The Ottumwa Courier

August 30, 2013

A chance to be heard

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — There are no wild brawls expected at the scheduled meeting of six school board candidates next week.

"This is a forum, not a debate," said Jean Dell, secretary of the League of Women Voters of Ottumwa.

The League of Women Voters will host a candidate forum at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Council Chambers of Ottumwa City Hall.

She considers the "large number of candidates" to be a good sign.

"I've seen campaign literature [and material] out in the community," Dell said. "I've been pleased to see that they're actively campaigning. We know it takes time and energy to run, but that may be reflective of the fact it takes time and energy to serve."

That level of activity, Dell hopes, could motivate voters.

The Wapello County auditor, as well as some county supervisors, have publicly stated that school board elections tend to have very low voter turnout. Yet, Dell said, because of the small number of school board members compared, say, to lawmakers in Des Moines, voters are choosing someone who will make quite a direct impact on district choices.

"Those decisions affect their children, their grandchildren," Dell said, adding that it also affects taxpayers without kids.

Besides the important decisions impacting kids, she said, there's a lot of taxpayer dollars at stake. The most recent budget for Ottumwa's schools is around $60 million. To compare, the entire city of Ottumwa budget is about $80 million.

"Each person in the audience will be given paper and a pencil to write down their questions when entering the Council Chambers," Dell said.

The League will then ask the question and give the name of the person who asked the question. All six candidates will be seated together in alphabetical order.

Dell says the League sent an email to each candidate which states, "we do not allow debates between candidates ... each candidate having a one-minute response time. All candidates will have the opportunity to respond to all questions even if the question is directed to a specific candidate ..."

Candidates also get an opening and closing statement.

KBIZ Radio and GOTV will broadcast the forum in its entirety. GOTV will also have rebroadcasts of the event.

"Parents say it's really convenient for them to be able to watch it on GOTV so they don't have to bundle the kids into [the car] or get a sitter. I used to wonder if the forum was worth it due to [a fairly low] turnout. But several people have said, 'I wouldn't know who to vote for if I didn't watch the forum on TV,'" Dell said.

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

Election information The school board election will be Sept. 10. Questions about voting can be directed to the Wapello County Auditor's office. Candidates for Ottumwa school board are Michael Burton, Dr. Charles Coram, David Howard, Carol Mitchell, David Weilbrenner and Torey Young. There are three seats available.