Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Iowa City Charter Amendments

Iowa City Charter Amendments: Back From The Dead?

The 2001 proposed Iowa City charter amendments have been smoldering for a looooong time and now have worked their way up to the state Supreme Court.

Some history: Iowa City is a home rule city with its own charter and that includes an initiative process. In the summer of `01, three issues got sufficient signatures but were tossed off the ballot by a three person committee: then-mayor Ernie Lehman, unelected city clerk Marian Karr, and council member Ross Wilburn (now mayor; he voted to place the issues on the ballot but was on the short end of a 2-1 vote).

I had a big problem with an unelected person making this decision, but to tell ya the truth Karr was probably acting on the will of the then-council majority. Wilburn was the only person both sides could agree to as the third member.

That was a relatively divisive era in Iowa City government. The council had two progressives - Irvin Pfab and Steven Kanner - who were solid on issues but exceptionally weak on style. The charter amendments got caught up in that split.

Things have mellowed since. Pfab was the first and only incumbent to lose a primary since the present system was set up in the `70s. Kanner, who won by two votes in 1999, didn't run again and followed his significant other out of town immediately after his term expired. The numeric split is the same on the council but current progressives Regenia Bailey (who knocked off Pfab) and Amy Correia are much more effective advocates.

In the meantime, the amendment advocates have been pursuing this through the courts. Here's the substance on the amendments themselves:

  • 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.

    The last also mentioned low-end drug offenses.

    We're already looking at the neo-prohibitionists' 21 bar referendum this year. If the courts order these onto the ballot as well, it could make the interesting 2007 election season even more wild.

    I signed these petitions waaaay back when in what seems like another lifetime. Coming soon: a look at why these particular items, and I'll share my fantasies on other changes for Iowa City government.
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