Thursday, April 26, 2007

Charter Amendments 3

Charter Amendments: Fantasy Time

The last in my series on the 2001 Iowa City charter amendments. In Part 1 we looked at content and history, and in Part 2 we went over the context.

The proposed changes, again:

  • Periodic retention votes for the city manager and police chief
  • making permanent the city's Police Citizens Review Board
  • issuing citations for nonviolent misdemeanors like public intoxication, instead of making arrests.

    I'd rather address the last by flat-out legalization and a drinking age of 18, but that's nothing new for these pages. As for the governmntal reforms, I signed the petitions but I had other ideas I'd like to see in my fantasy world:

    A directly elected mayor. Preferably a strong mayor with a vote, rather than the ceremonial first among equals on the council. Karen Kubby would definitely have won a term in the `90s if the people were choosing rather than her council peers.

    A true district system. The current council district system is convoluted and confusing. Candidates for the three district seats must live in the district, and only the district votes in the primary, but the whole city votes in the general. Still with me?

    The smaller the district, the more representative the body. In my native Wisconsin, city (and county) councils are larger entities, often 30 to 40 members with precinct-sized districts. In college towns, it was common to get a student or two elected with a reasonable effort. An Iowa City council with one member per precinct (that's 25) would include two students at a bare minimum, and could easily have as many as six. And even if the council is smaller, it would be impossible to chop Iowa City up into even six or seven districts without creating a student majority in one and putting the first student candidate on the council since David Perret in the `70s.

    Aside: the ideal profile for a young candidate in the present system would be a UI-enrolled townie. The typical student candidate in our high-turnover town faces questions of long-term commitment to the city and can't get a vote east of Governor Street. You need the student vote and you also need just enough folks who knew you since you were this high or are friends with your mom and dad or went to high school with you.

    Partisan city elections. I know this is counter-trend, but it's my fantasy, dammit. Iowa law still allows for partisan city elections, but no one does it. Davenport was the last, going non-partisan in 1997.

    Endorsements in non-partisan elections have been an ongoing fight within the Johnson County Dems for close to 15 years, yet the question I get over and over again about city elections is "who's the real Democrat?" This answers that question. Party labels are a strong cue to voters about an official's underlying philosophy. Plus, having to get through a Democratic Party nomination process could make for a city council that more accurately reflects the progressive nature of our community.

    15 less pounds, my hair back, and a date with Shirley Manson. It's my fantasy, dammit. And about as likely as the others. So I'll give up on the hair, work on the pounds, and be happy with my present sweetie and some good candidates for 2007.
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