The future course of the city of Waterloo hung in the balance. Only 15 percent of the voters in the First Ward answered the call.
They picked retired Waterloo firefighter and veteran politico Tom Powers over newcomer and Cedar Valley Catholic Schools board member Margaret Klein by a scant 50 votes, pending a final canvass.
Powers’ victory presumably gives Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart the four-vote working majority he needs on the seven-member council to promote his programs and agenda — joining council members Jerome Amos Jr., Ron Welper and Pat Morrissey.
Those programs were essentially blocked in the months following council member David Jones’ resignation by an opposing triumvirate of council members including Tom Lind, Bruce Jacobs and Steve Schmitt. Many measures died on a 3-3 vote, failing for lack of four votes.
Schmitt narrowly missed being elected mayor twice previously. Presumably a victory by Klein, supported by many of the same people who back Schmitt, may have given him, in effect, the ability to control the city government from his council seat — though Klein firmly indicated she was beholden to no one but her constituents. She and her backers worked hard, walked neighborhoods and very nearly won.
Hart and the now-four council members likely to support his initiatives need to keep that in mind. This council race was about as close as Schmitt’s previous mayoral runs. That should indicate to everyone citizens want city officials to tightly control expenses. We do not expect Schmitt, Jacobs, Lind or anyone else to back off one bit in questioning expenditures and whether some things can be done less expensively and more efficiently to spread finite dollars among the city’s various needs.
At the same time, we would respectfully suggest those same council members show greater respect for the office of the mayor. Council members certainly should control city purse strings; that’s their job. But a mayor is not a hireling of the council, like a city manager. The mayor is the city’s chief executive, elected by the people — a separate and equal branch of government, charged with carrying out the day-to-day operations of the city and being a leader.
If those council members, or any other citizen, don’t like that arrangement, they can initiate a change in form of government or run for mayor themselves.
We don’t think anyone in Waterloo can find argument with the five points Mayor Hart ran on: Safer streets, economic development, neighborhood empowerment, positive city image and strategic planning. They may be dismissed as platitudes or taken as goals to which the city should aspire. We would urge the latter.
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We would, however add another: A well-managed city budget and a reasonable tax and fee burden for the citizens.
Waterloo voters aren’t stupid. They put these officials in office so this city can balance its dreams and aspirations against financial realities. The ensuing discussion, in theory, should produce the best result.
It has not. It is time for our elected officials to re-start their relations with each other. We would suggest honest, face-to-face communication and conversation — with each other, instead of about each other.
And stop communicating by email. No one can read emotion or inflection in an email. A well-intentioned, concise thought may be misinterpreted as terse or gruff, when it may not necessarily be the case. Continued email communication among several council members also can risk open meetings law violations.
Spirited debate does not and should not preclude or undermine collegiality and a common goal of working for what’s best for the city.
We would suggest our elected officials could learn a lesson from former council members Sammie Dell and Bob Brown during Mayor Bernie McKinley’s administration a quarter century ago. After one heated debate, the two at-large council members publicly embraced in front of the council table.
We don’t expect the current office holders will be giving hugs any time soon. But a gentlemanly handshake would be nice. It may even attract more voters now turned off by the bickering.
It would sure beat the dickens out of an email.