CEDAR FALLS -- As a retired police officer, Rob Michael cares a lot about getting rid of the public safety model in Cedar Falls. But the candidate for the Ward 5 council seat wants voters to know he won't be "one-dimensional."
"I just want to see the city go in the right direction," Michael said in an interview with The Courier this week. "We can spend our tax dollars wisely and give the citizens a say more than anything."
Michael, 51, retired from the Waterloo Police Department last fall after an August 2019 training accident that severely injured one of his eyes. After recuperating in his home near Hartman Reserve, he started thinking seriously about running for City Council.
"I've always been involved to some degree in politics and just trying to pay attention," he said. "In the last year, maybe I've had more idle time and been able to pay attention more."
He's followed the public safety issue since he was a member of the Cedar Falls Police Department decades ago. But then the first public safety director was hired in the late 1990s, and Michael left in 1999.
"It got ugly," Michael said, noting it was a morale issue. "I think there were roughly nine members from police and fire that left, and I was one of them."
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Michael said one of his first votes as a councilman would be to restore separate police and fire departments. He also wants a municipal paramedic service.
"I have heard stories of people who are not applying at Cedar Falls because they don't want to be a part of this public safety debacle," he said. "From all my years of experience, there's just too much that goes into each profession."
Current Ward 5 Councilman Frank Darrah, who has supported the PSO model, hasn't decided if he'll seek a fifth term. First elected in 2006, Darrah is the second-longest serving member on the council after Ward 2 member Susan deBuhr, who started in 2004.
Michael said he'll tell Ward 5 voters, "For the first time in 15 years, you're at least going to have a choice," noting Darrah has previously run unopposed.
In the first post on his Rob Michael for Cedar Falls Facebook page, Michael noted he wanted a "strong mayor and strong council that run the city, not layers of government who are not held accountable by the voters."
He said that's a reference to Mayor Rob Green's push to make the mayor's position part-time. Michael worries that would mean more power for Rob Gaines, the city administrator.
"He's not held accountable by the citizens, he's not held accountable by the voters," Michael said of the city administrator. "Council persons and mayors can come and go, but the city administrator will always be there. And if he's got the keys, what good are elections?"
Michael is no fan of roundabouts, and doesn't want them on included on a reconstructed Main Street. He is open to the three-lane complete streets model. He would like to take a look at the city's contract on animal control services. And he's opposed to routing development proposals through a design review committee made up of city staff rather than the Planning and Zoning Commission.
"I'm not for more bureaucracy and government overreach, but I still think it's important that it needs to go before (planning and zoning), rather than delegate it," he said.
In September 2019, Michael filmed an encounter he had with state Sen. Eric Giddens and his wife, who were at a Peet Junior High event put on by the school's LGBT group Difference. The students and parents were handing out doughnuts and rainbow stickers outside the school for a "kindness event."
In the video, which Michael posted online, he told Giddens "it’s not OK to push your political agenda here." He said the backlash to the video led to calls to the Waterloo police chief, as Michael was still on the force at the time.
"It was twisted into us being anti-gay, which couldn't be further from the truth," Michael said. He said the event was "inappropriate. It's propaganda, and you don't need propaganda on school grounds."
"Let the kids be -- they don't need parent-led politics on the front lawn," he said. "That's the only message we were trying to get across."
In 2006, Michael was convicted of disorderly conduct for fighting with a Waterloo firefighter at Lost Island Waterpark. He said it was "an unfortunate situation" and a "minor altercation" that only resulted in charges for both men because of their professions with the city.
"Bottom line, it was an embarrassment for both of us," Michael said.
He said neither issue should define him, noting he was also named the Waterloo Police Department's Officer of the Year in 2003 and received a Governor's Traffic Safety Award.
"In my professional career, I've been programmed not to run away from trouble. I go in when others run out. In my personal life, I don't look for trouble, but I don't run away from it when it means standing up for what I believe," Michael said. "I may not be perfect, but I will fight for what I think is right, and in my opinion, that's a quality the citizens should want from a person representing them at any level of government."