BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – 2nd Ward City Councilman Brian Wright will be seeking another four years on the City Council in the upcoming November elections.
With the elections less than seven weeks away, Wright says he wants to continue his work on the council and see that infrastructure and services to the people of Fort Madison and his ward remain a high priority.
Wright was originally appointed to the council in 2011 and then won a special election for the seat and was re-elected in 2013 to his first full term. He opposed Bob Morawitz in 2013 and will oppose Morawitz again in this election.
Wright said his family has a rich tradition of serving the community and he wants to continue that legacy that was instilled in him by his parents. Brian’s brother John served several stints as Fort Madison’s mayor.
“My mom and dad always taught me about being of service to the community,” Wright said. “The council and myself have moved the town forward and we’ve got lots of stuff done in the Second Ward including 15th Street, Avenue F on 13th and 14th streets and other infrastructure improvements throughout the city. I want to continue on this council because it puts the city and citizens first above everything else.”
One of the issue the six-year councilman wants to work on improving is the communication between the city and its citizens. He said at times Fort Madison residents get either misinformation or a lack of information from the city. He said social media can be a platform of incorrect information and the city needs to do a better job at making sure citizens have correct information.
He said people get upset with the city about certain projects or directions city officials are going but the people don’t have all the information they need to understand why things are done the way they are.
Wright pointed to the parks and street work that’s being done.
“One thing that has come about is the parks and people believe we are letting the parks go because we don’t have the prison labor anymore, but that’s not true. Our parks are in great shape because of some hires we’ve made,” he said.
“And streets, people don’t understand why we are doing them the way we are and 27th street is a great example. That money came from IDOT and it can only be used for that because it’s Hwy. 61. We are also under some EPA mandates on storm sewer and sanitary sewer separation so a lot of things have to be done according to those guidelines and people just don’t understand that because they don’t have that information.”
Other hotly debated issues have been in front of the city council in the past weeks and months. One of which is relocating the depot, an issue that may not be decided until election time depending on the progression of negotiations between the city and Amtrak.
Wright said he’s heard both sides of the issue of moving the depot to its former location on the riverfront near downtown Fort Madison and said right now he’s on the side of leaving it where it is.
He said the people using the depot either in its current place or moved to the east will be stopping for gas or getting food regardless of where it is located and he can’t see spending the money yearly to maintain the new depot. Figures have estimated the cost to be between $35,000 and $50,000 per year for a 20-year agreement.
“That’s money that can’t be spent on streets or for fire protection. I’m really torn on it right now, I guess that’s the best way to say it,” he said. “I get that people can see the downtown and the riverfront. It is beautiful down there, but they can see that when they are riding in from the east or the west, too. But I just can’t see it bringing a lot of business downtown especially when most are closed on the second stop at 7 p.m.”
Wright said he’d rather see the city put that money into attracting the Vikings Cruise Lines to the city.
“I think the Viking Cruise Line would benefit us more than a rail depot. I think investing in that and making sure it’s aesthetically pleasing would be a great benefit for the town. There’s no guarantee they’re still looking at this location, but we would have to build a dock for them.”
He said the Riverfront should be the centerpiece of the city but it’s still underutilized.
“I think what Charles and Jenny (Craft) have done with the Riverfest has been wonderful to the community. They are seeing success and the city is seeing it from bringing people in. But something has to be done with the marina and I don’t know about a bar or nightbclub but a restaurant. I’d like to see something done to the marina area with the boats. We’ve dredged and there are some other things we can do,” he said.
He said the pavilion should also be cleaned up and renovated and made attractive for a company like Viking to come in and use.
Downtown is also a concern of Wright’s. He said the current progress going on in the area is a good start, but he said he still thinks more needs to be done to fix up the properties and make them good places for more apartments and attractive store fronts.
“I’d like to see if we can find more funds to fix the facades. Barkers are doing great things with the Old Lee County Bank building and the Cattermole. I don’t think you’ll see much done with the Sears building, but these projects are going to help,” he said. “Part of revitalization is making those building inhabitable. I would love to live downtown above a store front and have all that at hand. I think that would be a positive change.”
Wright said the city needs to set its sights on the things that benefit the public in big ways, economically. He said the city isn’t in the entertainment business so things like bowling alleys or skating rinks should be done with private investment but larger scale hotels, industries, and businesses that have a large impact on the community are the ones that should be incentivized.
“We are seeing the benefits of the incentives we gave to Siemens already and you always hear the rumors of others locating in that area, too. But anything we can do to spur economic development means spurring the development of the people of Fort Madison.”
He said one of the main concerns he hears from people in the second ward is the condition of the streets and alleys in the city.
“My response is probably cold at times. It’s an alley. It’s not meant to be traveled so much and would you rather us put it into services and amenities or an alley. Lots of streets have been improved. Avenue E from 16th Street to 24th Street is done. 15th Street was done and it wasn’t that long ago that 24th Street was done. My next thing would be Avenue F from 2nd to 22nd street.
He said the city has also been extending services like water and sewer to further reaches in an effort to grow the tax base of the community.
“People always are critical of property taxes and I don’t want to see an increase, but I think we’re doing the right things. We’ve made the investment to get infrastructure out and you work toward a bigger tax base when you can provide those things.”
Wright said he doesn’t believe in term limits and doesn’t think the city should add anything to the code to address council members missing meetings. At Tuesday’s meeting a suggestion was made from a resident to look into adding something to the code for attendance.
“I’m not a term limits guy. I believe that when the citizenry feels you haven’t done your job, you address that at the polls,” Wright said. “I feel it’s a duty and obligation to come and represent your constituents, but I do know illness and family can come into play. I have a 90%+ attendance record but I believe there are extenuating circumstances. Nothing should be written into the code, that should be handled at election time.”