UPDATE: Cedar Falls City Council OKs controversial lock box ordinance

2011-06-14T05:45:00Z 2011-06-14T18:03:58Z UPDATE: Cedar Falls City Council OKs controversial lock box ordinanceBy JON ERICSON, jonathan.ericson@wcfcourier.com Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- What a difference a few years and an online revolution makes.

Seven years ago the Cedar Falls City Council passed an ordinance requiring lock boxes on commercial buildings and larger apartment complexes. Hardly a soul made a peep about it.

On Monday the council voted 6-1 on a third and final reading to expand the ordinance to include more apartment buildings. In the days leading up to the vote, they received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from people all over the country from people upset about the issue.

Some calls came in the middle of the night. Some writers threatened them and called them scumbags, or worse.

The issue had blown up on the Internet in recent days with message boards, primarily those tilting toward conservative and tea party viewpoints, spreading the story nationwide.

The council was voting to update its fire code from the 2003 International Fire Code to the 2009 version. Cedar Falls had required lock boxes since 2004 for firefighters to access keys to apartment buildings with six or more units and commercial buildings with sprinkler systems or unsupervised alarm systems. The new ordinance will also require the key boxes for apartment buildings with three or more units.

The vote is identical to the first two votes, with Nick Taiber opposing the ordinance and the rest of the council supporting it.

About 55 people attended the meeting Monday night, most opposed to lock boxes. A dozen spoke out against the ordinance, while just one citizen voiced support for it.

After the council made its vote, Judd Saul, an organizer of the opposition, uttered "thanks for ignoring the citizens" as he left the council chambers.

Saul had produced a video opposing the ordinance and paid to run a television advertisement. Following the vote, he said he's not sure what comes next, but believes a lawsuit is likely and he's already been contacted by four organizations willing to fund it.

Councilman Frank Darrah made a motion to table the issue, which failed by a 5-2 vote. He later proposed creating a study group or task force to review the ordinance, a move that gathered council support by consensus, but was not established by vote.

"A lot of people have spoken pretty eloquently about it tonight. This is an important ordinance. I feel it deserves more discussion," Darrah said.

Many of those opposed to the issue questioned why it should apply only to businesses and apartment buildings. If it is safer to have keys in lock boxes, they said, why shouldn't they be required for all buildings?

Carol Hanson doesn't support lock boxes and thinks people will look to have the decision reversed.

"Since this seems to be a political hot-button issue, why not allow the citizens of Cedar Falls to vote on this?" Hanson asked the council.

Many of the opponents pleaded for the council to heed the requests from those speaking against the ordinance.

"It's not the job of the mayor or the council to judge the merit of an issue, it's the job of the people. It's the job of the council and the mayor to listen to the people," said Travis Biggs.

The only citizen to speak in favor of the ordinance was Justin Kaleas, doesn't believe the lock box requirement to be unconstitutional or dangerous.

"At the end of the day you can disagree about the ordinance, that's your right. You can protest the ordinance, that's your right ..." Kaleas said. "But when you're fear mongering on the issue, you're just plain wrong."

Several of the council members said the city's building and fire codes exist to protect the safety of citizens. Their votes indicated they believe the key boxes further that goal.

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