Moving forward on jail, courthouse requires more buy-in from Iowa City

[Source: “Moving forward on jail, courthouse requires more buy-in from Iowa City,” Press Citizen, 10 May 2013, by John Deeth]

20130517fr-john-deethTuesday, for the second time in six months, “Yes” came out of the justice center vote with significantly more votes than “No,” but not quite enough for the required 60 percent supermajority.

Clearly most of the community, maybe even a super-majority, is persuaded. But just enough voters withheld support to protest other issues — primarily the conduct of the Iowa City Police Department.

Comparing results to the completely different context of the November presidential election doesn’t provide much insight. I saw percentages in the low 50s in precincts where “Yes” needed high 50s, and low 60s that needed to be low 70s. There’s also that rural “Mad At The County” factor that everyone now sees but can’t quite define.

The “Yes” side offered tangible near future benefits to inmates and the general public. We were the “insiders,” though I still don’t know how I’m part of any “elite.”

Unlike the 21-only bar fights of 2007 and 2010, there was no massive surge of the student votes “No” targeted. “Yes” targeted people who frequently vote in local elections, and that’s who voted. They just didn’t vote our way.

“No,” portraying themselves as a ragtag band of left and right outsiders, won the public debate with a leftist message focused on racial arrest disparities. Yet of the $2,090 “No” raised, $1,000 came from one donor, Republican doctor Michael Woltman of rural Swisher. Another $300 came from the Johnson County Republicans.

Just after the results were in, Mark Lucas of the conservative, Koch-Brothers-led PAC Americans For Prosperity (AFP) tweeted, “@afpiowa helped defeat this $50 million taxpayer boondoggle.”

So the left carried the message, because in the People’s Republic of Johnson County that plays better. But with the voting safely over, AFP shamelessly claimed a conservative win. It’ll be interesting to see what spending is listed on “No”’s post-election report, above and beyond the credibility straining $75 they reported pre-election.

Meanwhile, over-enthusiastic and racially questionable arrest policies by both the Iowa City and University of Iowa police again have cost the county a needed facility.

Before we try this again, the county needs more buy-in from the university, state and federal legislators and especially the city. They all need to spend a little political capital.

It was officials and activists associated with the county and the legal community who carried the ball for the “Yes” campaign in their off hours. Iowa City officials were conspicuously absent, merely listed on paper.

“No” sent a message to Iowa City. But as the recent fights over TIF districts and funding of the Animal Shelter and SEATS show, the city doesn’t care what the county thinks. The city cares about what homeowners east of Governor, west of Sunset and north of Highway 6 think. And the “Love The Hawkeyes Hate The Students” voters like the crackdown.

If I still have any friends left on the “No” side after my flip-flop on this issue, it’s time to work together. To change the Iowa City police’s attitude and direction, you need to change the city council incumbents who enable it, and that means recruiting and electing candidates.

And here’s an editorial tip to both educate the public and fill newsprint for free: print the jail roster and related charges alongside the arrest blotter, to show people once and for all that the jail is not full of pot smokers and drunk students.

The real losers Tuesday were the jail inmates. The ones shipped out to Muscatine, away from their visitors and their attorneys, waiting longer for trial and not getting in-house drug counseling or batterer’s education — because too many voters felt that ideology was more important.


About the Author. Local freelance journalist John Deeth maintains the website http://blog

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Categories: Commentary


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