An interview with city council candidate Royceann Porter

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 Rockne Cole.
Interview with candidate Catherine Champion.

Royceann Porter
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?

Royceann Porter: Members of the city council must be committed to evaluating and changing policies and procedures involving the system of arrest in Iowa City. They can start by being well-informed of ongoing statistics that paint a picture of Iowa City as discriminatory when enforcing the law. The trend of inequitable arrests of African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities in Iowa City can be reversed. There are no quick fixes so we must work all the time to change the approach of law enforcement towards minority residents from the present one of “control and monitor” back to the right one of “protect and serve.”

The city council can look at models of programs developed by other cities and communities that have successfully started the reversal of disproportionately arresting and incarcerating African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. The council must also review the kinds of government funding provided to law enforcement agencies and make recommendations on how this funding can support equitable enforcement of the law.

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?

RP: In order to discourage the rise in housing costs, reduction in services and help facilitate more affordable housing and services for lower income individuals, I will work with other council members in three key areas: 1. To become informed about the goals of inclusionary zoning and begin to think outside of the box when brainstorming strategies that would impact the rise in housing cost. 2. I would continue to work closely with the Iowa City Housing Authority and encourage my fellow council members to evaluate the current regulations that drive services to low income families and where possible recommend changes. 3. Continue to partner with successful affordable housing developers like the Housing Fellowship and Habitat for Humanity as additional support to facilitate affordable housing for low income individuals.

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?

RP: It is my opinion that the county should re-evaluate their options and develop new strategies to convince residents of Johnson County that passing a referendum for a new jail will be of benefit to people who must be confined in jail and their families, as well as the community as a whole. The publicity surrounding the failed referendum for the new jail leads one to believe that the local elected officials who were strong supporters of the referendum may find it necessary to review the current proposal and make changes that would yield a more positive outcome. Supporters of adding to jail capacity need to clearly address the perception of many that, “if they build it, they will fill it.”

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?

RP: We must remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that the cities in Johnson County provide paratransit services to individuals with disabilities. People with special needs look to all leaders in Johnson County for support. A user friendly and user affordable transit system for people with disabilities must be the priority of every local elected leader. As the most populous city in the county and home of the greatest number of SEATS riders, Iowa City should be a leader in providing paratransit services.

I support keeping half-priced fares for qualifying SEATS users and keeping Sunday service. Most SEATS riders are dealing with very limited incomes and they do not need to pay twice the standard fare for public transportation which meets their specific needs. Sunday service allows people who otherwise have no transportation to attend worship services if they so choose and to have access to transportation throughout the week.

I will sit down with the Board of Supervisors and work out how shared public services can be financed with fairness to all. These are not difficult questions and can easily be resolved by people of good will. It is never acceptable to force a loss of valuable services on lower income residents simply because some elected officials are miffed at other elected officials.

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?

RP: Racial profiling is the single most important issue facing all residents of Iowa City. Two recent studies reveal to the whole community what has long been daily reality for minority residents: that even in Iowa City, people experience different opportunities and quality of life depending on the color of their skin or ethnic background.

The Iowa City Council recently created the Ad Hoc Diversity Committee to “study the operations of City law enforcement … as it relates to minority populations.” The Diversity Committee found that “participants in the public information gathering sessions shared multiple concerns about a lack of consistency of how officers carried out police policies” and stated “it is the belief of the Committee that the police department is currently functioning under a ‘control and monitor’ approach to dealing with our minority citizens, which has led to mutual feelings of distrust.”

The Coalition for Racial Justice’s report Racial Equity in Iowa City and Johnson County concludes that, “Significant and troubling racial disparities exist in our community in education, juvenile justice, adult criminal justice, economic well-being, housing and representation in community leadership.“

I believe that my years of experience in the community of giving one-on-one support directly to individuals and families and gaining personal insight into how people are having to live will make me uniquely able to resolve many of the issues of racial inequity we are now facing. Embracing the diversity of Iowa City by engaging with the whole community is my passion. It is who I am.

A short while ago I discovered on Facebook that a young woman who lived much of the time on the Ped Mall in Iowa City had passed away. While searching on the Ped Mall for the woman’s surviving loved ones, I found her partner and asked how I could help. I offered assistance, offered to make a meal for his late partner’s memorial service, or to help in any way I could. I spent some time offering information about resources that might help him with his work and his life situation. I just wanted to tell this brief story as a way of saying that I want our community to relate personally to people no matter where they’re living or what their circumstances may be. I have a vision of putting compassion back into public office: Building tall buildings or not are tasks for us to work on; helping people to make their lives better is what we are called to do.

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

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