The new year brought with it a new city council, as Clinton welcomed Mayor Mark Vulich, second ward councilwoman Julie Allesee and at-large councilman John Rowland to its leadership ranks Tuesday. The three elected officials, along with veteran fourth ward councilman Paul Gassman, re-elected after running unopposed in November, took the oath of office at the brief ceremony.
Judge David Sivright was on hand to preside over the proceedings, wherein each of the city leaders were finally allowed to remove the “elect” qualifier from the end of his or her title. Vulich, Allesee, Rowland and Gassman were each asked to “faithfully, and to the best of (their) ability, discharge all of the duties” of their respective offices.
For Vulich, who was until Tuesday an at-large councilman, those duties will change somewhat. As mayor, he will no longer be able to vote on city policy decisions, but will have the power of veto, as well as the ability to make mayoral appointments and develop committee structures.
At a goal setting meeting next Monday, Vulich said he plans to dive headfirst into city issues, while making sure that the rest of the council is well-informed and ready to participate. Teamwork and improved communication were two hallmarks of his election campaign, and he said now that he’s taken office, nothing’s changed.
“The biggest thing for me is to be make sure the council gets the same information that when I was in the council, I felt they were lacking,” Vulich said.
Gassman declared similar goals, adding that he believes the current group of council members are well-suited for working together. Allesee and Rowland have been very involved with city issues as civilians, and should be well-informed members of the council going forward, according to Gassman.
“We have a good group that can work on some of these projects together,” he said.
Among the most pressing projects are the roads, Gassman said. He said that a lot of work remains to be done on city streets, which have been a focus at city hall for several years. Allesee shared similar concerns, saying that while waging her successful campaign to unseat Kearney last fall, city infrastructure issues were frequently brought up by Clinton citizens.
“When I was campaigning it was very personal for (constituents) to have the streets and roads fixed,” said Allesee, who added that getting feedback from area residents will be valuable to her council tenure, as she faces a “learning curve.”
As a former council member, Rowland may be suited to easily navigate that learning curve. He joined the race last year, motivated in part by frustration over what he believes are secretive actions by the city surrounding the $4.5 million EMS settlement. He, along with former mayoral candidate Ed O’Neill, launched a campaign to get notes and records from a series of closed session council meetings regarding the settlement released. The campaign has been so far unsuccessful, but has been carried on by a new group, “Citizens for Open Government,” which is currently working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
Now back on the inside, Rowland said he plans to ensure responsible financial decision-making from this point forward. Spending measures will need to be carefully scrutinized as the city nears budget discussions.
“The biggest thing for the ... next four to six months, (would be) a moratorium on spending,” Rowland said, adding that the city needs to reevaluate it’s financial situation. “I think it’s critical, now that they’ve sold the municipal dock, to get a handle on the finances.”
The municipal dock was sold in December to longtime leaseholder ARTCO Fleeting for $6.3 million. What funds are left over after paying off money due to a few capital projects are expected to be used to bolster reserve funds. It is unknown how this will affect the city’s upcoming budget discussions, which will begin Jan. 23 and continue for several weeks.
The swearing in also marked the official departure of mayor Rodger Holm and second ward councilman Mike Kearney, both of whom were honored Dec. 29 for their years of service to the city. Kearney, who recently joined the editorial board of the Clinton Herald, plans to remain active in city matters, while Holm said he plans to “privatize” his life, but didn’t rule out a return to elected office in the future.