Ex-officio member bridges communication gap between students, City Council

Contact Matt England:

Matt EnglandEx-Officio Member of Ames City Council mengland@iastate.edu

Communication is key — that’s the message Matt England wants students to understand.

England, senior in aerospace engineering, acts as the student voice on City Council as an ex-offico councilman and liaison to the Government of the Student Body. He speaks for students on city issues ranging from housing codes to Campustown redevelopment.

“My main goal is to let the students know what the city is doing and how it affects them,” he said. “I work hard with city officials so if a student has an issue, they know they can come talk to me and I will point them in the right direction.”

England first learned about the position, which began in March 2003, through fraternity brother Craig Buske.

“Craig held the position when I joined ACACIA fraternity in 2007,” England said. “Throughout my recruitment process, he was an instrumental figure. I saw the impact a student could have by being on the [City] Council, and I knew it was something I wanted to look into doing when I was older.”

England applied for the position in spring 2010 and was appointed ex-officio member after approval from the GSB Senate and City Council alike.

GSB Vice President Nate Dobbels said there was no question England would be successful in the position.

“When determining who would be best to represent the students, but also making sure it was someone gathering information to give back to students, [England] was by far the easiest choice we had to make for the cabinet this year,” Dobbels said. “His past relationships that he had developed with students showed he was ready to take that to a whole new level with the city of Ames. It was pretty much a no-brainer from our decision to put him into his current position.”

A fraternity brother wasn’t the only ACACIA connection England had in the new position. He also had a friendly face on the City Council when he joined: Jeremy Davis, councilman and chapter adviser to ACACIA.

“I worked with him a lot over the past year on fraternity issues it was nice when I came on council that I had that friendly face,” England said. “It’s been nice to have someone established, where if I don’t know who I should talk to I can come to him and he could point me in the right direction.”

But Davis, representative of Ward 3 since January 2010, said that in being reasonably new to the operation himself, he was unable to be as much as a resource for England as other members of City Council.

“I’m still learning about certain city operations and different issues as they come up,” Davis said. “I know [England’s] reached out to other folks on City Council for more support to understand topics better and for more background.”

The consensus is unanimous from GSB executives and City Council alike: England is the right person for the position.

England is one of the most engaged and effective ISU students who has acted as the ex-officio member, said Jami Larson, city councilman and representative of Ward 2 since November 2006.

“I can’t think of a meeting he’s missed,” Larson said. “Whenever we have something where we want student’s input, he’ll either offer his opinion or will reach out to students to find out the opinion.”

Davis agrees.

“Throughout the course of the past eight or nine months, when there are certain topics that come up on the City Council agenda, [England] has been willing to speak his opinion,” he said. “Whether its in similarity to the [City Council] or in disagreement, he’s willing to speak his opinion based on the concerns he has for stuff that related to the ISU student population.”

Right now, England is focusing on getting feedback from students; including about Campustown redevelopment.

“Right now the biggest part of the project is getting the right information to the students and the Ames community,” England said. “By having discussion and open communications between the student and city will get things moving in the right direction. Whether they decide to go forward with the project depends a lot on the level of community involvement.”

Miscommunication is one of the biggest obstacles England faces.

“I think right now the biggest part of the project is getting the right information to the students and the Ames community,” England said. “[Monday] morning, I was sitting in class and a student on my left was talking about the [Campustown] project. He, not knowing my position, felt it was not a good decision to reconstruct Campustown and didn’t want the city to go forward with it. I asked why, and he said he didn’t want the bars to disappear.”

But England said destroying Ames nightlife is not in the plans at all.

“The plan is not to tear down the bars. At the moment, we need to get the right information to the right people,” England said. “By having discussion and open communications between the student and city will get things moving in the right direction. Whether how they decide to go forward with the project depends a lot on the level of community involvement.”

City Council members and GSB executives encourage students to utilize England as a resource for issues or questions on any matter, not just Campustown.

“Unless [students] choose to communicate, we cannot help them or we can’t understand what the problem or concern is. I think having [England] as a member of City Council and having him in that [student] peer age group really helps bridge the gap between the two parties.”

GSB President Luke Roling agrees England is an asset to the student body.

“Just talk with him,” Roling said. “[England] is very, very open to communication with any student … contact him and I’m sure he’d be more than willing to sit down and chat.”

England urges students to voice concerns. He wants students to know they will not go unheard.

“Student input matters,” England said. “If you do or you don’t want something, we’re looking for that communication. Why you do, why you don’t, it definitely will matter. The councilmen who are voting will only vote on whatever issue is front of them, based on their knowledge. If people don’t express how they feel, the council members won’t know that. People need to voice their opinions.”

By Torey Robinson, torey.robinson@iowastatedaily.com TownNews.com