Sorrentino, Bowker vie for 1st Ward council seat

In the upcoming weeks, Pen City Current will talk with Fort Madison candidates in contested races as part of our full election coverage.


FORT MADISON – They’re similar in a lot of ways, but 1st Ward residents Rebecca Bowker and Chris Sorrentino also have a lot of differences that should make for an interesting election come Nov. 5.

The two are running for the city’s 1st Ward City Council seat currently held by Chris Greenwald, who announced in August that he wouldn’t be seeking another term.

Sorrentino is no stranger to running for office with a failed attempt two years ago to unseat current Mayor Brad Randolph. Bowker is making her first run at elected office.

Bowker, who made the decision to run a little more than two months ago, said the timing was right. She moved to the city in 1995 and said she was welcomed with open arms. She’s worked for the Daily Democrat, Connection Bank, and now is the executive officer at the Iowa State Penitentiary. She also is in her 13th term on the Fort Madison Housing commission, a position that would need vacated if she wins election.

Sorrentino is an over-the-road owner/operator truck driver who moved to the city about a decade ago and now calls Fort Madison home. He’s served on the city’s Historic Preservation Commission and the North Lee County Historical Society Society. He also is a member of OOIDA, Owner/Operator Independent Driver’s Association, a truck driver advocacy group.

Both Sorrentino and Bowker believe that communication from the council and city staff to residents needs to improve.

Sorrentino said he would like to see an enhanced effort to see a better audience to the city’s livestream city council meetings. He said he believes people are disenfranchised with their elected officials and that has fostered a lack of trust and therefore a lack of engagement.

“They just don’t trust these people anymore. I hear from people that they call city hall, the 7700 number, punch in the extension and no one calls back. They’ve just lost faith and we need to get that back,” Sorrentino said.

Bowker said she thinks elected officials could communicate better with residents through regular editorials or letters to the editor.

“There is a lot to be said for city leaders to do updates weekly, monthly whatever that looks like, whether it comes from the mayor, the city manager, or the council, I think there’s an opportunity to give the residents a little more that just what’s in the city council minutes,” Bowker said.

“Give them an updates of projects, let them know why the curve down here isn’t being updated, things other than just what’s being recorded at city council meetings.”

Both Sorrentino and Bowker agree that city finances are in peril, but cutting city staff probably isn’t the answer, specifically the police and fire departments.

Bowker said reducing force there is off the table, but said she thinks additional performance objectives and measures should be in place to make sure resources are being utilized appropriately.

Sorrentino stopped short of saying anything was off the table to get the city’s revenues straightened out, but said he would not be in favor of reducing staff in either department.

“I support our fire and police departments fully. I can’t say a reduction there would be off the table, but I certainly couldn’t support it,” he said.

City officials have discussed adding franchise taxes to utility providers to beef up city coffers, but both Bowker and Sorrentino said they want the city to explore all options and ask tough questions before increasing costs to residents.

“I’m data driven and we need to look at all the information and see how it affects all people,” Bowker said.

“The last numbers I heard were that about 27% of people in Fort Madison were senior citizens. How would that impact them? Are we taking advantage of all grant opportunities and do we have a grant writer? We need to make sure we are asking these questions.

“I feel that my benefit to the city is to demand those answers and explore those options.”

Sorrentino said the city was in financial crisis and “upside down”, but adding taxes shouldn’t be the only option.

“We need to flat out find other sources of revenue and bring in businesses that contribute to city funds.”

Both Bowker and Sorrentino rated the city’s infrastructure a “C” grade.

Sorrentino said the city is so far behind with regard to streets and sewers that it will be hard to catch up with the city’s current financial condition. He said he doesn’t favor how the city is doing things in stages around the city, instead of taking care of one issue and moving to the next.

He said he would be in favor of completing the sanitary sewer separation project the city is taking on in stages and then go back to fix the roads as a whole.

“This goes back to the revenue discussion. We don’t have the money and we’re behind.”

Bowker said despite her rating of a “C-” she believes city staff is doing everything it can with the resources it has to get work completed.

Both also addressed some hot-button issues currently facing the city such as the proposed ordinance to allow golf carts and ATVs on most city streets and recent troubles getting accurate estimates and construction bids on city projects.

Both Bowker and Sorrentino said they would support the majority of residents in the 1st ward on the golf cart issue. And both, coincidentally, said they would go door-to-door if they had to to gauge the level of support for the ordinance.

“I can count on the fingers of one hand and still have fingers left, the number of people who are in favor of that ordinance,” Sorrentino said. “They just don’t think Fort Madison is ready for it yet.”

Bowker said that would be another chance for elected officials to get with their constituents to find out what the majority of people think.

“This would be another chance for you to invite residents to come down and see you or have a gathering and if you got 50 people to show up and 30 were in favor of it, then I would vote with the majority,” she said.

Bowker said with regard to the disparity seen lately in engineering estimates and construction bids, she’s been a part of that work in her role with the prison and there are lots of variables in that kind of work.

“You have a lot to consider there, such as the time between the engineer’s estimate and the bidding process,” she said.

“If you have a year between the two, there can be substantial changes. Again, I’m data driven so I would want to see what questions are being asked in the estimating and bidding process.”

Sorrentino said the gaps have put the city at a disadvantage and made it hard for people to trust the processes coming from the city.

“This kind of thing makes it hard for people to have faith in what we’re doing here.”

2 thoughts on “Sorrentino, Bowker vie for 1st Ward council seat

  1. Noone is saying layoff or fire police or firefighters but there are other city workers that are not as needed.i see them driving around and sitting at parks doing nothing.we dont need 500 people to do the job of 5.
    Besides that, im not sure about all the candidates.they all seem to have a personal agenda.itd be nice if they wanted to help our town but running to get it ok to park semis on our alreday destroyed streets will not get you elected or other wants like that.
    we are getting rid of counsil people that did alot to benifet themselves or family members.we dont want anymore of that.
    Our town is heading downward and we need someone who will stop it.

    1. Tommy I am sorry that you feel that way. But my career has nothing to do with why I am running.. we fought for the right to be able to park our semis at our homes and lost . And we have all moved passed that. And I do agree that our city has many things wrong with it. And that is why I said I will not agree with downsizing our emergency agencies at all. But we have to bring more and better businesses back into our city and rebuild our great city. And if you will go to my campaign Facebook page you can see some of my goals . And please feel free to contact me anytime about any issues you have. I am hopeful that I will get elected and be able to represent the first ward in witch I live in. And fight to make our city and way of life better . And to rebuild the broken trust in the city government that everyone has .

      Thank you,
      Chris Sorrentino
      Candidate For 1st ward.

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