Old Iowa City council had spunk

July 9, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – Former Iowa City Mayor John McDonald died Wednesday at age 65 after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.

We’ll have a story and the obituary in Friday’s paper.

McDonald was on the City Council from 1982-93. He was Mayor from 1984-85 and 1988-91, according to City Clerk Marian Karr.

McDonald’s tenure on the council was well before my time, but I’ve heard stories about how those councils in the late-’80s and early ’90s could be, depending on your perspective, pretty entertaining and at times divisive. 

There were some strong personalities with differing views on the council. I asked Darrel Courtney, who was on the council from 1986-93 and served as mayor, about this Thursday when we were talking about McDonald.

It was “always very verbal,” was Courtney’s polite way of describing the meetings. As mayor, McDonald had a calming effect and was great at building consensus, he added.

I went back and looked in our archives and found some support for this.

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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.

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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More on franchise fees

June 25, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – A bit more on franchise fees.

In a memo released by the city today, interim City Manager Dale Helling goes into more detail on the fees and lays out some questions for the City Council to consider. Read the memo below.

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Iowa City bar in the news again

June 22, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – An Iowa City bar with a history of trouble is in the news again.

Iowa City police were called to Los Cocos early Sunday morning for a report of woman who had been stabbed in the stomach.

Just last week, the City Council voted unanimously to give the bar an six-month liquor license rather than the usual 12 months. Police Chief Sam Hargadine recommended the abbreviated term, citing the high number of calls his officers have received about the bar.

Some council members said they wanted to see big improvements from the bar at its next review, and it’s probably safe to say that isn’t the kind of start they or the owners were hoping for.

If you’re wondering why the council didn’t just deny the liquor license renewal, there are a couple of reasons. First, Hargadine said he believed the bar’s management was working to improve the situation.

Also, when a license is denied, a bar can appeal. Bars get to stay open during an appeal, and the process can take a long time. A couple of council members said they thought the six-month license would allow the city to revisit the matter sooner.