The Ottumwa Courier

October 25, 2013

Mayoral candidates discuss visions for the future

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — As the mayoral election approaches, the two candidates discussed their different opinions of how to improve Ottumwa's future. Tom Lazio is challenging Mayor Frank Flanders.

Flanders said he's shown residents for the past two years how he'll lead, and what his ethics are.

"I want to be the mayor of a community where we care about each other, where we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers," he said.

He's also demonstrated where his priorities are.

"Staying on top of the streets, pursuing grants and [bringing] good-paying jobs," Flanders listed.

In a way, one example demonstrated all of those things: Helping get John Deere to contribute financially to an infrastructure project that includes streets and sewers increases the odds that they'll stay in Ottumwa, or even expand.

But he does more than that: When the opportunity arises, he said, he'll say to business representatives, "Please keep Ottumwa in mind."

Yes, he said, it may be a long shot, but you do it enough times, there's no telling when a company might remember Ottumwa.

"I'm always looking to sell Ottumwa ... when I meet with a good, ethical employer," Flanders said.

As mayor, most of his interaction with outside business interests has been in writing a letter at the request of economic development officials.

"I ask, 'What can I do as mayor to make Ottumwa work for you?'" he said.

He said he has a good working relationship with the city administrator. But has he noticed City Council members going around that manager to investigate city matters directly with municipal employees?

"The way it should work is the mayor and the City Council go through the city administrator," Flanders said. "I can't force the council members to do that, but I think that has gotten better. I have discouraged that kind of thing."

When it comes to availability, Flanders said, people of working age should be able to remain employed in a system with a part-time mayor.

"If there's a very important function, I specifically take time off from work," he said. "I'm willing to be flexible."

His work day starts early and ends early, so communicating with him is the best way to arrange an appearance by the mayor at an event.

His opponent, Tom Lazio said now that he's retired, he'll be able to attend many functions, as well as maintaining regularly scheduled office hours when citizens can speak to him.

In fact, he said, he believes the mayor's office and the city as a whole need to do a better job staying in touch with the public. For one thing, he said, that keeps residents from finding out the hard way that their street is closed, for example.

Not everyone will be happy their street is closed, of course, but at least they will be able to work out an alternate way into their parking lot. The city is then providing accurate, timely information.

"You can't make a good decision without good information," Lazio said.

That goes for elected officials, too. Lazio wants to have more city meetings where there is not any voting. The idea of these work sessions would be to discuss ideas, research and opinions on what might make the community better for its visitors and residents. Lazio also wants to have some procedures worked out ahead of time so that council members aren't wasting time with pointless bickering during council meetings.

In fact, arguing or throwing power around isn't the best way to get things done, said Lazio. In his 45 years in business, both as a social worker and a manager, he found that being cooperative with a party, and them being cooperative as well, requires less energy than constant battle.

"Then we're working with you," Lazio said, "rather than surprising you, or trying to [punish] our citizens. That feels as though the city is against you."

That is, if there is an ordinance residents have a problem with, why not help them find a solution rather than just issuing citations to punish people? While he acknowledges jobs and infrastructure support as priorities, the most important function of the mayor is not something that can be demonstrated on paper.

"I want to see us reestablish pride in our community," Lazio said.

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark