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Leighton Strong: Family of injured boy wants to thank community

WATERLOO — Leighton Pullin and his cousins had the superheroes covered this Halloween. From The Flash to Supergirl to Spider-Man.

And that seems fitting after what Leighton and his family have been through.

On Oct. 17, 2016, Leighton was hit by a truck as he was crossing the street in front of his home. After paramedics revived him, he was flown to Iowa City for treatment. He was in a coma, on life support and showing no signs of improvement. Doctors prepared the family for the worst, and Leighton, then 7 years old, was taken off life support.

“That was the scariest decision ever,” said Monique Boyd, Leighton’s aunt, who was with Leighton and other family members throughout the ordeal. “I was there for the whole ride. I was missing work, whatever it took.”

On the day Leighton was to be taken off life support, Boyd gave her children the option of going to the hospital with her. “He can’t talk to you, but he knows you are there,” she told them at the time. They all joined her.

“We were all together in the family room (at the hospital) praying, hoping,” Boyd said.

Despite doctors’ predictions, when Leighton was taken off life support, he coughed and shrugged his shoulders, signs his brain was functioning.

“They put him right back on,” Boyd said.

At this time last year, Leighton remained in Iowa City before being transferred to Covenant in Waterloo for rehabilitation.

“The doctor said, ‘This is what you are taking home,’” Boyd said.

“They were telling us we were taking him home as a vegetable,” said Jason Higham, Leighton’s uncle.

“And look at me now,” Leighton interjected into the conversation.

This year, Leighton was able to enjoy Halloween like any other kid — carving pumpkins and eager to don his Spider Man costume to go trick or treating. He is a second-grader at Lowell Elementary School and is a happy, charming 8-year-old with a penchant for corny jokes.

“Knock. Knock,” Leighton said.

“Who’s there?”

“Boo hoo.”

“Boo hoo who?”

“Well, ya don’t have to cry about it,” he answered before breaking into laughter. “That’s a good one. I’ve got lots of jokes in me today.”

“We are amazed at how far he has come,” Boyd said. “That’s my miracle baby, right there.”

Just a year after Leighton’s accident, he and his family are ready to thank all the people who helped him get to this point in his recovery. They will be holding The Leighton Strong Celebration on Saturday at El Senor Tequila Nightclub.

“People put on two benefits for him,” Boyd said. “The churches organized one and there was one at Fusion Bar. A GoFundMe page was set up, and the Leighton Strong Facebook page — complete strangers were on there praying for him.”

Invitations have been sent to paramedics and medical staff who helped with Leighton’s recovery.

The celebration is being organized by Boyd’s brother, Josh Adams, who is in the business of putting on events as owner of KeyB Promotions.

There will be live entertainment, food, a DJ, a cake walk, games and more, Adams said. Leighton will even be signing autographs.

“This is basically for everyone in the community, whether they supported the GoFundMe page or sent encouraging messages. Everyone can come meet Leighton and he can thank them,” Adams said. “It is a free event and very family oriented.

“Leighton is doing so good. He’s a lot further than we thought he would be. He’s dancing, laughing, joking. That’s great to see. It’s pretty awesome how he went from a wheelchair to a walker to braces, and now he’s doing it on his own,” Adams said. “But the best thing is seeing him get his sense of humor back. He was so traumatized by the event.

“Family and friends are providing all the food. We want to keep this away from a benefit. The community has already done so much. We just want people to show up and have fun,” he said.

“I’ve done a lot of events, but when it comes to family you really want to go all out. Especially when it’s a child. It’s a different sort of thing. When it was happening, we were expecting the worst. But they took him off life support and Leighton said not today. That’s what this is all about.”

Three people seek open Cedar Falls council seat

CEDAR FALLS — Three candidates are running for the at-large Cedar Falls City Council seat being vacated by Nick Taiber, who is not seeking re-election.

Erin Cornelius, 37, is a resident of the North Cedar area.

Rob Green, 41, is a web developer at the University of Northern Iowa Rod Library and U.S. Coast Guard veteran who has been active in the Overman Park Neighborhood Association.

Businesswoman LeaAnn Saul, 61, is a city Planning and Zoning Commission member and board president of Community Main Street.

A simple majority of 50 percent plus one vote is required for election. If no one receives that in Tuesday’s city election, the top two vote-getters will meet in a runoff election Dec. 5.

Cornelius said she’s running because “I figured I could actually make an impact on local politics. I began attending City Council meetings and saw there was only one woman on the council out of seven seats and no clear progressive voice. The motto of the city was “Our citizens are our business,” but the citizens don’t seem to be a priority. In the discussions I saw little consideration for the citizens, just the bottom line — spending.”

Green said he’s running because “Cedar Falls is a thriving city, and we’ll need imagination, vision and a strong community spirit to maintain sustainable growth. As a leader in military, corporate, start-up, community and higher education environments, I’m eager to apply my well-rounded perspective and strong strategic thinking abilities to the issues facing Cedar Falls.”

Saul said she’s running because “I believe that the growth and progress of our great city takes visionary and inspirational leaders that will consider the opinions of its citizens. It seems that the squeaky wheels get the grease while the silent majority is ignored.”

Asked about major issues, Saul said, “I believe that the biggest challenge facing Cedar Falls is to be able to continue to provide quality services while staying within a budget that does not increase our taxes. “

A main issue, Green said, is accommodating growth as well as the needs of older areas of the city.

“We’re seeing a housing boom in the west and southwest,” he said. “As we navigate this growth, I’m concerned with funding and maintaining the infrastructure and city services needed to support these new areas. Similarly, we must ensure that we maintain proper city support to our original neighborhoods, including North Cedar.”

Cornelius said, “The main issue facing Cedar Falls is our fire protection services. We are not providing the level of services we could and should. The cross-training of public safety officers is not adequate to replace full-time career firefighters.”

On his views on public safety services, Green said, “Proper fire and rescue coverage is a necessary investment. I support cross-training first responders, but I don’t believe that 1-1 replacement of a firefighter and police officer with a single ‘public safety officer’ is a wise move.”

Saul said, “I support the public safety model in Cedar Falls, but I do not support replacing fully trained firefighters with fire-trained police officers or other public workers. I believe that PSOs should supplement the firefighters.”

On the ongoing reconstruction of University Avenue and future road projects, Green said, “Continual engagement with residents and businesses is critical. The city should continue to broadcast project status via Currents (newsletter), Channel 15, infographics at City Hall and library, a dedicated website and Facebook/ These aren’t expensive actions; the outreach will go a long way in informing and engaging those impacted.”

Of University’s reconstruction with roundabouts and future road projects, Saul said, “What is done is done and we have to learn to deal with it. I personally am enjoying the ‘no stoplight’ road, but I can empathize with those who are challenged by it all. I think consultants have ‘roundabout’ obsession and our city leaders have bought into it. Let’s use some common sense before jumping into a particular road design plan.”

Cornelius said, “The city has done a good job getting out information on navigating construction and driving in roundabouts in media and in direct citizen contact. The city could be more vigilant about getting continued updates to community groups and posted in public places. I think the lesson that we can take for future road projects is to communicate with our citizens about the changes occurring in as many different formats as we can.”

Asked to assess the city’s performance in balancing the residential tax burden against incentives to encourage business growth, Saul said, “We need better balance between residential and commercial in Cedar Falls, so using the tax incentive program to encourage commercial and business growth is a good thing.”

On the same subject, Cornelius said, “For the most part the city has made good choices in using incentives and TIF (tax increment financing) districts to build up our community and attract new businesses. I prefer to see smaller incentives given to large corporations that don’t really need the financial help and more of a focus on local businesses, but the balance seems to be getting better.”

Green offered a different view. “We should be less reliant on tax incentives,” he said. “An objective formula should include projected local jobs and direct impact to our economy. We should instead highlight our quality of life, infrastructure and other amenities to attract companies” and not offer incentives “to relocate businesses within city limits.”

Powers and Klein battle again for City Council seat

WATERLOO — Voters in the city’s first ward may experience deja vu at the ballot box Tuesday.

The Ward 1 City Council race features a rematch between incumbent Tom Powers and challenger Margaret Klein, who previously squared off in a July 12, 2016, special election to replace former Councilman David Jones.

Powers, who won that contest by 48 votes, is now looking for a full four-year term, while Klein hopes to flip the script.

Klein, 68, of 4102 Aspen Court, is a retired Cedar Valley Catholic Schools employee who remains active in her church by serving on parish councils. She also serves on the CVCS board of education.

She said voters have a chance for change. “They have the incumbent who proudly states that we need to hold the line on property taxes,” Klein said. “Then they have the challenger who proudly states we need to lower our taxes and become a more competitive community.

“They have the status quo backed by the local establishment and an independent woman who doesn’t fear change,” she added.

Powers, 64, of 611 Campbell Ave., worked 29 years as a Waterloo firefighter after serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. He now works for the VGM Group Inc.

“I’m the swing vote for civility on the Waterloo council,” Powers said. “I’ve proven myself as a bridge leader who can bring people together to solve problems by putting progress ahead of politics.

“My opponent says she’ll do it with empty campaign rhetoric,” he added. “But I’ve done it and will continue to do it.”

Powers said he will continue to focus on job growth, maintaining public safety and passing balanced budgets that keep property taxes in check.

“Growing jobs by holding the line on taxes makes us competitive with surrounding cities so businesses and families want to locate here,” Powers said. “Public safety can be improved by delivering efficient and effective service with well-trained, professional staff.”

Powers said he has supported development projects throughout the entire community and made tough budget decisions to maintain public safety departments.

“It isn’t just about cutting and saying no,” he said. “I’ve said yes to quality-of-life investments that make Waterloo a place people want to live and raise their families.”

Klein said her top goals include reducing property taxes, which she believes are driving residents and businesses out of the city, and bringing civility and respect back to city government.

“I know that budget cuts aren’t always easy nor popular, but in the best interest of our city’s future we have to get serious about lowering our taxes,” Klein said.

“Others say we’ve cut as much as we can and we can do no more. In that case I say if you are out of ideas, step aside and let new leadership step in.

“I believe we can streamline city government by doing a comprehensive review of each department to see where they may be combined to save on administrative costs,” she added.

While Klein said she supports the city’s use of tax incentives to lure new businesses to the community, she disagrees with providing more than 15 years of tax abatements and said 80 to 90 percent rebates are too long.

The candidates differed on several high-profile issues which came before the council over the last year.

Powers voted to allow the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras that ticket motorists running red lights and speeding but said any camera installed needs a valid, data-driven reason.

“I only support automated traffic devices that protect citizens due process rights, with limits on fines and are only placed when evidence justifies using them because of high accidents, injury or death,” he said.

Klein said she would not be inclined to support red light and speed cameras.

“I think it is a very intrusive area that has received a lot of criticism on the local and state level,” she said. “I personally see it as a revenue grab by the city.”

Powers voted for a $1.5 million contract to restore the Fourth Street pedestrian canopy, saying it is a bridge to the past that gives residents and visitors a safe way to cross the Cedar River. Klein said she did not support the city spending that money, saying the canopy should have been removed.

Powers supported a hobby farm ordinance which allows residents to keep chickens and small farm animals in residential back yards, saying the adopted rules are very restrictive to protect neighborhoods. Klein does not support the ordinance, saying Waterloo is an urban area and farm animals should be kept on a farm.

While the Iowa Legislature approved fireworks usage for 33 days in the summer and 25 days around New Year’s Eve, Powers said he supports a shortened time frame around the Fourth of July. Klein supports limiting the use in Waterloo to just July 4 and New Year’s Eve.