Though the candidates for city council and mayor were the guests of honor at Thursday’s Camanche city election candidate forum, the Washington Boulevard restoration project made several surprise appearances. As candidates were given one final opportunity to state their case for elected office before the Nov. 8 election, the long-gestating, occasionally divisive road project was a major factor of discussion.
Candidates were asked to give opening statements, then were each asked the same three questions. Following the forum, they were given an opportunity to make closing remarks, and rebut any statements from the opposition. The forum was moderated by Deb Feaster and the candidate’s responses were timed by councilwoman Linda Kramer.
“This is an important event for the city of Camanche,” Feaster said in her opening remarks. “Each of the candidates are not only willing to help, but they want to be effective leaders.”
Of the 10 candidates for city office, seven were present. Mayoral candidate Gary Tucker and council candidate Amber Metzger were absent due to a family emergency, and council candidate Bryant Gilbert had a scheduling conflict.
MAYORAL CANDIDATE KEN FAHLBECK
Fahlbeck has been serving on the city council for six years. He said that his time spent on the council, and if elected, as mayor, will be used to benefit the community.
“(I want to) serve the community,” Fahlbeck said. “Each and every one of you.”
Fahlbeck’s priorities are to keep taxes low and plan for future projects. He said that he is cognizant of the economic troubles across America, and will do his best to ease the citizens’ financial burden.
“We’re (the current city council) notorious for not cutting budgets,” he said. “I will cut budgets, a little bit at a time, I promise you that.”
He said the city’s strengths were in its strong schools. Fahlbeck had high praise for Camanche School District superintendent Tom Parker.
Fahlbeck also praised the fire and ambulance departments, but said cuts may need to be made in the police and fire departments.
The city needs to do a better job of addressing the needs of senior citizens, according to Fahlbeck. He said that many of them are on fixed incomes, and may have difficulty affording additional tax increases.
As for Washington Boulevard, Fahlbeck said that the road was not in good shape, but alternate funding sources should be explored. He said he had a plan he would implement if elected that would help solidify the city’s fiscal standing.
MAYORAL CANDIDATE CHARLIE BLOUNT
Blount, a retired railroad worker and landscaper, decided to run out of concerns for raising taxes. Blount said that his priorities were simple, and would ease the strain on Camanche taxpayers that are “stretched like a rubber band.”
Blount said he would cut spending, lower taxes and work on a balanced budget. If jobs are the No. 1 priority, Blount said the city’s tactics have been counterproductive.
“This is an example of big government locally,” Blount said. “We are stretched to the limit.”
The strengths of the community are the people, and Blount believes they aren’t getting proper representation from their government.
“(The council) operates with their own agenda,” he said. “They’re a self-interest group and ...need more diversity.”
He said that the fire department and police department were good hard assets, but said that they may be overstaffed. A town the size of Camanche could still function safely with a reduction in emergency personnel, according to Blount, and it would save taxpayer dollars.
With a return to logic and reason when it comes to decision making, Blount said he believes that Camanche will be able to ride out the rough economy.
MAYORAL CANDIDATE JIM ROBERTSON (INCUMBENT)
Robertson has served the city of Camanche for over four decades as a police officer, city council member and currently, mayor. He said since assuming public office, he’s been very receptive to the people of Camanche, and is willing to listen to outside ideas or suggestions.
The main priority for Robertson, is the completion of the Washington Boulevard project. He said the project has gone on too long, and needs to be completed.
“We’ve been kicking the can down the road for five years,” he said.
The interest rates right now make it the best time to advance the project, he said, and rate increases could substantially increase the cost of the project. The road is not just a priority now, but is a good tool for the future, according to Robertson.
The schools and the citizens of Camanche are the city’s strengths, Robertson said. He believes the town could improve its communication with citizens, and called on local newspapers to report on developments in the town.
Robertson closed by listing what he feels are the positive accomplishments of his tenure as mayor. The general fund as increased by almost $200,000 in the past few years, emergency equipment has been added and the EMT service became a paramedic service.
“We’ve done a lot of good for this community,” Robertson said.
CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE ERIC HOSETTE
Work as a firefighter has inspired Hosette to seek public office. He said that he has spent over 10 years in the realm of community service, and hopes to expand that resume with a seat on the council.
“I want to make sure that people have a safe and comfortable place to call their home,” Hosette said.
Public safety would be priority for Hosette, as would forwarding progress on city projects. He believes the Washington Boulevard project should be completed because it provides both a safer road, and a face-lift for the city.
“It makes something else to be proud of in our city,” he said.
He would like to encourage Camanche’s sense of community spirit, and try to stop the spread of misinformation. Calling unconfirmed gossip “irresponsible,” Hosette said he would try to keep citizens informed of what actually happens in city government. He believes that many people do not understand the daily “ins and outs” of city departments, and would encourage education and understanding.
Hosette commended the fire department, saying it is one of the best-trained departments in the state. He praised the council members before him, and said that he believes the city is very solvent.
CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE BILL SIMPSON
Simpson, who works as a carrier for the Clinton Herald, has been serving Camanche for nine years, previously serving on the city council and as chairman of the board of adjustment.
He believes that Camanche has plenty of valuable, underutilized real estate, and would like to see industry come to the area. Simpson believes the town will continue to grow, and hopes that businesses and city infrastructure grow accordingly.
Like other candidates, he praised the school district, calling it the “finest in the state of Iowa.” He said that he hopes to communicate with all of his colleagues on the council before making decisions.
The Washington Boulevard project should be a priority, Simpson said, though he isn’t sure if the current price is the best available. Regardless, he believes the road needs to be repaired, and would consider all options if elected. Whatever path the city takes, he believes the road should be built for the long haul.
“If we’re going to do it, we should do it right the first time,” Simpson said. “Not just a quick fix for today.”
CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE MATT BLOUNT
Blount had harsh words for the sitting council, and hopes that his appointment will provide a more fair representation of city sentiment. The railroad engineer said his first priority would be addressing taxes and what he thinks is unnecessary spending.
“My concern is spending,” he said. “I don’t think this city has an income problem, as far as tax revenue. I believe it has a spending problem.”
Other priorities would include examining the wages of city employess and sizes of each department. Blount said the council is biased, and would benefit from a fresh voice.
The people of Camanche are its strength, Blount said, but are being underutilized by the city council. He said the council doesn’t seek input from citizens when it comes to taxing issues, and is too heavy with police and fire department representation. The council itself, Blount said, is the city’s biggest challenge. He added that someone without a fire or police background would be helpful during collective bargaining situations.
Blount said that he, like his fellow candidates would try to encourage youth to stay in the community. However, he said that taxes make it prohibitive for Camanche’s young people to stick around.
“I would like them to be able to afford to stay in the community,” Blount said.
CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE PAUL VARNER (INCUMBENT)
Varner is not a Camanche native, but said he is proud of his adopted community. The former military police officer came to Camanche in the 1980s as a police officer, and never left. He said he was a pioneer in the police union, and is the first state-certified fire and arson investigator in the area.
“I’m proud to say I’m from Camanche, even though I wasn’t born here,” he said.
Varner said that the Washington Boulevard project should be a priority as a matter of civic pride. Visitors to the community are subjected to a bumpy road in disrepair, something Varner said is detrimental to the city’s image.
“We need a decent front door,” he said. “We ain’t got that right now.”
However, Varner stressed the funding for the project needs to be examined.
He praised the efforts of the current city council, on which he sits, saying that outside of the Washington Boulevard project, the council works well together. He said there has been very little dissention and that meetings have been productive.
Varner said the city has accomplished great things since he has been on the council. Chief among them is the $5.5 million water improvement project, which was funded entirely through alternative revenue streams.
“That cost the taxpayers nothing,” he said. “$5.5 million free.”