Another election-time forum gave local mayoral candidates a chance to show off their political chops Friday afternoon.
Fisher Community Center played host to candidates Thomas Thompson, Phillip Gavagan, John Johnson and Jason Vajgrt.
Moderator Jodi Faustlin, executive director of the Marshalltown McFarland Clinic, posed questions to the candidates in turn, allowing each of them to address the topics she presented.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
Mayoral candidate John Johnson addresses a question posed to him at a mayoral candidates forum Friday afternoon at the Fisher Community Center. Johnson’s is one of four names on the November ballot to serve out the remainder of the late Gene Beach’s term through 2013. Left to right: Jason Vajgrt, Thomas Thompson, John Johnson and Phillip Gavagan.
The forum kicked off with Faustlin asking the candidates to address the topic of the mayor being a full-time position. Johnson, who has been a staunch advocate of such a shift, said citizens need an elected official to blame when things go wrong as well as to congratulate when they go right.
Gavagan said he is comfortable with the role of the mayor. Thompson pointed out that voters chose the way the city government is run in 1991, and changing it would undermine that choice.
Vajgrt said he would like to see a middle ground where the mayor has more influence but still retains his current role.
All the candidates said working with the city council and the Marshall County Board of Supervisors is important.
"We don't always have to agree," Johnson said. "It is important to understand and respect each other's views."
Gavagan stressed compromise, being straightforward and learning about issues as they arise.
On the topic of infrastructure, the candidates took varied approaches. Vajgrt said he is unsure bonding is the best route to fund street maintenance like mill and overlaying and microsurfacing.
Thompson noted that after next year's $5 million proposed bond issuance, 62 percent of the streets in Marshalltown will have been treated in some capacity.
"The city can take credit for the improvements that have been made," he said.
Johnson said Marshalltown should have a full-time grant writer to look into alternative funding. Gavagan said he sees infrastructure improvement needing a combination of bonding, city money and pursuing federal money.
As far as sanitary and storm sewer rate increases, another element of local infrastructure, candidates had varied responses. Johnson returned to the topic of having a grant writer to offset those increases.
Not everyone agreed.
"Whatever we got to do to get it done," Gavagan said. "Projects like this need to be done. If we need to increase rates for everyone in Marshalltown, it's a necessary evil."
If the city simply cut some funding for beautification projects, rate hikes like those proposed for the storm and sanitary sewers would be unnecessary, Gavagan said.
The candidates all had little to say about the 20 year comprehensive plan that will come before the council in November.
Faustlin brought up patronizing local businesses and how the candidates see Marshalltown's economic landscape.
If the city wants people to shop locally, Johnson said, it needs to expand the marketplace. Thompson said he is optimistic about the notion of economic prosperity in town, pointing to the prospective gas-fire electric plant Alliant proposed earlier this year.
"Get out and show, with your money, what you want to see in Marshalltown," Vajgrt said.
The candidates took varied stances on how to address the growing minority population in Marshalltown.
Thompson said the first step is recognizing varied ethnicity. It's the city's responsibility to make those people feel as welcome as possible.
Johnson said the city should provide interpreters for those who do not speak English. Vajgrt suggested that the city start by having interpreters for the most common non-English languages.
Gavagan disagreed, saying that teaching immigrants English should be priority and that the city should not spend tax money to accommodate non-English speakers. Immigrants need to adapt to America, not visa-versa, he said.
The forum closed with Faustlin asking the candidates what their first priority would be if elected.
"Keeping micorsurfacing going and funding for storm sewers," Vajgrt said.
"Recognizing the decision that for Alliant to build a gas plant here, it is going to require many things from the city," Thompson said.
"Working with relationships," Johnson said.
"Try to ensure the public is heard more," Gavagan said.
The winner of the race will serve the remainder of the late Gene Beach's term, which ends in December 2013.