The Iowa legislature is considering new legislation to curb the predatory practices associated with contract home sales. There is also legislation pending to undo the damage perpetrated on Iowans in 1996, when the legislature passed a law permitting "pay day loans" that allow usury interest rates, or "fees" as they are called, to be charged to consumers who utilize the service. Finally, the City of Davenport is currently considering the reorganization of the Environmental Department's budget to bring costs in line with revenues.

These three legislative acts, whether local or statewide, will have the greatest impact upon the lower-incomed population of Davenport, generally speaking. The Environmental Department (ED) oversees mowing and weed trimming, garbage removal, and junk car towing for properties whose owners neglect such obligations. A fee is charged to the owners of the properties when the city steps in to do this property upkeep. The ED also handles inspections of rental properties to ensure that properties are in compliance with building codes, as well as safety and health requirements.

A review of the ED's annual budget shows that the city (in other words, taxpayers) subsidizes approximately 81% of this service because the rental fees charged for inspections don't cover the cost of doing them. Rental inspection fees have not been raised since 1986, so the city is proposing to increase them enough to bring the service into revenue/expenditure balance. A one-unit apartment rental inspection fee is currently $10. The city proposes to raise it to $30. While this seems high upon first inspection (no pun intended), it is not an unreasonable request considering the fees are well below the national average and have been for more than a decade. The fact remains that it costs what it costs to do the inspections, and the property owners should consider it an expense of doing business, not the fiscal responsibility of the taxpayers. Even with the inspection fee increase to $30, the city will still be subsidizing 50% of the rental inspection program.

Meanwhile, the issue of penalties and fines associated with non-compliance of standards set by the city remains a bone of contention between the city and landlords. When a violation occurs on a property, the city cites the landlord. However, the tenant could easily have committed the violation. For example, if an inspector finds that there is garbage on the porch of a property, a notice goes out to the property owner giving the landlord a fixed number of days to clean it up (the new proposal suggests three days). If the garbage is not cleared, the citation goes to the landlord, not the tenant, even though the garbage was the tenant's doing. If the landlord gives the same notice to the tenant and the tenant does not comply within the specified time, the landlord has no legal access to the porch to remove the garbage (considered property of the tenant), so his/her hands are tied.

The landlord can serve the tenant with an eviction notice at this point for not complying with the terms of the lease, assuming such non-compliance is part of the terms, giving the tenant at least another three days to quit the property. The landlord, however, is now in violation of the notice and is cited with a fine.

The city does have a program in place called the Multi-Unit Crime-Free Housing program that is designed to help landlords with issues of tenancy and compliance with codes and standards. The program offers training and remedies for problem tenants, and gives the landlord some additional tools to manage rental properties. Beyond this program, how much more should the city, meaning taxpayers, get involved in the private sector's rental property business? The city is being asked by Quad City Rental Property Association members to consider citing tenants as a matter of public record at the same time they send notices to landlords. This way the city would have a record of problem tenants' occupancy relative to violations to serve as a sort of blacklist that would help landlords avoid renting to these undesirable folks who have a history of abuse, disrespect, and disregard for others' property. Why should these tenants be any less accountable? Eventually such conduct would force such tenants to other cities because they would be unable to find housing here.

This course of action assumes it is always the tenant who does the violating, and this is factually untrue. Landlords are equally responsible and culpable for their properties' deterioration and safety problems. A black list against tenants has some seriously negative connotations, especially where abusive landlords are concerned. The city's role should not be to adjudicate such circumstances, but set the criteria, the standards, the support of, and the consequences for not complying with the standards set. As taxpayers, we should support the means and resources to do so because it contributes to a more successful community.

Davenport School Board Continues to Ignore Public Sentiment

It is time to seriously consider a new school board and new superintendent. The top-down thinking that prevails in the Davenport School District is becoming insulting to the public. Last Monday night's public hearing was a perfect example of the disregard with which this school district holds its citizens.

The claim is that closing Johnson and Grant elementary schools is the only solution to an ever-increasing budget crunch the District is facing. (I challenge the citizens of Davenport to demand an itemized, detailed report of the school district's budget for an intensive examination of exactly how such a large budget is actually spent.) Never mind that closing these schools goes well beyond just a money issue. These schools provide services and education to a host of families, including special needs children, which include entire neighborhoods. When a neighborhood school closes, many other amenities disappear that contributed to a vibrant, engaged community. Neighborhood schools give a sense of place and identity to the different areas of our city. It isn't just about money It is all about process. And this school board continues to fall woefully short of this essential part of decision making, where these life-altering actions are considered through such a narrow perspective that no other creative problem solving is even given a chance. (See Jeff Ignatius' commentary on page 6). The District continues to act with impunity about these sensitive issues that leave the public hurt and angry over the lack of consideration for their very obvious needs. This is not how a school board should conduct itself. To call a public meeting about such a serious issue as closing two long-time elementary schools in such a short period of time, with virtually no meaningful information available to the public to begin to understand the district's position, is beyond contempt. And it is not the first time. If the public is suspicious of this dine-and-dash mentality, they should be. The logical deduction is that there is no excuse for waylaying the public unless the district is hiding something. The board doesn't want the public to have the information upon which to judge its decision. Could it be that the district can't afford the scrutiny of the budget because there are other, possibly larger issues there to expose? Who cannot help but ask these questions when the board conducts itself in the manner it has this past month? The board couldn't or wouldn't produce the complete, comprehensive budget information to support its decision at the very meeting where it voted, 6-1, to close the schools. No other options were introduced, or even entertained as far as the public knows.

The Davenport School Board has a history of disregard for the public, evidenced by last year's fiasco with the Sugar Bowl, the nightmare that surrounded the building of North High School, and a host of other actions that reflected the poorest processes imaginable. The arrogance of such conduct should be a wake-up call to the residents of Davenport to no longer tolerate this lack of disclosure, this disregard for the public's feelings, attitudes, and perceptions, and the begrudgement that follows, for decades in some cases, as a result of decisions made behind closed doors without genuine consideration of the public's input.

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