Staff Editorials

Our endorsements for Iowa City Council

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Of all the issues that can challenge city leaders, growth is one of the most desirable. Even so, managing that growth requires thoughtful planning and a nuanced end goal for success.

Vibrant communities aren’t stagnant. And vibrant leaders seek to harness change in a way that benefits the entire community. They’ll consider new processes to meet current and future needs. They work with stakeholders throughout the region to build solid foundations, protect what’s historically significant and provide a clear vision of what could and should be.

While not singularly beholden to any entity or organization, effective leaders empathize with groups and individuals across a broad spectrum of the community. They work equally on behalf of those needing a hand up as they do those capable of providing it.

The past four years of the Iowa City Council have been tumultuous for elected officials and the community, as each group weighed the value of shared history and place against a need for neighborhood-specific amenities and an expanded tax base. The thick of such recent debates, marked by overflow crowds at city hall and words sharper than warranted, nurtured a misconception that each decision was a harbinger of larger success or failure. But the reality is that the community has been here before, and is likely to be here again.

Rather than target one of the handful of recent city development decisions, our conversations with the candidates looked with a wider lens. We asked when Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is appropriate, how the city can work with the school district to achieve diversity in neighborhood schools, and whether or not strategic planning documents are a suggestion or a rule. Candid answers to these questions provide necessary insight into the values and thought patterns that underpin specific decisions.

We applaud all of the candidates for their willingness to work on behalf of this community. Our recommendations to voters are below.

AT-LARGE

Iowa City residents will fill two seats from a slate of four candidates.

The decision by current Mayor Matt Hayek not to seek re-election created an opportunity for a new voice at city hall. That said, two incumbents remain on this portion of the ballot as council member Jim Throgmorton chose to leave the relative safety of his district seat to seek this post.

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We appreciated Throgmorton’s candor about the political strategy behind his move, and can’t argue with his desire to entice more “big picture” thinkers to the body. It is also our belief that Throgmorton will remain and continue to fight for his positions, regardless of the success of this strategy.

Throgmorton wants to increase participation and communication in the city, especially in the realm of urban planning. He questions the use of TIF in some past projects, and believes the city could be more transparent and trustworthy in how it applies these taxpayer incentives.

Since joining the council, Throgmorton’s voice has been consistent not only in terms of balancing the past with the future, but in the need to do so in all neighborhoods. He’s earned another term.

We also recommend voters support the candidacy of local attorney Rockne Cole, who could not properly be considered a “newcomer.” Indeed, Cole has been a staunch voice in many development debates, and he has previously run for council. But the Cole of then should not be mistaken for the Cole of today.

Cole has maintained his passion for preserving and protecting historic properties throughout the community as well as his desire to lift up all neighborhoods. But we find that he has developed a more nuanced and pragmatic view of future development than has been evident in the past.

Cole’s focus on inclusionary housing, even within existing neighborhoods, as well as his understanding that the livability of a community encompasses more than wages, will bring much-needed balance to the council.

And while we do not give our endorsement to at-large candidate Tim Conroy, we were impressed by his enthusiasm. We hope he will stay involved in city discussions, particularly those concerning the needs of young professionals and entrepreneurs.

DISTRICT A

Iowa City residents choose between incumbent Rick Dobyns and newcomer Pauline Taylor for this district seat. We believe Dobyns deserves a second term.

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By his own words, Dobyns spent his first term on council gathering information and learning. In his second term, we hope he will take that learning, combined with his health care background, to advocate for a healthy Iowa City — a voice for public transit, green space and other livability issues that can positively impact all facets of the city.

Dobyns struck us as thoughtful and deliberate. He positions himself as a neutral party in a climate that too quickly can divide into opposing camps.

He told us he has worked “quietly, behind the scenes” to build consensus and understanding. We’d like to see more public evidence of that work moving forward, as consensus and understanding has been notably lacking in Iowa City’s public discourse.

Taylor, while falling short of our endorsement, impressed us with her energy and sincerity. We hope she remains active in municipal matters and develops her knowledge and skills, perhaps by serving on a board or commission.

DISTRICT C

The switch by Throgmorton sets up this choice between two ballot newcomers who have impressive track records of making positive differences in the Iowa City community.

Both Scott McDonough and John Thomas have worked on behalf of residents in their individual neighborhoods and have been a part of city affairs, Thomas as a member of the planning and zoning commission and McDonough in helping shape the innovative inclusionary zoning that is a part of River Front Crossing.

As a landscape architect with experience in the public sector, Thomas understands the value of green space and livability. As a historic preservation contractor, McDonough has a keen eye for balancing the future with the past.

Both men will strive to create affordable housing throughout the community, promote equity within neighborhoods and correct any deficiencies that emerge from ongoing disproportionate contact studies. They are both thoughtful on the application of TIF incentives, and adamant in their calls for transparency.

We only lament that they are running opposite of one another and not for separate seats.

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The race being what it is, we offer a dual endorsement in this race. Either man would make an excellent addition to the city council and serve Iowa City residents well.

• Comments: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identifed at large candidate Tim Conroy. The Gazette regrets the error.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.