Monday, May 31

More Law or More Ingenuity?

The Iowa City city council is considering a more restrictive aggressive solicitation ordinance that would keep panhandlers and street musicians at least 15 feet from each other, would limit the area within the Ped Mall to something like a putting green on a miniature golf course for them to ask for help, and disallows the use of obscene language on solicitation signs. In asking the city council to reconsider the need for the more restrictive ordinance at their last meeting, I asked the members to look at current data to drive their decision, as they typically do when considering fiduciary matters. By a couple of the city council members’ own accounts they have been given no data that indicates any arrests or citations have occurred since the original aggressive solicitation ordinance was put in place over six months ago. That ordinance already prevents panhandlers from being within ten feet of store entrances and exits, fifteen feet from crosswalks, and twenty feet from ATMs, among other things.

Given as reasons to support the new ordinance is the request coming from the Downtown Association that there have been complaints by customers concerning some of the panhandlers bothering their customers and the effect is this hurts DTA businesses. Not to second guess the council or the DTA, but if there is a "problem" with aggressive panhandlers and street musicians on the Ped Mall, why aren't current laws being enforced?

The goal the City seems to be leaning toward is the systematic eradication of (or vastly limiting Ped Mall access to) those seen as "undesirable" by the business/real estate owners and others, whether they are acting in accordance with the current law or not. If the “data” that is driving their decision are the potential dollars and cents that businesses feel would come from a Disney-like public center, they should be straight forward and say so. If that is the intent, I’d go so far as suggesting that the City sell the Ped Mall to a real estate developer who could then privatize the space formally. At least then the real costs of doing business would not fall on the taxpayers.

As far as the notion that downtown is somehow unsafe? Why send the message to be afraid of downtown or the people in it. There is an old adage that works: “there is safety in numbers.” To ensure the numbers of people that are needed to support local businesses, incentive is needed to keep locals and out-of-towners discovering the specialness of downtown Iowa City. Look at what already brings people downtown: Friday night music, Saturday and Sunday night movies, art walks, theater, and festivals are all crowd pleasers. Why not work smarter to harness the power of individual creativity and community resources to convince any doubting Thomases that our downtown has a lot to offer and to support? Bring in a crowd and you won’t have to worry about a relatively small number of people.

To be clear, every businessperson is looking for a way to boost their bottom-line and that is her or his individual right. Panhandlers and business people probably at least this in common; they both want to make a living. But, as long as the Ped Mall is a public commons, the rule of law should balance a private request with the public good. The Iowa City bottom-line, in this case, should be to leave well enough alone.

Garry Klein is a member of FAIR! and Citizens for Community Improvement

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Protest Press Conference Scheduled Tuesday

Iowa City, IA – On June 1, 2010, Iowa City Council will be considering a third reading to reduce the free speech zone of the Ped Mall to appease business interests that lobbied its members. We find this to be abhorrent to the 1st amendment Rights of all Iowa Citians and ask the City Council to reconsider passing this ordinance. On June 1st at 6:30 pm in front of City Hall, Citizens United for Free Speech will have a press conference to present our side of the story. Members of Iowa Citizen's for Community Improvement, the ACLU, the Bill of Right's Coordinating Committee, FAIR!, as well as street performers and fund-raisers for non-profit groups who will be affected by enacting a more rigorous "aggressive panhandling" ordinance will also be on hand.

As of the release of this notice, the current ordinance has not resulted in the citation or arrest of one person that it was intended to address. Our group is calling for a review of the enforcement of the current ordinance and asks the City Council to delay the last reading of the ordinance until more facts that would justify the action are presented by those who desire the law changed. We will share our survey results (see: that shows few Iowa City residents or visitors find the Ped Mall to be a dangerous place or unappealing to visit and because the impact for any group seeking goodwill donations will be permanently impacted by the Council's decision, believe this is a "solution seeking a problem."

Last month, the Mayor of Seattle, Washington, Bill McGinn, noted about the aggressive panhandling bill that he vetoed and his City Council backed up, "Although being asked for money on the street can be uncomfortable, it isn't illegal and the Supreme Court has said repeatedly that this is protected speech." He also noted his concern that the law would be leveraged unfairly against those who were perceived to be a threat. We share his concerns.

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Wednesday, May 26

What Do You Think?

I have posted many articles about the Iowa City Council and the Ped Mall, but what do people really think about Iowa City's Downtown? Take this short Click here to take survey.

Council's Stance Far from Middle of the Road

As the Iowa City Council gathers to decide whether to make an aggressive panhandling ordinance more rigid, a couple of different thoughts have solidified in my mind. 1) This ordinance radically changes who can speak and gather on the Ped Mall 2) How law enforcement officers will be challenged to fairly enforce the law.

The panhandling ordinance has the chilling effect of lumping all "panhandlers" under one law--that is a street person, a musician, a person seeking support for cancer research, or a political group seeking financial support for an issue are all painted with the same brush. The City Attorney's office say they have no choice, it is a matter of treating everyone as equal under the 1st Amendment. The only thing is, the law leaves out a very important group in this scenario, business owners. By in fact saying that we are doing this to protect our "fragile" business district, this is giving more importance to this group of people's free speech rights than others in the public.

In essence, the public space that is being limited to accommodate business interests is infringing on the civil liberties of all kinds of people from street beggars to Girl Scouts. This is a radical notion. And while the city council sees their action as, middle of the road, balancing the rights of business people and the public interest, they have made the middle of the Ped Mall a free speech zone that does not invite free speech and is likely to create a larger problem than it solves.

All laws come down to enforcement. If the Iowa City Police Department is using its resources to make arrests, it will make them based on who does the reporting. In other words is anyone going to call the police because a Girl Scout is selling her cookies on the Ped Mall? Not too likely. However if the law is enforced only with those people that produce an "yuck" response for others, does the end justify the means? Laws are supposed to create equity, not arm the constabulary in putting people away with whom others label as unsavory to the eye or holding views that are different than their own.

The argument I have made is that the current law works or doesn't work based on who is making the call and who is enforcing it. If people are concerned their businesses suffer from panhandlers, make the call to the police. At least then we'd know that the law was being applied. Currently we know the law is not being used as is shown by the lack of citations. Or maybe common sense is prevailing. Maybe, law or no law, people are are communicating that they are bothered by others' actions and common decency and courtesy are working?

In investigating this issue, I found it really interesting talking to people who do panhandle. They don't want to be a bother and are horrified by those who they see as violating a code of ethics. I think that most people want to live and let live until it comes to their own livelihoods. I truly think that panhandlers and store owners are not that far apart in their desires, they have a difference of opinion of what are fair business practices.

Thursday, May 20

Who'd a Thunk It? Financial Security from Health Carer Reform

The following information comes from Bill Hawthorne, Public Outreach Assistant at the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center. If you know anyone who has been affected by Mesothelioma, it is very expensive to afford the treatment because research has not found a cure for this type of cancer. My thanks to Bill and his organization.

Health Care Reform Will Help Everybody

Many Americans assume the new health care reform act will benefit mostly the poor and uninsured and hurt everyone else, according to polls. As Matt Yglesias wrote, “Basically, people see this as a bill that will take resources from people who have health insurance and give it to people who don’t have health insurance.” Those who still oppose the reform say that people ought to pay for their own health care.

We all believe in the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, but these days it’s a fantasy to think that anyone but the mega-wealthy will not, sooner or later, depend on help from others to pay medical bills. And that’s true no matter how hard you work, how much you love America, or how diligently you take care of yourself. The cost of medical care has so skyrocketed that breaking an arm or leg could cost as much as a new car. And if you get cancer or heart disease — which can happen even to people who live healthy lifestyles — forget about it. The disease will not only clean you out; it will leave a whopping debt for your survivors to pay.

And the truth is, we all pay for other peoples’ health care whether we know it or not. When people can’t pay their medical bills, the cost of their health care gets added to everyone else’s bills and insurance premiums. When poor people use emergency rooms as a doctor of last resort, their care is not “free.” You pay for it.

Another common fantasy about medical care is that the “free market” provides incentives for medical companies to develop innovative new drugs and treatments for disease without government subsidy. It’s true that private enterprise is very good at developing profitable health care products. But not all medical care can be made profitable.

For years, the U.S. government has been funding medical research that the big private companies don’t want to do because there is too much cost for the potential profit. This is especially true for diseases that are rare and expensive to treat. An example of a recent advance made possible by government grants include new guidelines for malignant pleural mesothelioma treatment developed by Memorial Sloan-Kettering mesothelioma researchers. Another is a blood screening test for mesothelioma developed by thoracic surgeon Dr. Harvey Pass. The health reform act provides for more dollars for such research, from which even many of the tea party protesters will benefit.

The biggest fantasy of all was that people who had insurance didn’t have to worry about health care costs. But the fact is that in recent years millions of Americans have been bankrupted by medical costs, and three-quarters of the medically bankrupt had health insurance. And yes, insurance companies even dumped hard-working, law-abiding patriots. But the health care reform act will put an end to that, and now America’s hard-working, law-abiding patriots are more financially secure, whether they like it or not.

Wednesday, May 19

Transcript from 5/10 Panhandling Discussion

Below is the transcription from the 5/10 Iowa City Council meeting which included a second consideration of an "aggressive solicitation" ordinance modification, the details of which can be found here.

Hayek: This is second consideration, and staff has requested expedited action.
Bailey: Move second consideration.
Wright: Second.
Hayek: Moved by Bailey, seconded by Wright. Discussion? We clearly have some members of the public here, so…sign in or…or put your name on a sticker and put it on the, uh, book please, and state your name and…address us.
Klein: Uh, good evening again, Garry Klein again, and still at 628 2nd Avenue, as far as I know.
Hayek: And, Garry, I’m sorry to interrupt you. I’m going to ask that people limit their comments to three minutes tonight. Based on the late hour, and the number of people who apparently need to address us. (both talking) Just so everyone can get…
Klein: May I ask the Mayor if…if I run out at three minutes, can I come back for another three? Cause I know this is more than three minutes. I timed it.
Hayek: Yeah.
Klein: I was timing for five, but three I…
Hayek: We’ll play it by ear.
Klein: Okay. Okay, so uh, I…first of all, I wanted to thank everyone behind me for coming. I was surprised. This…when I sent you a letter, I understood I was the first correspondence that the City Council had heard from about this, uh, about this issue, other than the…the person who spoke at the last meeting. So when I sent that letter, uh, I did for three specific reasons. One, I wondered if this is an overkill measure, given my understanding that exactly zero, uh, aggressive panhandling citations have been issued, if I understood, uh, from the Council Members…I asked that question of…of that issue. So if we already have something that’s working, and we have three or four other ordinances that can be used if people get out of hand, why are we here tonight? Why are we here at this late hour? Um, secondly, as a person who’s been before this Council many times
on free speech issues, um, this further limitation of free speech, essentially putting people in the planters to keep them away from the entrances of businesses seems, again, to be, uh, not very promising given that these same folks may be our…our street musicians, as well as folks like student groups who are raising million…over a million dollars for things like, uh, dance marathon, as an example. Um, and finally, is this really fair to other businesses in downtown, I mean, we’re…we’re treating the ped mall as this very special place, where the rest of downtown has to kind of contend with the fallout when we keep making…making rule changes in that area. Um, so I can understand, given what I just heard about the, uh, from the money for block grant money why perhaps you haven’t heard from, uh, some of the non-profits and their issues. But I also…uh, I guess there are people, as you see behind me, who have a views…a viewpoint that differs from yours, or at least your first vote. So, I want you to think about the different between meaning well and acting well, because we all mean well. Everyone here means well, that’s why we’re here tonight. I think in making your first consideration you meant well…to make things better for the…for businesses on the ped mall. I understand there are issues. But for everybody I hear who says there’s a problem on the ped mall, I read something or see something on a community program that says, we love…here, can I give you a direct quote. This is from a…a tenant on the ped mall. Downtown is safe. I feel safe. Everybody watches out for each other. It’s not just a place to do business. It’s a place for friends to meet and to hangout. Well, a lot of people believe that, and that’s why they’re down there, and it’s not just about business, even for the business owners, apparently. I did contact the DTA to find out who are these people who said we need to do this now, and I was told, well, we’re not going to tell you, so I wonder, did they tell you? Uh, thirdly, um, you know, you have a Member on the Council who frankly may, in my estimation, at least have an ethical consideration in making a vote. Why? Because he has a business on the ped mall. Two he has, uh, in the past made statements about his feelings about panhandling, and how that affects his business. There’s an economic interest at play here. My concern then is that for fairness that…that that person really consider whether it’s through a moral compass or through a higher power, whether it’s appropriate to vote on this issue. Um, so…the last thing I’m going to say, and I’m going to move out and let other people talk, is that at the very least, you mention that this item is being asked to be expedited by staff. What I’m asking you to do is get more data, for crying out loud. If what I’m hearing here is zero people have been arrested on existing aggressive panhandling ordinance, why are we trying to make it harder? So having said that, I…my request to the Council is let’s separate these votes out. There may be more people who need to be heard from, including the Downtown Association. I’m…I’m not saying that I’m the arbiter of all things that are right about the City. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that there are people who are going to be affected, and it’s not just the…it’s not the usual suspects. And with that I’ll…I do want to, uh, give something to, uh, for you guys to look at. You may have seen this. It’s called preventing panhandling. There’s a lot of different ways we can approach this thing. It’s good information, and maybe we can try education over adjudication.
Hayek: Mr. Klein, for your information (applause) Mr. Klein, so that you and the others understand, there’s no present motion to consolidate the second and third readings of this item. The…the motion is to pass second consideration, which would still leave the third consideration for the next City Council meeting. (unable to hear person in audience)
Wright: Not tonight!
Hayek: Not tonight.
Fidelis: My name is Libris Fidelis, and of course I live downtown at Capitol House Apartments. Uh, I have made a previous correspondence, connection, uh, through the emails, uh, to the City Council, and I believe I spoke at one of the previous, uh, Council meetings, but I’m not sure if I did or not. The pending Iowa City ordinance concerning the allegations of panhandling, uh, is both labeled and prejudicially, uh, excessive in its effect upon denying basic United States’ civil and constitutional rights to a minority of this City’s impoverished citizens. In the four years that I have lived downtown in Capitol House Apartments, I have regularly, almost daily, made at least six or more round trips per week walking on the downtown sidewalks and right through the ped mall, which is now being labeled by the Sheraton Hotel as “City Plaza.” Those daily walks have been especially, going to the Wesley Center Free Lunch program on north Dubuque Street, and Capitol House Apartments, from Capitol House Apartments, uh, but also randomly I’ve been going to the Wedge for occasional breakfast, to the Iowa City Public Library, to the Bread Garden Market for groceries, to the Post Office, uh, to the Downtown Transit Center, to Old Capitol Mall and to various food establishments for meals. Never in my four years of walking downtown have I witnessed anything remotely resembling what is described in the proposed ordinance as aggressive behavior as the result of impoverished solicitations that have regularly been asking for charitable assistance from the public in presence. Yes, I have witnessed the very rare, occasional minor violent or threatening gang altercations in the ped mall area, but those are very rare, and has never involved impoverished solicitors who are regularly asking for charitable handout donations. There are two very serious civil rights denial issues that our City is attempting to press into, uh, ordinance. First is to deny the City, by City ordinance the right of certain minority citizens to be present in certain locations in our city. A second is to deny this, by City ordinance, the right of certain citizens to communicate their plight with the public, in the hope that some minor monetary aid will be forthcoming from an understanding and sympathetic public. Any restriction or denial of these two basic fundamental human and constitutional rights results in civic disqualification of citizenship rights upon a certain selected disadvantaged segment of our society. Such an act by ordinance if passed by Iowa City Council will be therefore a response to a perceived non-reality that the issue might concern public safety when directed to historically peaceful, impoverished solicitors. But rather, this is actually a personal vendetta by certain commercial
economic special interests, that originates from a dislike for seeing in the public presence the apparent low-income and non-income disadvantaged citizens who come to the central downtown area to solicit for generous but meager charitable assistance. The end result of this ordinance is, if approved, uh, by Iowa City Council, will be a prejudiced ordinance that is aimed at excluding citizenship on a particular segment of our society, just because of their personal appearance and activity to solicit charitable handouts in a typically peaceful manner. This committee, uh, Iowa City committee, uh, Iowa City Citizens Community Committee urges that this ordinance must be stopped now by a City Council vote against passage. It is both immoral and presents a caste making precedence for our city, which I believe will only result in a more probable civil rights lawsuit, which our City cannot win, and which will incur the wasted legal expenses thereto for our City to pay. Vote against this potentially tragic and defaming ordinance now. Thank you.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Smithers: Uh, my name is David Smithers. I’m from…I live in Wellman, so I’m an ex-urban Iowa Citian. Um, I’ve lived and worked and went to school in…the greater Iowa City area for nearly 40 years. At least five of those years, mostly in the 70s, I lived in Iowa City itself. Uh, the downtown of Iowa City together with the University of Iowa campus is a historic and vital commons. Not only to Iowa City, but essentially to the world. We’re a UNESCO Literature City (mumbled) to Iowa and to the nation. The commons needs to be protected in order to protect the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly. The commons has existed in downtown Iowa City, and the U of I campus, in conjunction with commerce and residential usage, for over 150 years. Uh, changes in commerce have induced…include an influx of federal dollars. The urban renewal that started in the mid-60s and just ended not too long ago. Uh, to the present day. It has also seen changes in transportation, and the nature of the pedestrian experience. Much commerce has fled to the…the malls and the big box stores for sure, where there exists cheap land and free parking. The congregation of people in such commercial areas has not been (mumbled) by any notion of commons though, and that is a very mixed bless…blessing indeed. Free parking is no substitute for free speech and free assembly. And that’s the reason for people like me, and other people, go to downtown Iowa City to…to mingle and to shop and to eat and get Library books and so on. And, yes, occasionally people, uh, protest down there, and some people ask for help. It is, uh, a vital dynamic for this city and it’s part of our history. Now a dark cloud is closing in…over us, and I’m not just talking about volcanic clouds from Iceland, that’s bringing down our cold rain. Post-911 America has witnessed increased laws of security, especially security of property. Human rights, including economic human rights, has taken hits, such as English-only laws here in Iowa, where place immigration, enforcement raids, restrictions to protect and sometimes, um, restrict free speech, something called free speech zones. That was mentioned not too long here…long ago here in Iowa City, uh, a few winters ago in Des Moines, uh…homeless people were cleared out of their heated hooches by the City of Des Moines, in the dead of winter, and now Iowa City with, afraid of its increased socio-economic and ethnic diversity has spewed forth with curfews and prohibitions on youth groups, uh, congregation..congregating, and now increasing restrictions on homeless people, among them neglected veterans, asking for help. Two thoughts come to my mind, well…two things bother me. Arizona immigration laws, and now this! Uh, Iowa City becoming more, progressive Iowa City becoming more intolerant. One word comes to my mind, I hate to say it: boycott.
Hayek: Thank you.
Clark: Excuse me (noise on mic). Good evening, Mayor, Council Members, my name is Sarah Clark and I live in the, uh, northside of town. Iowa City already has an ordinance in effect that, um, which outlaws aggressive solicitation. I would like to see some evidence that the current ordinance has not been effective. Why is there a push for further restrictions? It seems to me that these changes are being driven by one organization’s perception that downtown can only be rescued by further restricting certain persons and their activities. I’m in downtown Iowa City several, uh, several times a week, often to visit businesses within the ped mall zone. Not once have I felt threatened by someone panhandling…panhandling. Nor have I ever been directly approached by anyone asking me for money. What I have seen on a number of occasions are one or two individuals sitting quietly near the curb holding a small sign asking for a donation. Are these persons aggressive, in their panhandling? No, they are not. Have…how have they reacted, have they reacted in an aggressive or threatening way when I acknowledge them, but say that I cannot give them a contribution? No, they do not. These proposed changes to the ordinance have already created some unintended consequences as evidenced by a letter to the editor in today’s Press-Citizen from University of Iowa Dance Marathon organizers. Are you now going to amend the proposed ordinance changes to provide exceptions for non-profit organizations? You head down a slippery slope when you begin to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable solicitors. I think these proposed changes are unworthy of the Iowa City I love. Rather than corral panhandlers into an even smaller area, wouldn’t it be more productive to provide information about local social services? One of the reasons I chose to move to Iowa City last year was because I knew it was not a ‘one flavor’ city where everyone looks and acts alike. The diversity of ped mall users, including panhandlers and solicitors from non-profit organizations contributes to the wonderful vitality that we enjoy in Iowa City. I believe the proposed ordinance would have a detrimental impact on that vitality, and I urge you to reject it. Thank you very much.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Bennett: Hi, I’m Darcy Bennett, the Executive Business Director of Dance Marathon, and I’m just here to inform you on how the panhandling ordinance could go ahead and affect our organization, as well as other non-profit organizations. We are a
student-run philanthropy that raises funds for children with cancer, pediatric oncology patients and their families, treated at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. The money that we raise goes directly to the Hospital and the community surrounding it with the…area families who are treated here. For the last three years we have raised over a million dollars each year for pediatric cancer families and patients. With the money raised we provide financial, emotional, and social support to these families. There are many programs that have been implemented with this, including child life assistance, summer programs for oncology patients and their siblings, and hospital renovations. We also fund a lot of the small things, like a dinner every other Sunday night, and parking vouchers for hospital ramps that can really mean a lot to families who are staying in our hospital for weeks to months at a time. We recently donated $1 million actually to the University of Iowa College of Medicine to fund renovations to a research laboratory and to the establishment of a research fund. We work year-round to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer, and during the weekend in February, we celebrate the lives of those children who have passed before us, and who are here with us today, in a 24-hour event. In order for students to join our event, they are required to raise $400, and much of this money is raised from our downtown panhandling, as you may call it. In the past years we’ve raised up to $30,000 per year with this downtown panhandling, and even though that doesn’t sound like much to a million dollar organization, it really, truly is. In…to put it in perspective, uh, we spent $30,000 per year for holiday gift cards that are donated just to the families so they can go ahead and provide presents and different things for their children around the holidays. We understand the main objective of this ordinance, but it does pose problems for a non-profit organization, like ourselves, and many others. One of the fundraisers that we, as I have mentioned earlier, do is kind of called ‘canning’ where we ask dancers or student participants to ask for donations in the pedestrian mall from 11:00 PM to 2:00 AM. This opportunity allows students of any socio-economic status to raise funds for pediatric oncology, as well as continued participation in an educationally beneficial activity during the late-night and weekend hours. This new ordinance would greatly decrease the amount of participants allowed to fundraise in this manner. We normally would have 30 students out on one night and this may decrease down to 10 students on a particular night. And, many students in our organization really do rely on this source of fundraising, as many of our dancers, including myself, do not have wealthy family members who can go ahead and cut a check for $400 in order for them to participate in our event. For this reason it is really important that we do offer this opportunity to students to be able t supplement their own fundraising costs, and as necessary be able to raise the full amount through downtown ‘canning.’ Not only will this decrease our student participation, but it may also affect the amount of money we are able to give back to the Iowa City and University of Iowa community, as you’ve heard previously. We are constantly revising the ‘canning’ program to abide by City ordinances and the University of Iowa cash handling stipulations. We’ll be willing to make adjustments as you feel necessary to please the general public; however, if this is passed in the current format it could directly impact the amount of money we are able to raise in our downtown ‘canning’ program. So, as a result, we would just like to ask you to possibly think of a revision for this for non-profit organizations or I don’t know all of the stipulations behind everything, so just kind of consider us when you’re thinking about passing this ordinance. And I would like to thank you for your time and just ask you to consider us, as well as the pediatric families and patients.
Hayek: Thank you. (applause)
Fiegen: Mr. Mayor, Members of the Council, my name again is Tom Feegan from greater Iowa City. Given the late hour, let me be brief. I have two concerns about your ordinance. The first relates to the First Amendment. We have an inalienable right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and it appears to me that this ordinance, including the tightening of the panhandling, is a abridgement of that right. The second is, the ped mall in our fine city is a unique public space. One of the prior speakers referred to it as a ‘commons.’ And, it is that, and it offers to all of us, all citizens of Iowa, all visitors to Iowa City, a unique patchwork that includes people that may be offensive to some of us, that may be different than all of us, but they are part of Iowa. They are part of Iowa City, and this ordinance in essence seeks to push them into the shadows, because there may be some inconvenience. There may be some uncomfortableness, and I would say to you as the elected representatives of this city and this patchwork quilt that you do not pass the second reading of this ordinance, and you do not shunt these people who are human beings into the dark corners of Iowa City, but allow them to be part of the patchwork that is our ped mall, that is our downtown. Thank you. (applause)
Hayek: Anyone else wishing to address the Council? Briefly, Garry!
Klein: It will be very brief. I…I wanted to offer…I was about to say a fig leaf, but that would be inappropriate. A, uh, a…olive branch! That’s what I was looking for (laughter). I don’t know biblical stuff; I get confused (laughter). Uh…but, one of the things that I did pay attention to is, you know, I look at things that have been successful in our city. One of the things that has been successful for the DTA has been the shop, or..and actually the Chamber of Commerce as well, is the shop local or the 350 programs, and I got to thinking, if…if we really believe that our social services could be better served by educating the public, and…and I really mean that. By having posters, having flyers, having information on the DTA’s web site, you know, because we, let’s face it, panhandlers are some of the most web literate people I know, and uh, and so it’s about where are…where are resources available. So, part of it is not to…I’m not a…I don’t want to be in the business of shutting people up, so much as I want to be in the business of helping them have better information, make decisions, and I know given, uh, a lot of things that were said tonight, and things you’ve been working on tonight, you like to…you like to have data to drive your decisions. As I said earlier, I feel in this particular case the data isn’t helping you here. It’s the anecdotal information that seems to be driving the decision. I think we would all feel better, uh, if this decision was based on fact rather than, uh, observation. So with that, again, I…I ask, I, like everyone else, I would love for you to change your minds and vote against, uh, this particular ordinance so that we don’t need a third reading, but if, you know, if…if you feel the need to have more people come visit you, I suppose we could do that! So, thanks so much!
Hayek: Thank you, Garry. Council?
Dickens: I could recuse myself, but I…I have a real hard time doing that. I…I’m downtown all the time. Some of you people come downtown occasionally. I’m there 330 days a year. I do get some Sundays off, um…I was, uh, I was…had an aggressive panhandler just come up to me last week. I was heading down to pick up my packet a week ago Thursday, and he would not back off. And finally I said, I’m on my way to the City Hall, if you want to follow me down, you’re more than welcome. So there is still some aggressive panhandling going on. Um, I see it all the time. I will recuse myself from voting on this, but I will not remain silent on it, because I live and breathe it every day and our customers, and non-customers, people that are just downtown, will come in our store to get away from some people, because they are still very aggressive. I would say overall it’s gotten a lot better. And I think it has, and those people sitting down, I know most of those people. I say ‘hi’ to them every day. I don’t have a problem with those. It’s still the aggressive, and they’re not…they’re not giving up. And, that’s the only reason…I will not vote on this, but I will not remain silent.
Dilkes: Let me just say one thing with respect to…to this, um…if I had thought that Mr. Dickens had a legally compelled conflict of interest I would have advised him as much. Um, I…I don’t. Um, clearly the decision to recuse himself though is his.
Wright: Terry, if I could just…step in. The aggressive panhandling already is illegal, um, what we’re talking about here is further restrictions, and that’s where I really start having a big problem with this ordinance. Um, for a bunch of reasons, uh, and I’ll probably rehash to a certain extent what I’ve said before, but we’re focusing first of all a group of people that’s essentially powerless. Uh, they have no economic clout of this community. They’re down on the street asking for money. That’s really not a fun way to make a living. I’ve talked with some of these folks. I know what kind of abuse they take. Uh, and the aggressive incident you spoke about is already illegal under our existing ordinance. Um, furthermore, I feel this is just a, yet one more whack against First Amendment rights to free speech. Panhandling is protected speech in the United States. Uh, I think the…unfortunate thing that we’re facing here…is that very frequently panhandlers are not well dressed. They don’t have good haircuts. They’re coats are dirty. They make us feel uncomfortable, and I think that’s what we’re really talking about here. It’s not a matter of safety downtown from the panhandlers. Uh, I…I said it the last time and I…I still agree with it this time, I find the…I’m sure the intentions behind this ordinance were good, but I think its overall affect is still mean-spirited and small-minded and the Council should be embarrassed that we’re even talking about it.
Hayek: I, um…I have legal training. I take First Amendment issues very seriously, um, our City Attorney’s office, which has…approved this, um, ordinance, uh, takes First Amendment issues very seriously, as well. In my estimation, um, this is both constitutional and reasonable. It allows solicitation to continue, uh, in the downtown area. Um, I am…I’m not interested in exceptions. I think that is a slippery slope. We cannot say that certain people can be within an area and others, uh, cannot as it relates to this ordinance. And that will impact toward the non-profits. Um, you will still be able to solicit, uh, in the designated areas within the entire city plaza, um, so based on that, I will continue to support this. But I…I appreciate the views of those who feel very strongly about this, and uh, I’m glad you showed up tonight, and I’m glad that the City Council will, uh, follow its tradition of…of making sure we have ample opportunity for public input on a very important issue.
Wilburn: The only piece that I would, uh, add, or highlight, is that um, as you had said, Mr. Mayor, it still allows, um, panhandling in that strip within the middle of the ped mall, so, but there is some reduction, um, and that piece that I added last time was that…aspect that we have in terms of balancing, um, balancing rights, and that’s between, um, the businesses and the individuals that have come forward, uh, with concerns, um, about aggressive panhandling to help try and provide some type of (mumbled) in terms of ease…um, ease of clarifying where…where it cannot occur in the pedestrian mall. Um, that’s the only piece that I would add.
Hayek: No further discussion?
Bailey: Well, the commons requires a balancing act and we’re fortunate that we still have a commons in downtown Iowa City. Many cities have turned their pedestrian plazas or the city plaza that is legally and technically called, they’ve turned them back into vehicular traffic. I was just reading today about, I think it was Sacramento, has gone back to vehicular traffic in their pedestrian plaza. Um, and what I’m seeing in our downtown, which concerns me, um, because I love our downtown, is a fragile economic environment right now. We are fortunate to have so many local businesses down there, and that balancing act between people who want customers coming in their business and feeling comfortable…I always feel comfortable downtown. I’ve never been downtown where I haven’t felt comfortable, but I also have, you know, parents in town who don’t feel comfortable coming downtown, and I understand their perspective. Some of it is, oh, people don’t look like us and they look a little different, and I get that, and I can, you know, say Mom, come on, but I don’t want them to feel unsafe, and I understand that important balancing act with this. There’s still an area that’s designated. It’s still balancing rights, and it’s balancing issues. I’m glad to hear from everybody tonight who’s concerned about our community, because that’s what it takes to build community, and I know that many of you think I’m wrong, but I am going to continue to support this, in support of our wonderful locally owned businesses downtown in this very challenging and difficult economic time.
Wilburn: And there is the education…I forgot there is the education component related to this, involving the parking meters, which I think everyone does support, and those resources will go to some of the, uh, non-profits that are working with, uh, providing support for some individuals, and uh, and I do agree with (mumbled) no exceptions.
Hayek: Anything further? Roll call, please. Item passes 4-1, Dickens abstaining.

Wednesday, May 12

Manhandlers or Panhandlers?

As the Iowa City Council will have one more vote on the extended panhandling ordinance tentatively on June 1st. Fair-minded people should ask: which is more dangerous, a panhandler with a sign or a city council that can't be swayed from a decision that they clearly do not have evidence to support the need of? The violations of the current aggressive panhandling ordinance has been numbered at zero--ZERO. This is governance of the worst sort: a solution seeking a problem.

Thankfully there are others in the Iowa City Community who share this concern and continue to organize around defeating the proposition.

If you are a resident of Iowa City or a visitor who has been on the Ped Mall, drop a note to the city council, if you share the concern that the city government is over-stepping it's bounds. Further, write a letter to the local papers and show up at the meeting. Let the government know that Iowa City is for everybody.

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Tuesday, May 11

Editorial: Iowa City Peddling Business in the Ped Mall

I attended last night's City Council meeting and it brought out a new understanding of how Iowa City's "diverse" downtown commercial interests are ruling the roost in Iowa City. In discussing the second reading of a more stringent ordinance to limit panhandling on the Ped Mall, the majority of city council members pooh-poohed 1st amendment concerns in supporting the ordinance, the current version of which has yielded zero citations or arrests by Iowa City's Police Department. An ordinance which has resulted in council member and Ped Mall business owner, Terry Dickens in saying "things have gotten much better".

However, in the effort to continue aesthetically purifying the Ped Mall, the city council continued to support this measure to save "fragile businesses" in Iowa City, in the words of Regenia Bailey from people who are scary to their customers. And yet, DTA members also tout how safe downtown is and kid-friendly, as they did on a recent community program. Apparently taking the tack, the business of city government is business, the council voted 4 to 1 with Dickens "abstaining," Connie Champion going home sick, and Mike Wright reconfirming his vote in the negative.

In my call to make a more data driven decision, the council elected to vote with the DTA, which will not release the vote they took of their membership to push for additional restrictive measures on the public space or "commons" as David Smithers referred to them in his call for the council to reject this measure. This type of blind obedience would be par for the course several years ago, but with at least three self-described progressives on the council, it defies logic.

This defies logic in that the Ped Mall itself is a public space that has been developed as a for-profit center by the city in cooperation with business owners. By continually allowing businesses to sprawl out into the walkway area and permitting food carts, the overall effect is to limit the walking area. In so doing, the city and the businesses have, in part, been responsible for the environment they are now convinced needs to be changed.

Despite the efforts of several people, including US Senatorial candidate Tom Fiegan, the city council, members of ICCI, student organization members from the University of Iowa, the council chose to ignore the unwashed masses to dance with the ones who brung 'em. Oddly they were able to ignore the charge that other downtown businesses are equally challenged and that a likely outcome of this ordinance is to send panhandlers to other areas of the city where they are less likely to be hassled.

However all is not lost, the third and final vote will take place at the next scheduled formal council meeting which is June 1. This allows those who have been sitting on the sidelines to jump into the fray and contact their city representatives with their comments and to show up at the final vote to stand and be counted. By creating a solution in search of a problem, the city will likely get what they are saying they want to avoid--a downtown devoid of vibrancy.

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Monday, May 10

A Dickens of a City Council Meeting in Iowa City Tonight

The issue of what to do about panhandling and other annoyances on the Ped Mall in Iowa City will likely to come to a head tonight with a group of ICCI and FAIR! members asking the city council to delay a vote on the issue citing a lack of data to make the decision. Council member Terry Dickens has largely led the charge for the Downtown Assocation (DTA) to make panhandlers, musicians and others to stay 20 feet away from store fronts on the Ped Mall and 10 feet everywhere else in Iowa City.

There are numerous considerations on this issue:

- Does this significantly reduce free speech and right to assembly?
- Is the city essentially "selling off" public property to unfairly advantage a group of business people in a particular area of town?
- Is this fair to other downtown businesses?
- Is a council member using his vote in direct conflict of interest to his office?

Hear Mr. Dickens own words on this issue. He "pays dearly" for his store's corner location and for having panhandlers who are near his store who also recognize it's prime location value. Is his profit motive clouding his judgment?

People who wish to speak to this issue should plan to arrive at 6:45 pm for the council meeting which begins at 7 pm at Iowa City Hall at 200 Washington St. The agenda item is #18 and a second and third consideration will likely be voted on this evening, unless the council is compelled to await further input.