Bob appeared before the West Des Moines City Council this evening with one of his regular updates about the Polk County Board Supervisors’ actions benefiting the city. He has been making regular appearances and updates to the City Council since the beginning of his first term in 2001.

He detailed recent allocations to West Des Moines, including $27,000 for human services programs, $12,000 for the Booster Pack children’s nutrition program, and funds for the dollars for Scholars, the Teen Center rock climbing wall and the historical society, to name a few of the programs in West Des Moines that are assisted by Polk County.

Bob said he has continued to weigh in on the current legislative debate over reshaping the state’s property tax system. He expressed his support for lower commercial property taxes but favors an approach that will not hurt the city’s budget.  He noted that Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan as written will hit West Des Moines especially hard, resulting in a loss of approximately 25 percent of the city’s revenue. It was suggested by the Governor’s office that options be considered where the state would fund some municipal unfunded mandates. In working with West Des Moines city staff, Bob confirmed that there are not enough unfunded mandates applying to West Des Moines that could make up the revenue shortfall the city would experience under the current proposal. “I think we all agree,” he said, “that the Governor is on the right track, but having the voices of economic engines like West Des Moines contributing to the solution will be vital.”

He expressed appreciation to Mayor Steve Gaer and Councilman Russ Trimble, two new members on the county’s Homeless Coordinating Council. The council has been especially focused recently on providing services for the chonically homeless on the riverbank, “housing first” option and mental health options within the new Central Iowa Shelter.

Bob also outlined the latest efforts of the panel responsible for redrawing the county’s five supervisor districts following the 2010 census. Bob advised that his representative on the redictricting commission is WDM resident, Brian Rickert,  “I have really enjoyed working with the West Des Moines staff, your elected officials, volunteers and residents. I hope I’ll get to keep West Des Moines as the lines are redrawn, It’s a great city,” he said.

One of my favorite quotes about leadership comes from Seattle-area football coach Jerry McClain who said, “The best example of leadership is leadership by example.”

 And, one of my favorite local developers of leadership is the West Des Moines Leadership Academy, where up-and-coming people in the community learn the best examples of leadership.

 The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce is currently accepting applications for the academy’s 2011-12 session.  The academy is for people who live, work or have an interest in the West Des Moines area. It’s for people who “wish to deepen their knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing the community while developing and refining their leadership skills.”

 Class enrollment is limited to about 30 leaders, representing a cross-section of the business and professional community.

 Participants will be selected based upon leadership potential, community interest and involvement, accomplishments and ability to assume community responsibility.

Applications for the class, which begins meeting in August, are available at www.wdmleaders.org.

 Give it a try. You’ll be a better person for it – and West Des Moines will be an even better play to live, work, play and raise a family because of it, too.

 # # # #

Legislative Republicans released a plan yesterday to reform property taxes. It wasn’t difficult for reporters to find critics of the plan, but I think it’s important to point out that backers of the bill have their hearts and minds in the right place. They hear taxpayers saying very clearly that they need tax relief.  They also know that a fair and competitive property tax structure is necessary for Iowa to attract and retain jobs.

 Of course, I approach the property tax issue from the perspective that cities and counties are required to provide essential services – police, fire, public works, jails, the prosecution of criminals and maintaining social services to mention just some. Taxpayers don’t just want us to do an adequate job; they expect and deserve services to be delivered well above “adequately.”

  I don’t believe any of our legislators are looking for those services to go away – or that we do a less than adequate job – but I do think they sometimes lose sight of the heavy responsibilities that cities and counties have.  As a result, they sometimes end up passing laws that have unintended consequences.

 It’s a tall order to expect legislators to reform property taxes this late into the session, especially with adjournment scheduled for Friday. A better approach would be for state officials to bring some cities and counties to the table so they can avoid the law of unintended consequences when as they put together meaningful reform for the 2012 session of the General Assembly. I realize we already have enough studies on property tax reform to erect a small two-story building, but this really is not rocket science and if there is a real desire for reform it could be done in a matter of weeks.

 You can bet that I’m going to work closely with members of Polk County’s legislative delegation to ensure that our best interests are represented and included in future legislation to make our state economy more competitive through a fairer property tax system.

 You might have heard by now that the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today to reject a proposal to provide severance pay when elected Polk County officials retire from office or are defeated. That alone was good news, but I thought you might be interested in reading what I had to say. Here’s an excerpt of my remarks:

 “I’ve been at this local government thing for quite a while.  I’ve been on the city council, been a mayor and now I’m on the board.  … I remember my first meeting as a city council member in Clive. The meeting started at seven o’clock – it was the first meeting about the Flying J Travel Center – and it lasted until 2:15 a.m. a council meeting. The whole time, residents were teeing off on the council. There was a lot of emotion and a lot of energy.

 “Since I’ve been on the board, there was the Iowa Events Center and then (the salary scandal involving the Central Iowa Employment Training Center). There was a lot of controversy, a lot of emotion around them. The common thread between those … was that they reflect what we call ‘reality’ in the real world.  There was a lot of controversy and a lot of emotion but it was part of something that really existed.  I have to say this was the first time since I’ve been doing this that we had a controversy over something that never existed, that was something that was theoretical only and lived in a pretend world only.

 “The severance pay issue never had a chance of passing with the Board of Supervisors.  It was not on the agenda.  It was not scheduled to be on the agenda.  … This was a citizens’ proposal. All five (supervisors) get proposals multiple times per week that cross our desks.  …

 “You could say this is a committee we appointed, but I’ve for a list of proposals as long as my arm from the Conservation Commission, which is another commission we appoint. They’re good proposals. There’s nothing wrong with any of them but many of them we can’t afford.  Yet, none of those is on the front page of the Register.

 “The point of it is, some of these things are just proposals and they don’t actually exist until the Board of Supervisors takes them up and this was never going to be taken up. I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth but I know at least two of us were surprised to even get the call from (Register reporter Jason Pulliam) that this was even being considered.

 “I ‘get’ the anger. I really do. People feel government is too big, it’s too expensive, it’s not responsive and all that. Now we have the specter that these well-paid officials are going to take more and it’s unconscionable.  I would agree, if only it were true. I can tell you it’s not true. We’re not about to do it.

 “We will continue to serve you the best we can. We’ll continue to work hard and get the best value out of the public dollar we can.  We’re not perfect but we’re not crazy either. And this proposal was crazy from day one.”

I was whiling away my life the other night by watching the Des Moines City Council on Channel 7. The City was getting hammered, non-stop, by their local citizens over the prospects of a new homeless shelter at I-235 and Keo Way. It was punching bag treatment to which the Council has become almost inured. If they haven’t yet, they soon will be, I think.

I had to laugh, though. One anti-shelter testimony was especially amusing, even if unintentionally so.

The testimony was from a very nice lady, I’m sure, from the Sherman Hill area. I’m not sure how that neighborhood is particularly affected by this matter, but why waste a chance to lecture people on TV, right? Anyway, she was earnest enough and I am sure she believed everything she was saying. So, hats off to her. She said she was saddened with the debate because the two sides were comprised of “caring ultra liberals versus other caring ultra liberals…” The audience all applauded. They applauded all the anti-shelter speakers, of course, but this applause had a lot more gusto. I half-expected them to start chanting, “si, se puedo.” Laugh? I thought I’d die I was laughing so hard.

I guess the upshot of that sentiment is that the mean old Republicans and/or conservatives just don’t care about all those ratty homeless people. It’s ingrained. Learned at an early age. We just hate everyone, you know?

Well, the “ultra liberals” apparently don’t hate everyone. But now, with this homeless issue, they just can’t agree on what to do! It’s so sad. Don’t you just hate the non-theoretical world? One thing most of those ultra liberals agreed upon, however, is that they don’t want a shelter within about a million square blocks of where any of them live. That much was clear.

On top of the not-in-my-backyard issues, some of the local conspiracy theorists had concluded that many of the City Councilmembers had been bought off by rich developers that are just drooling with lustful avarice over the site where the current shelter is located. So, they conclude, I guess, that the fix is in. It’s absurd, of course, but no conspiracy theorist ever let implausibility stand in anyone’s way.

Then we have my friend, Mayor Frank Cownie, who voted “no” on the whole issue once the debate finally wound up after several hours of the piñata treatment. Frank and I co-chair the Council on Homelessness here in our fine city. I think Frank makes some good points about homelessness and we both agree on the concept of “Housing First.” I like Frank. He’s a good guy and his heart is in the right place. But, I think he’s wrong on this issue.

At the risk of allowing some people to believe that the GOP doesn’t really hate everyone, there are some good sound reasons for a new homeless shelter. First, and just speaking for myself, I don’t hate everyone. I want to see everyone have a fair and equal chance to be self sufficient and dignified. And to not have to depend on some oppressive bureaucracy to feed and clothe them. That’s not freedom. It’s not hate; it’s not love, either. It’s institutional slavery. To me, that’s the bright line between conservative behavior and liberal behavior. Not philosophies…behavior.

I know more than a little about the Central Iowa Shelter. I checked in, once, as a homeless person and stayed there. I checked into the Bethel, too, at about the same time. Those two shelters are two completely different animals, believe me. I grew a nine day beard and got some ratty clothes, scuffed myself up a bit and did my best impression of a homeless person. I looked like sort of a cross between the Unibomber and Mullah Omar. In other words, a bum.

Ironically, I was, by far….by a light year, the worst dressed, worst groomed, worst smelling, most physically repulsive person in either shelter. No contest. If they would’ve held a King of the Hobos competition, I would’ve won by acclamation. But, that was my impression of a homeless person: a bum. If felt perfectly natural to me to get into character like that because that’s who I thought I’d be interacting with at the Shelter. Not so much, it turned out.

For one thing, many of the guys (and women) had jobs. Particularly true at the Bethel. Almost everyone was well groomed and had decent clothing. There’s a lot to write about with respect to that experience, but suffice to say that this part of it; the looks of the homeless and their general demeanor, was a surprise to me.

So, when it comes to the reaction of the Cheatum Park neighborhood people to the proposed Shelter at Keo and I-235, I get it. We all see the bums walking around downtown, maybe dragging a bag of cans behind them, pushing a grocery cart full a junk and muttering to themselves. The residents don’t want to see the same thing on their front sidewalk, that’s all. Who’d blame them? Who would welcome that?

The problem with that impression of the homeless is that it’s the same false impression that I had when I checked into the Shelter one November night not so long ago. The guys and women that we think of when we think “homeless” aren’t necessarily the same ones that stay at shelters. They’re likely the homeless that won’t stay at a shelter. It’s not that they don’t exist…that messed up humanity that all of us have seen in every urban setting to which we travel…it’s that they don’t exist much at homeless shelters. That’s all I’m saying.

It’s controversial…it’s complicated and it’s political. There’s no question about any of that. Nonetheless, the reality is that the current shelter is too small, too banged up and too far beyond repair to do nothing. Women need more emergency shelter space and, in the coming months, so may the men. The location at Keo and 235 is not ideal, but it does have the advantage of being bordered with a main thoroughfare and a freeway. It isn’t smack dab in the middle of anyone’s “neighborhood.” The county is in for $1,000,000 to help build the new shelter. That money is solid. There’s a large allocation of homeless money in Obama’s stimulus bill, also. So, the money will be there to build it; the staff will be there to help the homeless.

The last question is: will our friends on the City Council hang in there and clear the path for the Shelter to obtain the property? I hope so. This issue needs to be put behind us…for everyone’s good. Including the homeless.

Brownell sworn in today

Saying public officials have a responsibility to “conduct ourselves in a professional and optimistic way” as the nation forges its way through the current down economy, Robert Brownell took the oath of office to begin his third term on the Polk County Board of Supervisors.

Brownell, a Clive Republican, and E.J. Giovannetti, an Urbandale Republican, were administered the oath of office by Judge Arthur Gamble in the Board of Supervisors meeting room.

Brownell said he is looking forward to working with his colleagues on the  five-member board to exercise fiscal responsibility with the taxpayers’ dollars and encourage continued economic growth.

“I’m looking forward to a great year,” Brownell said.

Good Day for Iowa

Today is a day to feel pride and show our support for a fellow Iowan: former Gov. Tom Vilsack.
It’s still difficult for many Republicans to feel much excitement about the Democrats’ sweeping victories last month, but if we’re going to have a Democratic administration it’s good for Iowa that Tom Vilsack will be part of it. (It’s also an impressive personal accomplishment for which the Mount Pleasant Democrat deserves hearty congratulations.)
The Des Moines Register editorial board got it right this morning with its observation that Vilsack’s nomination “would put in position a smart, forward-thinking leader at a time when a hungry, fuel-starved world needs better policies shaping American agriculture.”

Knowledgeable about traditional agriculture – corn, soybeans, cattle, hogs and poultry – and a friend of the ethanol industry, Vilsack will have a prominent role in shaping rural development policies.  That’s going to be as important for Polk County as it is the rest of our state – and the rest of the Midwest.

No matter our political or policy differences may have been from time to time, Tom Vilsack’s nomination ranks as a plus for Iowa in my book.