Iowa City Council to get chicken petition

June 30, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – If the word “chicken” is directed at the City Council at tonight’s meeting, it probably won’t be an insult.

After three months of collecting signatures, organizers plan to submit a petition asking that people be allowed to keep chickens in residential areas. As of a couple of weeks ago, several hundred people had signed the petition.

Supporters of backyard chickens – which, along with urban chickens, is what the movement often is called – want city law to be changed to allow people to keep up to five hens, but no roosters, at their homes.

Click here for more background.

I’ll be covering the school board meeting tonight, but we’ll have a reporter check in on whether the petition is turned in.

The issue should not be discussed in any detail because it is not on the council’s agenda. Organizers plan to submit the petition during the public comment portion of the meeting.

City staff is collecting information on the matter for the council’s consideration, possibly later this month.


Iowa City franchise fees and city manager search update

June 30, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The City Council is ready to move ahead on franchise fees but will wait awhile on the city manager search.

Those were the main takeaways from Monday night’s work session. See stories here and here.

Because it was a work session, no formal action was taken. But the council made itself clear on those two issues.

On the franchise fees, the closest anyone came to speaking against them was Matt Hayek saying the fees shouldn’t be seen as a “panacea” for the city’s budget problems. Also, a few council members said they’d only support the fees if the money went toward public safety, including the hiring of more police officers and a staffing new fire station. But those are high priorities for the city anyway. 

On the city manager search, many of the council members said they saw the merits both to starting the search now and waiting until early next year, when the council potentially will have three new members following this fall’s election. A combination of being happy with interim City Manager Dale Helling and wanting one council to make the big decisions on the hire led the council to decide to wait.

The council fired former City Manager Michael Lombardo in April for undisclosed reasons.

Nine words, 1,000 years

June 29, 2009

The nine-word story that will take you 1,000 years to read:

Broad support for changing Iowa City school boundaries, multiple reasons why

June 27, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

(This is an expanded version of the story that is in Saturday’s Gazette. The bottom third, in particular, has information only found here.)

IOWA CITY — At a meeting earlier this year, Iowa City school board member Gayle Klouda joked about when the best time to redraw school boundaries across the district would be.

When school board members aren’t seeking re-election and the superintendent is retiring, she said.

Yet comprehensive boundary changes are exactly what a growing chorus of people wants, from Klouda and other board members to administrators and parents. And no one is expecting it to be painless.

“Tongue in cheek, there is a humorous side to all that,” Klouda said in an interview. “But it’s also true that people are not going to be all of one mind with respect to where those boundaries ought to be put.”

Redistricting, as it is often called, has not occurred in Iowa City in nearly two decades. But it has been the underlying theme to a number of recent issues confronting the district. This includes high school enrollment, the call by some for a third high school, the concentration of low-income students in certain schools and the upcoming closure of Roosevelt Elementary.

“I think the board has heard the issue, and I think we are as close as any board has been since I have been on the board (starting in 2002) to addressing these tough issues,” board President Toni Cilek said of redistricting, adding  that the board is not scared politically to tackle the subject.

Superintendent Lane Plugge said he is not yet preparing a boundary recommendation but has started preliminary work by meeting with demographers from the University of Iowa to see how they can help in adjusting boundaries.

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More on Iowa City flood buyouts

June 26, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – I had a story in today’s Gazette and on GazetteOnline about how buyouts are to begin next week for flood victims in Iowa City.

I talked to a couple of people who will sell their homes to the city, and they were excited to finally be at this point.

City officials are very happy, too.

“I think happy would be an understatement,” said Steve Long, Iowa City’s community development director.

OK, so “happy” is not a strong enough word, but you get the point. 

It’s been a long year for everyone dealing with last year’s record flood. City officials are proud that Iowa City is among the first in the state to close on flooded properties.

“It’s pretty gratifying,” said David Purdy, the city’s point man on buyouts.

The timing of the buyouts is something to take note of. When a city buys a property, it goes off the tax rolls.

But that’s done just once a year, on July 1, said Assistant City Attorney Sue Dulek.

So it’s more benenificial for the city to buy as many of the flood-damaged homes as it can by the end of the month. If it buys one, say, Aug. 1, it would have to pay property taxes for the 11 months left in the fiscal year, she said.

It wasn’t until earlier this week that the city got a response from FEMA on some paperwork it needed to move forward. It would have been nice to get that stuff done earlier, city officials said, but they’re still glad they can start buying the homes.

The city plans to buy at least seven properties on Monday and Tuesday. It has 40 on its buyout list total.

The homes will be demolished and made into permanent green space. The goal is to purchase the majority of them by the end of the year so they are not threatened should there be flooding next spring.

Iowa City mayor: freeze council salaries

June 25, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Iowa City is facing a serious budget crunch.

For relief, the City Council has looked at cutting services, generating new revenue, implementing franchise fees.

Now, Mayor Regenia Bailey is suggesting the council look at itself by freezing its own salary starting Jan. 1.

At a savings of just $998 for the year, the effect would be minimal, she admits in a memo released by the city today. (See below.) But at a time when the council is considering reducing the salaries of staff, the council should follow suit, she says.

Council members currently make $7,072 annually. The mayor earns $8,070.

She also wants the council to reduce its IT expenses.

In somewhat related news, the council is to vote Tuesday night on a proposal to increase the salaries of the city attorney and city clerk by 2 percent each.

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Should Iowa City ban plastic bags?

June 25, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – City staff’s answer to the that question, is no, a ban on plastic grocery bags is not necessary.

They’ve been studying the matter since the start of the year, and they say they are seeing reduced use of the bags and more recycling. See the details below in a memo released by the city today.

In January, the council discussed outlawing plastic bags but ultimately decided not to pursue the idea. Council member Connie Champion had suggested looking into a ban after reading about a ban in San Francisco.

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