The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Local News

October 30, 2013

Clinton Council Candidate profiles — At-large candidates

Five candidates are running for two at-large seats for the upcoming Clinton City Council Election on Nov. 5: Grant Wilke, Andy Sokolovich, Andrew Leutt, Tom Determann and Jennifer Graf.

Grant Wilke — At-large

List your education, experience and background:

My wife Janice and I have five children and 11 grandchildren. I am a life-long resident of Clinton with AA/AS degrees from Clinton Community College. I am a retired Marine Corps. Sgt. Major (1962-2000). I am a retired fire marshal from the Clinton Fire Department, with 31 years of experience and knowledge. I am a member of several organizations and fraternal club. I was also a branch manager at American Finance Corporation before entering the fire service. I served on the Board of Supervisors for two terms.

1. What has been your experience working with others to grow an institution, business or group?

Clinton County Board of Supervisors and sixteen other Boards or Commissons while on the Board of Supervisors. Careers – with the Marine Corps, retiring as Sergeant Major and Fire Department, retiring as the Fire Marshal. Developing leadership and managerial skills. State of Iowa Homeland Security Advisory Committee. Owner/operator of my own business.

2. Discuss how your experience has helped shape your communication abilities.

Serving on the Clinton County Board of Supervisors, Marine Corps career, Fire Service career, Clinton Community College, Branch manager with American Finance Corporation, Emergency Management Agency, Martial Arts, etc. have all given me the opportunity to increase my knowledge and skills to work with others to accomplish the goals of the City with common sense decisions.

3. What challenges do you anticipate you will face as a Clinton City Council member?

How do we increase our tax base without increasing all the other means of getting increased revenue needed to function as a City. Proper investment and employment. Both necessary and economic development can do both. Proper leadership, working together, and common sense solutions to decisions while focusing on needs like infrastructure meaning streets, the life line of any community, can accomplish this. It will take the Community. Appearance and first impressions, you do not get a second chance to make that first impression.

4. What solutions do you see for those challenges?

Stated above. I would like to add, Union based jobs give us quality work and Living wages. This will give the people who live here a little money left over to help our businesses grow and stay here. Work with businesses to help them thrive and not hinder or punish them for apparent oversite, IE. the new dealership with the trees. Move on.

5. How do you combat rising rates while also completing infrastructure projects in the city of Clinton?

Prioritize the real needs and a cost benefit analysis to obtain the most benefit for the measured success on the money spent. Develop flexible incentive guidelines without "giving away the farm". Be smart - matching incentives with potential benefits.

6. How would you proceed in making Clinton more attractive to new residents and businesses while maintaining services?

Our role is to create the environment that would attract the businesses we want to have here in the future. We must be a best place to do business. We must do economic development better and smarter than other cities and regions. I look to see more service related businesses downtown in the future.

Andy Sokolovich — At-large

List your education, background and experience:

I graduated from Schuylkill Valley High School in Reading, Pa. I served in the U.S. Air Force from Nov. 21, 2000 to Nov. 21, 2011. I served as an air traffic controller craftsman, as an air traffic control crew supervisor 2005 to 2011, an air traffic control assistant facility manager 2009 to 2011 and as an air traffic control Federal Aviation certifying official 2010 to 2011.

I was honorably discharged from active duty military in November of 2011. My family and I relocated from Dover, Del., to Morrison, Ill. My first experience in Clinton was accepting a job as a group fitness instructor at the YWCA. I taught boot camp at 5 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I launched Bent Business Marketing in September of 2012. I became involved in the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce, Clinton Kiwanis, YWCA and serve on several event committees throughout the community.

1. What has been your experience working with others to grow an institution, business or group?

As a member of the United States military, I learned quickly (it’s amazing how fast you learn when you’re being shot at) that it is of the utmost importance to act as a single entity working on a common goal. Building and maintaining a business is very similar to growing a city or community, you have to understand that growth will not be instant, and that a lot of hard work and focus will yield amazing results. If our goal is growing our tax base generated through creating new businesses, jobs and supporting those businesses that already exist, then we all need to be taking action to ensure our city is marketed in a way that provides those interested in expanding or relocating with a list of benefits and features that present Clinton as a great place to work, play, live and thrive.

2. Discuss how your experience has helped shape your communication abilities.

For over a decade I was in a career field that required a massive amount of communication, clarity and transparency. If my communication ability was sub-par, lives may have been lost, and I could have spent time in a jail cell. Both the Air Force and Air Traffic Control taught me how to communicate my ideas, goals and directions in a manner that is easily understood by everyone involved in the decision process. It’s really hard for the citizens of this city to provide their elected officers with feedback if they have no idea what’s being communicated at council meetings. You always have to be aware that not everyone taking part in the discussion is an expert within that industry or field of study. There has been many times where I’ve left the council chambers scratching my head, and left “Googling” acronyms on the internet. 

3. What challenges do you anticipate you will face as a Clinton City Council member?

I want to do what is best for this city, and as long as the other members of our council share that same desire, we should be able to make decisions that will result in action taken to enhance our quality of life.

4. What solutions do you see for those challenges?

That’s an easy one! I’ll be sure to utilize the greatest resource I have as an elected official. I will reach out to our citizens, and ask for their input, ideas and fix actions. With their guidance, I know that we’ll be able to quickly handle any challenge that may present itself.

5. How do you combat rising rates while also completing infrastructure projects in the City of Clinton?

We start by trimming some of our unnecessary expenses. Just like anyone who owns a checkbook or manages a budget, we begin by cutting out the expenses that we don’t need or that don’t offer the taxpayers a substantial return on their investment. We also have some awesome assets in the form of city employees who understand what actions need to be taken to find funding from outside sources, create long-term action plans to replace our failing infrastructure and who work with the county to ensure that this city is not stuck paying more than its fair share in trash disposal fees at the dump. If we allow them to do their job, we’ll see that they have some amazing ideas, and a plan to ensure that we are issued relief on our increasing tax burdens.

6. How would you proceed in making Clinton more attractive to new residents and businesses while maintaining services?

First, I would challenge each person to respond to every negative comment made about this city with a positive one. Why would a business choose to open their doors to Clinton when the only feedback they receive about this community is negative? When I started Bent Business Marketing, the most popular statement made was “Why in the world would you do business in Clinton?” Eliminating that type of negativity would make a huge difference in new business growth and resident retention. Changing the way in which you speak of and represent this town costs you nothing. It’s a free and simple change that has been identified as the catalyst to the revitalization of many struggling towns nationwide.

Andrew Luett — At-large

List your education, experience and background:

I earned a B.A. from Mount St. Clare College in 2003 and an M.B.A. from St. Ambrose University in 2005. I have worked several years in the Finance field ranging from auto finance with McEleney, to financial analysis with Exelon (emphasis on budget planning and implementation of a $120 million dollar annual budget), and finally to accepting a position in Lending with a local financial institution, Sterling Federal Bank. My entire family (immediate and extended) and I have been a long time residents of Clinton. I am married to a local small business owner.

1. What has been your experience working with others to grow an institution, business or group?

For the last two years I have been assisting my wife and business partner with the day to day operations of owning and operating a small business. Together we have created a business plan, secured funding, purchased equipment, supervised and assisted with construction of the interior space, and staffed the business through recruiting and interviewing. We started off with a success and have been continuing to provide outstanding customer service and first class service to the community. Every staff member has assisted in growing the business because we all have an understanding of what each brings to the business and all value teamwork. 

2. Discuss how your experience has helped shape your communication abilities.

In college and in the earlier part of my career, I always felt very shy and unable to pull together the proper things to say due to intimidation or other outside factors. While growing into myself and progressing through my career I have had the privilege of speaking with a diverse group of individuals that all have different personalities and have taken different paths through life. The biggest thing I have learned and am proud to share is that deep down everyone is just a person wanting to be heard and understood. The more time to take to understand what the person is trying to say, the easier it becomes to speak back to them and have a pleasant conversation.  

3. What challenges do you anticipate you will face as a Clinton City Council member?  

I feel to be truly successful in this role, you must have a very open mind to be the voice of the citizens of Clinton. As a council member, I would have to remember my responsibilities first over my own thoughts and opinions about matters within the community. I feel that it is human nature to put your opinions before others, and that is why I feel to be in this role of council member, you must have an open mind in every situation. Never form a hard opinion until you have heard all the arguments, but also a successful council member will always have an open ear to listen to the citizens of Clinton and have a diplomatic point of view.

4. What solutions do you see for those challenges?

I have seen such growth in myself in the last month of speaking with community members and seeing both sides to every situation. It has taught me that if I was elected as a city of Clinton council member, I would consistently be out speaking to the community and taking polls for upcoming issues in council meetings. I would truly follow my interpretation of politics, in which I am simply a voice for the community. To make sure that I am getting out into the community, I have plans to join various community organizations and get my name throughout the community.  

5. How do you combat rising rates while also completing infrastructure projects in the city of Clinton?

This is where I truly feel my background in financial budgeting will be a very strong asset for the council. While the last option should always be to raise taxes or put cost onto the community, it is inevitable at times. My experience would perhaps assist the council and city officials to have a strong diversified budget in place and be working with the city officials to continually cut costs, reducing expenditures, and being able to reallocate the funds to different ongoing projects when needed.  

6. How would you proceed in making Clinton more attractive to new residents and businesses while maintaining services?

I have been a member of the community for more than 30 years and am proud to call Clinton home. My inspirations for growing Clinton would be discussing all the great aspects the community has to offer; such as the state of the art education that is provided both publicly and privately, the wonderful views and caring personalities Clinton has to offer, the accessibility and ease to exporting materials (river, railroad, etc.) and the atmosphere Clinton provides is second to none. It is still a town where someone always seems to be there to help another citizen out when it is needed.

Tom Determann — At-large

List your education, experience and background:

My wife Judy and I are lifelong residents of Clinton County. We have two children and three grandchildren. After graduation I attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and I am a U.S. Army veteran. I worked at Determann Industries for 40 years, retiring as president of the company. 

1. What has been your experience working with others to grow an institution, business or group?

Over the years I have been on many boards, and I have been elected Chairman of the Board by membership for the Chamber of Commerce, Development Corporation, Rotary, and the Business Park. I also serve on the Association of Business and Industry Board in Des Moines. Members of the Clinton City Council are the city's board of directors. My experiences have made me very comfortable in handling decisions that come before me. Over the past 26 years I have attended nearly all council meetings. I am an active participant in all Washington, D.C. and Des Moines trips resulting in $90 million returned to the Clinton area. With this background I am ready to lead.

2. Discuss how your experience has helped shape your communication abilities.

Being on many boards and rising to the position of Chairman of the board was achieved by leading the boards to consensus on many issues. Being on these boards has helped me build communication skills and these experiences will definitely help me be an effective city council person.

3. What challenges do you anticipate you will face as a Clinton City Council member?

The first challenge is having sound financial statements that both the city council and the public can see. The second challenge is working to expand our tax base without raising taxes. A third challenge is jobs; more jobs expand the tax base — lowering taxes for all.

4. What solutions do you see for those challenges?

The solution to the challenge of job creation is business leadership. I have been the president of the Business Park and an active participant in getting three new businesses to locate in our park. Ashford University, Winkel, Parker and Foster, and our latest business, Data Dimensions will bring 250 jobs, bringing the total in the Business Park to over 600 jobs.

The solution to the challenge of sound financial management is to create a citizens' budget advisory committee which will provide advice and oversight to the city council.

The solution to the challenge of expanding our tax base is jobs, jobs, jobs; therefore, lowering taxes for all.

5. How do you combat rising rates while also completing infrastructure projects in the city of Clinton?

Rising rates can only be countered with sound financial statements. Then and only then can we look at our wants and needs and then balance the budget. This community needs to define what is a "want" and what is a "need." A leaking roof is a "need;" a new car is a "want." As a community, the city has never done this process. Our needs should be jobs, new businesses and expanding businesses and housing. 

6. How would you proceed in making Clinton more attractive to new residents and businesses while maintaining services?

For new businesses our tax base has to be competitive with surrounding communities. This again brings more jobs and makes our tax base more competitive. My suggested tax abatement program of zero percent taxes for five years for construction of new houses and zero percent increase for 10 years on remodeling would make Clinton more attractive for new residents and businesses.

Jennifer Graf — At-large

List your education, experience and background.

I was educated in Clinton schools and completed many workshops and certification in medical billing and office management. I was a former 12-year member of the Clinton Community School Board and am now fulfilling a four-year term as City Council at-large.

1. What has been your experience working with others to grow an institution, business or group?

As a member of the Clinton Community School Board we worked together to enhance the physical plant of Bluff Elementary and Whittier all the while working at a rigorous curriculum to meet the needs of all students. And all three actions were successful. These efforts were only attainable by the entire school board, administration, staff and public working together.

As a chair of the YWCA, our board, staff and public also worked together to successfully provide stabilization of our local domestic violence/sexual assault centers due to the mandate of regionalization of funding. Defining a need and working towards a positive end result is only attainable through cooperation with all affected and interested individuals. I have done this in my past and private endeavors and continue to do so now on the City Council. None of us has the luxury of picking and choosing who we work with, so getting along towards a shared vision is critical. My biggest frustration has been the lack of a shared purpose on our council. On the school board we all had the focus of doing what was best for students. On the City I don’t hear or feel that common vision yet. But I also know there is strength in diversity which only makes the process stronger. We will get there.

2. Discuss how your experience has helped shape your communication abilities.

I am a natural “question asker” and have found that to be quite pleasing to the public I represent. Many times I will receive a call from someone who will state they were thinking of a question and I would ask it. I have experienced great joy and immeasurable heartache in my life; all of which has taught me to be a good listener for the public I serve. I have a strong faith which sustains me and helps me to empathize with others.

3. What challenges do you anticipate you will face as a Clinton City Council member?

The city needs to continue to work at communications to bring the public into our decision making process and for us to receive their message so we are all on the same page. Oftentimes we are on the same page, we just aren’t listening. Right now we operate in a system of committees of three council people who then bring their voted outcome to Committee of the Whole every other Tuesday evening. If a decision is needed, it then passes on to the next council meeting. This process isn’t conducive to bringing the public into the fold at all levels of decision making and even limits who could serve on the council to retired or wealthy individuals since those meetings are during daytime business hours. We need to design a better option to work in partnership with the public. Funding for essential services is also an extremely important issue. Everyone wants and needs new roads, but it is a question of how to pay for those wants and needs. I hear how some say they want no new taxes yet insist we should continue a roads program that is directly related to taxes.

4. What solutions do you see for those challenges?

I would like to see us eliminate the committee system and add two Tuesday night council meetings so the public has an opportunity to participate, interact and/or watch the broadcast of our discussions. This would be empowering for them and cultivate a climate of teamwork for our community – which is what we should be doing. For the second challenge of roads improvement, I would see the solution as voting yes on the ballot on Nov. 5 are not a priority now, then the beauty of our democracy is you can vote your position. Which is exactly why we put both items on the ballot. It is you the people who will decide at what level we focus on road improvements.

5. How do you combat rising rates while also completing infrastructure projects in the city of Clinton?

Unfortunately, when the many projects we have going on in the city now were developed, the council at the time didn’t take into consideration how to pay for those projects. We must now find those funding sources. There are options all of which require a tax to be gathered. Either by a franchise fee that could begin realizing funding from sources who pay no taxes at this point (schools, non-profit agencies, churches) who utilize roads and first responder services from the city to begin paying a portion via a franchise fee; to voting yes to both options offered on the ballot November 5th is considered, it should be put on as a ballot decision from you the people – not a decision by the Council.

6. How would you proceed in making Clinton more attractive to new residents and businesses while maintaining services?

Council members need to believe in this city and its opportunities. Too often we get caught up in negativity and personalities without looking at the good things we have going on. If we don’t believe in the potential for our city, how can we expect new (and existing) residents and businesses to believe in our potential? We have had recent expansions at Data Dimensions and our newest resident of the Rail Park, NRM is now advertising for job openings. This is wonderful news. But we don’t put much emphasis on the positives. I think we need to continue working on our family attractions and quality of life options such as the bike path, marina, and our parks to be an attractive destination we can all be proud to call home.

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