would lead to a negative impact on jobs and philanthropy to local nonprofits. What would you do as an elected official to prevent this from happening or to minimize the impact?
Robinson: We should be reaching out to the current owners as soon as we can. We want them to know that we want them here. Rockwell has done so much, huge growth, improved the area the business was in, gave huge amounts through countless Charites, employed many who have retired, they are a great success story. This story is not over and I think we can continue to use them as an example of how a business can grow, live and thrive in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This should not be something we approach with fear they have much invested here and if things change we can adapt. We have been able to rebound from Billions in damage and a city that was shut down. Cedar Rapids is strong and we have to show the owners we are and we plan on doing more. That is the mind-set to have and I hope we take this path.
One of residents top complaints in road conditions. Now we are a few years into a 10 year, 1 cent local-option sales tax targeting street repairs. It’s called Paving for Progress, and we’ve started to see streets improved, such as 42nd Street. What is your assessment of Paving for Progress? Is it working or isn’t it? And, do you favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program?
Robinson: I am for the improvement of our cities infrastructure and am aware of the importance it brings to building and sustaining a growing population. Curb appeal and value also help us all in the long run. I do think looking at ways of lowering costs and finding more ways to save where we can. I am in favor of continuing the program unless we have some alternative option that still focuses on Cedar Rapids readying itself for new conditions and bigger populations by getting ready now.
Another frequent complaint from residents is the city’s efforts to become more walkable and bikeable, notably building sidewalks in established neighborhoods and road work downtown which has included converting one way streets to two way streets, removing stop lights in favor of stop signs and adding bike lanes. Do you support these efforts and why? And would you do anything specifically to speed up or halt these initiatives?
Robinson: The city of Cedar Rapids should be leading the way here and promoting a healthy active lifestyle. What a great way to attract people of all walks of life and encourage healthy living for all residents. As a city we would like to take pride in promoting a safe healthy alternative to how you get to work, the park or a friend’s place. Many families are taking to this life style and not just families people in general are living longer and doing so by staying active and fit and that is something we should promote. I would continue with these efforts without question.
Cedar Rapids is some $200 million short of the money needed to build a flood protection system. Elected officials and city staff have tried a variety of methods to shake loose federal money for flood protection. They’ve lobbied local congressmen and senators, lobbied in Washington, D.C., worked with the Army Corps, and pushed unsuccessfully for a local sales tax increase for flood protection. What would you do differently to get federal aid for flood protection? What if any back up plan do you have to fill the funding gap?
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Robinson: There are a number of answers here, let’s start with the idea of shaking loose federal money for flood protection is a long shot, due to lack of property value in the area and the way the Army Corps of Engineers weighs the importance of receiving funds on property value. We can build for many years downtown trying to increase this and as we just witnessed there is possibility of another flood. If we do any more work with the Federal Government in this sense it should be to promote more funding to the A.C.O.E.’s for more funding to them, they are underfunded and backed logged. The $200 million figure should really be reassessed as in technology those numbers are outdated. Another city was able to use the soil from the location rather than having in brought in and looking at savings 7-14 million on the project. I think we should be getting quotes and looking into private ways to get this done. You will hear people with the city say you cannot wait for the Federal Government, and I say to them the everyday people here, the local business in the area they are not concerned as much as who does the job as the job getting done. We are almost 10 years since and I as someone who lost everything in the flood of 08, think it makes sense for our city to have multiple plans in motion for getting up flood protection for the City of Cedar Rapids.
Last year and earlier this year, the City Council faced a difficult decision when Commonbond Communities wanted to build an affordable/homeless housing complex called Crestwood Ridge Apartments in a northwest neighborhood that vehemently opposed the project. While several neighbors pointed to concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, others said that type of project would bring down property values and could introduce questionable people into the neighborhood. City Council members were torn about whether to side with the electorate or endorse a project many acknowledged was needed in the community. How would you have voted and why?
Robinson: We face a difficult situation here where there are established communities, with hard working families, who now have a developer wanting to build what is call “Low Income or affordable housing close by”. For the type of investment, they have made it’s not shocking to see them showing up and being vocal at city meetings. Kudos to them for getting involved in the process and standing up for what they want. The City and anyone who wants to build this type of establishment should be doing a good job of explaining what affordable housing can mean. They have real concerns about property values and possible crime. I do not think that affordable housing should be limited to one side of town. When people as a community are spending hours out of the day to be a city hall and be heard we must do a better job of explaining the goal and what affordable housing is or look at other options for building as there are many places that could use development in this city.
Cedar Rapids has leaned heavily in recent years on Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development with programs for downtown development, job creation, restoring brownfields and grayfields, historic restoration, sustainable improvement, community benefit, and urban housing. Virtually every high profile development has included some form of public subsidy. As one example, the city is proposing a $20.5 million public subsidy for a 28 story, $103 million downtown high rise with a grocery store and hotel called One Park Place. Is this the right approach? Is it too generous? Please explain.
Robinson: I am not for giving anymore big breaks or huge incentives to big developers until we can see more focus on our communities, we have no place for our seniors, we could be doing more for our veterans, assisting with local schools where federal funds do not. I am starting to think that asking the city to do a certain amount of work in our community for every building that goes up. There are many areas in the community that are lacking, we have 97 parks and over 4,000 acres of land that go underused and are underdeveloped. There are many areas here where Cedar Rapids can be a leader while doing business is very important, enriching the lives and values of the citizens should be weighed heavier.
Following a series of shootings involving teens, a joint task force of city, school, police and community leaders joined forced to develop a plan called Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities. City staff and council have said they will work to implement the plan although some have questioned the level of commitment and progress and whether the city should bring in outside help. What do you think of the city’s progress on the SET program and what approaches would you advocate to address youth and gun violence?
Robinson: The relationship between police and the public can be improved and now you could say strained. I appreciate anyone’s honest attempt to make things better but being realistic about what is going on. Both sides have to take hard looks at themselves and say what can I do as part of solving the problem. Often you will hear me mention communication because I believe this solves the issues when both sides speak and both sides listen there can be common ground. If a crime is committed and you know something you have to speak on it, that person could hurt someone else. Citizens have to lose the mental mentality of “stop snitching” start by helping get some of these criminals and killers off the streets. We led a neighborhood cleanup, many of the people young kids. We picked up 250 lbs. of trash in 2 hours that day. Not one police officer got out of their patrol car, introduced themselves to any kids, gave out any stickers etc. Those moments are perfect times to connect with young people and break down barriers and build relationships with the people in this city. I have spoken with a few officers and voiced my concern. This effort will take the community but I believe it can be done. Officers need more funds for training to update methods but I would hope also, how to deal with people in a manner of handling people of all walks of life with de-escalation in mind. Officers have a tough job and I appreciate the hard work as they deal with many stressful situations every day. We have to admit we have real work to do and start getting out there and doing. We have to also find out what are youth are passionate about, and keep them involved in extracurricular activities.
Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?
Robinson: Public Transit System should be looking at everything possible to run until 10 p.m. or later during the week and running some options at the very least on Sunday.
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A summer work program funded by local businesses and city where during the year money is put into a pot and kids from local high-schools are hired out to work in these businesses. This creates more workforce but it gives kids something to do, money to put in their pockets, kids learning new skills, gaining a work history and developing everyday working skills to survive in the world.
Big time investment in the youth of Cedar Rapids.