Staff Columnist

Iowa City mayor delivers balanced review in State of the City address

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton speaks during a city council work session at the Iowa City City Hall on the prospect of becoming a sanctuary city on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton speaks during a city council work session at the Iowa City City Hall on the prospect of becoming a sanctuary city on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Life in Iowa City is great, but it could be better, according to Mayor Jim Throgmorton.

Throgmorton delivered his annual State of the City address last week, outlining a long list of the city’s achievements in the past year, but also charting the challenges that lie ahead.

“The big picture is clear. In general, our city is doing great. It is exceptionally strong and healthy,” Throgmorton told fellow council members.

Iowa City is sometimes mocked by outsiders who say elected leaders here are fixated on leftist pet projects. To the contrary, most items on the mayor’s list of successes are basic municipal functions like infrastructure, sound finances and housing policy.

The city completed the elevation of Dubuque Street to fend off street closures from flooding. The wastewater treatment system has been overhauled. And the council has approved many private construction projects that are significantly increasing the stock of available housing.

All the while, the city has maintained its Aaa bond rating, facilitated population growth and managed to decrease the property tax levy for the seventh consecutive year. Iowa City’s track record shows good management is neither a left-wing or right-wing issue.

Throgmorton cautioned, however, that “not everyone shares equitably in our city’s prosperity.”

He’s concerned with that 40 percent of local elementary school students receive free or reduced-price lunch. More than half of renters are cost-burdened. And many community members continue to face racial, ethic and religious bias, according to Throgmorton’s observation.

Throgmorton also detailed the ways the city is responding to those concerns.

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Police Chief Jody Matherly, now in his third year on the job, has made it a priority to decrease disproportionate contact between officers and minority residents. Local governments are collaborating with service providers to better manage mental health and substance abuse crises. And the city has established a social justice grant program to support nonprofits’ efforts.

Even though I quibble with some of the details — especially the city’s misguided restrictions on rental housing — I admire the pragmatic, collaborative approach city government is taking to address these problems.

Last year, I criticized Throgmorton’s State of the City address because he focused too much on divisive partisanship. He suggested Republicans in state and federal office were to blame for a “winter of despair,” quoting Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”

This year, Throgmorton fell back on the same rhetoric, but only for a moment.

“For the past two years, actions taken by some political leaders at the state and federal levels have threatened to undermine the values that make Iowa City such a great place to live, especially its openness, diversity, inclusivity, and spirit of democratic engagement,” Throgmorton said in last week’s remarks.

In my view, Throgmorton has struck the right balance. This might be the most liberal city in the state, but that need not get in the way of responsible local governance.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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