I haven’t heard a peep about back-to-school sales this year. But what does dominate conversations is: What the heck will this year’s school year look like for our kids?

Susan and I will have three grandkids attending Des Moines public schools, plus a niece teaching at the Walnut Street School. You bet that we’re keenly interested.

When it comes to Iowa school districts, one size does not fit all. I’m confident we can agree that there’s a vast difference between the needs of the Diagonal School District (127 students total) and the Des Moines district (which serves 32,000-plus students).

A unilateral decree for all 365-plus Iowa school districts is unacceptable and ill-timed. Science and facts should dominate the decisions. Front and center should be the health and safety of our kids, teachers, and the school support staff.

I support Des Moines Public Schools administration and the school board to make wise decisions on how to best map out the upcoming school year.


COVID-19 has its grip on our entire society—without any signs of letting up. Just this week, City Manager Scott Sanders delayed the reopening of city buildings at least until October 1.

Some business, like LaMie in the Roosevelt Shopping Center, have a strict mask guideline, as the photo to the right suggests.

I believe mandating masks is the correct public choice to help bring this pandemic under control. But given the current posture from our State Capitol and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, a city mask mandate doesn’t appear to be on the horizon. For now.

On July 31, Mayor Cownie amended his emergency proclamation regarding outdoor gatherings. Mayor Cownie “strongly and urgently encouraged all persons in the City of Des Moines to wear a face covering such as a cloth mask, surgical mask, plastic shield or similar covering that covers their nose and mouth when in a public place.”

The entire proclamation:

In 2001, Lorinda Peters and I served together on the Capital Striders board of directors and created Tour de Lights, the walk, run, and bike evening through the Jolly Holiday Lights at Water Works Park. Lorinda, who now lives in Texas, posted some danged good reasons to wear a mask. I’ve tweaked her Facebook posting, which provides sound reasons why I also choose to wear a mask in public:

  • I have read enough to know that I could be asymptomatic and still pass the virus on to you.

  • I don’t live in fear of the virus; I just want to be part of the solution, not the problem.

  • I don’t feel that the government is controlling me; I feel that I’m an adult contributing to society, and I want to help others the same.

  • The world doesn’t revolve around me. It’s not all about me and my comfort.

  • If we all could live with other people’s considerations in mind, this whole world would be a much better place.

  • Wearing a mask doesn’t make me weak, scared, stupid, or even controlled. It makes me considerate.

  • Are you worried about how you look, how uncomfortable your mask is, or what others think of you? If so, imagine your child, your father, your mother, or a grandparent, aunt, or uncle choking on a respirator, alone without you or any family member allowed at the bedside.

  • Ask yourself if you could have sucked it up a little for a while.


My friend Ira Lacher draws an excellent line between the popularity of the Broadway production of Hamilton (now on Disney Plus) to another topic that squirts out in conversation, emails, and social media. Aren’t we Iowans fuming about the same issue—home rule—that drove a wedge between Great Britain and the 13 colonies?

Iowa communities seemingly can’t make a single move without state approval. Besides masks and back-to-school mandates, the legislature recently hobbled Des Moines’ efforts to regulate short-term commercial rentals (popularity known as Airbnbs).

Apparently, the mantra from Republicans in the State House is: “We’re all for local control…except when we’re not.”

The Iowa constitution doesn’t prevent municipalities and counties from instituting their own rules. The only restriction is that the rules can’t involve imposing a tax. “The home rule amendments of the Iowa Constitution give cities and counties authority to determine their own local affairs and government in a manner which is not inconsistent with state statute, except that home rule power and authority does not extend to the authority to levy a tax without the express authorization of the General Assembly.” (11Iowa Const. Art. III, §§ 38A, 39A.) Here’s a link.


Calls for an investigation into Des Moines protests and demonstrations continue to dominate local conversations.

According to Des Moines Police Department policy and procedures, they always investigate each incident of use of police force. (In 2019, 425 use of force investigations/202,000 calls for service; 0.2 percent resulting in use of force). The Iowa Code provides guidelines of how investigations could proceed between employers (in our case, City of Des Moines) and peace officers (Des Moines Police Department officers). Of particular interest: investigations that include discipline, demotion, or suspension.

Some residents have emailed me, demanding that the Des Moines Civil & Human Rights Commission investigate the Des Moines Police Department. The emails don’t explicitly reference discipline, but the assumption is an easy leap.

Chapters 80F and 400 of the Iowa Code create a comprehensive process and govern the relations between employers and peace officers.

In 2007, the Iowa Legislature created mandatory process requirements in Section 80F in conjunction with Chapter 400 for all peace officer investigations leading to discipline, demotion, or suspension. State statute and case law limit Iowa city councils regarding police investigation and discipline. The state legislature would have to authorize designating a different citizen review board with a disciplinary authority other than the Civil Service Commission, with a different process. Council creation of a different board for discipline would be counter to that state law and most likely unenforceable.


Need something to laugh about? (Who doesn’t!) Here are 20 movies, recent and vintage, guaranteed to fill your living room with laughter, courtesy of Kevin Kretschmer, a librarian at the Franklin Avenue Library and a contributor to the Des Moines Film Society’s website. His pursuits include writing the blog Media Musings: Mad About Movies, Music, and More for the Des Moines Public Library.

Kevin’s two caveats: no director or star/team listed more than once.

Airplane! — Laugh-a minute farce of 80s disaster flicks that started Leslie Nielsen’s rebirth in comedy. Featuring Robert StackLloyd BridgesPeter Graves, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Voted No. 10 best movie on American Film Institute’s “100 Years...100 Laughs” list of top comedy films.

American Graffiti — Cruising/rock ’n’ roll film that was George Lucas’ directorial debut. Starring Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford and Ron Howard. Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy, 1973. No. 43 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy — Will Ferrell stars in Judd Apatow’s takeoff on Seventies “Action News.”

Dumb and DumberJim Carrey and Jeff Daniels set out on a zany cross-country trip to return a briefcase full of money to its owner.

The 40-Year-Old VirginColleagues help electronic goods store clerk Steve Carell break his maiden. American Film Institute Movie of the Year, 2005.

Groundhog DayCynical TV weatherman Bill Murray is trapped in a time loop forcing him to endlessly repeat February 2, 1993, while dealing with an increasing ardor for his producer (Andie McDowell). No. 34 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

The Hangover — Three friends lose a fourth on a bachelor party trip to Las Vegas. With Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Jeffrey Tambor. Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy, 2009.

Holiday — 1938 film about a man risen from humble beginnings (Cary Grant), torn between his free-thinking lifestyle and the family tradition of his wealthy fiancée (Katharine Hepburn).

It Happened One Night — Frank Capra’s five-Oscar classic starring Claudette Colbert as a pampered socialite trying to get out from under her father's thumb, who falls in love with roguish reporter Clark Gable. Academy Awards for Best Picture, as well as Colbert, Gable, Capra, and screenwriter Robert Riskin. No. 8 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

The Lady EveMismatched couple Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda meet on board an ocean liner. No. 55 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Monkey Business — The third Marx Brothers movie, in which they stow away on an ocean liner bound for America. No. 73 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

National Lampoon’s Animal HouseJohn Belushi and his misfit Delta fraternity members challenge the authority of the dean of Faber College. Toga! No. 36 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Ninotchka — Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas have a satirical, light romance in Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union. Four Oscar nominations. No. 52 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Our Hospitality — 1923 silent where director and star Buster Keaton is caught in the middle of the infamous "Canfield–McKay" feud, an obvious satire of the real-life Hatfield–McCoy kerfuffle.

Sleeper Health food store owner Woody Allen is cryogenically frozen in 1973 and defrosted 200 years later in an ineptly led police state. No. 80 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Some Like It Hot —Jazz-era Chicago musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon witness a Mob hit in Prohibition-era Chicago and dress in drag to escape the gangsters on their tail. Also starring Marilyn Monroe. 1960 Golden Globes for Best Picture and Monroe. No. 80 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Sons of the Desert — Lodge brothers Laurel and Hardy scheme to make their wives let them attend a convention in Chicago. No. 96 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

This Is Spinal Tap — Rob Reiner’s mockumentary about the rock industry, starring Christopher GuestMichael McKean, and Harry Shearer. No. 29 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Wedding Crashers — Divorce mediators Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn crash weddings in an attempt to meet and seduce bridesmaids. MTV Award for Best Movie, 2005.

Young Frankenstein — Mel Brooks’ masterpiece starring Gene Wilder as the descendant of the mad scientist who tries to carry on his ancestor’s work. With Teri Garr, Des Moines’ Cloris LeachmanMarty FeldmanMadeline KahnKenneth MarsRichard Haydn, and Gene Hackman. Oscars for sound and adapted screenplay, Golden Globes for Leachman and Kahn. No. 13 on “100 Years...100 Laughs” list.

Kevin Kretschmer is a librarian at the Franklin Avenue Library. He has a B.A. in journalism from the University of Iowa, an M.A. in Film Studies, also from the University of Iowa, and an M.L.I.S. in Library and Information Studies from Dominican University. A former journalist, his more recent writing pursuits include writing the Media Musings: Mad About Movies, Music, and More blog for the Des Moines Public Library and as a contributor to the Des Moines Film Society’s website (


Since early June, the city manager’s office, legal department, and community development have worked with the newly created Dine Out Des Moines program, allowing restaurants and bars to offer outdoor dining service while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines. Here are some notable successes:

  • In the East Village, HOQ applied for the new program one day and had its patio on East Fifth Street operating the following day.

  • The Library, a cozy neighborhood restaurant at 35th and University in the Drake Neighborhood, is complying with COVID-19 guidelines to make three of its seven booths available. Adding four outdoor picnic tables in the adjoining parking lot made a world of difference for the servers and Full Court Press owners.

  • Django in Western Gateway Park set up tables in an adjoining parking lot that had been used only by office employees in daytime hours.

Business owners were quick to get the city what was needed to authorize relaxed guidelines, Neighborhood Inspection Administrator SuAnn Donovan reported. “I was happy with the roll-out of the program,” she said.

“We definitely have some success stories, in part because of the speed SuAnn responded to requests,” Deputy City Attorney Matt Anderson added.

Shon Bruellman, Big Red Truck, one of the meal vendors.


Distribution of free meals continues next week at 10 Des Moines sites. The Emergency Food Distribution program, funded through a $350,000 COVID-19 federal program, has provided about 100 meals per site since its June roll-out—roughly 15,000 meals. So far, more than a dozen Des Moines-based restaurants, food trucks, and caterers have participated.

Meal distributions—a mix of hot and cold food—are planned through August. View details about upcoming sites.

Central Iowa Shelters and Services partnered with the City of Des Moines to organize the program.


The next time you visit Confluence Brewing, across from Gray’s Lake Park, be sure to check out the two walls near the restrooms that promote each of the 39 employees—from head brewer John Martin to the newest taproom part-time server. Each employee has a photograph and some fun facts (sales manager Eric Selander can’t live without cheese) in an 8x10 frame. Gotta love the way the Confluence team works.


Is there a better August dinner than grilled sweet corn and a BLT sandwich with heirloom tomatoes and flavorful local lettuce? Doubt it!

With the Downtown Farmers’ Market in COVID hiatus, there’s a huge void to fill for produce. But don’t despair! The Beaverdale Farmers’ Market, held this year at Franklin Junior High School (4801 Franklin Avenue in Des Moines), fills some of the voids for fresh, locally grown vegetables and fruit. Stop by—don’t forget your mask!—4 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through September 4.

In response to COVID-19, the Downtown Farmer’s Market has created its Drive-Through Bite-size Market. Details:


Favorite folk duo Moors & McCumber have performed three house concerts at our East Village loft. Love these guys! One of their 2016 recordings—Take Me Down—is getting a lot of attention now. It’s about retiring the Confederate flag.

Until this year, Kort McCumber, who plays about a dozen string instruments, was clueless about NASCAR racing. Today, Bubba Wallace is Kort’s all-time favorite driver. Learn why.


I wish I could tell you more, but I’m pledged to keep this (mostly) on the down-low. Except to say: Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert and Deb VanVelten, the Des Moines Police Department youth services coordinator, will soon announce significant changes and a six-figure investment in the department’s Second Chance program, impacting first-time youth offenders. A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS) and its Restorative Justice program are among supporters of the Second Chance program. Details to come.


Starting Monday, Des Moines residents can begin using the Des Moines Public Library’s online catalog to request materials for curbside pickup at all six branches.

First step: Access the library’s online catalog to reserve (place on hold) the book, audiobook, or DVD you’ve been itching to get your hands on. Get details here. Of course, you’ll need a Des Moines library card to make this click.

Here’s one example of our library system’s rich material: More than 30,000 DVDs—a rich tapestry of documentaries and movies—are just a click away. The Franklin library has the most extensive collection: nearly 7,500 copies. The library is temporarily waiving the $1 fee for DVD checkouts.

Jon Hobbs, a supervising librarian, recommends 20 recently released DVDs. Click the links to learn more:

  1. Black and Blue — A rookie officer goes on the run after she witnesses a murder.

  2. Harriet — Biopic about abolitionist Harriet Tubman; Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) in a supporting role.

  3. Doctor Sleep — Based on Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining.

  4. The Lighthouse — Willem Dafoe stars in this psychodrama about two storm-stranded lighthouse keepers start to lose their sanity.

  5. Midway — U.S. sailors and aviators persevere through the turning point in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

  6. Parasite — Oscar-winning black comedy thriller about a poor family who scheme to become employed by a wealthy family in Seoul, South Korea.

  7. Fighting with my Family —  English professional wrestlers Paige and her brother, Zak, struggle to achieve success. 

  8. Ford V. Ferrari — Matt Damon and Christian Bale lead a team of Ford-employed American engineers and designers striving to defeat the perennially dominant Ferrari team at Le Mans. Oscars for best film editing and sound editing.

  9. Charlie’s Angels — Third installment of the film series based on the Seventies TV show.

  10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood — A troubled Esquire journalist (Matthew Rhys) is assigned to profile television icon Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks).

  11. Knives Out — Master detective (Daniel Craig) investigates the death of a family patriarch following a clan gathering. American Film Institute Top Ten Film of 2019.

  12. Queen and Slim — Two African Americans go on the run after killing a police officer during a traffic stop.

  13. The Bookshop — In 1959, a middle-aged widow fights the community and the British Parliament when she decides to open a bookshop in a small coastal English town.

  14. The Kid Who Would Be King — A young boy finds King Arthur's legendary sword Excalibur and must use it to stop an ancient enchantress from destroying the world. Featuring Patrick Stewart.

  15. Missing Link — Animated film following a Sasquatch who, with the help of an English explorer, travels to the Himalayas to meet his Yeti cousins. Voices by Hugh Jackman, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson, and Zach Galifianakis. 

  16. All Is True — After the Globe Theatre burns down in 1613 during a performance of William Shakespeare's play Henry VIII, the bard (Kenneth Branagh) returns home to Stratford to rejoin his wife (Anne Hathaway).

  17. The Last Black Man in San Francisco — A young black man tries to reclaim his childhood home, a now-expensive Victorian house in a gentrified  neighborhood. Sundance Film Festival honors.

  18. Mirai — Japanese animated adventure fantasy about growing up.

  19. Maria by Callas — The opera singer’s life, told through previously unreleased performances, interviews, home movies, family photographs, private letters and unpublished memoirs.

  20. American Woman — A single mother is faced with raising her grandson after her daughter goes missing under mysterious circumstances.


The school year may have wrapped up, but Amanda Miller, director of Food and Nutrition for Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), reports that free meal distribution won’t taper off. “We plan to keep this going,” Amanda says.

A typical lunch includes an entrée (turkey sandwich, chicken nuggets, piece of pizza), fruits and/or vegetables, and milk. Breakfast meals include a breakfast sandwich or cereal, plus juice and milk. Households with children 18 years and younger qualify. No qualifying questions, no refusals; just show up for “a hand up” during these COVID challenges.

Miller reports that on a typical day, the district distributes 7,000 to 11,000 meals for children at 50 public schools.

Last week, I stopped by Weeks Middle School to observe the distribution of free meals at a public school meal site. In a word: smoothly. Peggy Bohall directed seven DMPS food-service employees who handed out about 450 meals to families patiently queued up in the Weeks parking lot. On this Friday before the Memorial Weekend, families received breakfasts and lunches for three days (six meals per child).

There were plenty of smiles through masks. And sparkling eyes of employees and the grateful “thanks” from families.


The City of Des Moines rolled out a new program, DSM Eats, on May 21. The 13-week program, a partnership with local restaurants and nonprofits, is funded by $350,000 in federal COVID-19 funds. Unlike school meals, these are hot meals cooked at local restaurants. When fully operational, the city plans 11 meal sites. Partners include Central Iowa Shelter and Services, Food Bank of Iowa, Urban Dreams, and Orchestrate Hospitality. Learn more here.

The city will pause this program until June 18 when we can recruit more participating restaurants to assist at additional sites.

SOMEONE TO MEET: BRIAN BENNETT, CITY’S FLEET DIRECTOR Brian kneels beside the first of four leased Nissan Leaf all-electric cars in the city fleet. Behind Brian are two new catch basin cleaners ($405,235 each) added to the city fleet this month. Public Works Director Jonathan Gano describes the cleaner as “something like a giant shop vacuum that sucks up wet and dry debris from stormwater inlets and pipes and sanitary sewer manholes and pipes.” Brian Bennett has a fascinating job: managing the city’s Fleet Services Division, where he and his staff of 38, including 23 mechanics, keep track of more than 1,000 vehicles. The fleet division has a $10 million operating budget for personnel, fuel, and parts costs. The team also has access to an additional $7.5 million in vehicle and equipment replacement. Making sure equipment runs at peak performance is just part of the job.

A few days ago, Brian, a 24-year city employee, met me at the Fleet Services Center on Southeast Raccoon Street. When we walked through the shop, I glimpsed city employees at work on everything from mowers to police motorcycles to dump trucks to a humongous police Mobile Command Center.

Here are the highlights of conversations and email exchanges with Brian.

Q: How many vehicles are in the city fleet?

A: Fleet Services maintains and repairs 1,073 city assets—the stuff of all sizes with motors or engines. There are 708 vehicles, including cars, vans, SUVs, pickups, one-ton work trucks, and heavy-duty trucks. The city has another 365 pieces of equipment, including off road-construction equipment, street sweepers, trailers, tractors, mowers, boats, and generators.

Q: What’s the most expensive piece of equipment?

A: A 2019 Bomag tracked asphalt planer, purchased in March 2019 at the cost of $471,540. The Bomag mills and removes four-foot-wide strips of asphalt. You may have noticed the Bomag replacing worn-out asphalt segments (often near the curb) around the city in the last year.

Q: What’s a niche vehicle the city owns—something that might elicit an “I didn’t even know there was such a vehicle” response?

A: The Sewers Division of Public Works operates three Harper Deweze brand slope mowers, [directional]. These specialized mowers have a self-leveling cab that changes angles as the slope angle changes.

Slope Mowers

Q: What strides has the city made to improve fuel efficiency?

A: The introduction of gas-electric hybrid vehicles beginning in 2007 has made the most significant impact on fuel efficiency. Also, the first of four Nissan Leaf EVs have arrived. They will be used primarily by inspectors and planners. Current innovative strategies include alternative fueled vehicles, all-electric cars, and renewable B100 diesel fuel for heavy-duty trucks. In addition, virtual connectivity for vehicles and equipment is another essential strategy. The software and GPS tracking will allow us to make even more significant strides to improve fuel efficiency.

Q: The city recently negotiated FY20-21 gasoline and diesel rates for the Des Moines fleet. How did that go?

A: Fleet Service contracted for a firm fixed price for 294,000 gallons of Unleaded E10 gasoline for $1.0474 per gallon [not a typo!] and 310,000 gallons of diesel and biodiesel for $1.489 per gallon. Budgeted savings: $1 million. Brian will evaluate contracts for additional months be when firm pricing becomes available.

Q: In September 2022, the city fleet plans to move from the Market District to a new $55 million facility near the MSC Building on East ML King. What fleet improvements will the city realize when the new MSC Phase 2 is up and running?

A: I can rattle off seven right off the bat. Adequate workspace for mechanics will provide a safer environment and will help recruit new mechanics in a diminishing labor pool. The new shop design reduces the time for preventative maintenance and repairs. Increased parts storage will provide more parts in stock and reduce downtime. There’ll be dedicated space to work on the automated refuse collection vehicles and heavy off-road construction equipment. On-site storage of most Public Works vehicles will provide greater access to those vehicles for repair and maintenance. The initial facility design will include the infrastructure to charge all-electric vehicles and dispense alternative liquid fuels. Finally, the increased efficiencies of a new facility will continue the capacity to provide fueling, repair, and maintenance services to outside agencies, including the Des Moines Waste Water Reclamation Agency and the Des Moines Public School District.


In late May, the city’s Traffic and Transportation Division reprogrammed six intersections along ML King Parkway to automate walk signals. Thumbs up from the walking and biking communities!

Now, the intersections between Second Avenue and 16th Street no longer require a walker, runner, or bike rider to push a button to activate the white “Walk” light on east-west journeys. The pushbuttons will still be needed for north-south travel on foot or bike.

As a response to COVID-19 measures, several cities around the USA have already eliminated the high-touch pedestrian push buttons. It is expected that city staff will shortly post temporary signs to indicate the buttons are no longer required.

John Davis, Des Moines Traffic Engineer, reports that approximately 45 percent of the city’s 394 signalized intersections are pre-timed (no need to push a button) or are semi-actuated (one or more direction not requiring a push button).

Thanks to Council Members Josh Mandelbaum (Ward 3)  and Joe Gatto (Ward 4) and to the Street Collective of Des Moines for supporting this initiative. The original proposal was for all of ML King Parkway (East 30th and 16th near Fleur Drive) to be part of the pilot program.

No need for perfect to get in the way of good.

VETERANS TRIBUTE AT GLENDALE CEMETERY The Ron Ricker Running Club (RRRC) gathered Memorial Day Monday morning for our annual holiday run that includes a stretch through the Veterans Section of Glendale Cemetery. The run begins at the Glendale entrance, where our group’s service veterans “encourage” us with drill-instructor-type exhortations such as “maggots,” “pukes,” and other words not suitable for publication. (Sadly, those never make us run faster.) Near the Veterans Section, Ron Ricker, our president for life and an Army veteran, greets us with water bottles and cranks up Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” and other patriotic tunes before sending us on our way.


Invest DSM, the newly formed nonprofit to uplift four pilot Des Moines neighborhoods, has hit the ground running. This program, a venture by the Des Moines City Council, Polk County Supervisors and several partners, has created four Special Investment Districts: Franklin Avenue (Ward 1), Oak Park/Highland Park (Ward 2), Drake (Ward 3), and Columbus Park (Ward 4).

Invest DSM board members are over the rainbow about the first round of the Block Challenge Grant Program. For example, Beaverdale residents Missy Keenan and Anna Wilson blew over the board members when they submitted a proposal representing 28 neighbors on 44th Street. Missy and Anna recruited neighbors to invest $76,328 in their home exteriors including exterior paint, new patios, replacement windows, and storm doors; Invest DSM will provide an additional $47,218. I can’t wait to see the “before” and “after” photos and hear how the 44th Street neighbors supported each other. We’re expecting a Miracle on 44th Street—and elsewhere in the city.

Stay tuned for more progress updates in this and the other three Invest DSM neighborhoods. For details about the program, view the website, or contact Invest DSM Executive Director Amber Lynch.


Last Friday night, I watched nervously and sadly as my East Village neighborhood was racked with violence. Residents broke windows and lights of various buildings, and threw bricks and rocks at police wearing riot gear. The police responded with tear gas.

This happened after many of us rallied peacefully to protest the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, after it ended, many protesters refused to leave, milling about in anger and finally advancing on several officer-occupied squad cars and jumping on them. The police responded with tear gas, and the melee, unlike what Des Moines has seen in decades, was on.

To make a community a safe, prosperous and pleasant place to live, three essential components need to act responsibly. The first is local leadership, including city council members like myself. The second is law enforcement. And the third is residents. Let’s start with the third, since I am one of you.

I am not here to criticize those who protested; the anger is deserved. George Floyd was not the only black person whose life was ended by police this year. On May 6, police in Indianapolis shot and killed Sean Reed, a 21-year-old veteran. Louisville, Kentucky, police shot Breonna Taylor, an unarmed African American in her apartment at least eight times in March. And George Floyd’s death was preceded by a civilian’s apparently unprovoked fatal shooting in February of Ahmaud Arbery in Satilla Shores, Georgia, a homicide that took months to be investigated.

This justifiable anger, mostly from the black community but by many more, comes during a time when we are afraid and tense because we remain in the grip of a continuing pandemic that has upended all our lives.

I realize that is a chore to be calm when we see normality crumbling in front of us. But the only way to see us through to the other side is by being calm, and trusting in our local leadership. I praise State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad, who strode the streets Friday night, imploring residents to tone it down. He understands what may happen: “This city will be turned upside down if we don't do what we're supposed to do. Everybody's in pain,” he told KCCI.

It is up to us, as local leaders, to do what we’re supposed to do. I and my fellow council members need to say more than “I feel your pain.” We must channel that pain into calls for independent investigations of wrongs being committed, wherever they may happen. And we should demand no less than a thorough accounting of any wrong, regardless of who is victimized and whose oxen are gored.

We also need to be trustworthy overseers of our police force, who can usually be counted on to act as the responsible peacekeepers they are sworn to be. We also need to ensure that when a citizen complains about unlawful police behavior, that complaint is addressed without bias, without malice, without fail and without delay.

This upcoming summer is shaping up to be the most difficult many of us have ever faced. If we are truly “all in this together,” we must prove it — by doing our utmost to be aware of each other. Anger cannot be denied. But it can be effectively channeled: by doing good, by helping each other out, by dedicating ourselves to American ideals and by living up to those ideals, and speaking out, forcefully but peacefully, when those ideals are betrayed.

I wish all of you and all of us well in the days and weeks to come.

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.”

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