CEDAR FALLS — Two years hasn’t been enough time to accomplish what Mayor Rob Green wants to get done for the city of Cedar Falls. Of course, he acknowledges, that’s what someone running for re-election always says.
“I joke with staff that being mayor is a terminal illness,” Green, 45, said in an interview with The Courier last week. “You don’t know how much longer you have left, so you do the best you can.”
An issue that has dogged the city since Green’s time on City Council has been the public safety officer model, which Green has kept a close eye on for years without fully coming out as for or against. If re-elected, he would advocate for at least looking at recertification of public safety officers every few years, he said.
“I’ll still hold that I don’t know if it’s reasonable to expect one person to be able to do what are two separate career fields — law enforcement and fire rescue — successfully, and to be an expert in both fields,” Green said. “From doing ride-alongs with the officers and interacting with them, I know that they have the ability to do it. It’s just the public doesn’t know, right now, if they all are at that level, and they should have that confidence.”
He said he’s “strongly supportive” of the zoning updates the council has been undertaking the past few years in the downtown and College Hill areas, saying he’s excited for those spread to more of the city.
“It’s exciting to see that the council gets the idea of incremental development and having a variety of uses in a neighborhood that are compatible,” he said. “This just makes it’s a lot easier to do that.”
Green will face at least one challenger in November: Tom Blanford, with whom Green served on City Council, who announced his decision last week.
Green is in his first term as the city’s mayor, having bested incumbent Jim Brown and challenger Jim Skaine in 2019 for the title. Prior to that, he served on the board of rental housing appeals and the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee.
He was elected to the council in 2017, serving part of a term as an at-large member before running for mayor in 2019. (Kelly Dunn was elected last summer to serve out the remainder of Green’s term, which expires this year.)
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Green and his family have lived in Cedar Falls since 2004. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government and public policy from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a master’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa.
Green traces his rise in city politics all the way back to heading the Overman Park Neighborhood Association. A neighbor there invited him to a Rotary Club meeting, where he met a club member who told him of a job opening as Rod Library’s web developer at UNI.
In 2015 and 2016, he began speaking up at City Council meetings against a five-lane reconstruction of West First Street, saying ignoring the road’s look could make it a “featureless void” as a gateway to neighborhoods like Overman.
In 2017, he was one of three candidates vying to replace Nick Taiber, who stepped down after two terms on council. During a voter forum on the public safety officer model, Green expressed skepticism.
“I just can’t come across to believe that PSOs are a one-to-one replacement for a career firefighter,” he said at the time. He defeated LeaAnn Saul in a runoff election with more than 70% of the vote.
During his time on council, Green voted against changing an ordinance requiring landlords to pave parking lots; in favor of allowing backyard chickens, which failed in 2018 but passed this spring; and continued to question the public safety officer model, clashing with council members including Blanford who didn’t feel the need for a 5-year public safety plan Green suggested.
“I’m highly concerned that I can’t tell residents what to expect public safety to look like in five years,” Green said in 2018.
He was motivated to run for mayor in 2019, before his council term was half-finished, as a result of what he perceived as the city’s lack of access. The deciding factor, he said in March of 2019, was what he called an “inappropriate” special meeting at which the council approved a parking study for College Hill and a public safety union agreement.
“That was the main reason I ran, because my predecessor wasn’t willing to provide that kind of visibility and that kind of accountability to the program,” Green said last week.
At an October 2019 voter forum, Green said he was “not looking to nuke” the city’s PSO program, situating himself between Mayor Brown’s pro-PSO and challenger Skaine’s anti-PSO stances.
He defeated Brown with nearly 55% of the vote, overcoming a fundraising gap that saw the two-term incumbent with more than twice the cash on hand.
In one of his first major acts as mayor, in February 2020 Green vetoed a council decision to eliminate traditional firefighter positions and go all-in on the PSO model, calling it a “rush job” before a special election would be held to fill his old seat. His veto was overridden, but in August, the public safety director told Green he would put together the five-year plan Green had advocated for.
“I had never specifically asked for it. It was something I wanted to do down the road, but they had already done the work,” Green said last week.
He and the council don’t always see eye to eye. In recent months, he failed to convince the council to move the mayor’s position to part-time, which he said makes sense since the city has a full-time administrator.
“Still, in my heart, I would love to see that happen,” Green said last week. “But I’m seeing in the first two years, based on what the requirements are, the job and how many people I have to interact with and the decisions I have to make, there’s just no way to be part-time.”
In the last year, his term has been defined by the community’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, including mask mandates. Green also advocated for the city’s public safety department to adopt #8CantWait policies on police use of force, helped restructure a floundering Human Rights Commission, and stood with protestors at a BLM rally last summer.
Green points voters to his blog, RobGreenIowa.com.
“I’ll always be very clear with them about what I think is important, what I’ll work on,” Green said. “I never make promises. I’m just either going to do what I say I do, or I’m going to work hard to do what I said I’m going to do. I feel like that’s what you should expect of your elected officials.”