An interview with city council candidate Rockne Cole

As the city council election draws near, Little Village posed the same set of questions to four candidates. The answers will be published one candidate at a time through October.

Interview with candidate Kingsley Botchway.
Interview with candidate Catherine Champion.
Interview with candidate Royceann Porter.

Rockne Cole
“We face some of the biggest urban planning decisions since the 1970s.” — photo by Barry Phipps

Little Village: A recent national study by the American Civil Liberties Union has found that the state of Iowa ranks worst in the nation in the ethnic disparity of marijuana arrests. Johnson County is number three on this list in the State. There has been much discussion of racial disparity in arrests within the City, and statistics suggest that local law enforcement is disproportionately arresting and more harshly punishing African Americans. What do you feel the City Council can do to help reverse this trend?

Rockne Cole: Race is one of the most serious and deeply rooted problems we face as a society, and is a problem we need to face as a nation, in Iowa as a whole and in Iowa City itself. We must ensure that all members of our community feel that they are welcome, and have a voice in our city government. To achieve this, we must begin by listening. We need to reach out to the minority community to learn their needs, concerns and what they think needs to be done. Too often, well-meaning whites push themselves to the forefront of civil rights movements and ignore the views and actual experience of minorities with racism. That needs to change. I pledge to reach out to the entire minority community, and to make this communication a priority if elected to City Council.

LV: The cost of living in Iowa City has always been high, as compared to other cities in Iowa. What will you do to discourage the rise in housing costs, reduction in services and help facilitate more affordable housing and services for lower income individuals?

RC: One key tool that the city has is Tax Increment Financing, or TIF’s. The original purpose of TIF was to provide incentives for workforce and middle class housing. However, our current council majority has not shown any interest in supporting workforce housing, and instead has used TIF to subsidize luxury housing units in prime development locations. They have failed to ensure that a common-sense definition of “work force” housing is used when negotiating TIF agreements with developers. For example, in the Chauncey Proposal, the city required 22 of 74 units of to be “work force” housing. Thirty percent sounds reasonable, however, under their definition of “work force” housing, those proposed units could be rented for up to $2,500 per month, or sold for up to $312,000 and still be considered “work force.” This is a bad use of tax money, and it’s wrong. I will seek to more actively utilize our TIF authority to negotiate a much higher percentage of development proposals incorporate real work force housing in terms that make sense.

LV: The County has tried unsuccessfully several times to pass a referendum for a new jail. What is your opinion on the idea of a new jail, and what steps should local government take to gain greater success at passing the referendum? Or do you feel the current proposals by local elected officials are sufficient enough?

RC: My primary focus on this issue relates to humanitarian issues associated with an overcrowded jail. That must be addressed. It has also become clear that both sides need to listen to one another and to compromise. The current $46 million proposal simply does not have the support needed to pass, and as such, the county needs to come up with a much smaller proposal that reflects community values. If jail opponents have specific proposals to address the humanitarian concerns that I have regarding the current jail, I would consider those as well. Secondly, I would like see an outside audit of the police department by a consultant with experience in similar progressive communities such as Madison, Portland, St. Paul or Burlington, Vermont. I have personally observed our police department to be a professional and effective force; however, like any organization, they should welcome outside scrutiny to identify problem areas, and confirm areas that they are already doing well. Third, I would encourage our department to consider carefully the recommendations of the ad hoc diversity committee led by Kingsley Botchway. Kingsley has provided excellent leadership on this issue.

LV: There has been a perceptible tension, if not a rift, between the City of Iowa City and the Johnson County Board of Supervisors over each body’s proper share in the financing of shared public services. This began with the new Iowa City Animal Shelter and spilled into SEATS funding. What do you think are the differences in responsibilities between the two bodies and what will you do to help repair this problem?

RC:  This past spring, I attended a SEATS community meeting at the Iowa City Public Library. I was truly inspired by our fellow disabled residents’ eloquent demands for equal access to our community through our SEATS program. I will stand in solidarity with them as they seek to ensure that they do not have to refight civil rights battles that they thought they had secured 22 years ago. What I find most disturbing about this episode is the public shifting of blame by both county and city officials. County officials blamed city officials and city blamed county for cutting city funding. For example, in the recent decision to cut SEATS services, several councilors expressed regret that they had to cut funding, but then blamed other entities for it. Harry Truman is one of my heroes, and his most famous quote was: “The buck stops here.” Regardless of what other decisions are made, the question is: What are our values as Iowa City residents? Where do we stand on disabled access? Within the confines of our city budget, I will do everything that I can possibly to ensure that our fellow disabled residents maintain current levels of SEATS funding and access.

LV: What do you feel is the most important issue facing residents of Iowa City, and if elected what makes you the best candidate to seek a resolution to that issue?

CC: Our city stands at a crossroads. We face some of the biggest urban planning decisions since the 1970s. Our city leaders continue their singular focus on subsidizing the construction of Elysium like palaces in the sky while ignoring the needs of working families. They have failed to encourage growth of dynamic green businesses such as the NewPi Coop. Finally, they have repeatedly ignored the concerns of our thoughtful and articulate residents on projects such as Gateway. I want to get Iowa City back on to the progressive path by making our city more walkable and bikeable; encouraging sustainable, green development; encouraging further expansion of local foods through urban agriculture; and most importantly, by standing up for all of our city residents rather than a small number of politically connected elites.

IowaCity, Iowa is an anonymous Facebook friend engaging the city’s social media community in light banter, conversation and debate.

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