Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Does Cedar Rapids need to address panhandling?

Gazette Column
With an eye toward the city of Cedar Rapids’ latest ordinance intended to curtail roadside panhandling, I took to social media and the streets Thursday with my writing hand extended. “Does the city need to do something about panhandling?” I asked friends and strangers alike. “And, if so, what?” My very non-scientific survey revealed that most — roughly 90 percent of the more than 100 people who engaged with me — don’t believe panhandling is a problem in Cedar Rapids. Several of these individuals spoke of panhandling situations in larger cities, where they’d been aggressively pursued by panhandlers on sidewalks or had received some unwanted service from a roadside panhandler, such as windshield cleaning. Those are not experiences they’ve had in Cedar Rapids and, more simply, they don’t see the…
Read More
Can Iowa maintain high rank?

Can Iowa maintain high rank?

Gazette Column
Boosted by past policy decisions, Iowa has become a leader in child economic well-being. according to one national study. But the Hawkeye State is beginning to lag on children’s health. Iowa is among the top five states in the 2017 Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The study ranks states based on 16 indicators in four areas — health, education, economic well-being and family and community. The group says these are key factors in determining a child’s ability to thrive. Nationally, Iowa ranks third among states in economic well-being. It’s also among the top 10 for education (sixth), health (seventh) and family and community (eighth). The Hawkeye State’s composite ranking is fifth in the nation, following New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota. [caption id="attachment_1234" align="alignleft" width="640"]…
Read More
Should punishment fit the crime or the risk?

Should punishment fit the crime or the risk?

Gazette Column
A bill intended to drastically reform punishment for domestic violence has quickly moved through the legislature this year. While good-intentioned, it opens the door for use of risk assessments in sentencing, and uses ineffective mandatory minimums. House File 2399 passed the Iowa House in March, 82-12. It was amended by the Senate to expand the definition of stalking, include GPS monitoring as stalking and classify dating violence as domestic abuse before being passed unanimously on April 6. The Senate also included mandatory-minimum punishments for stalking, harassment and repeat offenders. The House must take up the amended version before it is passed to Gov. Terry Branstad’s desk. The bill, according to the Legislative Services Agency, would require abusers to undergo mandatory risk assessment. The assessment would be developed and validated by…
Read More
HUD ex-offender housing rule a smart move

HUD ex-offender housing rule a smart move

Gazette Column
America should be a country of second chances. This should be a nation in which each individual is judged on his or her own actions and merits. We don’t need to blindly trust, but we must step away from stereotypes that keep certain segments of the population from reaching their full potential, or bouncing back from past mistakes. This week the nation took a significant step toward that a goal when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released new guidelines for housing providers. Instead of universally and automatically banning anyone with a criminal record from renting or purchasing a property, landlords must now consider each individual’s specific circumstance. Landlords of federally-subsidized housing or in the private rental market who use blanket bans of potential clients with criminal records…
Read More
Study shows wisdom of Cedar Rapids’ Hy-Vee incentive

Study shows wisdom of Cedar Rapids’ Hy-Vee incentive

Gazette Column
A decision by Cedar Rapids city leaders to use taxpayer dollars to keep a Hy-Vee neighborhood grocery store drew significant ire, but a new sociology study proves the funds were well spent. There are several similarities between Topeka, Kansas — the focus of the study — and Cedar Rapids. Census figures for 2013 show the cities with a population of roughly 128,000, with a population density of about 2,000 people per square mile. Both cities are predominantly white, although Topeka is more quickly moving toward diversity. Median income levels are similar, as is the percentage of residents living at or below the poverty line. Given the similar demographics and geographic proximity, it shouldn’t be surprising the communities are also wrestling with similar cultural issues. Both are, for instance, searching for…
Read More
Minorities, especially, should cast a local ballot

Minorities, especially, should cast a local ballot

Gazette Column
There’s no doubt that a mere handful of votes can change the outcome of a city election, but there is even more at stake for Iowa’s underrepresented minority communities. Study voter turnout for any length of time and you’ll find political scientists who argue that increased engagement doesn’t provide significantly different election outcomes. But a look at the data behind such assertions shows their correlations are linked to the outcomes of national elections. About 62 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, about 41 percent voted in congressional races and, in 2012, about 58 percent participated in the presidential election. The 2014 midterm elections in Iowa garnered a high turnout of 53.3 percent, a number praised by state officials. Yet, nationally, only about…
Read More
Few travelers on path to equity

Few travelers on path to equity

Gazette Column
What’s most disappointing is how few came to participate. There were three things I wanted to do Thursday night. I could have watched Jon Stewart bid his final farewell to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” I was tempted to gather with political friends and family to watch members of the GOP presidential field face off in their first televised debate. But I chose to attend a local meeting at the Coralville Public Library. Specifically, I sat with about 15 people as Kingsley Botchway, Iowa City Community School District’s relatively new equity and staffing director, provided an update and outline of the district’s equity plan. Then I listened as about half of those gathered offered concerns and feedback. It was both an uplifting and sobering experience. While most news reports (and…
Read More
Let’s not forget the ladies

Let’s not forget the ladies

Gazette Column
Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, I can no longer read the preamble to the Constitution. I must sing it. “We the People … in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” As a child, I was quite addicted to the various Schoolhouse Rock videos that aired on Saturday morning television. In fact, “Conjunction Junction” and “Three Is a Magic Number” can be found in my playlists. Still, it wasn’t until they were repackaged in the late 1990s that I realized some of their more subtle lessons. In the “Preamble” video there is a line…
Read More
Time for some more ‘real talk’

Time for some more ‘real talk’

Gazette Column
Suicide rates for young black children have nearly doubled over the last two decades, even as rates for white children in the same age group have declined. That statistic is more disturbing with understanding that, historically, suicide rates in the black community have been significantly lower. In other words, this marks the first time that suicide rates among blacks of any age group have exceeded those of white counterparts. The realization was an exceptionally bitter pill for Linda Topinka, a Cedar Rapids licensed social worker who also is a founding member of the African American Family Preservation and Resource Committee. The group formed in 2006, primarily to address racial disparities in social welfare organizations and foster care, but has since expanded its focus in Linn County. She serves as the…
Read More
Iowa advocates push for police oversight, accountability

Iowa advocates push for police oversight, accountability

Gazette Column
This column would have been less difficult to write earlier in the week, before Baltimore was engulfed in flames. But it wouldn’t have been as important. On the surface, Bob Babcock and Felicia Jones have few similarities. Although they both are residents of the Quad Cities, they represent different generations. Babcock leans on a wealth of hard-earned life experience, and now is of the age when the past often intersects with and gives clarity to the present. Jones still is figuring out the world, testing how she fits and what type of difference she can make. On Saturday, April 25, the two stood together at Rock Island Township Hall, a computer presentation as their backdrop, leading a small but engaged group of Quad Cities residents through possible solutions to what…
Read More