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Hello, fellow shut-ins

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

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.


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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