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Stormwater Fee Spurs Efforts to Recruit Candidates for Davenport’s City Council PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Local News
Tuesday, 26 April 2005 18:00
Citizens’ anger over garbage and stormwater fees imposed by the Davenport City Council is fueling efforts to recruit candidates to oppose incumbent members of the council in the municipal election this fall, according to interviews conducted by the River Cities’ Reader.

At the moment, there is little evidence of organized recruitment of candidates for the council. According to interviews with candidates challenging incumbents, most recruitment appears to be conducted by individuals acting on their own.

But several coordinated efforts might be on the horizon. Paul Janucek, a local Republican activist, said he has participated in a meeting attended by people from various groups attempting to agree on a slate of candidates. Janucek said many people in the community have “lost complete confidence” in the council. These groups include businesspeople, homeowners, property-owners, – “everybody.” Never, he added, has he seen this much “across-the-board anger.”

Furthermore, the Reader has learned, one political action committee representing business is raising funds for the upcoming campaign. It’s not yet known whether this PAC will support or oppose the incumbent council; its chair said opinions of the council within his organization vary.

One alderman, Bob McGivern of Ward 6, has already announced that he does not plan to seek city office this fall, but he denies that controversy over the council’s record influenced his decision. Another member of the council, Donna Bushek of Ward 2, already has an opponent for her seat.

Roxanna Moritz of Ward 1 said she hasn’t decided about re-election but downplayed the possibility of candidate recruitment. “That’s every election, isn’t it?” she said.

The Last Straw

Go Davenport, a local business PAC that works to make Davenport an attractive location for business, is now attempting to raise $60,000, according to Robert Martin, its chair. Fundraising was among the topics discussed at a meeting of the PAC on April 7.

In the coming months, the organization will recruit candidates and conduct polling to determine what issues are important to voters, Martin explained. He declined to comment on the present city council, saying opinions on the Go Davenport board vary. “I’d rather not represent the board at this point,” he said.

Conducting the fundraising effort will be Victory Enterprises, a local firm headed by Steve Grubbs, a former state legislator and previous chair of the Republican Party of Iowa.

Both aldermen and citizens agree that the stormwater utility and fee “is what people are talking about,” in the words of McGivern. Dot Richards, Bushek’s challenger, reported the stormwater fee is an “old favorite” among issues that concern voters she meets. For Annette Wood, another Republican activist, the utility and fee were the “last straw.”

The council approved a new stormwater utility and fee in March. Homeowners will pay a $2.50 monthly fee, while the fee schedule for other property owners is still being calculated. The federal government requires cities to develop and abide by a stormwater-management program, or risk federal fines.

The fee met with opposition from local businesses and others. Opponents of the fee feared the cost of the fee to business. George Hellert, a member of the city’s Stormwater Advisory Committee, said businesses and churches would bear the fee disproportionately, because it will be based on the amount of “impervious surface” – rooftops, parking lots, and other surfaces stormwater cannot penetrate – on a property.

Veterans’ organizations also “spoke out immediately,” according to Janucek, the senior vice commander of Scott County’s chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. On March 1, the Web site of television station WQAD reported that the Veterans Party of Iowa, described by Janucek as a PAC for veterans, was passing out fliers urging citizens to protest the fee. The flier claimed, in statements Davenport Mayor Charlie Brooke denied in an interview, that 88 percent of the money raised would go toward administrative costs, as well as to pay city employees’ health-care costs.

Furthermore, although not opposing the fee in principle, DavenportOne, the city’s most prominent economic-development organization and its chamber of commerce, questioned whether the federal and state regulations required the city to establish the utility and a specific funding mechanism, as it believed city officials had claimed, according to a Quad-City Times report published January 10.

Still other critics of the city’s plan, including Gerard Woods, a mayoral candidate in the fall election, questioned whether the city’s plan was efficient, considering that, according to his research, state regulators cover a larger jurisdiction with fewer employees and less money than the city projected in its plan. He argued for phasing in the stormwater fee so that businesses could adjust.

Finally, Alderman Bill Lynn of Ward 5 proposed what he said was an alternative that would not require increased taxes or fees, namely, selling 222 acres of city-owned land at Kimberly and Eastern, using the sale proceeds to eliminate interest payments on some city debt and to start collecting real-estate taxes on the acreage. This, he claimed, would produce enough revenue to fund operation of the stormwater utility.

Aldermen voting in favor of the stormwater fee, besides Moritz and McGivern, were Jamie Howard, at large; Bushek; Barney Barnhill, Ward 7; and Tom Engelmann, Ward 8. Voting against the fee were Lynn; Steve Ahrens, at large; Keith Meyer, Ward 3; and Raymond Ambrose, Ward 4.

Supporters of the fee include three of the Council’s four registered Democrats – Moritz, Bushek, and Engelmann – and half of the Council’s six registered Republicans – McGivern, Howard, and Barnhill. The issue, according to Janucek, “is transcending politics” and the usual divides between Democrats and Republicans or liberals and conservatives. He believes the council’s critics include a “cross section” of Davenport, and thus don’t represent a partisan effort.

Moritz and McGivern both defended their votes in favor of the utility and fee. The former said all the information from city staff led her to believe the stormwater fee was the best way to bring the city into compliance with the federal mandate. The mandate did not require the fee, but left it up to the city to choose how to pay for its stormwater-management program, she added.

McGivern commented that the city is required to perform certain functions that cost money. The fee is “far better than raising property taxes that would punish the business taxpayers even greater,” he said.

Other Sources of Discontent

The stormwater utility is not the only issue angering voters. Soon after being seated in 2004, the city council established a $6 monthly garbage fee, a measure the preceding council had rejected. Combined with the monthly $3.72 recycling fee, this amounts to $9.72 a month.

“The people were told they would not have a garbage tax. ... That got people mad,” Wood said. “We need to get rid of this city council because all they want to do is tax us.”

Voters’ anger over the stormwater and garbage fees prompted talk of replacing the council even in nonpolitical organizations. For example, Wood said that within Quad City Families in Support of Troops, which she co-chairs, “even though we’re not supposed to talk political, we do. ... You do get a little bit of political feeling in there.”

Controversy over council decisions is motivating even people without partisan loyalties to political action, according to interviews with citizens. Janucek said he has “noticed a lot of independent people” trying to organize for the mayor’s race. Not only are candidates looking for supporters, but groups are “looking for candidates harder,” he added.

Wood and Richards, both of whom said people encouraged them to run for the council, saw little evidence of coordinated efforts to recruit candidates. Wood said encouragement came from “individuals” who knew what ward she lived in and would have supported her. Richards recalled that people she met during her unsuccessful run for state representative last year, as well as “probably a couple” Republican legislators, had encouraged her to run.

Even so, Janucek said he had attended “one meeting” of people from various groups attempting to agree on a slate of candidates. He declined to be more specific about the organizations participating, beyond saying they were groups that feared they be disproportionately affected by the stormwater fee.

Wood speculated that the belief that he might be defeated lay behind McGivern’s decision not to seek re-election. McGivern himself, however, said he is “taking a step back” from the council because his appraisal firm, Koestner, McGivern & Associates, is planning to expand into Des Moines. He felt he couldn’t both work in Des Moines and serve on the council.

“I have some upcoming responsibilities,” he added. “There’s nothing out there, whether stormwater or anything else” that caused him not to run. Nor does he believe that the six aldermen who supported the stormwater fee “have anything to be ashamed of or to fear.”

Moritz, asked about a report that she was not running, said she has not yet decided whether to seek re-election. Controversy won’t play a role in her decision, she claimed.

Moritz and McGivern are philosophical about opposition to the council. Moritz remarked that every election is about issues; that’s why elections exist. McGivern added, “Elections are about choices. ... It’s typical for people in Davenport to find groups or teams. This is no different than any election.”
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