Six City Council Candidates Speak at Forum Monday in Des Moines

Candidate Rose Marie "Sister" Smith speaking to an audience Monday night at Brody Middle School. The Council Candidate Forum was hosted by the Southwestern Hills Neighborhood Association.Photo: Andrew Houp

(Des Moines, IA) -- All six candidates for Des Moines Mayor Connie Boesen's former at-large city council seat spoke at a candidate forum at Brody Middle School on Monday night. Major issues discussed included Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) funding, city budgeting, and housing costs, especially in relation to homelessness across the metro.

"I think that this is extremely, extraordinarily, important," Robert "Bobby" Pate said while addressing the audience. "Homelessness has become an issue all across the country, and in the State of Iowa... in Des Moines, Iowa... I believe that it affects our kids," Pate said, adding that homelessness can be traumatic for children to witness. Pate also said more affordable housing was necessary for those with prior convictions.

"It's housing, it's food, it's mental health services, and it's a job," said Justyn Lewis, who is running for City Council for a second time. According to Lewis, the key is multiple organizations working together. "We're dealing with humans, so we have to consider the dignity that it takes, and being sensitive of that as well, and restoring them to be whole."

DART funding proved to be a forefront topic discussed on Monday night. Candidate Claudia Addy said she supported the organization, but expressed opposition to a franchise fee being added to utility bills in support of the public busing service. "Every community needs a transportation system, I'm really happy that planning and zoning sort of concentrates certain types of living situations along transportation routes that are served by DART, so that those people don't have to worry about cars."

One question asked of the group was on the issue of vacant business space in Des Moines. Candidate Rose Marie "Sister" Smith said she owns a small business and that they're needs to be more flexibility in zoning codes. "If you have a small business, you most certainly want to be able to put your dollars there, and be effective, so that business can grow," Smith said, "and with that business growing, that means the community will be growing also, and those dollars are still coming back into the community, so flexibility is most important."

Candidate Benjamin Clarke comes from farming background and spoke on the budget. "It seems like we're being taxed to death," Clarke said, "We have to sit down and see where all of those dollars go to."

Candidates were also asked about Des Moines' new climate action plan, which was adopted late last year. Most of the candidates expressed belief in climate change, candidate Mike Simonson, however, said the plan was ineffective without city enforcement. "The danger with plans is they are but a plan, if they really want to have teeth, they need to become part of an ordinance where there are specific requirements," Simonson said, "otherwise it does become just a plan." Simonson went on to praise Des Moines Public Works Director Jonathan Gano's work planting trees in the city.

The forum was hosted by the Southwestern Hills Neighborhood Association, with George Davis, the group's president, serving as moderator.

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