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Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie in 2019. Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Activists are calling out Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie for suggesting more security at city hall.

Why it matters: Local groups say his proposal casts a damaging image on activists who speak out — sometimes very bluntly — about decisions made by city leaders they feel are oppressive.

The backdrop: Cownie said he's considering banning weapons and installing metal detectors when in-person meetings return, as Axios reported yesterday.

  • He also suggested banning "egregious" rule-breakers from meetings.

What they're saying: The proposal is an overreaction to local residents — many of whom are Black Lives Matter activists — who have felt "underheard" this last year, said Sharon Zanders-Ackiss of Iowa CCI.

  • "It's quicker to demonize people that are passionate about issues and getting something done than it is to just work with them," she added.

Worth noting: Blocking future participation at public meetings is also almost always unconstitutional, according to ACLU of Iowa.

  • The group successfully blocked a ban on some BLM protesters at the Iowa Capitol over the summer.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Des Moines Mayor Cownie pursuing gun ban for City Hall

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Mayor Frank Cownie is pursuing new rules for City Hall as DSM transitions back to in-person meetings, including a weapons ban and installing metal detectors.

  • The effort is partly in response to escalating tensions between the public and city officials, he told Axios.
  • Cownie may also ask the council to consider suspending or banning the most egregious decorum rule breakers from future meetings.

Why it matters: The city wants to improve security and public dialogue without violating constitutional protections to free speech and gun rights. Go deeper (1 min. read)

  • Between the lines: Guns must be allowed in city buildings unless armed security guards are present (they currently aren't) under an Iowa law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds last year.

Flashback: DSM council meetings became noticeably more contentious following the death of George Floyd last year in Minneapolis and calls for police reform reached our city.

  • One council meeting lasted 14 hours because dozens of speakers used 30-minute periods for public discussion on dozens of agenda items.
  • "Troll control" rules were adopted in August, limiting public speakers to 85 seconds on most agenda items, which was partly in response to people who hacked into Zoom meetings and made racist remarks.
  • An open public comment section of the meetings was limited to 30 minutes, sometimes leaving less than 60 seconds per speaker.

Speakers who reach time limits are cut off mid-sentence, driving frustration among some who believe the rules are unfair and intended to silence those who wish to express differing views.

  • A sign of contention: DSM resident Leah Plath began her comments at a public meeting two weeks ago with, "F*** you, Frank" after the mayor cut off earlier speakers for not being germane. (It’s at the 1:32:20 mark of this video).

Of note: Plath didn’t return Jason’s calls but is signed up to speak again at tonight’s council meeting, which is expected to be particularly divisive.

  • At least 45 people have requested to speak.
  • Some will question why a Des Moines police sergeant with a history of excessive force is helping to lead the department's de-escalation training.

What's next: Cownie is consulting with the city's legal team on the possible security measures, which ultimately need council approval. The council will discuss them in coming weeks.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

America's pandemic coin crunch returns

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An early pandemic problem that plagued businesses is back: not enough change to go around.

Why it matters: The pandemic broke America's coin flow. It has repercussions for millions that rely on it for daily transactions.