The morning after election results came in and a City Council campaign too often marked with social media divisiveness ended, Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh opened his State of the City Address targeting the issue.
“Candidate support no longer involves hearing diverse ideas from both sides and then aligning yourself in favor of a candidate that best exemplifies your core beliefs,” Walsh said during the address, hosted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce at the Holiday Inn at Ameristar in Council Bluffs.
“Cyberbullying of opposition candidates has become acceptable and all too prevalent. Today’s strategy is to assemble a base group of similarly-minded individuals with some degree of continuity who then can source, distribute and leak biased information. ... It stems from a belief that the most effective way to effect change and gain voter voter support is through overt and often over-the-top public criticism of the opposition.”
He continued, saying, “As each new detrimental claim emerges it gets added to the network of conspiracies further damaging the reputation of the opposition candidate. It’s not about investigating the veracity of the information that has been presented, the process is simply about participating in the back and forth.”
During his speech Walsh was in classic form, throwing in jokes while not shying away from being blunt as he spoke to the crowd of about 180 people.
Walsh said that while running for elected office has “never been a job for the faint of heart,” he worried about the social media negativity keeping qualified candidates from running.
Asked after his speech why he opened his remarks with the social media discussion, Walsh said, “Because I think it needs to be said. It’s a relatively new phenomenon and it seems to be growing.”
He mentioned the 2017 campaign, when he was up for re-election, as having similar cesspool elements on social media.
“It doesn’t provide for discourse or credible information,” he said.
At the breakfast he thanked Tuesday night’s winners — incumbent Roger Sandau and challengers Chad Hannan and Joe Disalvo, all in attendance — for running despite the climate “and wanting to run for City Council and dedicate themselves, and believe me, it is dedication, it’s a lot of work.”
Walsh said “great times are ahead” for the city.
“I think Council Bluffs will continue to progress forward,” the mayor said. “Fresh eyes and new ideas are always good. Congrats, and I look forward to working with each of you.”
Walsh also expressed appreciation for the work of Councilman Nate Watson and Councilwoman Sharon White, each of whom lost in their bid for a third term on Tuesday.
“I want to thank Nate Watson and Sharon White for their service to the city,” he said. “They are hardworking people that do a great job for Council Bluffs.”
During his speech Walsh touched on other issues facing the city, focusing much of his time on flooding.
“Groundwater is a big issue for Council Bluffs,” he said. “We did not have surface flooding from the Missouri River, but we have flooding underground. The entire city is saturated. That’s how far in the inundation of water is.”
He mentioned residents dealing with flooding in their basements and $10 million in unplanned sewer collapse expenses. He talked about a potential buyout program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for flood-affected homes, though the potential program is in the early stages and what will happen is unclear.
He said it’s also unclear if flooding will become yearly, a “new norm,” which will make future planning at times difficult.
Levee certification efforts continue, while Walsh and others have looked at a program in Dubuque that diverts storm sewer water that would’ve ended up in the Mississippi River into a detention pond that’s fashioned to look like a park. “That may be a solution we look at,” he said, noting the problems this year from rain led to, “Water running into streets. Then you have water running into people’s basements. Then my telephone starts ringing. It’s not a pleasant experience if you have raw sewage in your basement.”
“It’s not a cheap fix, it’s not a quick fix,” he continued. “Discussing streets, Walsh said the city had $800,000 budgeted for repairs last year and ended up spending around $1.3 million because of a winter that was full of both snow and warm snow-melting temperatures. Much of the difference was covered by reserve funds from the road-use tax.
“We have great employees who do a great job,” he said.
Walsh discussed efforts backed by the Iowa West Foundation to revitalize the Mid-America Center entertainment area and talked glowingly about what Pottawattamie County Arts Culture and Entertainment and the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center can do for South Main Street.
On housing, Walsh said the city continues to work toward making housing options in the “starter home” price range available to keep young people here and attract others.
About Council Bluffs’ image, Walsh said, “We have to have pride in ourselves.”
He mentioned working in Omaha for years and hearing coworkers rag on Council Bluffs.
“We have 18,000 people that go to work in Omaha every day and they hear that shit and they start to believe it. It can’t happen,” he said. “We need to have people stand up and say, ‘I love my town.’ We all have unique ideas, and we don’t always agree, but we should agree to make this a better community.”