Mayor Frank Klipsch says politics aren’t driving his quest to dissolve Davenport Levee Improvement Commission. In fact, Klipsch's attempt to consolidate power at City Hall is all about politics.
But political agendas have birthed good policy and this is one of those cases.
Klipsch swears his proposal to strip the 106-year-old regulatory body of its power is all about "transparency." The public rarely turns out to meetings of the slew of unnecessary and redundant city commissions, which offer purely advisory opinions on everything from the city's parks to its plumbing.
But don't lump the incredibly political Levee Commission into that group. Unlike the others, the commission wields actual power. It takes a four-fifths supermajority for the City Council to override a Levee Commission vote. It's probably not a coincidence that Klipsch's pitch precedes a pending City Council vote to overturn the Levee Commission's rejection of a 50-year lease for a Nestle/Purina parking lot along the riverfront.
Klipsch can claim "I'm not a politician" all day long, if he'd like. But the proposal to concentrate oversight among the City Council and staff could be a prominent bullet point or two on a campaign mailer this fall.
"Cut regulation. Streamlined government. Vote Klipsch."
All that said, Klipsch is right when he contends that the City Council is the ultimate arbiter of Davenport's riverfront. He's correct when he says that the Levee Commission, as now constructed, doesn't engage large segments of Davenport's population. However, the quarterly meetings Klipsch proposes simply aren't enough. Bimonthly meetings are a minimum if real input is Klipsch's goal here.
It's also true that Davenport's riverfront has undergone significant change over the past century. It made sense decades ago to set up a quasi-regulatory agency to manage leases along the one-time industrial hub. That's simply no longer the case. In that foundational regard, the Levee Commission is redundant, and, with little left of its charter mission, has morphed into an unofficial environmental organization.
Unfortunately, Levee commissioners themselves are already the collateral damage. They're incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable citizens who dutifully serve six-year terms without pay. After meeting with several members last week, it's undeniable that, throughout this process, they rightly feel attacked by Klipsch and his supporters at City Hall.
The respect each Levee commissioner has earned is woefully missing right now.
It's reasonable to treat much of Davenport's riverfront with the same care given to the rest of its parks and facilities. With minor tweaks to include more meetings, Klipsch's fusion of the Levee Commission and advisory boards that oversee city parks and the Adler Theatre makes sense.
But it would be delusional to deny the highly political motivations behind the proposal. It's nonsensical when Klipsch argues that, by granting City Council members appointment authority, he's robbing his office of power when, in fact, he's moving to consolidate power within City Hall.
The Levee Commission has long been a thorn in the side of many pro-development city officials. Each and every attempt to declaw the Levee Commission over the past 20 years has been paired with a spat between commissioners and City Hall. This time is no different.
Ultimately, the Levee Commission's original charter simply no longer applies. And the City Council is elected to govern all of Davenport, including the riverfront.
Those facts make Klipsch's quest to overhaul city government a worthwhile one.