OTTUMWA — Five candidates gathered Thursday evening to make their case to Ottumwa voters. Four will make the general election after next month’s primary.
Three of the five were familiar faces to Ottumwa. John “JR” Richards, Marc Roe and Bob Meyers have each served on the council, though only Roe currently holds a seat. Wesley Crowder and Mark Peters are newcomers.
That split in experience showed up quickly in the candidates’ opening statements. Meyers, Roe and Richards each spoke about their experiences as councilmen. Meyers reminded voters he served on the council as the sewer separation project began, work that has resulted in fewer flooding incidents on Ottumwa’s south side.
Richards said the openings for the city administrator and finance director positions mean this is not necessarily the time to seek new faces for council roles. He said he learned a great deal from those offices when he began, and learning the ropes without those jobs filled would be difficult.
Roe said the city has made progress over the past several years, and can continue to do so. Partnerships between the city and economic development organizations are paying off, he said, as are efforts to attract new housing initiatives and broaden the city’s tax base.
The positive views of the city’s standing conflicted with how Peters and Crowder presented things. Both said the council needs new membership. Crowder accused the city of “trying to be something we’re not.”
“We should be proud of this small American community. And I think that this administration and the current council members have lost sight of that,” he said.
Peters contrasted the interest in this year’s city council election and the slate of school board candidates.
“The school board has 15 people running. We have five. Three of these gentlemen have served before,” he said. “I think it’s time we have new faces.”
The theme of change emerged again after an audience question, responses spilled over into economics. Crowder questioned whether the city is spending money properly, with rising tax rates and declines in the general fund. Roe said that failed to tell the whole story, noting the city’s high bond rating.
The candidates were united when another question raised Alliant Energy’s proposed rate increases, supporting the city’s effort to fight the increase and calling on the community to contact the Iowa Utilities Board in opposition to the request.
Economic concerns also tinged discussion of the downtown streetscape project. Meyers said the city needs to support businesses. Richards largely agreed, but cautioned the city needs to make careful decisions about priorities. Peters faulted the council’s communications about the financing of the project.
The full forum is available via the city’s YouTube channel and with this story on the Courier’s website.
Ottumwa’s primary takes place October 8. Four candidates will move on to the general election, which will select two council members for four-year terms.