Iowa City City Council candidates, district incumbents address community concerns

The three Iowa City City Council at-large seat candidates and two current district-seat incumbents took to the stage in a public forum. Megan Alter, Laura Bergus, and Janice Weiner addressed community concerns about climate change, affordable housing, and local government.


Hayden Froehlich

City Council Candidate Laura Bergus answers a question at the Iowa City Council election forum in City Hall on Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019. The candidates were asked questions on a variety of issues including affordable housing, the future of public transport, racially disproportionate police stops, and human trafficking.

Hannah Rovner, News Reporter

Iowa City City Hall seats were filled Tuesday night as five City Council candidates for at-large and district seats convened in a forum to address public concerns, discuss their policies and platforms, and share how they intend to change the Iowa City community.

Candidates in attendance included Megan Alter, Laura Bergus, and Janice Weiner for two at-large seats. Pauline Taylor and John Thomas, both the incumbent candidates running for district seats, were also present.

According to her campaign website, Alter aims to increase opportunities for Iowa City residents and move the city forward.

“One of the things I appreciate the most is how diverse the city is,” Alter said in her opening statement at the forum.

Bergus said she believes local government should be accountable and transparent on her own campaign website.

“I hope to focus on the process [of City Council],” Bergus said in her opening statement. “My background in municipal governance and as a mediator helps me creatively problem solve.”

Weiner said on her campaign’s Facebook page that everyone deserves a voice in local government, and she promises to be that voice.

“I’m running because local government [is the foundation of democracy],” Weiner stated to open the forum. “It is the level of influence that has the most impact on our lives.”

The forum kicked off with a public question about how candidates will implement affordable options for households who can only pay $500 to $600 in rent per month.

Bergus responded by saying that she hopes the city will continue its affordable housing plan — which provides for potential strategies and funding processes to combat a growing housing issue in Iowa City.

Weiner agreed and said Iowa City needs new and different ideas in that regard — including having university students at the discussion for affordable housing.

Alter added that the median income for Iowa City residents tends higher in certain areas, so rent needs to be suited properly for each area and standard of living — especially with tax-increment funding.

“A root cause of people not being able to afford housing is they aren’t making enough money,” Alter said.

The public also posed several questions pertaining to climate change in light of Iowa City’s proclamation declaring a climate crisis in August.

RELATED: City Council declares a state of climate crisis

When asked about reducing greenhouse gases, Weiner said the city can further solarize housing to reduce carbon and the electricity bills of citizens. She added that she would work closely with the University of Iowa to reduce emissions created from its Power Plant, if elected. Some local activists have called for the UI to shut down the plant because it burns coal, and the UI has pointed to its efforts to stop burning coal by 2025 in response.

While Bergus alluded to the various “large and small” things the city can do to get the message out about climate change, Alter made more specific suggestions — such as planting more trees as a way to build the community.

“We can incentivize landlords to plant trees which would benefit the city and the landlord creating more bang for their buck,” Alter said.

RELATED: Five Iowa City Council candidates discuss affordable housing, transportation

When the candidates were asked about how much time they intend to spend working on council business any given week, incumbent Taylor said there isn’t a time cap on City Council issues. In her four years of experience, it can range anywhere from 10 to 20 hours per week, she said.

Weiner referred to her experience as a diplomat, stating that she will take as much time as she is given, and a time cap cannot be put on work.

In her closing statement, Bergus said she will be a tireless advocate for the Iowa City community and push forward progressive policies the current City Council has implemented.

Weiner closed with an emphasis on her identity as a public servant and an Iowan, saying that she is learning every day about how a city runs, and will continue to do so.

“I’m here to help people’s lives,” Alter said in her final statement. “I think it’s important for [City Council] to remain judicious in the way they govern and understand what the city needs and what the residents do.”