Guest Columnist

Wills: City needs consensus and collaboration

American politics are as divisive now as they have ever been. It is tempting to disengage — to give up looking for common ground. For an effective leader, this is not an option. Those who have worked and volunteered with me know that I never give up on building consensus.

Perhaps it’s because of where I come from. I have not always lived in communities like Iowa City. I was born in Alabama. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I grew up in Saudi Arabia. My husband and I and our four children, chose to settle in Iowa City. Because I have lived in such different cultural environments, I do not make assumptions about people based on whether they are Democrat, Republican, Independent, or anything else. I have spent years in the nonprofit sector, fighting for our schools, representing our community, and serving vulnerable populations in Iowa City. Our community’s strength derives from collaboration and engagement, not taking sides.

Much of this kind of collaboration and engagement occurs at Old Brick, where I am the executive director. The community uses our spaces to celebrate, educate, and serve those in need. Old Brick houses 12 progressive nonprofit organizations that invite discussions about how to move our city forward. As director, I also serve as a steward for the historical building which is the second-oldest building in Iowa City, and I oversee all historic renovations.

Ask anyone: I am a strong advocate for public schools and have served in multiple positions within the school district including PTA president for Hoover Elementary and South East Junior High, Districtwide Parent’s Organization president, and recently as a substitute teacher. I have served on several committees within the district. Because schools are an integral part of a city’s infrastructure, the quality of our schools predicts Iowa City’s success. With less federal and state funding, the district and the city need to be especially prudent as our population grows and changes. I have been part of these discussions for almost a decade.

An understanding of available federal and state funds for all resources is essential. As a nonprofit director, a parent, a homeowner, and a taxpayer, I care very much about the allocation of local, state, and federal tax dollars. When considering municipal services and programs, I will prioritize the community’s needs while keeping a close eye on the costs to the taxpayer.

Along with consensus building, collaboration is key to successful city government. I have created a strong network of friends and collaborators in my work on the Johnson County Planning and Zoning Commission, as chair of the Toys for Tots drive, as a driver for Meals on Wheels, and other nonprofit entities. I also currently serve on the Johnson County Democrats Central Committee.

Iowa City is growing. This means more people will need more housing and services. The council benefits from collaborating with the nonprofit sector, which has experience serving the most vulnerable. One of my top priorities as council person is to make sure no one in our community feels physically or psychologically isolated.

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I am also interested in collaborating with the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Downtown District to improve the city’s walkability and rideability and to enhance Iowa City’s reputation as a destination beyond the Pedestrian Mall. As we plan for our future, the city must refocus on renewable resources and promote environmentally sound development.

I believe in this city’s commitment to diversity, sustainability, financial stability, creativity and education. I hope I have the opportunity to help further this commitment as your council member.

• Brianna Wills is a candidate in the Iowa City Council September 4 primary.

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