Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Io
President Elect of National Alliance of Mental Illness Johnson County Leslie Carpenter has volunteered to partner with Iowa City City Council in hosting a public educational meeting with invites to several community departments to increase collaboration among local, state, and federal governing bodies.
Her suggestion came in the form of a letter addressed to city council on the evening of the Sept. 22 listening post – a public forum in which members of the community can publicly discuss what issues they would like to see the city address.
Carpenter said in an interview with The Daily Iowan that her letter was prompted by a father who asked during the listening post how local schools and the community at large might move toward more supportive approaches to children with special needs.
“I would like to offer to volunteer to partner with the City Council for a possible public meeting in which we could advocate/educate the community with invitations for many local entities including police, provider agencies, [Iowa City Community School District] school board and teachers, etc.” Carpenter said in the letter. “This could be a step to increase collaborative efforts of many different groups who intersect with children and adults who have special needs and mental illnesses in our community.”
Carpenter’s letter specifically addresses support for individuals with special needs but said that the comprehensive focus of the potential partnership is to better educate community members on how resources at different government levels intersect.
She said she fully supports the interest in advocacy she sees from residents in Iowa City, but thinks it would be beneficial to provide a better understanding where that advocacy should be targeted.
“What I was hoping to do is to help educate people and certainly enlist their support in advocating at the state level for some of the things that we need,” Carpenter said. “I think if the people that are pushing for some of these changes for social justice understood a little bit more of what needs to happen at the city and county level versus what needs to happen at the state level versus what needs to happen at the federal level.”
City Councilor Laura Bergus said more focus on community education was an excellent idea, and that it addresses the importance of proper representation and collaboration within governing bodies.
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“What Leslie’s getting at, which is so critical, is that we need multiple decision makers and stakeholders at the table,” Bergus said. “What’s really been hitting home this summer and the last few months with coronavirus and everything else we’ve been addressing is how hard those inter-jurisdictional collaborations can sometimes be.”
There’s currently no upcoming city council action scheduled to organize a community educational meeting, though Bergus said she plans to follow up with Carpenter.
City Councilor Janice Weiner said she was also in support of Carpenter’s suggestion.
“One of the things that really struck me after that meeting was just how much everybody in this community could stand to learn from this,” Weiner said. “I think that we can all benefit from doing a community education session, and I think we should look at it as a model that can be transferable.”