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Two Cedar Falls council candidates talk public safety, city spending

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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) -- On July 7th, voters is Cedar Falls will decide who will take the seat left vacant by Mayor Rob Green after he won his seat last year.

The special election was forced by citizens in Cedar Falls through a petition. City council had previously filled the seat by appointment.

Due to the pandemic, the election was rescheduled twice from its original date of March 24.

Penny Popp, a regular at city meeting's, says her knowledge of civics makes her a viable candidate for the council member at-large seat.

"I knew there was going to be a vacancy," Popp said. "I thought, this is where I could pop in, fill a chair, and have some experience behind the words."

Also on the ballot is TJ Frein, a 32 year-old police officer in Waterloo who resides in Cedar Falls.

"“I think the biggest issue that no one really talks about is the waster water treatment plant that Cedar Falls is in desperate need of making a decision on. Either we regionalize it, and hookup with Waterloo, or we build our own. There are pros and cons to each.” Frein said when asked about the issues.

Both Frein and Popp feel the city needs to prioritize its spending.

"There's a disproportionate amount of money being spent in downtown compared to other neighborhoods," Popp said, adding that city should decide what projects are necessary right now as the country works to stabilize its economy amid the pandemic.

Then, of course, there is what is possibly the most divisive issue in Cedar Falls, public safety and the decision to replace most full time firefighters with officers also trained in policing. They're commonly referred to as Public Safety Officers.

Earlier this year, the city council voted to "fully implement" the Public Safety Model, leaving only a handful of supervisors as the city's only career firefighters. The city has been adamant that more personnel are responding to fire calls and that PSOs meet the city's need for firefighters.

Frein calls the program "unsustainable."

"Not only do we have to with younger hires, new hires, train them how to be a good police officers but at the same time we're going to compound that and say 'you have to do this. You also have to be a firefighter.'" Frein said.

Popp also feels that the program isn't right for Cedar Falls.

"The way I was described the PSO program, it was a taool or a supplement for traditional police and fire. Somewhere, behind the scenes, this all changed," Popp said.

They agree that they would want to reexamine the program and support the idea of a strategic plan, which Mayor Green had pushed during his time on council. Such a plan could detail what the city's public safety department would look like in the years to come.

Throughout the interview process, our reporter was told by all but one of the candidates that citizens don't feel heard.

We'll have a report on the other 3 candidates in the race on Saturday's KWWL News at 10.

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Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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