Letter to the editor: The Iowa City Council’s vote to approve the rec master plan was misinformed

The Robert A. Lee Recreation Center on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Iowa City. – Adria Carpenter/Little Village

By Amy B. Kretkowski, Iowa City

On Oct. 18, four members of the City Council (Alter, Bergus, Harmsen and Weiner) approved the Recreation Facilities and Programs Master Plan — despite the absence of details, cost information, and a vision that is consistent with overwhelming public feedback in opposition to the proposed “repurposing” of the Robert A. Lee pool and the radical “concept” redesign of City Park Pool.

In approving this plan, the four Council members blindly accepted and repeated the city staff’s misinformation regarding the public feedback on the aquatics portion of the plan. The city staff has consistently dismissed the feedback from community members who actually use and love these pools. Instead, they have emphasized “Phase 1” of their community engagement process because that Phase allegedly represents the “quiet voices” in the community who often aren’t “heard.”

Who are these “quiet voices”?

According to the plan, Phase 1 involved focus groups, pop-up events, a “statistically valid survey,” and a community engagement website. See Recreation Facilities and Programs Master Plan, at page 24, available online. Of the 44 or 47 total participants in the focus groups, at least 14 were (and still are) city employees (30 percent of the total) — including the City Manager Geoff Fruin, Deputy City Manager Redmond Jones, and Assistant City Attorney Sue Dulek. See Master Plan at 20, 126-27 and the list below of city employees identified as participants. (Councilor Alter was also one of the participants, but she was not on the City Council at the time.) City employees should not be characterized as among the “quiet voices” in this community who are not “heard.”

City employees on the list of focus group participants (pages 126-27) are:

1. Anne Russett, IC Senior Planner
2. Chance Ramey, Deputy Superintendent, IC School District
3. Curtis Brenton, IC Transit Operations Supervisor
4. Dustin Liston, IC Police Chief
5. Elsworth Carman, Director of IC Public Library
6. Eric Nurnberg, IC Deputy Fire Chief
7. Geoff Fruin, IC City Manager
8. Jason Havel, IC Public Works/city engineer
9. Liz Hubing, Director of Marketing, Iowa City Area Development Group
10. Marcia Bollinger, IC Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator
11. Mazir Salih – former City Council member
12. Megan Alter – current City Council member (but wasn’t at the time of the focus group?)
13. Redmond Jones, IC Deputy City Manager
14. Shannon McMahon, IC Communications Coordinator
15. Sue Dulek, IC Assistant City Attorney
16. Susan Bethel, IC Transit Operations Supervisor
17. Wendy Ford, IC Economic Development Coordinator

The Phase 1 “pop-up events” with the most participation were held at the Farmers Market, SodaFest and Halloween Carnival (69, 49 and 36 respondents, respectively). See Master Plan at 22. None of these events appear to be designed to reach underserved communities.

The Phase 1 “Statistically Valid Survey” was comprised of 450 random households in the community. See Master Plan at 16. Of those respondents, 82 percent were white — and the largest age group was 65 and older. Id. at 17. It does not appear that these are the “quiet voices” in the community who are not “heard.”

Even worse, the plan’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) outcomes analysis was entirely based on input from Parks & Rec Department staff. See Master Plan at 65 (the consulting firm “asked Department staff members to rate their program areas” according to DEI factors). In other words — the “quiet voices” the Council members believe they’re listening to are actually the voices of the city staff.

The City Council and staff have weaponized DEI language to serve their desired outcome without actually obtaining input from the “quiet” voices in the community — and without explaining how eliminating one pool and redesigning another serves the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

It is regrettable that four City Council members approved this plan without understanding the actual source of the Phase 1 feedback. This plan does not represent the needs or desires of the “quiet voices” in this community. This plan represents the desires of city staff.