Hashing it out



Talk of rental inspections, nuisance abatement and garbage collection could have gone any which way during a three-hour-long Storm Lake City Council series of work sessions on Monday. Good that the discussion went forward and not sideways or backwards. The council did not scuttle the rental inspection ordinance section as some members had proposed. It did not cause an upheaval in private garbage collection. And, it came to a better understanding how state law and city ordinance intertwine over nuisance abatement.

That’s what happens when you hash things out with respect and facts. Democracy is fine at city hall.

The council heard the rumblings and instructed staff to go easy on landlords who consistently meet all the rules. We have conscientious landlords and rapacious ones — concentrate on the bad ones, the council suggested. Duly noted. The staff will figure out a way. That’s good. We should expect that the city enforce some standard of safety for renters. It will. The staff will take care not to hassle the good ones.

Police Chief Mark Prosser was able to explain how nuisances are abated. First, the city tags a property and works with the resident to get the nuisance cleared. The city can abate the nuisance and assess the property owner. Or, as some suggested, the city could get tough and issue a citation in the first instance. Prosser said that kicks in state law under which the city loses the ability to work with the resident on cleaning up the property; the matter shifts to the judicial system that grinds slowly. Council members’ concerns, expressed repeatedly, no doubt are on the minds of city staff scouting for and responding to nuisances. Diligence against nuisances is assured after frustrations were aired. That is good.

We probably have not heard the last on these two issues. We have been dealing with them for at least 28 years. And we hope not. These were just work sessions where the issues are clarified. People can still improve the rental ordinance to make it easier for everyone, while maintaining safety.

We certainly have not heard the last of garbage collection. The council was wise not to dive headlong into mandatory garbage collection right now. Many residents say they cannot afford it. That is a problem for the market to solve. A Carroll hauler operates a semi-automated garbage system for Lakeside that is cheaper than what Storm Lakers pay for service. Nothing prevents the Carroll hauler from running an ad in The Storm Lake Times offering garbage service in Storm Lake that is simpler, cleaner and cheaper than the current method. They probably would be inundated with calls. People currently paying $10 per month to haul their own disgusting garbage to the dump might find $15 affordable. Competition keeps prices lower and service keener. If potential haulers thought the council might write an ordinance that would change the playing field it would hesitate to move. It appears to us that a rewritten ordinance has been set aside. Let the market work. And, continue to enforce the nuisance ordinance.

The council demonstrated how you work through the nitty gritty of problems that always have been hard to solve. Members raised the issues, the mayor asked for the opinions of all, and the staff responded with complete information. Members recused themselves with conflicts of interest. Citizens spoke and were heard, affecting how the council reacted. The council directed staff to work down the middle of the road to satisfy all while reserving judgment. Would that the Iowa Legislature operate that way. Congress is a lost cause.

A great start

Buena Vista University has had to survive by its own wits against the odds, even with a decent endowment. So it is entirely appropriate that its 18th president, Josh Merchant, should lace his inaugural address with entrepreneurial language: comfortable being uncomfortable, reinvention, boldness, not being afraid to try new things, being flexible. BVU is set to launch a rural entrepreneurship institute. Merchant is embracing the motto, Education for Service, which sometimes has been set in mothballs.

In that spirit, he said BVU must become significantly more diverse. Merchant sees Storm Lake and Buena Vista linked organically, and how they must serve each other. He sees enrollment in young Latinos in our high school, and eventual Beavers who will stay in Storm Lake to build the community and university. That is the Buena Vista spirit of Education for Service.

He is offering full-ride scholarships to local first-generation college students. He is one himself, a farmboy from Michigan. That is entrepreneurship, bringing oneself up by his own bootstraps.

He is calling for an Institute for Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources that will be of obvious importance to the region. Merchant and his wife, Carrie, donated $50,000 toward ag scholarships at BVU.

This is all music to our ears. Merchant is saying what Buena Vista and Storm Lake need to hear, and he is attempting to reach out to the community sincerely to make a difference. His speech indicates a fresh breeze in Storm Lake.