By CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — The upcoming city election is heating up with nomination papers already pouring into City Hall and several more still floating around the community.
Twelve have already taken out papers to run for the three City Council seats and mayoral seat this fall, though only four have filed so far.
Dave Gordy, Bob Meyers, Robert LaPoint, Gordon Riley, Belinda Smith-Cicarella, Shannon Addison, Skip Stevens and Matt Dalbey have all taken out nomination papers to run for the three council seats on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Tom Lazio, Brian Morgan, Mitch Niner and Frank Flanders have taken out papers to run for mayor.
Monday marked the first day candidates could file nomination papers for the upcoming election, with two weeks remaining until the filing deadline. As of Wednesday, four had filed: Meyers, Stevens and LaPoint for council and Lazio for mayor.
While Flanders, Ottumwa's current mayor, hasn't filed yet, on Tuesday he officially announced that he would seek re-election.
"Throughout the time I've been mayor, I've been the people's go-to mayor," he said. "They know that if they have a grievance, they can come to me with that grievance. If I find that they're not being treated fairly ... I'll go to bat with them, whether it's with staff or council. If I find their cause to be just, I'll stick up for them. It's something I'm very proud of, that I can be the people's go-to mayor in a time when they need someone to stand with them."
He said this was evidenced by his work with Chester Avenue residents angered by the city cutting down their trees last summer and with North Court Street residents protesting the rezoning of the Ottumwa Veterinary Clinic in June.
He named several other achievements during his first term in the mayor's seat, including more than $9 million in street repairs and construction this fiscal year (more than $6 million of which is coming from state and federal grants). He also said changes to the Ottumwa Water Works and Hydro board of trustees had a positive effect on the completion of Kohl's and John Deere Ottumwa Works' sewer separation project.
"I'm proud of the harmonious relationship forged between business, labor and economic development corporations and the city, evidenced by all participating in the Labor Day festival last year," he said.
Lazio could not be reached as of press time.
Meyers is the only one of the three councilmen up for re-election who's planning to run again.
"I've had a lot of citizens ask me to consider running again, so with that kind of support I thought, yeah, I would do it," Meyers said.
He wants to see the next council work hard to function as a team and work with city staff and other community organizations.
"I think overall the effort was pretty good to work as a team, but I don't want to get into the leadership aspect of things," he said.
One criticism surrounding city government is that more of the town's younger population needs to run for elected office.
"Certainly I feel like being retired that I have a bit of an advantage in that I can afford more time than perhaps some of the younger people," he said.
LaPoint said he's been involved with city government for years, including his current service on the Parks advisory board and as chair for the Ottumwa Transit advisory board.
"I just have a desire to get in there and try to better this community," he said. "I think government needs to be more responsive to the citizens."
He referred to the council's recent decision not to extend the amount of time a citizen can speak at a meeting to five minutes.
He also wants to make sure the city stays on course with its sewer separation project and street repair program, devoting the majority of the Local Option Sales Tax revenues to both.
"One of my other goals for council is to maintain the level of services citizens are getting from the city and look for ways to expand those services ... public safety, police and fire, the protections the city right now enjoys," he said.
But more needs to be done in terms of economic development, he said.
"When I was a trucker, when I see these bypasses come in, it seems like automatically what follows is growth along the bypass, and I'm not seeing that here and I don't understand why," he said. "Maybe we need to look at whether we're receptive enough for new business. I thought by now we would see some sort of development out there."
Stevens knows the ins and outs of the city with 45 years of experience in water pollution control, public works and engineering. He retired in 2006 but said a lot of people have come up to him and asked him to run for council due to his knowledge and experience.
As the former superintendent of public works for 11 years, Stevens oversaw the traffic, electrical, sewer, streets and mechanics departments.
"I think Ottumwa needs a long-range vision," he said. "They've had comprehensive plan meetings in the past, but it just seems like they're not followed."
The city needs to broaden its tax base, he said, and more affordable housing would help.
"It's been talked about for years but it doesn't seem to go anywhere," he said. "So many times I've seen developers come to City Hall and say they want to build 20, 40 houses. The city says they have to put their own sewer, streets and utilities in. That's a deterrent to developers because it drives the cost up. If the city would participate and install some of the infrastructure, the developers would build homes and the taxes from those homes would way more than pay for the investment."
The appearance of the city also needs to improve, he said, though he's happy to see the changes happening downtown with Market on Main and grants to improve the buildings' facades.
"I've talked to people and families who have moved to Oskaloosa or Pella because they didn't want to live here because of the appearance," he said. "I think the appearance of the community can enhance economic development."
Citizens can still take out papers to run for office, but all must be filed by 5 p.m. Aug. 29.