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Let’s Catch Up - June 2ND


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.

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