Candidates for next week’s Spencer City Council Ward 1 special election participated in a forum last week, often emphasizing similar points, but also highlighting differences in other areas.
Ward 1 voters will choose next Tuesday between Natasha Mohror, Tom Nelson and Michael Watland to fill the vacancy created when Frank Petska died unexpectedly in October.
The first question from the media panel was what each candidate believed separated them from their opponents.
Nelson, who was given the first opportunity to answer, pointed to his lengthy business experience as owner of Nelson Jewelry. He also noted his participation in business-related organizations, including the Spencer Chamber of Commerce, the Iowa Lakes Corridor and Spencer Main Street, where he currently is board president.
“I was involved with the Corridor for a short time period,” Nelson said. “I just think that I’ve got a good pulse of what’s going on (in the area economically).”
Watland, who is now retired after a career as a firefighter, said multiple times during the forum he’d be a “no” vote on issues if he thinks taxes will increase or budgets will grow. He identified that as something he believes is different about how he’d approach the job.
“If I think it’s a spending initiative with a lot of unicorns and rainbows or something, then it’s going to get a vote no from me,” Watland said. “I think maybe I’m a little bit more that way (than the other candidates). If I see something workable, I’ll be all for it. Until that, there’ll be probably a lot of things that’d get a ‘no’ vote.”
Mohror, who participated via phone due to an illness, spoke about her range of life experiences, from working in a factory, raising a family in Spencer and starting Black Earth Java with her husband.
“I’ve raised three children here and they’ve come back,” she said. “I also have grandchildren here and I have a family that I want to see stay in the area. I think that’s really one of my biggest goals is to make this a place that young families want to see thrive and want to be in.”
Mohror said Ward 1 is unique because it contains most of Spencer’s downtown area, the Riverfront area and many parks.
“We have a lot of areas to represent and we want this to be a thriving area,” she said.
The candidates were then asked what they would tell someone to convince them to move to Spencer.
Watland said he’d tell people that Spencer is a nice, “friendly” community.
“It’s nice and clean,” he said. “We have good schools, churches, parks, recreation. Can’t really beat it (except) the snow in the winter time.”
Mohror said that Spencer has “phenomenal growth potential” and that the community supports its businesses and people.
“I couldn’t imagine any other place to have a family,” she said. “And I think that’s probably the biggest selling point.”
Nelson’s answer highlighted what he believes Spencer has to offer.
“I think Spencer has so much to offer to so many people,” he said. “And I think you can see that when you see that we have a number of young people moving back here. The young professionals is an example of that. When you look at the membership ages of the Jaycees and even in Kiwanis, we see quite a few younger folks joining and I think that’s all positive.”
Nelson added that Spencer has done a good job of “keeping up with technology,” has excellent schools, and a high number of parks.
“I just think that if they come and experience it and see what we have to offer, the answer is pretty easy,” he said. “I don’t have any fear that we’ll have any issue attracting and retaining younger people down the road.”
Riverfront Development Plan
With the Spencer riverfront located in Ward 1, the candidates were asked what their thoughts were on how the city should move forward with that plan.
Mohror said she’d want to make sure Ward 1 residents understand exactly what’s going on with that plan and where it stands. She said she’s sure many of her neighbors don’t have enough information about the plan and likely don’t know that in some areas a business could move next door.
“We certainly want to see things happen in order to improve our community,” Mohror said. “But I think I need to see more information on statistics and expected outcomes with what’s going to happen on the riverfront. And I think our ward needs to have a better voice in that, as well.”
Nelson called the riverfront development is a “wonderful project.” He added that when it comes to fruition, it will have a major impact.
“While I don’t think we need to just plow ahead – I think we do need to take it easy and make sure we cross our t’s and dot our i’s, there’s no question about it – but continuing on with it I think is a very good idea,” he said.
Watland also has questions about the plan.
“I’m sure the residents along there are wondering what’s going to happen, so we need to include them in the planning,” he said.
Front yard parking
One issue where at least two of the candidates may have revealed differing opinions was property rights, specifically related to the ordinance approved in November that limits front yard parking.
Mohror first brought up the issue when candidates were asked to give an example of one thing they would change about Spencer. She said there needs to be a balance found between city regulations and respecting the rights of property owners.
Later in the forum, Mohror addressed the front yard parking ordinance specifically. She said that issue has been on her mind.
“I think it affects our ward significantly and we didn’t have a vote in that,” Mohror said.
Frank Petska died and his seat was left vacant before the city council voted on the ordinance.
“It’s going to be very expensive on people of Ward 1,” Mohror said, adding that the ward’s many older houses may already have long repair to-do lists.
She added that the many older houses in the ward already have maintenance to-do lists. The ordinance’s requirement that vehicles be parked on gravel or another hard surface, she said, would represent another large expense.
Nelson said he agreed with Mohror that when a person buys a property they have “the right to do with it what they want,” but he added that “excessive vehicles, campers, whatever it is – you’ve got to find a way to draw a line there.”
“It’s not a popular thing with some people, I get that,” he said. “But, you know, trashy neighborhoods and trashy yards are certainly not going to be attractive to newer people moving to a town.”
Watland noted that the ward has many narrow streets and small lots with homes that don’t have attached garages.
“I don’t see a problem why somebody should not be able to park their car in their yard,” he said. “If you go down 8th Avenue West, it’s really hard to get a fire vehicle down that street if you’ve got cars parked on the street. So (parking in the yard) is almost better in some cases.”
Watland called the law an “economic hardship.”
“I thought it was kind of unfair,” he said.
How to vote
Any Spencer resident who lives in Ward 1 may vote for a candidate on Tuesday, January 22, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Clay County Administration Building.
Results will be posted to the Clay County website and here at spencersignal.com.
Featured image: From left, Spencer City Council Ward 1 candidates Tom Nelson and Michael Watland participate in a forum last week in the council chambers. Not pictured is candidate Natasha Mohror, participated via phone due to an illness.