Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. November 16, 2022.

Editorial: Reynolds fails to capture millions in federal dollars to address key challenges

The same critical issues creating challenges in Dubuque and the tri-state area pose similar obstacles across the state of Iowa.

While a workforce shortage might be the biggest issue the state faces, with ripple effects across communities large and small, a lack of affordable housing and needed child care options compound the problem.

Together, these three issues have created the perfect storm, having a detrimental impact on businesses, institutions and families.

Leaders in Dubuque — from the city, the county, economic development officials, the chamber of commerce, elected officials — all are working together to try to drum up solutions that could pave the way for more affordable housing and child care to help address the workforce shortage.

That’s the way we should approach this: leave no stone unturned, find opportunities, and seek solutions.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the mindset Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is bringing to combat these challenges.

According to reporting by the Des Moines Register, state leaders do not plan to distribute money from Congress that the state hasn’t yet spent on rental assistance or affordable housing, meaning $89 million meant for Iowa likely will be returned to the U.S. Treasury for use in other states. The Iowa Finance Authority declined to say why the state refused to try to reallocate the money.

This comes at a time when Iowans are struggling with the high cost of fuel and food, high interest rates and housing costs, as well as a growing number of rental evictions and increasing homelessness.

Of the state’s $149 million allotment, it has used $59.6 million. If not drawn down by the state by Dec. 31, the remaining $89 million will be recaptured by other states.

We don’t want to spend $89 million on rental assistance and affordable housing? We’re content to let other states absorb Iowa’s share?

Then came last week’s reporting by Iowa Capital Dispatch that the governor deliberately turned down $30 million in federal aid specifically to address child care. The funds required a local match of 10% to draw down the money, and Reynolds opted not to pursue the grant.

We couldn’t tap into the state’s $1.9 billion surplus for $3 million in order to capture $30 million in federal dollars? What sense does this make?

Iowans just gave Reynolds four more years in the governor’s mansion, but residents should demand better from her. When federal dollars are available to address two — and ultimately three given the impact of affordable housing and child care on workforce — of the biggest problems the state is facing, a true leader would work hard to make sure those dollars are well spent right here in Iowa.

To take a pass on millions of dollars earmarked for addressing these issues in Iowa is a complete failure of governance.

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Des Moines Register. November 20, 2022.

Editorial: Keeping people out of public meetings must be the very last resort

Intimidation is never appropriate for our elected officials, and they must exhaust every single alternative before resorting to exclusion.

Modern elected officials can find, if they’re so inclined, vulgar and threatening criticism of their work within moments of unlocking their phones.

Throughout the country, we’ve seen large crowds at public meetings simmering with rage, rage that might or might not be built on an accurate understanding of what a board or council or executive is doing. So it’s appropriate to spare a moment of pity and appreciation for the public servants who risk and endure this sort of abuse.

None of that changes, however, that those same elected officials have a responsibility to respect long-observed conventions of open government, as well as principles prescribed in the Constitution and in laws.

That brings us to a string of incidents in Iowa where leaders have sought to silence and exclude constituents who expressed their grievances publicly.

They could be considered isolated cases. But heavy-handed responses deserve to be called out, lest they give even a little credence to the false notion that it’s acceptable to bar people from seeing and speaking to their representatives.

In Newton last month, Noah Petersen was arrested after he spoke at a City Council meeting. The mayor told Petersen to leave after he said, “I think the top two fascists in this town, Mayor Michael Hansen and the chief of police, need to be removed from power.” Petersen declined to leave, and the police stepped in.

It was actually the second time in October that Petersen was charged with disorderly conduct at a council meeting; a similar episode had played out three weeks earlier. A law firm representing the city, defending the decisions to detain and prosecute Petersen for his “derogatory” remarks, released a baffling statement arguing that “cities have the ability to implement and enforce rules regarding reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions during public meetings.”

That’s true. It also has nothing to do with restricting derogatory speech.

A bench trial for the earlier charge is scheduled for Dec. 15. As Petersen’s attorney, Gina Messamer, wrote: “It is well-established that the ability to voice one’s opinion on matters of public concern is one of the central protections provided by the First Amendment.”

What’s frightening in each current example in Iowa is that it puts limits on people’s ability to petition the government.

A closer call in weighing more forceful responses comes when prolonged disruptions impair a body’s ability to conduct its business. At Des Moines City Council meetings last year when activists opposed the unchallenged approval of Police Department spending, police arrested them when they refused instructions to stop talking or leave. Even in that case, the mayor and council members could have done more to avert the confrontation: They could have noted the obvious interest from the public in being heard about police expenditures, but they didn’t.

Litigation continues in eastern Iowa after the Linn-Mar school district banned Amanda Pierce Snyder from attending board meetings for one year. She was removed from a meeting in August when officials said she disrupted proceedings by interrupting board discussion to question a proposed contract with a company that supports “social, emotional and behavior growth.”

Forcibly removing constituents is questionable enough. A preemptive ban from future public meetings? That sounds more like retribution than an attempt to maintain order. Such a prohibition should not come into play without far, far greater provocation. Linn-Mar officials should have realized that. They needed only to read the news about the Iowa State Patrol’s outrageous order telling racial justice activists to stay out of the Statehouse after a 2020 confrontation. A settlement removed the restrictions and required the state to pay $70,000 to the activists.

To be fair, elected leaders often get it right. Some boards read a boilerplate request — not an order — that speakers avoid disparaging individuals, then sit back and listen even if a visitor does just that. At an Ankeny school board meeting last month, anti-mask activist Kimberly Reicks dressed in drag to try to make a point about an after-school performance. School board members gave her the floor, and then they moved on.

That should be the default approach: Let constituents have their say, whether it’s coherent or incoherent, true or misleading, polite or biting.

It’s absolutely true that speech can be harmful. Words themselves can be violence to oppressed communities. At the extremes, this is a state where, at least twice in the past 40 years, angry men have opened fire in public workspaces, killing Mount Pleasant Mayor Edd King in 1986 and terrifying Jackson County supervisors in 2014. Physical safety is an unavoidable consideration: Running for office shouldn’t mean risking your life.

The rest of us, the governed, can do our part by petitioning the government in a responsible way.

But the prospect that some members of the public might break the rules cannot justify threatening to jail people for speaking out. Intimidation is never appropriate for our elected officials, and they must exhaust every single alternative before resorting to exclusion.

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