While I was back in Waterloo spending the holidays with my family, the news broke that the Iowa Association of Business and Industry is filing a lawsuit against the city of Waterloo over their enactment of “ban the box.”
This shouldn’t have surprised anyone since the organization sent a courtesy letter to the city back when the issue was being debated, educating them on its illegality. The letter stated that in 2017 the Iowa Legislature passed a law that stated in Iowa Code 364.3, “A city shall not adopt, enforce, or otherwise administer an ordinance, motion, resolution, or amendment providing for any terms or conditions of employment that exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state law relating to a minimum or living wage rate, any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, scheduling practices, or other terms or conditions of employment.”
The state of Iowa does not have any ban the box hiring laws on the books. Therefore, most reasonable people could draw the conclusion that the policy Waterloo was attempting to pass was “exceeding the requirements of state law.”
Nonetheless, keeping with their longstanding tradition of walking the taxpayers of Waterloo into frivolous lawsuits, the City Council ignored this warning and similar warnings from many in the community by passing the ordinance anyway. They used the famous congressional standard, “we have to pass the bill to find out what’s in the bill,” only in this case it was, “we have to pass the ordinance to find out if we’ll get sued.”
This is just one of many lawsuits the city of Waterloo has managed to walk itself into because of the mayor and City Council’s inability to ask the right questions, know the law and listen to their constituents. When I was finishing college at the University of Northern Iowa, the Waterloo government made a similar error in legal judgment when it signed its taxpayers up for a nearly decade-long court battle over the infamous Sunnyside South addition. The council, despite more countless warnings, decided to sell land for $1 to a development group made up of local developers, including the then-city attorney. A longtime Waterloo businessman immediately filed a lawsuit which resulted in multiple supreme court cases and thousands of taxpayer dollars again wasted.
More recently, Waterloo residents got to watch a complete circus act when the mayor and council entered into a development agreement with an Omaha-based developer who promised to turn the dilapidated Five Sullivan Brother’s Convention Center and Ramada Hotel into a five-star operation. The taxpayers immediately began to cry foul over what they thought was a poor business agreement. Council members with professional business and financial backgrounds began asking questions that were quickly shoved under the rug. The people of Waterloo were interestingly told by one former council member that, “sometimes a bad deal is better than no deal at all.”
You can’t make this stuff up. The warnings were ignored. The lack of financial documents was said to be irrelevant, and the deal was signed. Now, fast forward, we still have a dilapidated convention center, the development agreement was broken and countless Waterloo businesses are out money for services they provided. The one thing Waterloo did get out of the deal was yet another lawsuit.
That’s just a few of the outrageous court battles Waterloo city officials have invited upon their citizens. Not a penny you have is safe from their gambles. They don’t care if your roads are filled with potholes. They don’t care if you have sewage backing up in your basement, and they certainly don’t care about following the law. Elected officials take an oath to support the constitution of the state of Iowa. Sadly, many in Waterloo government seem to be taking their oath about as seriously as they take lowering your taxes. Waterloo is filled with great people.
I’m proud to call many of them friends. It’s time for these educated, law-abiding and loyal citizens to step forward and take back local government. It’s not too late.
Josh Wilson, a Waterloo native, served as public liaison to former Governor Terry Branstad.