Both want better communication, but are on different sides of infrastructure
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Two of the candidates for the Fort Madison mayor’s seat have spent a lot of time in Council Chambers. One is a relative newcomer to city government.
Current 3rd Ward City Councilman Matt Mohrfeld is seeking the Mayor’s Chair for the first time. Resident Rodney Hoskins II is visible at almost every meeting. Joseph Helmick has also turned in papers for the seat, but several attempts to reach Helmick for this article were unsuccessful.
Mohrfeld, a running and cycling enthusiast, is literally running for the seat by actually trying to run on every city block before the Nov. 5 election. But he’s no stranger to public service.
Serving a stint on the Lee County Board of Supervisors, president of the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce, president of the city’s former Tourism Board, was appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad in his first term to a state early childhood board and then served under Gov. Tom Vilsack.
“I have a history, but that’s not a reason why I’m running,” Mohrfeld said.
“I grew up with a mother and father who are both gone now. They had a firm philosophy and it’s not anything they ever said, but lived. “Always take care of your family, take care of business, and when called to serve…. you would have to answer.”
Mohrfeld was raised in St. Paul and his father, Toby, and mother, Gert, teamed up to serve on service committees and boards.
“I come from family that doesn’t retire and likes to do things.”
Mohrfeld said he didn’t look at the Mayor’s position and say, “Things are going wrong”. He said current mayor Brad Randolph has been an excellent mayor and face for Fort Madison.
‘Brad, who is a great mayor in my opinion, sat down with me and said, ‘Matt I’m thinking about not running’ and I did everything I could to talk him into running again,” Mohrfeld said.
He said after talking with family and peers, they were supportive of the move. But he acknowledges serving as mayor would take a vote away from him.
“That would be the soul searching of this leap of faith,” he said. “In some ways, being the mayor is a step backwards. You go from 15% of the decision making process to 0.”
But he said the mayor is on the front end of a lot of discussions. He said communication, collaboration, and inclusion are part of the mayor’s responsibility.
“Brad’s not going away right away. We’ve had the clarification early. I would need him to transition in if I’m elected. I’m not elected yet, I’m running for office, but you have to think that way now because there’s a job to do here.”
With the city discussing possibly using a franchise tax to help increase revenues, Mohrfeld said the idea has to be vetted.
“My opinion on that is that it’s a process. A process that’s going to get addressed, and I’m not trying to hedge by any means, but if this disproportionately affects 15 people, number 16 is me and I might be in the top 15,” he said.
Mohrfeld owns and operates Matt’s Greenhouse, a large-scale provider of plants and flowers to regional retailers.
“If anybody tells you there are things that are not off the table, they’re not being honest. They are not being honest. It’s like weight loss…calories in and calories out. The fact is we provide citizens of Fort Madison services on some kind of prioritized basis and they have to be funded by taxes or fees of some form.”
With regard to infrastructure Mohrfeld said the city has to strive to maintain high quality roads, water, sewer, and parks.
“We must judge these areas in the short-term but plan for them in the long-term. We must not get caught up trying to make it through the current budget year and fail to look at the future.”
Financially he said the city has to take a vertical look at expenses, which he said is cost analysis and go a tier or two deeper than the current budget analysis.
“My opinion is that we’re at a belt-tightening stage and not a bankruptcy stage….if we start tightening now,” he said.
He said the police and fire departments are at full force and said the city must maximize the efficiency of our public safety departments so Fort Madison can feel protected while still operating inside financial limitations.
Mohrfeld said the communication needs to be improved.
“We’re too small of a town not to have everyone at the table. We need to make sure all groups and agencies have a presence ‘at the table’.”
Hoskins is a 40-year-old candidate who is running to increase communication between residents and elected officials and focus on spending and city improvements.
Hoskins ran for City Council during the 2015 election when he lost to current 5th Ward councilman Chad Cangas.
“We are historical Fort Madison. It isn’t just the prison, it’s Sheaffer Pen, the railroad, the latinos,” Hoskins said.
“This is our town, we all pay tax dollars and that’s how our community grows. If we have to work together to survive that’s the best option I can give.”
Hoskins said the council and mayor should be the strongest role models in the community and should be accessible to all citizens.
“If someone comes up to you and you can understand what they are talking about, at least be prepared to listen to them. Even if they aren’t in their ward, they should listen to them and direct them to the right person,” Hoskins said.
He said infrastructure is lagging behind in the city and if a project needs done the city should dig in, get it done, and then move on to other projects.
“I think we’re in pretty bad shape, honestly. My main goal would be to break it up and solve the extremely bad ones first and then everything else,” he said.
“Financially we do only what we need to do as a city,” he said. “Do our roads first and try to put that as the main priority. Organize it in a way that people understand.”
He believes that any increase in taxes hurts the citizens of Fort Madison more than it hurts the council, so city officials have to be careful in budgeting and spending.
“I look at it from the aspect that the city is going in debt, but my main focus is to neutralize what we’re doing right now. Get everything done that we’ve got planned or organized to get done. But right now why are projects coming in over bid?” he said.
Reusing the concrete that is currently being dug up is something that Hoskins thinks could help the city financially. He said the city should recycle all the concrete it it will be pulling up in road reconstruction.
“New concrete costs more money. Recycling it or refurbishing it, you can recycle it just as quick as you can your cellphone. Why put out all new concrete when you can reuse it,” he said.
He said Public Works Director Larry Driscoll is trying to do his best to get things calibrated, but sometimes you have to do them regardless.
“Some are so bad I’m surprised I didn’t bottom out the car.”
Hoskins said he is running for mayor this time over an at-large or ward seat because he wants to help control the conversation.
“I would rather control the conversation. You’ve been on the earth for 40 years and what have you accomplished. I’ve learned two things keeping people on task and listening,” he said.
“There’s so many people that want a leader who’s willing to listen as long as the conversation stays on the issue at hand. I’m willing to go that extra mile to listen to every citizen of Fort Madison. I may not like their suggestions, but if I think it’s a good idea, I would say let’s look at this from a broader picture.”
Hoskins also wants to increase communication between city staff, elected officials, and the community.
“If I’m elected I will tell myself, I will hold forums on my Facebook before or after the meeting, or if someone wants to meet me somewhere, I’m here to listen to them,” he said.
“I’m willing to talk to anybody. They pay their taxes and I should be listening to them. We can’t be afraid of them because they could be a problem solver and that way we can be problem solvers, too.”
Hoskins said Randolph has done a great job with the city and pointed to the Wright family as a reason he wants to be involved.
“Brad’s done wonders for the city. That’s how I feel about it. Brian Wright convinced me to come to a meeting and thought it would just be blowin the wind, but it wasn’t. I’m honored for knowing that family,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins said it’s important that he be seen as an independent mind and wants people to consider him to be right down the middle and take every person’s opinion into consideration.
But he said people have to be present and willing to make their opinions known.
“God gave you a voice, a mind, and ears to listen. If you can’t do that, you’ll never learn from it. If elected, I would hold councilman accountable that if you have something put in front of you, you need to bring it forward because that’s how we learn.”