Underlying respect paves the road to progress


This business cracks me up.
I saw something the other day that made me so proud to feel like a Fort Madisonian or Fort Madisonite or Fort Madisonator whatever you naturalized Fort Madison people call yourselves. I’m a West Burlingtonian from birth, but I think I’m starting finally to fit into this rivertown.
I went to a meeting at the LULAC club on Wednesday night to hear some residents who’ve been concerned about the city’s vacant, rental, and nuisance property ordinances.
There were some legitimate concerns about how some of these homes got put on the list. There were also concerns from homeowners who didn’t have all the facts about their own ownership status.
But the great part of this meeting was the passion with which everyone spoke. You can fight city hall, but sometimes city hall fights back.
Mayor Matt Mohrfeld showed up at the meeting to hear the concerns of the property owners and he had no wingmen or wingwomen in tow. Barb Asay, of Asay Properties, was on hand. Asay is a developer in town who’s taken on several big projects and has repurposed properties putting them back on tax rolls. Asay also is a regular figure at Fort Madison City Council meetings and isn’t above pushing on these city officials. She doesn’t carry anyone’s water.
The people at the meeting said they wanted the city to double check their registries and properties that were being listed for tax sale. One resident said her property didn’t fit the city’s definition of vacant because she was living in it part-time. The reasons for the residents’ frustations were varied. Some needed more attention from the city, some needed more attention from the owners. Mohrfeld called the new ordinances uncomfortable for some, but said the city has cleaned up more than 25% of what were categorized as dilapidated structures since 2022.
Several of the residents complained the city was too aggressive in their approach to the new ordinances.
Shawn Rogers, a developer in Fort Madison, said he doesn’t think the city is working through due process, although he agrees with the intention of the city to clean things up a bit.
Rogers went so far as to tell Mohrfeld the city was violating Iowa Code in how they notify property owners about issues with code.
But Mohrfeld pushed back saying the city worked the ordinance through its attorney and is confident the ordinances follow state law.
Darrell Davolt, is on record as saying he won’t abide by the city’s inspection ordinances and pays the $250 fine “as part of doing business” in Fort Madison.  Davolt said the city has no constitutional right to enter his properties for inspections or any other reason, if there is no cause to do so.

If Mohrfeld had anyone in his corner it was Asay, but this guy was wailed on for about 30 minutes before getting engaged in the conversation. The meeting was set up by Angela and Carmen Salazar, who took down names and experiences of those in attendance.
Carmen Salazar said the city has incorrect data in its property listings, but Mohrfeld pushed back saying its not incorrect data, but a list of properties that had been triggered by one qualification or another.
“It’s not perfect,” he admitted.
Clearly it’s not. The ambition of the city doesn’t seem to be to penalize, although there is legitimacy to Rogers' suggestion that there not be a fee attached to rental and vacancy registrations. If the city has the information they need to mitigate vacant properties, why does the city have to make money off it, Rogers said.
Mohrfeld said it gives the programs teeth, and shows the city is serious about trying to clean things up.
At one point, Davolt raised his voice and pointed at the mayor angrily arguing over intentionality and whether the moves were right for the city in general. Salazar interrupted to say the gathering wasn’t to point the finger at Mohrfeld, but to gather information and share concerns.
It's a sticky situation. You have one developer in the room saying equity in the programs is critical, but saying the city should administer the programs fairly also means special circumstances are out the window. That is part of fairness. Everything is blind to the ordinance.
And as the growing pains heal, and they will, the really lasting take away is this. As the conversation wound down, Davolt bought the mayor a beer because, despite the visceral opposition, at the end of the day, we’re all Fort Madisontonians.
In 23 years in Fort Madison, I think that was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Set aside for a moment that it was a beer, after all this was a club and the meeting was over. Mohrfeld calls Davolt “Bones”. It’s certainly a love-hate relationship, but that’s part of what it means to be mayor. And the ordinances aside, it says something about this guy, that he goes into a hostile environment armed only with his passion for the community and his wits.
It's not all perfect, and the Mayor has had a few choice words for me on more than one occasion. No one carries the water there either, but the city is repurposing properties, and fixing streets, and building economy, and these efforts have the attention of the state.
We need to take care of our own and, if we need to finesse these ordinances, then let’s do that to show Fort Madisonterians that they do matter. That’s a priority and makes walking the road of progress a much healthier walk. And those who have the city’s eye in property maintenance should make it a priority to clean up their properties. That makes the walk easier, too.
Having a debate that ends with respect and a nod to decency, isn’t a bad thing either, but that’s Beside the Point.
Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

Beside the Point, Fort Madison, Mayor Matt Mohrfeld, meetings, residents, vacant properties, rental, ordinances, anger, debate, Angela Salazar, news, opinion, commentary, Pen City Current,


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