Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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November 13, 2015

Sullivan’s Salvos     11/17/15

In this edition:

*Working Families Summit
*In Defense Of Marc Moen
*Did You Know?

*Working Families Summit
         I had a very enjoyable day last Saturday at the Dubuque Working Families Summit. The highlight was a keynote from John Nichols, a columnist for The Nation.

         More importantly, the entities that came together to put on this conference are the same entities that came together to win the local city council elections. I hope we see more of this!

         One of the interesting things in John Nichols’ speech was a vociferous defense of the US Postal Service. A few facts you might find interesting:

The USPS is not in debt. The USPS is not losing money. The USPS costs taxpayers exactly ZERO. The USPS has always been self-sustaining. The USPS employs over 500,000 Americans. The USPS is the largest employer of veterans. The USPS is explicitly authorized in the US Constitution.

         In addition, Congress put a requirement upon the USPS that they pre-fund pensions for the next 75 years but do so in the next 10!  Nothing of this sort is required of any other federal agency. The GOP and corporate America want to kill the USPS. But we need to keep it healthy! Privatization is not the answer to our postal needs!

*In Defense Of Marc Moen
         I like Marc Moen. I think he has done amazing things for downtown Iowa City, leaving a legacy that will last well over 100 years. More importantly, I believe him to be a good person who cares about others and backs that up through philanthropy. Iowa City has been very lucky to work with the Moen Group over the past 20 years or so.

You may find this praise odd, since Marc and I supported different candidates in the recent election. And Moen’s name came up frequently during the Iowa City Council race.

         But here is the deal: Moen never did anything other than look out for his own interests, which is what any reasonable businessperson would do. Almost all the issues people have with his developments are actually issues with the City.

         I know there are issues with aesthetics. And I know that I am the wrong person to argue aesthetics – I am very much a function over form guy. That said, aesthetics are very personal. You like glass, I like brick. Who is right? Frankly, I’m not certain there is a right or wrong. The projects are Moen’s, and he built what he likes. That is his right. And judging by how quickly his units sell, the market agrees with him. I simply don’t have a dog in this fight. And I think the rest of us would do well to focus on more important things.

         Are the buildings too tall? Again, I think reasonable people can disagree. Personally, I like the fact that Iowa City is going vertical. The infrastructure is already in place, and I think we benefit culturally, environmentally, and economically from higher urban densities. Moen and I agree on this.

         How about financing? Now we must be in a place where Moen and I disagree! Not necessarily. I have DEEP disagreements with the current Council on the amount and manner of public financing. But it was their staff that negotiated the various deals with Moen. He simply did the best he could at the negotiating table. His job was to look out for his company. The staff and Council’s job was to look out for the City. Staff and Council failed us there, not Moen.

         I do not have a problem with TIF and other public financing being used. I simply believe that if you are going to use it, you must require that significant benefits accrue to the public. I have been underwhelmed by the public benefits included in these projects.

         Councilor Mims has been adamant that simply increasing the tax base is a good enough return on a TIF investment. I strongly disagree. This gets back to the old “but for” argument. She feels it is incumbent upon opponents to prove that tax receipts would be there anyway. I feel it is incumbent upon proponents to prove the tax receipts would not be there. We disagree at the most fundamental level. But the disagreement I have is with the Council, not Moen.

         And his projects HAVE been successful! From the former Whiteway Building, to the corner of Iowa and Linn, to the Plaza Tower, to the former Vito’s, to Park @ 201 – every building is quality, and every building contributes to the community in terms of attractive space and taxable value.

The easiest way to add public benefit to these projects is a larger affordable housing component. Affordable Housing is the number one need in our community. We need it in different locations. Moen is building housing. It is in a location without much affordable housing. The opportunity to create a win-win scenario has been there all along. But this Council has not chosen to fight for affordable housing. Moen never said “no” to this; as a matter of fact, affordable housing is included in the Chauncey. Moen will included affordable housing in his projects; it is up to the Council to make that a priority in the negotiations.

         There are other concerns, all of which should be directed toward the Council. Look at the additional issues surrounding the Park @ 201 building. First, homeless people were thrust into the center of the Ped Mall due to its’ construction. Then the City handled that situation poorly. A petition was presented to the City with over 1,000 signatures, and the City ignored it. The Council was completely tone deaf. Neither of these situations had anything to do with Moen. That was the City Council.

         The Council sold Moen the land for the Plaza Tower at a much lower price than was offered by other developers. The Council selected Moen’s proposal for the Chauncey despite deviations from the approved process. The list goes on and on. But each of these is a Council problem, not a Moen problem. Moen works within the parameters he is given.

         I hope the new City Council continues to work with the Moen Group. I hope there are more projects forthcoming. Like I said, I am a fan of the work of Marc Moen!

*DID YOU KNOW?  Oldest post office still in the same building: Hinsdale, New Hampshire, since 1816.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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