The race to be Keokuk's next mayor is between two men, incumbent Tom Marion and challenger Chuck Betts. If that sounds familiar to residents, it should because the two men squared off six years ago.
In 2009, five people entered the race to replace the late Dave Gudgel, who decided not to seek another term as mayor. The top two finishers were Marion and Betts, but since neither received a clear majority of the votes cast in the regular election, a run-off was held.
Marion was victorious in that run-off and he has remained in office ever since.
This rematch will occur on Tues., Nov. 3. It's a rematch, though, that almost didn't occur.
Betts said he was not interested in running for mayor against a seated incumbent, that is until he stopped by city hall to see who was running for office. The list had just one name for mayor: Tom Marion.
“I said this can’t happen. In a town of 10,000 people, there must be at least two people who care about their community enough to run for the top administrative spot, so I took papers out at that moment," said Betts.
Betts is quick to point out that his campaign is not simply about offering an alternative, it's about making Keokuk a better place to live and raise a family. He said that starts with getting more people interested in what is going on in city hall, so he would like to see city employees to a better job of informing the public of what is going on within their departments.
There have been several street projects in recent memory, Grand Avenue and 2nd & Fulton Streets, where residents have had to come to city council meetings to request updates on the project.
Marion believes the city already does a good job of keeping the public informed through public workshops and televised meetings. He said he also tries to get out into the community as often as he can and he will continue to do so if elected to a 4th term in office.
Marion said the biggest challenge facing the city is the need to separate its combined sanitary/storm water sewer system, which carries a potential price tag of more than $75-million. He said he will continue working to gain more time for the city to complete the project.
"If we accomplish that and extend that out, that’s going to free money to work on streets, which are absolutely in terrible shape and that’s something we need to do," said Marion. He said he would use the money that is freed-up to repair the city's streets, to the tune of $1-million/year for 12 years.
Betts said he also supportive of seeking additional time from the EPA for the sewer project and putting additional money into street repairs throughout the city.
The mayor's race in Keokuk is unique this year because it appears the position will be going from full-time, with a salary of more than $50,000, to part-time. That's because the city has hired a new city administrator, Aaron Burnett, who held a similar position in Humboldt, Ia.
Betts has publicly backed the idea of Keokuk having a city administrator for years. Marion, after being elected mayor, opposed the idea. But he said he now embraces it as well.
The two have similar ideas as to what the role of the mayor should be once Burnett is in place.
"[I expect the mayor] to be the representative of the city, to be the face of the city, to encourage and direct economic development movement through the city, and to try to help identify with the council the policy issues that are important.”
“Well, I see the mayor still having supervision over the city administrator, so that is going to be part of it. But the day-to-day [operations], dealing with the department heads, that will be the city administrator. I hope to work on economic development [if re-elected]."
Betts said, on the economic development front, that while he would love to bring a business with 500 jobs to Keokuk, he feels it's more feasible for the city to work to land 10 business with 50 employees each. He said too often, the larger businesses require so much in incentives that it can harm the city's future.
Betts said he would also meet regularly with businesses that are already operating in Keokuk, which Marion said during a recent forum that he does and will continue to do if re-elected.
Marion said there are several businesses interested in Keokuk, so he will continue working with them. He is also excited about the spin-off businesses that could emerge when AMJET Turbine Systems sets up production in Keokuk.
When it comes to some of the other issues facing Keokuk.
- Marion said he would like to see the dog park built in Rees Park
- Betts believes the best location is Riverview Park, which is the site recommended by his wife, who worked with local residents to bring the proposal to the city council.
- Both candidates feel the city is doing a good job on that front, given the financial resources and manpower available. They both said during a recent forum that working to take absentee owners to court is the right approach.
2nd & Fulton Street
- Betts supports the engineering study ordered by the city council to determine if the road can be re-opened, after a hill-slide damaged it several years ago. He cautions though about putting public money into stabilizing the hill below the road because that hill is not owned by the city.
- Marion has said for weeks that the city should not get involved unless the owners of the hill are willing to pay the cost to stabilize it. He does not believe the city should pay to repair the road if the threat of a hill-slide is not eliminated.
You can hear extended interviews with the candidates by clicking the links below.