Next Tuesday, April 3, two Davenport candidates will run for Alderman-at-Large in a special election to fill the vacancy left by Joe Seng, who went on to serve in the Iowa State Legislature. The race is between current 3rd Ward Alderman Roland Caldwell and Steve Ahrens, who is the alumni/parent relations coordinator for St. Ambrose University. Ahrens resides in the 4th ward.
What are the three most pressing issues you believe are facing Davenport during this term and what specifically would you support to address them?
Caldwell: One is finding a way to deal with the increasing number of sewer and infrastructure problems. Two is what to do with our public safety issues, such as hiring more police officers, especially in some of the central city neighborhoods, and enforcing more of the nuisance crime issues, which really lower the standard of living here. I think the only way to resolve some of this is to reexamine the allocation of the sales tax. We need to have public meetings starting in June to find out what the public wants to do. Then we need to have a referendum to amend the allocation according to the public's wishes. Many of the community organizations and smaller neighborhood groups have expressed their desire to see more community policing and infrastructure improvements, as well. We need to blend our natural resources with amenities to make the Quad Cities more attractive. The efforts underway downtown with the museum and the Vision Iowa Program are the types of amenities that will enhance the quality of life here and attract new residents. The proposed Ag Tech Center also has the potential to capture high-paying jobs. In reference to the development occurring north of 53rd Street, both with THF and Jersey Farm Partners, the big issue for me is traffic. We need to decide one way or the other which street will absorb the increasing burden of traffic on 53rd Street?either 46th Street or 67th Street. Residents with homes on 46th Street had an expectation about what would occur on 46th Street, so is it fair to dramatically change the traffic pattern of that neighborhood? On the other hand, we do not have a comprehensive traffic plan for the entire area, and we need this to make such an important decision. But there is only so much we can do relative to private development and what the law allows. I believe we can make a strong case for asking THF to put in Elmore all the way to 67th Street. What we really need is a policy plan versus just a land-use plan to adequately address future growth. Most of this council agrees on 80% of the issues we face. But because of the strong personalities involved, we have had significant clashes?who gets credit for what, who is not getting respected?and this has caused a lot of friction and division, including taking up sides. The council is factionalized and doesn't necessarily trust each other. This needs to stop so that we can emphasize the many things that we do get accomplished together.
Ahrens: My biggest issue is to stop the migration of young people out of Davenport and the Quad Cities. In a nutshell, that is why I am running. I went to West High School and stayed around to go to St. Ambrose. Many of my own peers are out of here. But this is a wonderful community and we need to focus our energies on growth and keeping younger talent here. The recent census is evidence that our growth is stagnant. I don't think we are working hard enough to attract businesses to the area, or to diversify the tax base. I am not confident we are aggressively marketing our community to prospective businesses to locate here. Also of great concern are infrastructure improvements. But it is a conjoined effort. If we only focused on infrastructure, we could have the best roads, but no people. We need a balanced effort citywide. I believe one of the ways to address the necessary improvements is to increase the tax base that pays for them. As for the current controversy over development on 53rd Street, I believe that THF's proposed development is a good project because it is a commercial corridor and I think their projects are appropriate for the area. I do have questions about aspects of it, such as the traffic congestion that is occurring. But I understand that the Elmore/53rd Street intersection will be improved to alleviate the traffic problem through mandated funding on THF's part. I want to focus on consensus building in the community as an at-large alderman of Davenport. We need to widen the net for revitalization for the entire city. An at-large alderman needs to be a leader for the whole community. Each alderman has his particular ward issues, but an at-large alderman needs to promote the bigger picture as the focus. How you play the game matters. The process must be upheld. I don't pretend to have all the answers and I am fearful of those who believe they do. For elected officials to stop micromanaging the city's daily operations is not to abdicate responsibility. My idea is to set a macro vision. I see the department heads playing to the simple majority to keep their own situations under control. A tone needs to be set through some sort of consensus amongst each other to not allow such micromanagement. What I think is miserably missing at city hall is communication. I don't mean to oversimplify it, but it is so lacking. While I admit that I work best one-on-one, it can go too far. Information needs to be shared. The public will respect a process that is respected. If you differ on an issue, if the process is such that you are truly heard, then the decision will at least be tolerated with respect. The most hurtful thing that I could be accused of is being a "yes" man. I would like to earn the confidence of the people.
What two specific programs or projects would you support increasing funding, even if it required reducing funding to other programs or projects?
Caldwell: Increasing funding for the police department, and if there is a way to move up the time frame on the new police department headquarters, that would be a positive thing to do. The police department has been in the former car lot way too long. If there were a way to create more cost sharing by combining law enforcement agencies, that might be a positive thing. If anyone could get it done, it would be Chief Bladel. Another area would be more environmental inspection officers. We have two now, but I would like to see two more. We are not able to get everywhere, so we respond on a complaint basis. We have started a process where environmental officers go in to a neighborhood where there are a lot of violations and clean it up. We need more of that. In the 3rd Ward, the need is great. We need a system where when the police are out, public works people are out, and they see a problem, they can write it down and forward it on to the proper department for remedy.
Ahrens: Streets are number one, but it is hard for me to answer this question without seeing the budget. I see the budget as a pie; when you increase spending for one thing, you decrease it for another. So there needs to be a thorough examination. During winter months, streets and potholes are at the top of the priority list, but when spring hits, it's parks. It is important to listen to the public to see what they want to see done with their tax dollars, and in keeping with the concept of citizen-based budgeting. I also think that the Trust and Agency Fund needs to be examined and possibly look at providing benefits in such a way as to bring such compensation more in line with other organizations.
What specific proposals would you support to bring genuine economic growth?new jobs that pay well, companies committed to the community?to Davenport? What do you think are the most effective tools available to city government to spur economic development?
Caldwell: We must build on the natural resources and advantages that we have here. We need to view it as an entire Quad City region that we need to make more attractive. What we are doing with the art museum and the downtown projects is a good start. I think it is a shame that we demolished so many older buildings in our downtown. If we had taken more care to mothball them, then the inventory would have been there when we did have an economic uptick. The buildings would have been preserved and eventually repurposed at less cost than building new, not to mention less social cost. An aerial view of Davenport suggests its been bombed. I believe that hurts development. It has made it harder to attract people to invest downtown. We need to go out and sell the quality of life here. We don't have the traffic jams throughout the city or the commutes that other communities experience. Taking the tolls off the Centennial Bridge will also be helpful. It will create more business for Davenport, especially retail. Finding the Genesis Systems-type of businesses to locate here is what we need to do, as well. In the next ten years, we need to put the west side sewer tunnel in. It will alleviate the stress on the Jersey Ridge tunnel. It will take care of most of the sewer problems in the 4th Ward, and some in the 3rd Ward. The industrial park does not have the sewer capacity right now. So we can't attract the larger projects without it. It is your principal economic development tool.
Ahrens: One word?ambassador! I am not confident that we are doing all we can for genuine economic growth. For me image is a very important component, and our infrastructure issues relate to bringing potential business to the area. I also don't see the lack of communication and the in-fighting on the council as a healthy thing. I know these types of childish interchanges haven't occurred just with this council, but with others as well. I see the alderman-at-large's role, along with the mayor, to meet with potential and existing businesses, as well as partnering with organizations with common interests, to discuss strategies for growth, while still being accountable to Davenport taxpayers. Attracting businesses doesn't just happen. Aggressive marketing of our assets must occur, so we need to be proactive. One example is the industrial park. It has sat empty for two years now. Supposedly once we get the first business in, the rest will follow. But we haven't gotten that first one in, so why not? What aren't we doing and what could we be doing better? As far as results go, there isn't much. I believe I can play a role in that by keeping the focus on it and keeping it on the table. Partnerships are fine, but I want to see what we are getting for our tax dollars spent. If we would treat the budget like it was our own money, things would be different in terms of accountability. That is why I am not in favor of raising taxes. There is fat throughout the budget that can be eliminated. Outcomes are important for measuring performance. Accountability is the key. How can you reward or fix things without measurements? When you have an interim acting administrator that is a department head of another department, I draw two conclusions from that: What is being missed, and/or what job isn't needed? Interim is a couple of months and that shouldn't be a problem. But much longer, then what is being dropped to accommodate this situation?
What specific proposals or policies would you support to ensure that economic development in Davenport does not come at the expense of other parts of town?
Caldwell: There needs to be a balanced approach to development throughout the city. We have a great deal of dis-investment in the 3rd Ward, including the downtown. It is an economic conundrum. There is a whole generation that is dying off in some of these neighborhoods. Their children have their own homes and don't want to occupy those of their parents. If they are local, they normally rent them, but if they are out of town and can't afford to keep them up, they tend to abandon them. I advocate a program for nuisance abatement by rehabilitation. State law allows this. If you have an abandoned building that is turning into a nuisance, we can go in and rehabilitate the home. The owner then has the opportunity to repay us for our cost and repossess it. If the owner cannot afford to pay us for abating the nuisance, the city can sell it to a new homeowner.
Ahrens: I don't think the city is adhering to the current citywide goals that they have established. I think it is one thing to claim that you have goals, but another thing to adhere to them. We have to take it that step further and actually adhere to the goals that we have consensus on. Without common goals that are followed, you are basically just surviving in your position. It is unfair to the taxpayers to not have that unity of purpose and strive to implement it.
There will be an At-Large Candidate Public Forum Q & A Thursday, March 29 at 7:00 p.m. It is sponsored by United Neighbors, 808 Harrison Street, Davenport.