Updated: Apr 16

Yes, this is the weirdest of times. But I’m confident that when we emerge from COVID-19, the pain, aggravation and frustration we’ve overcome will impel us to act on updating policies, procedures, and long-forgotten or overlooked rituals, as well as opportunities to improve and streamline municipal government.

In the meantime, the Des Moines City Council has a long agenda that won’t wait for us to morph into the new normal. Besides streamlining our Fiscal Year 2021 budget, we are about to deal with short-term rentals, a women and children’s shelter on East Douglas Avenue, a proposed events center on West Grand Avenue, and racial profiling.

I welcome your thoughts on these and other issues. Please contact me and I’ll get back to you.

Also, you can feel confident that I’m committed to keeping you informed in a timely manner as to how these deliberations proceed, as well as the implications for the actions we take.


Gotta love this window display created by Teresa Adams-Tomka at Kitchen Collage in the East Village. 

Throughout the year, it’s great to support local merchants. In the East Village, where I live, signs sprinkled around shop windows note that 67 cents of every retail dollar spent locally stays in the community. This is an especially powerful message during the current conditions.

Yes, Kitchen Collage is still open six days a week; call 515-270-8202. ⬅️ As always, send me examples of how your favorite restaurants, in whatever part of town, continue to serve you. Together, we can let our friends and neighbors know how they can help the friends and neighbors who own small businesses!


Capital City Fruit, a locally owned business, recently started fulfilling FREE home delivery of online orders over $35. Susan and I received our second home delivery early this week, and we couldn’t be more pleased. We were especially keen on the Medium Wellness Pack of fruit and romaine lettuce. One less trip to the grocery store! 

Besides serving Metro Des Moines residents, Capital City Fruit CEO Brendan Comito and his wife, Christine, are active in the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC).


Bored of the same running routes? Since the first of the year, Zac Voss has charted different running routes on city streets. Zac’s goal: Run all the streets in his West Side neighborhood. Here’s one sample (Run #25) from the Strava app showing Zac’s route along a portion of Beaverdale. (Download the app on Google Play or the Apple App Store.)


The Des Moines Public Works hasn’t shut down its commitment to logging potholes needing attention. Director Jonathan Gano reports that as of April 1, residents had logged 1,088 potholes, 3,569 in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Based on the current pace, Jonathan expects the city to log 5,000 to 5,5000 reports in the current fiscal year. That’s a tremendous improvement from the 16,000 potholes reported in the previous fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019. Learn more and report a pothole here.


In just a few weeks, the long-awaited Ruan Connector, linking Gray’s Lake and Water Works parks, will open to trail users. Current plans call for the connector to open on Memorial Day Weekend.

Committee members, led by Janis Ruan, Charlotte Hubbell, and others suggested a classy look to pay homage to one of America’s classiest parks. So the limestone work at the connector entrance resembles that of New York City’s Central Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and featured in a segments of the TV show Law and Order. (Talk about being on the right path!) The talented stonemasons at Forrest and Associates recently completed the connector entryway on the east side of Fleur Drive. The passageway is about 10 feet high, 19 feet wide, and 91 feet long. 

I’m looking forward to running through the Ruan Connector and transporting my mind to Central Park — all without suffering even a New York minute at LaGuardia Airport. And, just so you know, Central Park has 840 acres; Water Works Park embraces 1,500 acres. Bigger in Des Moines! 


When running, walking and bicycling, a time-tested tactic to conserve energy is to run behind the leader’s slipstream, known as “drafting.” But in COVIDworld, European researchers recommend shelving that strategy.

That doesn’t mean you should give up those activities — it’s critical to remain fit to keep your immune system healthy enough to fight off infection. But it’s also important that you and your partner practice social distancing to avoid inflicting each other with micro-droplets, which could be potential sources of infection.

Indoors, droplets hosting the virus can’t travel far before falling to the ground or merely remaining stagnant in the air. But outdoors, wind currents and updrafts can blow those droplets any which way. To avoid this, researchers recommend:

  • If you’re exercising outdoors in calm weather, distancing 6 feet behind the leading person is fine.

  • When walking, keep about 12 to 15 feet behind.

  • When running or cycling slowly, stay 30 feet behind.

  • When cycling fast, stay at least 60 feet behind.

  • Stick to side-by-side whenever possible. Conversation is easier that way, too.

Read more.


And now, a message from Des Moines Parks and Recreation:

“It is important for mental and physical well-being to be outside, exercise and get fresh air. However, it is even more important to use precautions when doing so. Our parks and trails remain open, just please use them safely and follow the CDC's guidelines for social distancing.

We highly encourage you to spread out and try a new park or trail, avoiding more popular locations. Find your next destination in our online park directory at”

In Des Moines alone: 76 parks plus 81 miles of trail (63 miles paved; 18 miles of soft trails) there should be plenty of space for all to spread out.

Bottom line: Gray’s Lake is a terrific, attractive park. But Gray’s Lake can be too crowded—especially on sunny days—to practice social distancing. Here are some suggestions:

*Witmer Park. New trails and features completed in the last year.

*Ashby Park. Another Beaverdale park with 2019 upgrades.

*Easter Lake. A Polk County park with a recently completed four-mile trail.

*Greenwood Park. Check out the Center Trails network of soft (not paved) trails.


While volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity home a few weeks ago, I met Racheal Duang. Racheal, who was banking sweat-equity hours for her first home, showed up in the afternoon to help complete the interior painting.

Racheal, a native of South Sudan, works full-time as a paralegal for Justice for Our Neighbors. She is certified by the Department of Justice Recognition and Accreditation to provide legal immigration services through a recognized nonprofit. And she does it with fluency in English, Spanish, and Arabic, as well as the east African languages Nuer, Dinka, Anyuak, and Shilluk. Her voice reminds me of the melodious timbre of one of my favorite NPR reporters, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

Racheal also translates for the Iowa International Center, often working with families preparing for Habitat for Humanity homes. “Habitat hires Racheal through the Iowa International Center for interpretation,” reports Habitat’s Dan Warfel. “Because of her fluency in a couple of specific East African dialects, she has become the main translator for a number of our partner families.”

Racheal was born in Akobo, South Sudan, but fled with her parents to Ethiopia in 1984 during a civil war. After living in a refugee camp, the children arrived in Cuba in 1986, where Racheal learned Spanish while completing seven years of public school and three years at the Agrarian University of Havana. Next came a family stopover in Canada (1998-2001) before landing in Storm Lake, Iowa, in 2002, where Racheal worked for Tyson Foods as a translator. She became a naturalized citizen in 2005. When Racheal first moved to Des Moines in 2014, she lived in a homeless shelter before finding a job with Habitat.

The mother with three girls (she’s with her daughter Nyaguich in the photo) has completed Habitat’s Financial Foundation for Success, a program designed to move candidates closer to owning a home. Racheal has already accumulated about 200 of the required 300 to 400 hours of sweat equity that’s also part of the Habitat journey.

Ann Naffier, Racheal’s supervisor at Justice for Our Neighbors, describes Racheal as a “super amazing person. She has worked here for four years and helped families apply for naturalization, for green cards, and for immigration of family members. Always with a smile.”

If you feel your world has turned inside out, you have company. Plenty of company.

Last Thursday morning, March 19, Des Moines City Council members met — online — for our first work session since our meeting Monday, March 9. Since then, coronavirus/COVID-19 has altered our lives as has nothing in most of our memories. Each day feels like we’re being whipsawed through new developments. It’s complex, financially painful and socially stressful.

For accurate updates, turn to a new city COVID-19 website.

Saturday afternoon, Mayor Frank Cownie urged residents to impose a strict practice of “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” for the next two weeks.

“To ensure we are doing everything possible to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is my strong recommendation that Des Moines residents stay home for at least 14 days,” Cownie said. “We know from health officials that the single, best way to control the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid unnecessary contact with others, it is vital we as a community begin voluntarily to take that action as quickly as possible.”

Here is a smattering of details I gleaned from last Thursday morning’s update by city department heads. The city of Des Moines, in concert with others, will:

  • extend dates of scheduled public hearings; 

  • extend deadlines for payment of fines (parking tickets, for example);

  • impose a 90-day moratorium on evictions;

  • work with Des Moines Water Works to temporarily suspend service termination for delinquent accounts;

  • work with MidAmerican Energy for relief on shut-offs;

  • work on general assistance for the collection of rents in Des Moines Public Housing;

  • relocate some people in homeless shelters to apartments;

  • Postpone the dog license renewal deadline to June 30 and encourage dog owners to file electronically; and

  • consider new guidelines for homeless camps.

In addition, while the Des Moines Public Library remains closed, including to drive-up service, we can expect an uptick of digital offerings. On Friday, the library hosted its first virtual storytime. There will be more! Details about upcoming events:

Also, residents can access free Wi-Fi outside of each public library branch.


Here are nine good reasons to pump up the tires on that bike hanging in your garage. From Cosmic Bikes in Chicago:

  • Avoid crowded spaces = Ride Bicycles

  • Keep a safe distance from people who sneeze and cough = Ride Bicycles

  • Do not use public transit = Ride Bicycles

  • Expose yourself to sunshine = Ride Bicycles

  • Avoid recirculated air = Ride Bicycles

  • Boost immunity with fresh air = Ride Bicycles

  • Missing your exercise class or gym? = Ride Bicycles

  • Staying home from work or school? = Ride Bicycles

  • Maintain a positive and prudent attitude = Ride Bicycles


Puzzles, Board Games, and Cards

New Yorker Magazine - March 9th, 2020

You can’t sit there all day watching Law and Order reruns! We’ll need a bunch of activities to keep the family busy. Here are five favorites:

  1. Cribbage—“15-2, 15-4, 15-6, and a pair is 8.” Harold Lamb, Susan’s dad, played cribbage in the back room at B & R Drug Store in Fairfield at the end of nearly every weekday. All cribbage requires is a standard deck of playing cards and a cribbage board (available at some local shops and online). Cribbage is a terrific game to build math skills. Here’s a link to teaching cribbage to a third grader: Happy pegging!

  2. Dominoes—Every time I’ve stopped at the ML King Senior Center on Garfield Avenue, Dominoes appears to be the game of choice. There might be a box around your house, with a set of 28 tiles (double six). Can’t find a complete set? Ask around in your neighborhood, check local retail shops, or do an online search.

  3. Card games—What’s your game of choice? Hearts, Euchre, War, Kings in the Corner come to mind. And of course, Five-Card Draw. Google details.

  4. Puzzles—Whether it’s simple 24-piece puzzles for preschoolers or massive 1,000-piece challenges for the entire family, completing a puzzle is a rewarding accomplishment. Terrific for conversation, too.

  5. Learn to play the guitar—Touring musicians are feeling the pinch. Over the last three years, a favorite group of ours, Danika and The Jeb, have played three of our Home Ditty house concerts. Jeb has a six-month online program to learn how to play the guitar. Check it out! And consider attending one of their online shows (details, next section)


Get your fix of live music

Susan and I have put our house concerts on hold. But one of our favorite groups—Danika and The Jeb—are staging online shows. The duo hosted their first concerts was Saturday with follow-up events on Tuesday, March 24. Get your front-row seat here.

Local scene: Susan and I joined a Noce concert Friday night via Facebook Livestream featuring Max Wellman, Steve Charlson, and Tina Haase Findlay. And one point, more than 300 were logged in. Supportive emojis showered the screen.

Support your neighborhood restaurants

Eatery owners are getting creative to offset the lack of dine-in service. Here’s what a few of our favorite restaurants have created for carryout dining:

  • Aposto, Sherman Hill — Tony Lemmo’s “Italian Family Meal” package, feeds 6 to 8 adults. I wish I could email a “scratch and sniff” of the baked cavatelli we picked up Wednesday evening. Heavenly! And it’s not complete without Tony’s fabulous homemade dressing and salad. Order here

  • St. Kilda Surf & Turf, East Village — Alex Hall will have his place open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. for curbside pickup, or FREE delivery on orders of $25 or more. Folded eggs are my go-to breakfast choice, chicken souvlaki for lunch. Order here.

  • Baratta’s, South Side — Joe’s Gatto’s restaurant on South Union Street has eight pasta dinners available for carryout or delivery. We’re fans of the Southwest pasta with Italian sausage. Order here.

  • Full Court Press, various locations — Most of the 12 restaurants in Jeff Bruning’s group now offer curbside service for carryout orders. “We believe that as this goes on, will see an uptick in the desire for curbside service and are adjusting accordingly,” Jeff says. Order here.

Plus, this is a perfect time to share your neighborhood restaurant with others! Why not check with your favorites? We’ll start a listing you can reference anytime. Be sure to get note:

  • kitchen hours

  • whether or not they deliver and how much they charge

  • a favorite or two of yours or a friend

  • their preferred means of ordering such as a website or phone number.

Virtual 5k Race—a first

The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick moved forward with plans for Saturday’s 5k race—with a few spins to comply with health and safety guidelines. Instead of a 9 a.m. gun signaling the start at the Sands Volleyball Club, this year’s runners will be on their honor to email or text their times. Your course, your start, your finish, your timing. Supply your own bananas, yogurt, or cookies at the finish.

Al Gross and I ran at 7 am and finished in 29:18. Jim Lawson served as our course marshal, starter, timer, and SDE (social distance enforcer).


Update: Sustainability Program Manager

In February, the Des Moines Civil Service and the Des Moines City Council approved 40 candidates for this new city position. The selection process remains underway. Filling this position was a recommendation of the Citizens Taskforce on Sustainability. 

Job description: Meredith Trail: Relining a Sanitary Sewer

The walking/biking trail from Gray’s Lake to Mullet’s is undergoing a $7.8 million relining of nearly 4,000 feet of a sewer line between the Southwest 9th Street viaduct to the confluence with the Des Moines River (near Mullet’s). In Phase I, underway since late last year, Maryland-based Spiniello Companies employees have worked about 16 feet beneath the trail throughout the winter. When completed in another four or six weeks, the 78-inch-diameter storm sewer will have a new 1 ½-inch-thick geopolymer lining. The process—far cheaper than installing a new sewer line—requires specialty equipment. Follow progress here. Work on Division II is scheduled to begin this summer.


On our weekend runs, Ron Ricker’s Running Club (RRRC) solves most of the world’s problems—or so we think. But in our collective wisdom, we’ve yet to land on an explanation to hoarding toilet paper.

I’m reminded of our Nana’s household on South Governor Street in Iowa City, where she single-handedly raised five children (no Social Security, no ADC) following our grandfather’s early death in 1928. Toilet paper was at a premium then, too—and not always in the budget. Second choice: dress patterns! “Is it okay to use a FRONT on my back?” Uncle Joe was reported to have shouted from the bathroom.

Keep calm, and wipe on!

Welcome to the first issue of Let's Catch Up!

One of my responsibilities as your at-large council member is to keep you In The Know about important and interesting happenings in our community. In this and forthcoming issues, you’ll learn about people making a difference, neighborhood developments, ongoing Public Works projects, and more.

If you have information about something going on in our city—or want to learn about something you’re not seeing in the media—contact I’ll do my dangdest to get you a timely answer. And why not share this newsletter with a neighbor, so they can be kept In the know about what’s happening in our community.


Here’s just a sampling of issues council members expect to vote on at upcoming meetings:

*FY 20-21 budget - $920.7 million Operational Budget; $213.5 million Capital Improvements Project (CIP) Budget is a three-fold increase from $72 million in FY 2017 to $206 million in FY 2020. In the next seven years, Des Moines plans to invest $427 million in the CIP budget.

*Ordinance for short-term housing (Airbnb and similar)

*Revisions to city’s Chapter 62 (including a rewritten ban of racial profiling and rewriting illegal practices), law enforcement data collection RFP, and Policy and Practice Review Committee.

*Hope Ministries application for a center for Women and Children at former Douglas Elementary School.

At a special February 12 meeting, the council approved $30 million in 12-year municipal bonds at an incredible 1.38% interest rate. This fabulous low rate will save more than $4 million in projected fees.

COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS Here's a list of committee and board assignments (assigned by Mayor Cownie): Invest DSM, Central Iowa Water Trails Board, Blank Park Zoo Foundation, Homeless Coordinating Council, Krause Soccer Concept, and City Personnel Committee. *All council members also serve on Polk County Emergency Management team.


The Slow Down: A New Coffee Shop Brewing in Highland Park

Drew Kelso, former president of the Highland Park-Oak Park Neighborhood, is stepping up his neighborhood involvement this year. In another month, he will leave his full-time job at Principal Financial to run a new coffee shop on Sixth Avenue and serve as executive director of the Parks Area Foundation. The Highland Park-Oak Park development includes the soon-to-open Riverview Park redevelopment and a Variety Star Playground.

Highland Park-Oak Park is one of the four targeted Des Moines neighborhoods that will shortly get an infusion of attention and funding via InvestDSM, a new private and public venture of the City of Des Moines and the Polk County Supervisors. The other neighborhoods are Beaverdale-Waveland Park, Drake Park, and Columbus Park.

‘What’s Your Favorite Restaurant?’

Chelsea Lepley, president of the Union Park Neighborhood Association, opens each meeting with a terrific “get to know your neighbors” tactic: Introduce yourself and answer a new question of the month.

Chelsea’s question this month: “What’s your favorite restaurant?” For the curious, Thai Flavors was the leading vote-getter for the evening.


What To Know About . . .

Residents aren’t shy to inquire about street, storm water, and trail projects around Des Moines. Check these and other projects for yourself with this easy-to-navigate map. Click on a project and retrieve updated information, including links to the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget, contractor name, and City Engineering staff contact. Here’s a sampling:

Scott Avenue Bridge. Closes in April for rehabilitation; reopening in 2021.

Locust Street Bridge Across the Des Moines River. Think late summer for completion of this $10.6 million bridge replacement.

Hubbell Avenue. Several sections of this $10 million have reopened; expect fall 2020 completion.

New Trail to Easter Lake. The current schedule reads July completion for the 2.2-mile section under construction. When linked to an existing segment (Mullet’s to SE 22nd Street), the new 10-foot-wide trail will be 3.6 miles long. The Mark C. Ackelson Trail around Easter Lake is 4.1 miles long, making this a terrific destination. The name of this trail escapes me.

Fifth Street Bridge Across the Raccoon River (also known as the Green or Jackson Street Bridge). No work this year, but in 2021, the levees on both Raccoon banks will be raised about 12 inches. (Yes, expect a major detour with closed trails.) Dedication of the rehabilitated bridge is now pushed back to 2022.

Fleur sidewalks along Wakonda Club. Work scheduled to begin after the Principal Charity wraps up May 31. The sidewalk construction pales to the larger project: replacement of the south-bound lanes (Bell Avenue to Watrous).

First Street Bridge Across the Raccoon River (between Principal Park and Mullet’s): opening scheduled before April 14, the first home game for the Iowa Cubs. Nearly wrapped up: Remaining tasks include handrails and lights. EVENTS

IOWA CUBS - APRIL 14th, 2020 Good seats still available for the home opener!

I-Cubs vs. San Antonio Missions. First pitch: 6:38 pm on Tuesday, April 14.

Opening game National Anthem info: Put a stopwatch on Susan Voss, my favorite mezzo soprano. Susan should clock in right about 50 seconds—just the Francis Scott Key notes as he wrote them.


Sign of Spring #1: Potholes

While there’s no official season opener for potholes…

…they seem to be everywhere. Already.

Here’s the best way to help to get the potholes on the patch list for Public Works:

*Download the myDSMmobile app (Android or iPhone version)

*Select the appropriate Service Request (more about that later) *Set the location

*Using your smartphone, photograph the pothole or street issue (the photo automatically records longitude and latitude)


You’ll get an acknowledgement of your ticket and will be informed when the ticket is closed.

In a brutal winter, Public Works normally logs about 3,500 potholes. In 2019, Public Works logged more than 10,000 reported potholes. Yes, plenty of work to do.

But wait, there’s more! The same myDSMmobile works for other reporting street light outages, trash or recycling missed, graffiti—17 services in all. Don’t overlook the value of using myDSMmobile for other service requests. REPORTS

Sign of Spring #2 DM Parks & Recreation Annual Report

The Parks and Recreation full-tine staff of 53 manages 75 parks, over 4,000 acres of parkland, 82 miles of trails, seven cemeteries, and multiple recreational facilities. Here’s an overview of the previous year’s accomplishments:

  • 1,916 shelters and facility rentals 

  • 2,170 dog park permits sold 

  • 2,969 individuals learned to swim

  • 5,173 volunteers donated 32,079 hours of service, valued at $815,261

  • 96,313 visits to one of our five pools/aquatic centers

  • Golfers played 80,734 rounds at A.H. Blank, Bright Grandview, and Waveland Golf courses

Nation’s Largest Skatepark To Open This Year

When the Lauridsen Skatepark is completed, it will be the nation’s largest skatepark—right here in downtown Des Moines. Contractors completed the initial site grading, site utilities, and the majority of the retaining walls in late 2019. The retaining wall work has continued throughout the winter and is ongoing. Just over 20% of the construction work is now complete. California Skateparks will oversee the remaining project details of the park with 88,000 square feet of skate-able terrain—the really fun stuff! April 1 is the tentative start date, with completion and dedication scheduled for September or October (Mother Nature will have a say).

June or July, the WOW skate-able public art should be completed—about 80 feet long and 12 feet high. More than $6.1 million has been raised for this project. When completed Des Moines Conservation Board will manage the facility. Stay tuned. ⬅️

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