As the Waukee general city election nears, the city held a Meet the Candidates forum Thursday, Oct. 3 evening at City Hall. There are two positions open for election this year.
Mayor Bill Peard will not seek re-election. Courtney Clarke and Shelly Hughes are competing on the ballot for the position. One city council spot is up between Ankush Bhatia, Christine Crone, Ben Sinclair, and incumbent Larry R. Lyon.
Candidates spent an hour taking turns in a Q&A discussion answering pre-written questions and topics posed by the attending residents.
The full conversation can be viewed on the Waukee Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube page at https://youtu.be/4KZYvxtAJf8.
A city council member since 2010, Hughes stressed the importance of a mayor building relationships as a “cheerleader for the city” even for new traffic lights.
“The council really makes the policy. Our amazing staff carries out the policy that the council sets in place,” Hughes said. “What it comes down to is that the mayor is mostly responsible for relationships and advocating for the city of Waukee.”
Hughes was also adamant about the relationship the city needs to share with the school district. As an example of such a strategic partnership, she expressed excitement for a safety video produced by the city police department for schools to use for an active shooter drill.
Clarke also stated the need to continue building the bridge between the school and city. She too discussed a passion for the school’s current projects including the new football field and fishing piers that aren’t only to be for the city but a branch to become a “regional facility” with neighboring districts.
She too stated the importance of a strong staff and council surrounding the mayor to carry out policy. Taking inspiration from a 2020 presidential candidate, Clarke said she wants people to ask “what kind of leader I’ve already been” through her work across geographies, businesses, industry, non-profits, and public entities.
Asked the same questions as the mayoral candidates, the council hopefuls also spent their time focused on the city’s continued expansion efforts.
An information technology specialist, Bhatia repeatedly expressed concern for an impending “skill shortage” he hopes Waukee can help curb if the city and its government think “strategically” especially with its young generation.
“If you give [schools] necessary funding, if you do not give the necessary opportunities for kids to learn and to become better, we will not have the city any longer,” Bhatia said. “We have to partner with them and see how we can strategically grow not just for the sake of growing.”
Bhatia also expressed concern for the school’s rapid expansion that he heard includes plans for a third high school despite the second school being unfinished.
Lyon was also equal parts hopeful and skeptical about the city’s future expansion. A sitting member on the council, he discussed the problems ahead to keep in mind.
“We’re growing so fast, we don’t have all the tax revenue to do all the great things we want to do. That’s why if you want to learn more about tax increment financing (TIF), don’t ask me about because it’s awfully dang complicated,” Lyon said. “But what I can tell you is TIF is extremely important to our community. Without it, we can’t finance some of the things we need.”
Among those amenities in question are pools, recreational complexes, fixed potholes. He said keeping those possibilities available is a matter of continuing to seek out plans that have worked in other communities rather “reinvent the wheel,” citing a recent trip to Minnesota for research.
Regarding tax space, Sinclair said he shared similar views but without as many reservations as his competition and see the city as “right on track.”
“I really don’t see us in a position in the near future where we won’t have tax space,” Sinclair said. “I think sometimes people have trouble with that and other areas but you know, with the way we’re growing, I don’t think of that as an issue at all.”
Crone expressed similar praise for the city’s current functions and potential growth without a need to overhaul taxes even considering the lowered property tax rate in 2017.
“I think we owe a lot of that to Apple coming into town (and) the one-cent sales tax, I know that’s just helped tremendously among the parks board,” Crone said. “As fast as we’re growing, and the great things that are coming to this community, I don’t see us talking property taxes. I don’t see a concern there for the near future.”
On another note for expansion, Lyon presented his “moonshot” goal for the city to use 240 acres of land on the south side just west of Sugar Creek Golf Course for some “really cool stuff” that will be planned in the next two years.
In more talk of expansion, Sinclair and Bhatia said they hope Waukee can continue to build a partnership with neighbors. After expressing how businesses like Apple moving into Waukee has helped, Crone added she also wants to see further growth inside by attracting big businesses like Holmes Murphy and Fleet Farm to which Lyon said he agreed with all of his opponents on those fronts.