Why did the Ankeny Chamber pull out of hosting a school board forum?

Ankeny Chamber of Commerce office/Google Earth screenshot Ankeny School Board candidate headshots via Ankeny School District

By Ty Rushing

October 24, 2023

The Ankeny Chamber of Commerce pulled out of co-hosting Tuesday’s Ankeny School Board candidate forum after it received unspecified “threats,” but the Ankeny Police Department says nothing has been reported.

KCCI reported on Oct. 18 that the chamber withdrew its support from a school board candidate forum that was slated to feature all 10 candidates. The chamber was one of three sponsors alongside the Ankeny Community Network (ACN) and A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy (AMOS), two nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations.

“While we will not be providing specific details about the nature of comments that led to our decision, we can share that we made the decision to discontinue our partnership for the safety and well-being of the Ankeny Chamber of Commerce staff,” the chamber told KCCI.

Starting Line sent a records request to the Ankeny Police Department to see if there were any incident reports about threats to the chamber of commerce, its staff, or any of the school board candidates.

“There was no incident report and nothing reported,” Ankeny Civilian Supervisor Keith Moeller told Starting Line via email.

A voicemail was left for Ankeny Chamber President/CEO Melisa Cox on Tuesday morning seeking comment.

Tuesday’s school board forum is still taking place in Ankeny without chamber support and without five conservative candidates—Nick Bourne, Stephanie Gott, Amy Guidry, Joshua Palik, and Ryan Weldon—who all withdrew for a variety of reasons after the chamber pulled out.

Left-leaning candidates Katie Claeys, Shelly Northway, Amber Romans, and Amy Tagliareni are all planning to attend the forum, which is now being hosted solely by ACN and AMOS. Both organizations also issued statements condemning the alleged threats made to the chamber.

It is unknown if Christian Holtz, another candidate who recently completed a three-year probation period for threatening to rape and murder students at Waukee High School, will attend.

While chamber officials blame threats they felt were serious enough to pull out of co-hosting an event, but apparently not serious enough to report to law enforcement, multiple Starting Line sources in Ankeny think the chamber’s withdrawal was due to political pressure.

“Historically, the Ankeny Chamber has always conducted a city/school candidate forum for every election,” said Lori Lovstad, a former Ankeny School Board member. “Everyone has always known—it’s been unwritten—the chamber in Ankeny is run by Republicans and has always been very favorable to candidates who align with that.”

Lovstad said candidates, no matter their political persuasion in city council and school board races, which are technically nonpartisan, played ball with the chamber because it gave the public a chance to hear from all candidates.

“It’s very unfortunate that the chamber felt the need to pull out, but they can do what is right for them,” Lovstad said. “And now, mysteriously, the five candidates who were slated and sponsored by the Republican Party of Ankeny are no longer going to be at the forum that the ACN and AMOS were co-hosting with the chamber.”

Another Ankeny parent, who requested anonymity due to business relationships, said she was disappointed that the conservative candidates weren’t going to be there because now the event will seem like an echo chamber.

“It’s not a forum—I’m sorry to say—but it’s not a forum when there’s one group represented best; that’s just a meet the candidates [event],” she said.

Erin Valerio-Garsow, another Ankeny parent and voter, said she was disappointed by the situation.

“The chamber has always done school board forums,” she said. “One time they get AMOS and ACN involved, which is great, that’s fantastic because then you are getting different voices represented—[but] who threatened the chamber? Who? I really would love to know who those people were. It’s got to be people who have their underwear in a wire because of the fact that you are trying to give voice to people who have been voiceless or at least tamped down as much as possible.”

The anonymous Ankeny parent said she thinks the threat is a “big lie.”

“If somebody was being threatened and their life was endangered and their family’s life was endangered and they sent a letter via email saying this is why they were stepping out, then the chamber should have been all over the place speaking out about how unhappy they were that their president was being threatened,” the parent told Starting Line.

“The reason I don’t buy that it is true in the least bit is because nobody has spoke up and said, ‘Don’t mess with our people.’”

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.



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