Rename the Archie Brooks Community Center

Former Des Moines City Council member Archie Brooks was sentenced to one year plus one day in prison, plus a $400,000 fine and two years of probation, for his role in misusing about $2 million funds at the Central Iowa Employment Training Consortium (CIETC). Brooks was the board chairman of CIETC at the time.

Depending on how you look at it, Brooks’ sentence seems long or short. It’s long when you consider that billions of taxpayer dollars spent in Iraq can’t be accounted for, yet there is not even a serious investigation (let alone prosecution) of those who may be responsible.

On the other hand, Brooks is getting off lightly compared to Ramona Cunningham, who did not cooperate with prosecutors and got 7 years in prison for her role in the CIETC crimes. Also, the former CIETC treasurer was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of house arrest.

Marc Hansen’s latest Des Moines Register column notes that Des Moines City Council member Brian Meyer wants the council to discuss renaming the Archie Brooks Community Center. The south-side facility used to be called the Pioneer-Columbus Community Center.

Meyer says he’s getting a lot of feedback from south-siders, most of whom want to change the name. I agree that an elected official who abused his power to enrich a few people should not have a neighborhood landmark named after him.

Hansen nosed around the community center and found that most of the people agreed with changing the name, but the most interesting quotes in his column are from the minority who want to leave the name alone.

If you want to understand why patronage works and why political machines have been so powerful in so many cities, read this:

“I’m not going against Archie Brooks,” she said. “I like Archie. I don’t like what he did. I think he should be punished, but I don’t think he should go to prison.”

The body of his good deeds, in other words, outweighs the CIETC bad. Pazzi recalled the floods of 1993 and how the city removed water pumps from some south-side basements and sent them – where else? – west.

Somebody told Brooks, who made a few phone calls and had the pumps back where they belonged, proving that not every call he made during the flood was a bad one.

“You know what?” Pazzi said. “The south side must have wanted him back. He knocked the fireman out of the City Council.”

The fireman is Gene Phillips, who defeated Brooks in 1995. Phillips left the City Council and won a seat on the county Board of Supervisors, setting up Brooks’ return to the council.[…]

Larry Marlin […] said Brooks kept his VFW post from closing.

“If it wasn’t for his connections to the City Council,” Marlin said, “the post wouldn’t be there. He knew we were eligible for a $10,000 grant. There were a lot of times he’d tell me where to go and it was never go to hell. Sure, he made some mistakes, but he trusted the wrong people. I definitely don’t think he should get jail time.”

That’s an old-school political boss. Good for Brooks for getting those pumps back to the flooded south-side basements and keeping the VFW post open.

But we don’t need a building named after a convicted criminal.

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