Lansing City Council approves Iowa Great Places designation application and begins discussion about hiring a city manager

by Julie Berg-Raymond

During its regular meeting Monday, March 6, the Lansing City Council approved Andrew Boddicker’s presentation of the final version of the objectives and projects that will be listed as part of Lansing’s application for an Iowa Great Places designation through the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. The vote for approval was unanimous, with two changes: 1) removing the objective for a rec center and indoor pool and 2) adding an annual town hall for keeping the citizens more informed, involved and providing opportunities for outreach by the City.

“Now we wait,” Boddicker said in an email following the meeting. “We may be asked to provide more information or be visited by the review committee in April. We will find out if we get the designation by June 30, but likely before that.”

The vision plan and designation give the City a clear path forward for development for arts and culture, recreation, and amenities in Lansing’s future. With an Iowa Great Places designation, the City would also be able to utilize its standing as a Great Place to receive further funding for projects and, in particular, a one-time funding opportunity of up to $500,000. “This sort of incentive and access to funds can put us over the finish line on many projects that the City looks to face over the next decade,” Boddicker said.

People are welcome to view the vision plan at A copy of the plan also is available to view at City Hall or the Meehan Memorial Lansing Public Library.

The council has taken a first step toward the possibility of hiring a city manager, by opening the question for public discussion. According to - the digital encyclopedia of American politics, and the nation’s premier resource for unbiased information on elections, politics and policy, “a city manager is an appointed municipal official who carries out the administrative and executive duties of a city government. The city manager is not an elected position. Rather, the holder of this office serves at the pleasure of the mayor and/or city council, which retains the legal right to dismiss and replace him or her.”

Council members discussed several points that argue in favor of hiring a city manager, including the ability to seek out more grants for the City and the ability to oversee employee safety training. Additionally, council member Curtis Snitker asked, “Do we want the city to grow, or to stay as it is? Do we want to take advantage of growth opportunities?”

Mayor Melissa Hammell asked council members to consider what their next step needs to be. “We have to be open,” council member Snitker said. “We have to be transparent. The community needs to know what we’re doing, and we need to hear from the community. After all, it is a democracy.” Mayor Hammell said the council will hold a “deeper discussion” at its next meeting, and may consult with the Waukon City Council, which has a city manager.

A public hearing was held regarding Resolution No. 981, the maximum property tax levy for the City’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24). That maximum levy was calculated to not exceed $851,397, which represents a two-percent increase in the tax levy. No public comment was made during the meeting or received by the City Clerk’s office. The council approved Resolution No. 981 regarding the Maximum Levy FY24.

After many months of discussion and study, the council approved a 28E agreement between the City of Lansing and the Lansing Fire Department. In an email following the meeting, council member Steve Murray described the complicated situation that led to the formation of this 28E agreement.

“Lansing has always had a volunteer fire department. However, in 1995 the fire department formed its own non-profit corporation, the Lansing Fire Department, Inc.,” he said. “It is my understanding that any fundraising the fire department did prior to this went back into the City’s General Fund. They wanted to be in control of their own raised funds; however, at that time the City did not make any changes to the Code to reflect this. The State of Iowa has been providing yearly audits for the City and over several years has always red-flagged the relationship between the City and the Lansing Fire Department, Inc. The State of Iowa’s audit specifically said the Iowa Constitution prohibits public funds from being provided to private, nonprofit organizations. When I was elected, I wanted to clean this up, so we began to work on entering into a 28E agreement which would allow the City to contract with the Lansing Fire Department Corporation for fire protection services for our citizens.”

Over the past nine months, the City’s legal counsel, council members Murray and Mike Manning, and the Lansing Fire Department Inc. Board have worked to put this agreement into place. “We changed our City Code to reflect that the City is contracting fire protection services; and (the City) also needed to lease the City-owned fire station to the private, non-profit Fire Department. The agreement basically outlines responsibilities of each party to the agreement, provides oversight on what City funds for the contracted service are to be used for, and addresses the recommendations of the State Auditor,” Murray said. “I would like to personally thank the Mayor, Mike Manning, Lansing Fire Chief Steve Daring, and the entire Lansing Fire Department, Inc. for working together and entering into this 28E agreement for fire protection services for our citizens.”

The council also approved a lease agreement between the City of Lansing and the Lansing Fire Department Inc. for use of the City-owned fire station. “Without the lease agreement, the City again would have not been in compliance with the State Constitution with regards to gifting or providing funds to a private non-profit agency,” Murray explained.

A petition signed by several “concerned citizens and business owners” was presented to the council regarding the timing and extent of snow removal on Main Street.

“During large snow events the snow has been wind-rowed up against the curb and not picked up for at least a business day,” the petition stated. “This is a problem for several reasons: 1) It fills the parking spaces leaving two-wheel drive vehicles either getting stuck or parking in the roadway; 2) It creates hazards for patrons to access businesses; 3) It makes great difficulties for deliveries (both incoming and outgoing) for businesses. There are already ‘no parking’ restrictions on Main Street until 6 a.m. It seems it would be efficient and helpful for all involved to remove snow on Main Street prior to that. We understand that may mean clearing Main Street more than once for a snow event because of timing of snowfall. Our downtown district is vital to keeping our town alive. If customers and businesses are hindered by lack of timely snow removal, our town will suffer as people will choose to go other places that do better.”

During the discussion that followed, Street Superintendent Ken Ripp said, “The guys coming in (to do snow removal) have other jobs; we’re lucky to get them in when we do.” Mayor Hammell addressed the petitioners’ concerns and said, “We understand the frustration … On the other side of things, these guys work their butts off and they have a system. They have that system because it works the best.”
A resident in attendance at the meeting noted further that “we live in the Midwest; it snows here.” In response to the petitioners’ request that snow removal on Main Street be considered a first priority, that same citizen said that side streets and Front Street need to be considered “first priorities,” too, because emergency vehicles have to be able to get to residents, if necessary. “Someone could be having a heart attack,” the resident said.

Allamakee County Zoning Administrator Stephanie Runkle addressed the council about her concern that Lansing residents have been contacting her with questions about local residential vs. commercial zoning issues. “I don’t know each city’s zones or codes,” she said. “It’s a liability for the City of Lansing to have them coming to me.”

Council member Snitker said, “We have very little in our Code that has anything to do with the commercial district. We probably should look at that. Lansing does not have a zoning ordinance; then we’d have to have a zoning commission.” Mayor Hammell said the City would have to make sure “the correct information is getting out to residents, and that people don’t get directed to your (Runkle’s) office.”

In other business, the council approved a liquor license renewal for D&J’s Expresso, Inc. The next regular meeting of the Lansing City Council is scheduled for  Monday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in Lansing City Hall.