Updated: Aug 15
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
By the time you read this, I will have knocked on more than 1,200 doors for my re-election campaign for an at-large seat on the Des Moines City Council. It was rewarding to talk to so many Des Moines residents, and what you expect out of your City Council, and me in particular.
Most of the comments I hear at the door are frustrations with recent laws the Iowa Legislature has enacted, which the City Council can do little about because of the state’s lack of home rule. However, I listened to plenty of questions pertaining particularly to Des Moines. Here are four recent topics that required a little research:
1: Feral cats
A Ward 2 couple was frustrated with feral cats roaming their neighborhood. So many felines were doing their business by the couple’s front door that the couple had to replace bushes with a concrete slab.
I learned that the City attends to feral cats through its trap, neuter, and release (TNR) program but then returns them to their original neighborhoods. I wondered about that. But Tom Colvin, the executive director of the Animal Rescue League (ARL), explained that the cats have a low survival rate if relocated. The ARL’s Joe Stafford offered tips to keep feral cats from roaming through your yard:
• Identify where the community cats are being fed and by whom • Motion-activated sprinklers. One model the ARL likes also waters the yard. • Predator urine. Joe Stafford at the ARL recommends placing the product on cotton balls spaced 5 to 10 feet apart where the cats regularly enter the yard. • Additional tips from Alley Cat Allies
2: Stormwater inlets
On his morning walk, a Ward 1 resident told me he noticed numerous clogged stormwater curb inlets and asked me what schedule the Public Works uses to clear grass, leaves, and other debris from curb inlets.
Well, according to Public Works director Jonathan Gano, there are no schedules; the unclogging operations are entirely complaint driven.
You can easily report a clogged stormwater inlet via the myDSMmobile app, dsmmobile.com on the Web, or by calling Public Works (515-283-4950) with the location. Your reports are genuinely appreciated.
3: Nitrates removed from drinking water
A Ward 3 resident was curious about whether, after removing the nitrates from the City’s water supply, the Des Moines Water Works still dumps them downstream into the Des Moines or Raccoon River. Be reassured: it doesn’t.
In 2019, the Water Works constructed a $2 million pumping station and transmission line that directly delivers the waste stream, including nitrates, phosphates, and other chemicals, to the Wastewater Reclamation Authority (WRA) near East 30th Street and Vandalia Road. Chemicals valuable to crop production are incorporated into biosolids that are spread on farm fields.
4: Fleur Drive medians
A Southsider asked when the Fleur Drive medians will be planted.
Quick answer: When funds to replant become available.
There are 17 medians between the Fleur Drive intersection with ML King Jr. Parkway and Army Post Road. Starting at the north end, medians 1, 2, and 3 are already planted. The City Council recently approved the replanting of medians 4, 5, and 6. The installation of these medians will be completed this fall.
Funding for the remaining 11 medians hasn’t been identified, according to Ben Page, Des Moines Parks & Recreation director. Ben reports it’s about $100,000 to replace the soil, replant each median and add the new mulch. Private funding has stalled and the median projects have not been awarded funding in recent attempts via Prairie Meadows and other grants. The Ruan Family Foundation has already contributed $500,000 to the median project. Polk County Supervisors chipped in another $100,000
When sections of resurfaced Fleur Drive were rebuilt, irrigation lines were added to all the medians. Bottom line: the medians are shovel-ready.
Now, it’s just a matter of time. And money.
WHAT’S WITH THE PURPLE STREETLIGHTS?
The streetlight in front of our loft in the East Village has shifted to a funky purple cast. After a little poking around, I discovered this is a nationwide issue due to a manufacturing defect in LED lamps. Utility companies around the country are reporting similar problems. “MidAmerican Energy is aware of the issue and is working to replace these lights,” Des Moines city engineer Steve Naber told me.
You can report purple or blue lights using the easy-peasy MidAmerican web form. It should take two minutes or less to complete.
WHEN WILL FIBER COME TO MY NEIGHBORHOOD?
I’m told as many as four providers are installing fiber internet lines in the Des Moines area, some providing competing services for a neighborhood. But as to when your neighborhood can access options other than Mediacom and CenturyLink, your guess is as good as mine!
The City grants fiber operators right-of-way utility permits. But, unlike the original but now invalid cable television franchise agreements, the City has no control over when and where fiber providers lay fiber lines, above or below ground, and reaps no revenue from those operators.
At this web address, you can type in your address and request an email when Google plans to start laying neighborhood cable.
I happened to ride a few RAGBRAI miles with vacationing members of Metronet, another fiber internet provider installing in the Des Moines area. Maddison Grell, Metronet’s community engagement coordinator, rang me up a few days after RAGBRAI and walked me through the company’s easy-to-navigate website info. When you visit, you can view color-coded neighborhoods showing where construction has been completed, is underway, and is planned. And it’s easy to follow links for email and phone contacts.
Maddison pledged that Metronet will open a permanent Des Moines storefront this fall at 1221 Keosauqua Way.
DM VENDORS FEED HUNGRY RAGBRAIERS
Say Cheese, Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine, and Lana’s Pies & Pastries prepare food at the Mickle Center Shared-Use Kitchen in Sherman Hill. And all reported busy days following the 50th annual RAGBRAI, as did HOQ restaurant in the East Village.
HOQ owner Suman Hoque started preparing in February for this year’s ride by making and freezing 5,500 naan flatbreads through winter, spring, and summer. He reported breaking 20,000 eggs (up from 16,000 last year) for the made-from-scratch breakfast wraps he and his kitchen served in pass-through towns. (In Slater alone, the HOQ crew assembled 1,200 wraps in four hours, beginning at 5:30 a.m.)
The most-requested menu selection from Say Cheese Des Moines, reported co-owner Jack Whipple, was the BLT grilled cheese sandwich. Jack crunched the numbers (ahem) to add that this year’s hungry RAGBRAI crowd consumed more than 1,000 pounds of cheese, 1,300 sandwich loaves, 250 pounds of butter, and 16,000 slices of bacon. To battle the grill heat and steamy Iowa temperatures, the Say Cheese crew of 13 relied on cooling towels draped around their necks and 11 fans.
Lana Shope, owner of Lana’s Pies and Pastries, spent 58 hours preparing 400 pies (3,200 slices) for stops in Rippey and Madrid; apple crumb was the most popular selection. Lana and her team of employees and volunteers went through eleven 25-pound bags of flour, 50 pounds of sugar, and nearly 200 pounds of shortening. The pie crew peeled and sliced 600 apples and 300 peaches.
Jerk chicken and Jollof rice bowls—a fusion of West African and Caribbean cuisine—was a popular lunch selection from Palm’s Caribbean Cuisine. Owner Amara Sama reported his crew of six served 1,900 meal bowls and another 600 bowls of jollof rice and sides. One of the refreshing Palm’s fruit drinks was Summer Breeze: a welcome combination of watermelon, blueberries, limes, and oranges.
3 NEW CITY FACILITIES
Assistant city manager Jim Hoff, who is in charge of facilities, reports good progress on three City facilities under construction near East 15th and Harriet streets:
1: Animal Services Building
The Animal Rescue League plans to use November to set up in the new 22,000-square-foot building, which almost triples the size of the group’s original facility, constructed in 1992. The contractor’s schedule calls for an October completion for the $12.4 million facility. The opening hinges on the delivery and installation of the main electrical panel, which is stuck in the supply chain. The photo above shows a crew assembling dog kennels.
The new $4.5 million facility greenhouse is comparable in propagation square footage to the City’s current greenhouse operation, at 2501 Maury Street, but should be much more energy efficient. Des Moines Parks & Recreation expects to begin the new growing season in the building in early 2024, if completion is done in October or November, as the contractor expects. Completion depends on the arrival of the headhouse parts: the portion that serves as the work center.
By the way, the City relies heavily on greenhouse volunteers. In 2022, 84 volunteers contributed 716 hours.
3: Solar array
The $3 million structure is expected to supply 818-kilowatt hours (kW) to Animal Services (100 percent of its modeled electrical usage) and 150 kW for the greenhouse (110 percent of modeled usage). Jim Hoff reports that following overcoming issues relating to building on the landfill, the target date for opening is the spring of 2024.
You can tell a lot about how much a city values its residents by its green spaces. Des Moines is known for its many parks, and City staff and volunteers have been hard at work improving many of these outdoor facilities. Here’s a rundown:
A dedication for the improvements to Chesterfield Park is scheduled for Wednesday, August 23. This park, at 2719 Scott Avenue, has two new playgrounds, a futsal court, a permanent table tennis surface, a basketball court, an open-air shelter, and a quarter-mile walking loop.
After many delays, the public restroom at Witmer Park is ready to open, triggering a dedication for park upgrades completed in 2021. The Witmer dedication is scheduled for Monday, September 18.
In October, Parks and Recreation will schedule a dedication and demonstration of new attractions at Cohen Park at East 10th and Scott. The event will include a demonstration of a Sutu interactive wall for soccer skills and a bouldering area.
On Friday, I joined 18 volunteers and staff to assemble a new playground at Frisbie Park, off Muskogee Avenue in Ward 3. Many hands make light work, as shown in the photo above.
Two other playgrounds, both in Ward 2, are slated for assembly, also by volunteers, this fall: at Sheridan Park off Hull Avenue (scheduled for September 12); and McHenry Park off Oak Park Avenue (October 18).
Also, the Parks and Recreation staff has scheduled an August 23 public meeting for improvements to the Gray’s Lake Park playground and sprayground. Questionnaire.
The City will use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for improvements to two Ward 4 parks. Watrous South Neighborhood residents will be invited to an October 10 meeting to gather ideas for a Sayers Park upgrade. Residents are already responding to a questionnaire.
23 EARN CNA DEGREES THROUGH BROADLAWNS, DMACC
Apple Khalil, center, received her certified nursing assistant (CNA) degree at a ceremony in August at the DMACC Urban Campus, just west of Mercy One Medical Center off University Avenue. Program coordinator Dennis Henderson and student support staffer Abena Sankofa Imhotep presented the award. Apple, a Roosevelt senior this fall, was one of a record 23 students receiving CNA certificates through the Broadlawns Medical Center’s 10-week summer apprenticeship program. Broadlawns offered jobs to all 23; Apple will work part-time while completing her high school studies.
In related news, the Iowa Workforce Commission recently awarded a $2.3 million grant to Broadlawns to train 80 registered nurses (RNs) over the next three years.
HUGS AT DMPD
Long-time Des Moines Civil Service Commission member Linda Carter-Lewis gets a hug, right, from newly minted Captain Kenneth Brown during a Des Moines Police Department promotional ceremony in August. Also promoted: Ryan King to lieutenant, and Ben McCarthy to sergeant.
NEIGHBORHOOD NIGHT OUT
Throngs of Des Moines residents turned out August 1 for the 34th annual National Night Out, providing an opportunity to socialize with neighbors and enjoy free food. According to the City, 27 gatherings took place on that evening. The Des Moines Police Department coordinates the events, along with assistance from Neighborhood Services, the Des Moines Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, and others.
I scurried around to attend six of the events in three hours. Here are just a couple of photos gleaned:
Massey took a night off from his job as an essential member of the DMPD bomb squad, welcoming belly scratches and petting at the South Central Neighborhood’s gathering at the South Union School. SPO Scott Neely, Massey’s handler, shown above, reported that Massey, a 6-year-old Black Labrador, welcomed off-duty attention.
REDEFINING A LONG-TIME EMPLOYEE
I suspect that most employers who complain about staff vacancies, excessive absences, and employee ghosting (look it up) would love to add a jewel like Mary Jo Woolman.
At 71, Mary Jo retired in March of 2022 after 54 years with the City of Des Moines. Oh, wait: Make that 56 years, counting two years of part-time work while still attending the old Tech High School. Talk about loyalty and reliability!
Mary Jo spent most of those years with the Des Moines Police Department. In her first job, back in the days of dictaphones, she used her shorthand and keypunch skills to transcribe police reports, at a beginning wage of $1.05 an hour. After Black Panther members bombed the police headquarters on May 20, 1970, Mary Jo stepped over debris and downed wires to get back at her desk within hours.
Mary Jo later worked at the police information desk, a beehive of activity staffed by just two civilians. “We were so busy at times we didn’t get a dinner break,” Mary Jo says. She rarely missed a day of work; at one time, Mary Jo accumulated more than 2,300 hours of sick time.
After working nights for 28 years, she accepted a demotion so she could work days as a secretary in vice and narcotics. And In her last 19 years, Mary Jo worked in the police radio shop. She tracked Motorola orders and repairs, issued replacement batteries, scheduled repairs, and new installations, and tracked radios and portables for police, firefighters, Public Works, and the airport—pretty danged lengthy responsibilities.
“It’s a lot to keep track of,” Mary Jo acknowledged.
When Mary Jo started her job, squad cars had only a rooftop light bar, radio, and a rack for a shotgun holder. Today, it takes more than 80 hours of labor to set up a new vehicle. “Everything’s got to be programmed,” she notes. “Setting up all the lights, radios, computers, and backup batteries—it’s a long list of tasks. The radios alone have 300 channels.”
Now in retirement, Mary Jo babysits a grandchild twice a week, helps with friends and squeezes in some league bowling. And, of course, time with her hubby, retired DMPD SPO Mike Woolman.
“I miss the police family,” Mary Jo said. “I was fortunate to work for so many good chiefs.
“We really packed ’em in for my retirement.”
Wish I had been there! Rare is the opportunity to celebrate a retiree after 56 years with the same organization.
Chief Dana Wingert weighed in on what made Mary Jo so special: "Mary Jo’s level of dedication and service may never be matched. But the thing that sets her apart is how she treated people.
"From the time I was a brand-new officer to the day of her retirement, she always treated me like family. That’s just how she was with everyone she interacted with. To bring that demeanor and level of service and relationships for over five decades is simply incredible.
“The City of Des Moines and the police department is blessed to have her as part of our family.”