When local government goes viral

When local government goes viral

Gazette Column
Johnson County officials address zoning requests throughout the year, without much fanfare. Thursday night was different. Grant Schultz, who works a 143-acre plot of land on Strawbridge Road, near the tiny village of Morse, hoped to spur agritourism and bring in more farmworkers by rezoning about half the property as AR, or agricultural residential. He made application to the county, indicating that he wanted to install about three dozen cabins on the property, in addition to a fish farm and orchard. He and county planning officials disagreed. Ultimately the county’s planning and zoning commission rendered its decision, sending the matter before supervisors with a unanimous recommendation to refuse Schultz’s rezoning request. This is when an otherwise local zoning matter drew national and international attention. [caption id="attachment_1329" align="aligncenter" width="500"] A typically…
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Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Statewide conversation on affordable, supportive housing begins

Gazette Column
Spotlight reveals challenges within the Creative Corridor DUBUQUE — Every county in Iowa lacks a sufficient number of affordable housing units, which, in turn, contributes to the prevalence of homelessness most apparent in the state’s population centers. Although intensity varies, this lack of housing is a statewide challenge that affects the ability of communities to attract business and sustain a workforce, the need for taxpayer-funded safety net programs and overall health and well-being. So, this week, the Iowa Finance Authority launched the first of three statewide conversations on housing with a specific focus on the overwhelming need for supported living arrangements. “What we’ve learned from recent experiences in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City,” explained Carolann Jensen, chief programs officer with the IFA, “is that the push for housing, especially supportive…
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Still a lot of work to do

Still a lot of work to do

Gazette Column
Throughout the community one question seems to dominate personal interaction: “How are you feeling?” I’ve been asked by people I see each day and those I only have occasional opportunity to speak with. Convenience store clerks, local members of the clergy, co-workers, neighbors, transit riders and drivers and community activists of all stripes are curious, some perhaps morbidly so, on my and their other neighbors’ state of mind. So, how are you feeling in these first post-election days? I am, of course, disappointed that the nation has not finally elected a woman to its highest office. I’m especially concerned by the years of misinformation and sexism that led to undeserved backlash against Hillary Clinton, and a campaign with an overall anti-women tone. More than shock at Donald Trump’s public disrespect…
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Innovate funding for better refugee, immigrant integration

Innovate funding for better refugee, immigrant integration

Gazette Column
One of the biggest hurdles facing immigrants and refugees is integration into existing communities. And while there are innovative ideas about how to ease the transition, existing funding streams are rarely flexible enough to put them into practice. Dr. Ann Valentine, executive dean of Kirkwood Community College’s Iowa City campus, says identifying needs isn’t difficult and, since several organizations and institutions are combating similar issues, collaborative programming can be a natural fit. The issue, she told residents gathered in Iowa City on Wednesday for a Johnson County discussion on assistance for refugees, is that funding for educational services exists in traditional, narrow silos. That is a growing problem, especially in Johnson County. For instance, in 2009, Kirkwood’s Iowa City campus had 37 English-as-a-Second-Language credit students. Now there are 270. Although…
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Johnson County MPO: Bikes, cars & buses, but no train

Johnson County MPO: Bikes, cars & buses, but no train

Gazette Column
Corridor residents hoping for passenger rail will need to wait a little longer. But they can bide time by helping to shape long-range planning of existing Johnson County MPO transit options. The Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County held the first of three public workshops Wednesday night in North Liberty. The meetings are an opportunity for citizens interested in the future of public transit, roads and trails to give input on long-range planning projects. “Future Forward 2045” is a document that outlines how the metropolitan communities — Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin and University Heights, as well as the county areas immediately adjacent to those communities — will invest in transportation. This type of planning is also a requirement for state and federal funding. Feedback is being solicited in…
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Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Gazette Column
Federal lawmakers will be reminded on Monday about the plight of Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor who was deported a year ago, and the family he was forced to leave behind in Iowa. The Mennonite Central Committee and Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious organizations Pastor Max was affiliated with — has planned two Congressional briefings, one for senators and the other for representatives. Both are slated to discuss how U.S. immigration officials are violating their own policies. Pastor Max was removed from his Iowa City home while his wife showered, the contact part of a federal government sweep intended to target the “worst of the worst” immigrant criminal elements in the country. After entering the country in 1995, he had a 1999 DUI conviction in Johnson County, as…
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Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Pastor Max Villatoro supporters keep home fires burning

Gazette Column
First anniversary of deportation is only days away Many things have been taken away from a deported Iowa City pastor during the past year, but he still has his friends. Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor, was forced onto a plane March 20, 2015, and flown to Honduras. It was the first time in more than 20 years that he had set foot in the country where he was born. Left behind were his wife and their four children, the Iowa City religious congregation the couple had established and a host of loyal friends. “Max was a friend to many people and a minister of the gospel. His absence weakens his community, his family and his church,” said Roger Farmer of Washington, a member of the group aptly named Friends of…
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In Johnson County: No GOP voice, by choice

In Johnson County: No GOP voice, by choice

Gazette Column
Looking forward to hearing from the Republican candidate in the Johnson County Board of Supervisors special election? I’ve got some bad news for you. Early voting began this week for the Jan. 19 special election to replace former supervisor Terrence Neuzil, who has moved out of state. Although two candidates appear on the ballot, neither represents the Republican Party. Democrats met Dec. 16 and held a nominating convention that named Lisa Green-Douglas as their candidate. Chris Hoffman, a member of the North Liberty City Council, was nominated by petition and is running without party affiliation. Johnson County Republicans could have fielded a candidate during a December nominating convention of their own. None, however, was held. Perhaps it is Johnson County’s long-standing history of electing Democrats that has produced such apathy…
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DNR: How do we reduce booze issues?

DNR: How do we reduce booze issues?

Gazette Column
As Johnson County residents hoping to visit the Lake Macbride beach area learned this past July, it takes only a few to ruin things for everyone. After two large fights resulted in arrests for public intoxication and assault, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources chose to close the beach area early — 6 p.m. instead of 10:30 p.m. — effectively preventing many working families from enjoying the water during one of the hottest stretches of the summer. Park Ranger Gwen Prentice pointed to several incidents of rowdy activity at the time that she suspected were fueled by alcohol consumption. Although no news-making fights happened at Palo beach in Linn County, it also was closed early to curtail problems involving alcohol. Across the state — despite awareness campaigns and a beverage…
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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…
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