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The functions of the City Council

Jacob Rice
A presentation on Story County water shed safety is given to the Ames City Council on Jan. 24.

Brian Phillips, assistant city manager for the City of Ames, spoke with the Daily to discuss and explain the functions of the Ames City Council.

The comments below the bolded questions are Phillips’ direct quotes.

What is the Ames City Council?

The City Council is the elected body of representatives who provide for local government operations in the city of Ames. There are six council members and a mayor.

The six council members are elected through a combination of wards and at-larges. There are four wards that the city is divided into. Four of the council members are elected from each of those wards, and then two council members and the mayor are elected at large.

So everybody in Ames, no matter where you live, has three council members representing them and the mayor, although the council in general will work for and work with residents regardless of where in town you live.

What does the Ames City Council do?

The City Council provides the legislative direction for the community, so they adopt resolutions and ordinances.

They determine things like zoning, […] parking regulations, municipal infraction type things, they determine things like what nuisance codes are, how building codes work, they supervise the operation of the water, wastewater resource recovery and electric utilities for the community, […] they determine what the city’s portion of property tax collection is on property tax bills in the community.

They also set rates and charges and fees for utility services, for parking fines, for permits and so forth. So they’re involved in lots of different aspects of daily life.

Why should students be engaged with the City Council?

They should be engaged in City Council because there are all kinds of things that get decided by the City Council that have an impact on students.

Things related to how CyRide works have some relationship to the City Council; issues such as how Campustown gets developed or redeveloped? Those kinds of issues are decided by the City Council– not in terms of what specific businesses might go there, but in terms of the types of businesses that might go there or the amount of intensity of the housing that might go there.

There are all sorts of those kinds of community amenities and issues that students will have an interaction with […] on a day-to-day basis.

How can community members get involved?

Community members can get involved in a lot of different ways. First of all, anybody is welcome to contact the mayor or their City Council person. If they have a question or concern about how something is working. If the council agrees and feel strongly about it, they may take it up at a future meeting and discuss it.

So at City Council meetings, there is a time set aside for anybody in the community to talk about any matter of city business at public forum, [which is] at the start of the City Council meeting, and then people are also welcome to come and speak about items that are specifically on the agenda for deliberation that evening as well.

There are also ways for people to get involved through city boards and commissions, which are boards that have different advisory or decision-making roles in the city government.

Any Ames resident is welcome to serve on any of them they may be qualified for.

How does the council interact with Iowa State?

The council interacts with Iowa State in a number of different ways. One of the big ways is that for at least 20 years, the city has had an ex-officio City Council students liaison and that is a student who is nominated by the Iowa State Student Government and confirmed by the City Council.

The only difference is that that person can’t vote because under state law, a City Council member has to be elected. That’s a really unique arrangement that allows for feedback to and from the City Council and the Iowa State […] student body, and that individual has a unique ability to provide perspective and influence the different decisions that the City Council might make.

The City Council also meets at Iowa State once or twice a year in a joint meeting with the Iowa State Student Government. And that’s an opportunity for the council and the student government senators to have a dialogue about issues that specifically affect students.

There are also a lot of different interactions between the city government, the City Council, city staff and Iowa state administrators. We have partnerships related to policing, related to parking, fire protection related to parks and recreation, so we have a lot of staff-level and administrative-level interactions between the city and ISU.

How do the council members get all their work done?

They are obligated to go to a lot of meetings and read through a lot of material to become educated and informed about a lot of different topics and city business and make a decision that’s in the best interest of the community.

We try our best as city staff to prepare them for options that they have and the consequences of different decisions. But ultimately, it’s up to them to get the feedback from the community and consult their own conscience to determine what the best decision is.

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