CEDAR FALLS — Two Cedar Valley cities broke in rookie mayors last year.
But while Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and Cedar Falls Mayor Jim Brown were busy learning the ropes and leading their communities, they also found time to forge a friendship.
Hart said the bond has opened lines of communication whether it involves public policy matters, shared community interests or even personal advice on how the two fathers of school-age children can balance personal and work commitments.
“We’re both family men, persons of faith and have other similar interests,” Hart said.
Both mayors are younger than 50, replaced multi-term incumbents when they took office in January 2016 and brought government experience — Hart having served eight years on the City Council and Brown serving six years on the school board.
Hart’s wife, Cassandra, and Brown’s wife, Corrine, are both school teachers.
“The similarities between us are pretty amazing,” Brown said. “The culmination of that relationship has been a very nice surprise.
“We get together whether it’s an event like the one where Quentin’s wife spoke (at the Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet) or it’s a Chamber and Alliance meeting,” Brown said. “I love the banter back and forth between us and bragging about our spouses both being Gold Star teachers.”
Both mayors believe their cities need a closer relationship to capitalize on shared interests.
“We are in a position where we have to work together to be able to be competitive for businesses and people that want to move into our area,” Hart said. “We are competing against the entire state, and we can no longer be isolated from one another.
“From the outskirts of Waterloo to the outskirts of Cedar Falls there are millions of dollars of new investment; there are many people that live in Waterloo and work in Cedar Falls or live in Cedar Falls and work in Waterloo,” he added. “Our success is tied together.”
Brown said that cooperation includes presenting a united front on shared legislative priorities, like protecting tax-increment financing as a development tool, assuring property tax backfill and growing issues related to water quality.
The cities also may look to share waste water treatment facilities as federal clean water regulations stiffen.
“It’s one of those big things on the horizon, so it can’t be ignored,” Brown said. “In my humble opinion it’s not going to be just Waterloo and Cedar Falls; it will involve a lot of communities.”
Hart said he reached out to Cedar Falls when negotiating with the Iowa Department of Transportation on what the city would receive to take over University Avenue. Cedar Falls was already reconstructing its portion of University.
“We needed to have some information to give to the state, so I called over and talked to Mayor Brown and Ron (Gaines),” he said. “They sent us over some spreadsheets about costs that were very helpful.”
Brown said Waterloo may be able to return the favor in the future.
“The reverse would be true if the (Cedar Falls) council ever makes a move on the white-water project,” Brown said. “Waterloo is going to be ahead of us there. Where are some advantages? What are the pitfalls?”
Both cities also are participating in a “shared services task force” with representatives of local school districts, the county, Univeristy of Northern Iowa and Hawkeye Community College.
“We’re bringing those folks together and see if there’s some commonalities in what we do,” Hart said. “Maybe something does make sense, maybe it doesn’t. But we’re having those discussions.”
Both mayors also share an exuding optimism about the direction of their communities.
“We’re seeing development everywhere around the city,” said Hart, when asked about the greatest success of his first year.
Looking ahead this year, Hart said the city will need to tackle University Avenue planning, finish the U.S. Highway 63 reconstruction, continue revitalizing downtown, sow new energy into struggling neighborhoods and continue with community policing initiatives to build a relationship between officers and those they serve.
Hart’s greatest frustration is not having enough money to do everything the city needs.
“There’s not a shortage of great ideas,” he said. “But resources to fund those great ideas is not always there.”
Brown said his highlights last year included the job his staff did responding to the September Cedar River flooding and the successful recruitment of a $6 million Furniture Mart USA warehouse and related $1.6 million Ashley Furniture Homestore.
“It was fun being a part of that (development) right out of the gate,” Brown said.
Looking ahead this year, Brown said the challenges will be completing the reconstruction of University Avenue and tackling other street, sewer and other infrastructure projects to keep the city growing.
“Those that were here before me did a heck of a job preparing for the capital needed for the infrastructure,” Brown said. “What’s probably missing is the implementation of that.”