Waterloo and Iowa City Mayors

Jun 26, 2020  | 27 min  | Ep 4744 | Podcast | Transcript

Podcast

2020 has been a challenging year for all levels of government and that includes individuals serving as local city leaders. In a year filled with economic uncertainty, a pandemic and racial unrest, we check in with Iowa Mayors Quentin Hart of Waterloo and Bruce Teague of Iowa City on this edition of Iowa Press.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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For decades Iowa Press has brought you politicians and newsmakers from across Iowa and beyond. Celebrating nearly 50 years of broadcast excellence on statewide Iowa PBS, this is the Friday, June 26 edition of Iowa Press. Here is David Yepsen.

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Yepsen: In a year of unprecedented news, focus is often shifted to policy makers in Washington or here in the Iowa Statehouse. But the issues of the day, a pandemic, economic uncertainty and a month of racial unrest and protests has brought new attention to a level of city government in Iowa. Two Iowa Mayors confronting these issues join us today. Quentin Hart of Waterloo is the first African-American Mayor of that city, now serving in this third term. And Bruce Teague is Mayor of Iowa City, serving on the City Council there since a special election in 2018, he was appointed Mayor earlier this year. Gentlemen, welcome to the show.

Thank you.

Thank you, happy to be here.

Yepsen: Also joining the conversation across the table is Kay Henderson, News Director for Radio Iowa and Erin Murphy is Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises.

Henderson: Mayor Teague, let's start with you. Tell us what it's like being black in Iowa versus living in a place like Chicago where you grew up.

Teague: Well, I've been in Iowa City now 27 years and so I came at the age of 17. When I first came I'll tell you that it was like I'm not in Kansas City anymore, it was very, very different for me. It took a while for me to adjust to being, coming from an all-black neighborhood to predominantly non-black neighborhood. It was very scarce the individuals that I saw that were people of color. And so that transitioned for me, it takes a while but I did become more comfortable within Iowa City as time went on. It really was about a year or two before I really kind of began to find some great comfort.

Yepsen: Mayor Hart, same question.

Hart: Well, not coming from Chicago, and I was going to say, you said 27 years. When did you move here, when you were 3? But, Waterloo, Iowa is always an interesting place. Waterloo, as we know, is one of the most diverse per capita cities in the entire state, fortunate to have a nice African-American population, Bosnian, Burmese. So, I'm kind of used to the diversity aspect. But as far as other places around Iowa may not be at that particular point. But we are absolutely moving forward, It's a great place. Challenges that we see daily that I know we're going to talk about here in a few minutes.

Murphy: Speaking of those, so the civil unrest that David referred to started over yet another, the most recent case of a black American being killed while in police custody. We wanted to get your impressions, gentlemen, both of you. Mayor Hart, maybe we'll start with you. What is the state of police community relations in your community in Waterloo?

Hart: Well, the state of police and community has not always been as great as it can possibly be. With the African-American community it's always a feeling of having a disconnect, always having a feeling of enforcement but not relationship. And I would say probably about four years ago, in Waterloo we don't necessarily wait for a crisis to happen or a situation to happen that we’ve seen in Minneapolis and across this country, a lot of folks are very proactive in bringing those issues forward. And so there was this fracture but I would say we've seen an incredible shift over the last several weeks actually with the hiring of a brand new police chief to the city of Waterloo --

Murphy: Who is the first black police chief, is that correct?

Hart: Dr. Joel Fitzgerald comes from Philadelphia. And he has done probably 25 initiatives within 25 days. And 9 of those initiatives have to do with actual policy changes and things that the community wanted to see. So early on when things were taking place, even before he was even sworn in, he was out in the middle of the park talking to people, I'm talking to people, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning to try to ask people to give us an opportunity, give us a chance to be able to show you and let us show you that we're willing to walk the walk instead of talk the talk. And we've seen a tremendous shift and a tremendous change in a very short amount of time from use of force policies to racial profiling and bias free policies, to body cam policies, in-car video policies, to creation and changes of mission statements. And so very quickly, very assertively we have moved in that direction, which is what we would have probably done even without the tragedy that was seen in Minneapolis.

Murphy: We want to talk a little bit more about some of those policies. But first, Mayor Teague, how would you characterize police and community relations in your community?

Teague: Well, right now I think we have the black community as well as white allies is what we're talking about right now coming out and sharing their concerns about what has been the testimonies of individuals within our community, people of color specifically, coming out and sharing their experiences with the police officers. And so what I'll say is right now there is some turmoil going on as far as hearing the stories from individuals, their personal stories and listening to those, for the greater community as well as the police officers processing those stories. So I think right now it is that time to just listen and that is what is happening. We're hearing the stories. And soon we'll be able to make some progress moving towards resolutions.

Murphy: Some of the protestors have had concerns with Iowa City Police Department about their reaction and trying to keep protests in order and not let things get out of hand. Can you talk about that balancing act and do you feel that the police department has acted appropriately in Iowa City?

Teague: I think what we saw early on with the protesting there was certainly some things that we didn't want within the community, some tagging, going to the Interstate and I've been very vocal about those are not the things that I wanted to see a part of the protests, except I have also been very vocal about the one message that I wanted to be clear is that Black Lives Matter and even though we're seeing the tagging and even though we're seeing people going to the Interstate, I wanted to be clear at the end of the day and when you have finished talking and addressing that, that we go back to Black Lives Matter because if you focus only on that, those negative things that were happening then you're missing the message. And sometimes the message is actually through the tagging, it's an expression is through the tagging and through going to the Interstate. But you've got to get the message. And so there has been a lot happening within our community and I think the, as we saw early on we didn't quite know how to respond to it and then through conversations honestly with some of the leaders of the Iowa Freedom Riders did we learn that they wanted less police presence and just ensuring that they were safe. And so we transitioned a little bit.

Yepsen: Gentlemen, we've got a lot of questions and not a lot of time. Kay?

Henderson: Mayor Hart, the legislature passed a police reform plan. It did not include anti-racial profiling language. Would you like to see that at the state level?

Hart: Absolutely.

Henderson: And how would it work?

Hart: Well, I think as Mayor Teague had mentioned, those conversations for years people have felt like they have been enforced upon and that there was no relationship or that there's certain types of violations that people have been specifically targeted for. And so unless you begin to take a look to see what the data actually says about being targeted, being racially profiled, being over policed in your communities, if you don't have that information then it's going to be very hard to figure out how you can create that type of transparency to communicate through your citizens. So I'll be honest, some of the things that we're trying to do at the local level, we're not necessarily waiting for the legislature to put that in place. As you said, Mayor Teague has mentioned, we've been having these conversations for years and people have been tired of not being listened to. So we're taking a very aggressive approach to putting those things in place, making those things happen because we've been having conversations in our community for a long time.

Yepsen: What about that profiling issue in Iowa City?

Teague: So I know that, and I think it really does start at a local level and you can't wait around is what I'm finding out, so you do what you can locally. I know that the NAACP has been very influential and going across the state with some of their chapters to try to institute some things such as the hate crime and that type of stuff.

Yepsen: Erin?

Murphy: The Governor right now is considering an executive order that would restore the voting rights of felons who complete their sentences. She is also considering applying restitution requirements to that, having some of the fines and fees paid off. We're curious of what you gentlemen feel about that. Mayor Teague, would you like to see the Governor act on that? And do you have concerns about the restitution part?

Teague: I'll tell you right away it should be acted upon. I believe that people who have served their time to our community through the prison system, once they are released they are members of this community, they are doing what they can to regain employment, regain their place in the community. So I believe yes, that it should be enacted right away. And as to the special circumstances I think we need to ensure that we don't have continued barriers for individuals that have been in the judicial system. And so any barriers that even appear to be a barrier we need to get rid of them.

Murphy: Mayor Hart?

Hart: I feel the same way. If you take a look at disproportionality in sentencing and guidelines and then you have a group, people that have been overly charged for particular crimes and now they end up with felonies, they lose the right to vote, and then on top of that the barriers that are already put in place, so you're going to pay off fines immediately when you can't even get a job in certain places or you can't get a proper education because you have a record. So that's another barrier to paying off those fines. I think moving in the right direction to give the right to be able to vote is an incredible, incredible thing that needs to take place right now.

Henderson: Mayor Teague, how do you interpret the phrase, defund the police. And is the Iowa City City Council ready to do that?

Teague: So I was able to learn from people in the community what defund the police means because I think it can mean a lot to a lot of people. The term itself just means take all the money away. I think across the states there are people that say 25% or 75%, there is a lot of definitions that people are putting there, but I think for Iowa City and what we're doing is we're restructuring and re-looking at what we're doing with our police. And so I think that is going to be a process that we're going to take from now until December to navigate. But I think it is, overall defund the police is looking at how can you decrease and reimagine how the police operate.

Yepsen: Mayor Hart, what is your answer to that question?

Hart: There's certain things that we probably don't want to see taken away. The actual training that police need to have, that people are talking about right now whether it's de-escalation, whether it's implicit bias training, I hate to see some of those dollars taken away. But I think it's talking about reimagining how we can actually serve the community and keep the community safe.

Murphy: Is there a danger of going too far with some of this? Do we endanger making it difficult to recruit people to serve as police officers in our communities? Mayor Hart?

Hart: I think not in relation to the conversation about defunding, but when you have officers that, you have a few officers that do what we see taking place in Minneapolis and Atlanta, you see those situations happen, I think that does more to make it hard to recruit because that perception makes it seem like that people are bad or police officers aren't doing their job. But I think those actions have more of an impact on recruitment of other officers than the protests from people that want justice.

Yepsen: I want to ask you both a larger question about race in Iowa. Iowa is 90% white. A lot of us grow up in towns, there just are no black people around. What are one or two things that individual Iowans, let's start with you Mayor Hart, one or two things individual Iowans in white Iowa can be doing to improve the racial climate in our country and our state?

Hart: Well, I think we just saw a great example within our local community. We had one of our business people reach out and say, what is it that we can actually do to help this situation, help our officers? And they put together a fund that is going to help provide education, training and various opportunities for our police department to be able to understand and deal with a culturally diverse community. But I think one thing that people need to do is education, education about not only just as Iowans but there is a tremendous amount of history and understanding and contributions by African-Americans, by Latinos, that people seem to not even know about within our state.

Yepsen: Mayor Teague, what is your answer to that question?

Teague: I have to say education is number one. When we look at what Juneteenth means for African-Americans, I myself went to Chicago schools and didn't know what Juneteenth was until I came to Iowa. And so my entire educational career I didn't know what Juneteenth was. And so I believe it is critical that we within Iowa educate people about things that are black history, that's number one, and also what individuals can do within their own circles as to stop any type of racial jokes or anything that is bringing division between black people in any fashion.

Hart: And I think Dr. King said it, a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and by calling that out and some of our moderate white friends and advocates, calling it out like they see it, challenging people and their perspectives on how they treat people that may be of a different race.

Henderson: Both of you are mayors of metropolitan areas that have major universities, and particularly in Johnson County they're seeing an increase in COVID cases. What is your concern about the coronavirus and your thought about the fall when even more students will be returning to Johnson County?

Teague: Everybody, please wear a mask. That is my first response. Whether it's a mask or a face shield I think is necessary. We're learning that you can be effective in keeping the risk down with doing that, washing your hands and keeping your distance. Of course we're looking at the fall semester not only for the college but also for elementary and high school students. And I believe that just like businesses where we're encouraging businesses to do the three things that I just mentioned to keep people safe, I also believe that it is the responsibility of institutions, school institutions to do the same thing.

Yepsen: Mayor Hart?

Hart: And continue safe practices and understand that we are not beyond COVID right now, there's still an imminent threat to folks. And so we need to make sure that we continue to protect ourselves and have those safe practices. Also continue to hold businesses accountable as well for the practice that they have in place for the workers and people within those areas. So it's not over.

Murphy: And so far the state response has been to create guidelines and rules at the state level. As mayors, I'm curious to hear how each of you feel about local control. Would you prefer to have local control over a rule like, for instance Mayor Teague, requiring masks in your community. Would you prefer to see communities have a little more authority in that space? Or are you comfortable with the statewide mandates?

Teague: Well, if you were talking home rules of course. I believe that we should have more power within our own communities to state what is right for us. Iowa is huge. We're a metropolitan city, as you mentioned. There is rural communities and their needs could be a little different depending on what the situation is. And specific to COVID-19 I would like the opportunity to have some of those abilities to make some regulations within our community that fits our needs.

Murphy: Mayor Hart?

Hart: Absolutely. That's why we've been asking for it from the beginning of March. There's no cookie cutter situation for each community because there's different things taking place on the ground. So very much would like to have the ability to serve our community and be able to have home rule on that issue.

Murphy: I'm going to go back really quick to the issue of students coming back. Football games on the Northern Iowa campus and Hawkeyes, are you comfortable with football being played, fans in the stands? How do you feel about that?

Hart: Right now the direction that COVID is we have no idea what is going to happen. But whatever takes place, if there is social distancing, if there is sitting six feet apart, if it is sitting rows apart, I just hope and pray that every, every possible safety measure is put in place. But right now I'm not as comfortable doing that.

Murphy: Mayor Teague, how about Iowa City?

Teague: So any type of contact sport I have concern about I think because of the COVID-19 and the way that it spreads and whether it's Iowa football or little kid's leagues. So that won't change because there is evidence talking about close contact and the spreading of the virus. So if we're talking about just the assembly of people I think that it can be done but you have to be really, really planned and detailed and making sure that people are six feet apart.

Yepsen: Excuse me, Mayor, how are you going to do six feet away at Kinnick Stadium? How are you going to do that at UNI? Come on.

Teague: I agree. I think that it is very difficult to do but it can be done, if someone really wants to spend the time, the process to make that happen, how people have to enter six feet apart, walking behind each other. I hear what you're saying, I think is a major thing to do is not realistic.

Yepsen: So, Mayor Hart, are you saying that UNI should not play football?

Hart: Mayor Hart didn't say that. I'm saying that whatever is decided, one, we already talked about home rule, that is a state decision that local mayors don't have control of and a university decision. But I would hope and pray that every safety precaution that the CDC lists, that the state lists, that all of those are followed by those that are in control.

Yepsen: What is the economic impact, Mayor Teague, on the African-American community in Iowa of COVID?

Teague: So, I have talked to a lot of people within my local city that have been affected by COVID whether they lost their job or they're an immigrant or they are undocumented and they can't get the funds from unemployment. So there's a lot of people that are affected by it on personal levels and then as far as businesses, black-owned businesses, there are challenges as well because the rent is still due and many of those individuals, when we're looking at the PPP funds, that is if you really how it's forgiven is if you continue to pay your employees, but if you close your shop then there is no employees to pay so those funds have to be refunded.

Yepsen: Mayor Hart?

Hart: And incredible impact on minority businesses, access to capital, working with banks to make sure that the PPP funds and those various sources actually reach them. So it's a huge impact.

Yepsen: We've got less than two minutes. Mayor Hart, I'll start with you. Diversity. Iowa businesses say they want to create more diversity but yet we're having difficulty recruiting African-Americans to Iowa because the state is so white and a lot of African-Americans who do come here leave because they don't have a social life and things. What do you say as a leader in Iowa about what Iowa businesses can be doing to become more diverse?

Hart: Well, one part of it is not using traditional methods to try to recruit people from outside to come here. Let me even back up. One, take care of those that may be within your organizations that you can continually build, that you can continually put in leadership programs to take the next step. Next, make sure you use non-traditional ways to try to recruit people here. Three, take a look at the overall environment within your agency or your business and how people are treated and see what that particular culture is. That would help right off the bat.

Yepsen: Mayor Teague, less than 30 seconds. What would you say?

Teague: I honestly believe that you need to start conversations and just learn what people of minorities, black people in particular, what are some of the things that they need to be successful within your organization, talk about some of those barriers and be open and honest. I think it starts with a conversation.

Yepsen: I told you guys we have way too many questions and not enough time and we're out of time. Mayor Teague, Mayor Hart, thank you both for being with us. Appreciate it.

Thank you.

Yepsen: And we'll be back next week for another edition of Iowa Press at our regular times. Our guests will be from the Iowa legislature, Representative Todd Prichard of Charles City and Senator Janet Petersen of Des Moines, the democratic minority leadership in the Iowa Statehouse, next Friday night at 7:30 and again at Noon on Sunday. For all of us here at Iowa PBS, I'm David Yepsen. Thanks for joining us today.

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Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa PBS Foundation. The Associated General Contractors of Iowa, the public's partner in building Iowa's highway, bridge and municipal utility infrastructure. Iowa PBS is supported in part by Wells Fargo. Fuel Iowa is a voice and a resource for Iowa's fuel industry. Our members offer a diverse range of products including fuel, grocery and convenience items. They help keep Iowans on the move in rural and urban communities. Together we Fuel Iowa. I'm a dad. I am a mom. I'm a kid. I'm a kid at heart. I'm a banker. I'm an Iowa banker. No matter who you are, there is an Iowa banker who is ready to help you get where you want to go. Iowa bankers, allowing you to discover the genuine difference of Iowa banks.

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Associated General Contractors of Iowa