BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The city’s three mayoral candidates took center stage Wednesday at the final candidate forum sponsored by Fort Madison Partners.
Tri-State Public Radio’s Jason Parrott moderated the event hosted by the Fort Madison Daily Democrat and Pen City Current.
Current City Councilman Matt Mohrfeld, and residents Joe Helmick and Rodney Hoskins II answered a bevy of questions surrounding the role of the mayor and city priorities.
Hoskins said he wanted to run to help re-establish lines of communication between city officials and residents.
Joe Helmick said he wants to bring changes to the town and hopes people support his candidacy.
“I wasn’t prepared for….like I said I just kind of threw my hat in the ring and I hope we can make changes and have a better future for our town,” Helmick said.
Hoskins said citizens can rest assured that the future of residents and its children are his focus.
“As always I remember one thing. It’s our town, basically, and I want to thank everyone for coming and giving me your voice now.”
Mohrfeld said he wrote in a journal when he decided to run for mayor, and said when reviewing those entries he realized his character is what he’s offering.
“I can do this and I can be a good mayor. I will assess my character and will continue to live by that character because in the end, win or lose, my character is all I have to offer,” Mohrfeld said.
Parrott asked questions around economic development, priorities for the city, budget concerns, streets, and city beautification.
Mohrfeld said with regard to economic development, the city isn’t in the business of creating jobs, but creating an environment that encourages growth and attraction for the city.
“When I was a supervisor, I got involved with the inception of the Lee County Economic Development Group and I’m very proud of that. It was a nice move forward and 20 years later it’s still thriving and still working, but that all comes down to execution.”
Hoskins said he would welcome business to the community where businesses are the best. Hoskins said some of the businesses don’t feel they get the respect they should be given.
“As mayor you have to recognize businesses for how long they’ve been here regardless of how it is,” he said.
But he said also have to promote business so they want to stay here.
Helmick said the city needs that development.
“I’d have to sit down with Chamber of Commerce and see exactly what we can do. If it means giving tax breaks on property, at least we’ll get the sales tax on the revenue that these businesses will bring in.” Helmick said.
He said look at Coralville and check out the businesses in that town.
“I would accept any business because we need every sales tax dollar we can get as far as revenue,” he said.
Helmick also said the city needs to capitalize on volunteer hours at local schools and combine that with other volunteer work to help with parks and other efforts so city staff can be used on higher priorities.
“I would like to sit down the school board and find some things we can use those 20 hours of community service for as far as working with the parks and we can use our park manpower in other locations,” he said.
Mohrfeld said the city needs to make abandoned buildings a priority.
“I think our town needs to look a little better. I think ‘look good-feel good’. I think we need more pride in some parts of our community.”
He said there are lots of ways to go about it, but he said removing abandoned properties could be expensive, but it should be working with developers to save the properties that can be saved.
“Our parks are the best they’ve ever looked. But if we can we need to look at our town. If we’re at a 6, we need to move to a 7 and never let us go to a five.”
Hoskins said the city needs to improve its appearance and should do anything and everything possible, including Helmick’s idea of using the students’ volunteer hours downtown and in parks.
Mohrfeld said the mayor’s role changes his dynamic from being a player to the coach.
“You have to work to try and build communication, collaboration, and collusion among the council and you’re privvy to day in and day out meetings that the council may not. It’s your job to communicate that,” Mohrfeld said.
He said the mayor sets the agenda and can lead through the agenda.
Helmick said he wants to work with the council to make the city more attractive.
“I’d like to work with the entire council to make this a better city for retail business to get people to come here and shop instead of outside the area. I want to work with all of us to try to find ways to make this town a better place to live,” Helmick said.
Hoskins said he sees the mayor’s post as the monitor of the community’s action and said the mayor should interact with businesses as one.
“The mayor would collaborate with council and the businesses and listen to them for a change. I mirror what Matt said it’s basically a player-coach type deal,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins also said he wanted to stop the monopolization that goes on throughout town.
“Certain people basically buy up properties and they would have access to certain things faster than what a normal other person might not even have enough for,” he said.
“Physically, equal opportunity arises to everybody. When the town erupts, the people do speak. Monopolization has to stop somewhere.’
Helmick also wants to get more proactive with police stopping people and getting drugs off the streets and drunks off the roads.
“That was one of the most important things I wanted to bring up was making sure we slow our town down and get our cops out there and start patrolling a little better.”
Mohrfeld said he doesn’t bring a preconceived notion to the mayor’s seat, but he said he wanted to look closer at the City Council’s role in public health.
“I think the council needs to take an active role in public health. Put all our projects to the acid test of wellness. Are we going to expand our sidewalks and make them continuous on all projects so residents can use them for wellness,” he said.
The three will face off in the general city/school election on Nov. 5.