Council Meeting Date: November 11, 2013
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
A warm welcome new Council Members, Mark Miller (Ward 1) and Jim Stichter (Ward 4). In this connection, I remark on the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance, dangerous dogs and global language - and a bit more. Getting down to business...
- Committee of the Whole (6:20pm, Mayor's Conference Room)-
1) Each quarter, the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance (GVCA) reports on economic activities of Cedar Falls and, more broadly, the Cedar Valley. GVCA representatives will discuss external marketing, business growth, community development and TechWorks. Cedar Falls is an 'investor' in the GVCA at $25,000/year. The city also pays incentive bonuses for specific development criteria up to $25,000. So lets think about that. That's $25,000 fixed cost for Cedar Valley marketing, lead generation, business support and community development. It is also our official link to state economic development resources. GVCA members (mostly private businesses) invest many more dollars than the city. The GVCA brought Leader in Me to our schools and Target to our doorstep, just to name a few contributions. This is a very beneficial public-private partnership. The city would struggle immensely to replicate GVCA functions services. That said, I am also appreciative that the GVCA makes regular reports so city staff and official can evaluate the scope and effectiveness of their services. Rest assured, and one of the reasons why this organization works so well, is that their members (mostly private investors) measure their own return on investment and hold the organization accountable for delivering results. This is why non-profits and non-governmental organizations are so effective, they must demonstrate success to insure relevancy and survival.
2) In our second committee item, we talk about council rules and procedures. We are putting a gag order on people at 3 minutes (except if extended by a majority vote) during public forum. But really, 3 minutes? Seems like an arbitrary limitation on speech. I admire all who have the courage to address the council and all its elevated, bullet-proof, blond-wood glory. City Hall isn't the United Nations Security Chamber. I'd like a more personable venue arrangement so it doesn't feel like a senate hearing room. When I asked about the arrangement, I found the council chambers were once the municipal court which explains a lot. I will always vote for more time should the speaker request it. I will be critical on any limitations of speech, I'll also be critical of our imposing council chambers.
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber)-
Special Order of Business
E.1) This item is a complicated memo that amends the Downtown TIF district to include the areas impacted by the Cedar River levy project (raises levy to 500 yr protection level). Recent state law changes require additional reporting and analysis to curb TIF abuses committed in other cities (in my opinion, Cedar Falls uses TIF responsibly, even as its scope expanded from urban renewal to general economic development). Perhaps the greatest change is the 'consultation' requirement for other local taxing entities, in this case the CF Schools and the Black Hawk County. We held a consultation and no other entity showed up!! Well, this amendment won't have a huge impact on those jurisdictions, but the requirement is still very well deserved. Schools and Counties get the shaft with TIF. It forces tax burdens to non-TIF areas, while creating market distortions for property development. One of these days, I will try to concisely describe the TIF, pros and cons. I'll even provide a better alternative for blight and general economic development (I've been thinking about this for a while!!).
F.1.B) A constituent contacted me about pit bulls ordinances in Cedar Falls. This was my response:
I'm not a proponent of making breed specific bans because it solely relies on appearance. Boxers look a lot like pit bulls (but have very different dispositions). Dobermans, rottweilers, and huskies can be risky breeds. Breed mixes blur the lines even more. Yet all can be properly cared and loved without posing a public threat... but when they do...
Owners must be responsible and accountable for their property or animal. I think our code is missing a stout 'fine' for animals deemed threatening, or worse, attackers. As you elude, since many of the complaints are moments in time and prosecution will be evidence-based, short of a wound or property damage, we have a challenging evidence proposition, but certainly our public safety officers can help in this arena. A photo, a video, etc. If a dog is running full speed at a pedestrian and is only prevented from attacking based on the length of a leash, this is threatening evidence that can be collected. Dogs on the run are also a legal nuisance (CF has a leash law in all public areas). In any event, complaints need to be made to the police to establish a record of concern.
My next task was to determine if we have a problem (special thanks to Chief Olson for mining the data). In 2012, there were 471 animal calls, 29 were aggressive. Of the 29, 6 were 'pit bull' in nature (note, I don't know if there is a pit bull DNA test, we can only assume). Here's the 2012 findings:
2-1-12: Pit bull running after people.
3-2-12: Two pit bulls attacked another dog.
4-14-12: Two pit bulls attached another dog.
5-10-12: Pit bull tried to charge reporting person.
7-8-12: Pit bull attacked another dog.
10-23-12: Aggressive pit mix.
Aggressive pit bulls amount to 1.2% of the animal call mix. Now, I don't think this is a pandemic situation. But, I do think we could strengthen our ordinance: (1) add a hardy fine for incidents, one that will have financial 'bite'; and (2) repeat offender language (including more aggressive mitigation). I maintain that we don't need breed specific bans. Rather, our focus should be on the pet owner (not to ban, but to hold accountable). This even works with the leash law... again this is arbitrary and 'nanny' like because it is so difficult to enforce (I will comment more on the effectiveness of leash laws if I get enough responses to that effect, their effectiveness is limited). Many dogs can be managed off leash, but their owners should also be responsible for any damage, droppings, attacks or threats. Freedom and responsibility are are not mutually exclusive, they go hand-in-hand.
F.1.e) This item addresses a request from Sid Morris for council endorsement to expand the Veterans' Park area on Waterloo Road into additional city-owned property. Brad Leeper of Invision Architecture offered very attractive plans. My only request... we must avoid any design that requires regular maintenance (structures and landscape). The proposal seems very workable, the designs are low maintenance. And for your information, the expansion is estimated to cost less than $100,000. If you have resources to share, please contact Mr. Sid Morris.
F.2.d) This item deals with the golf fee schedule, we are barely raising them. I believe golf fees should cover the true cost of golf. That might not please many golfers, to which I must be convinced that golf is an essential city service, or its absence would destroy property values in our city. I believe, as much as possible, those that receive the benefit, ought to pay the cost. Today, each round of golf is heavily subsidized by the property tax payer (the extent to which I will find out). I also don't favor a fee schedule that discriminates against middle aged golfers.
Council Changes with the Season - The council is about 28% different this year. Congratulations to John Runchey, Frank
Darrah, Jim Stichter and Mark Miller. For me, City Council has been an amazing experience, privilege and honor. With the changing of certain council persons, the dynamic always changes but each council member brings unique perspective, experience and philosophy. Knowing we are putting fingerprints on our future compels everyone of us to give it our very best, to understand the full breadth and depth of all the issues that matter, and to highlight those that should. We live in a remarkable city, one that I am proud to serve and call home. My thanks go to the voters of Cedar Falls that put their trust in me, I will do my best to live up to the expectations and obligations of the office.
Preparar a los ciudadanos globales - I have two regrets growing up... not learning piano and not learning a foreign language. As the last child of 5, music lessons were no longer a family priority (I think my parents gave up the battle after the first two kids). As a college bound engineer, foreign language was a pass/fail priority for me. I passed, but in retrospect, my school let me down (in this one aspect). Communication aside, early language learning has amazing cognitive benefits. Well, this is what I wrote Dr. Andy Pattee:
Dear Dr. Pattee,
I am expressing a sense of urgency regarding a severe deficiency in Cedar Falls’ learning programs. As an elementary student in the 1980’s, I recall the late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois (the senator with a bow-tie) imploring the importance of early foreign language programs in schools. Even as a child in Waverly, I grasped his message about cultural understanding and cognitive benefits. My frustration ensued as I was forced into the American-track style high school language program as a check-off for college admissions.
Now fast forward three decades. Every work day, I interact with people and culture from around the world, it is the nature of business today. Yet like most Americans, I must interact on my terms, my language. For many years, our country could have our way by our sheer economic and political might, or arrogance if you will. But as the world globalizes, those heady days are numbered. We must elevate our academic outcomes and achievement to remain a relevant participant in our global society.
Despite the shortcomings of my early education, I held the belief that my children would not experience the same learning gap during their formative language years. Communication benefits and cultural understanding aside, cognitive development and academic achievement correlations associated with world language programs are too great to ignore. I believed schools boards would heed the call.
Why the urgency? It’s now personal. My children, now 6 and 7, are at risk of not developing important language skills in this most formative learning period. Short of enrolling in a private school, their academic potential lies on the shoulders Cedar Falls public schools. The benefits of early childhood foreign language education cannot be ignored and should become part of the curriculum, even if on an elective basis. I also recognize that we must eliminate in order to add. If I had an ounce of control, I would do exactly that, but the authority rest with you and the school board. If it is a matter of financial resources, I will gladly pay my part.
Cedar Falls schools often lay claim to greatness, without understanding what great means for student achievement and development. We have submitted our educational sovereignty to core and standardized test measurement. Gone are the days of educational innovation beyond the anecdotal successes we report to the media. If it isn’t measured by a higher authority, it must not be worth doing.
A nauseating feeling pours over me knowing our children are not reaching their full potential. But alas, I believe that institutions do change for the benefit of their constituents, especially in Cedar Falls. Let me know how I can help make it happen, time is running short.
Please don't confuse my passion with anger, I am very passionate about world-class learning, but my temperature is rising! If you feel the same, perhaps we can combine our powers to convince for real change.
And that's all folks...