Lockbox Issue Releases Storm of Controversy; Vote Expanding Access to Private Property Puts Town on Map

Article excerpt


CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Cedar Falls is not known for controversy. The pleasant Midwestern town, mainly known as the location of the University of Northern Iowa, rarely makes news and violent crime beyond college mischief is rare.

But that changed last week after a city council vote ignited a firestorm. The upshot of it is the fire department in this Iowa town won't have to bust down apartment doors in an emergency any longer because it'll have the keys.

On June 13, the Cedar Falls City Council voted 6-1 to expand an ordinance requiring lockboxes at commercial and apartment buildings, and many people, locally and nationally, have responded furiously to what they see as an overextension of the government and a threat to privacy.

The council meeting attracted more than 50 citizens, a dozen of whom voiced their opposition, with only one coming out in favor of it. In the tense atmosphere, punctuated by applause, residents voiced an array of complaints, ranging from privacy issues to instances of purported lockbox abuse.

Judd Saul, a Cedar Falls resident and local tea party activist, says he has been in talks with a prominent large organization that he declines to name to sue the city on behalf of its citizens to get the ordinance overturned.

Every town in America needs to be aware of this, he says.

A narrower ordinance passed in 2004 without notable opposition, though last week's expansion has caused an uproar locally and on blogs and social-networking sites far from Iowa.

Whereas the earlier ordinance required lockboxes with keys to apartment buildings with six or more units and businesses with sprinkler systems or unsupervised alarms, the expansion requires apartments with three or more units - meaning essentially every residential building except single-family homes and duplexes - to have lockboxes that the city can access. …