The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

City Council: Old Dogs and New Plans

This past Tuesday, the City of Grinnell held elections for its City Council, with two of Grinnell’s four wards’ council members contested as well as one council member at large and the mayor’s position. The elections saw Rachel Bly, incumbent council member of the third ward, re-elected to her second four-year term on the City Council. In the first ward, Julie Hansen won the open position as council member from fellow contender Drew Sherman in a narrow victory of 80 votes for Hansen to Sherman’s 74. The overall turnout for the elections was 479 voters, a healthy turnout for a city council election.

Rachel Bly ’93, Director of Conference Operations and Events at the College, was thrilled with the results and turnout of the contested elections.

“Both of the two wards had opposition this time, which was actually kind of exciting because that doesn’t happen very often in city government,” said Bly. “Four hundred and seventy nine people voted, which … I want to say is among our higher voter turnouts, especially for a city council election.”

Jim White, owner of Bates Flowers & Greenhouses, was also re-elected to his position as council member at large, one that he has held for more than twenty-five years. Despite his many terms and years of experience on the council, White is particularly excited for his next four-year term, when many of Grinnell’s plans for development will be coming together.

“I see downtown revitalization, I see [that] working with the industrial area and Brownell’s moving in,” White said. “There’s also potential [projects, like] a new gas station, a new hotel on the horizon.”

The council as a whole has many projects currently in development, with issues both old and new for the city to confront. Bly notes a degree of interconnectedness with many of the council’s upcoming projects and goals for this coming term.

“There’s [construction] development on 146, housing improvements … at the Iowa Transportation Museum, the facade grant program downtown and Central Park,” Bly said. “There’s a lot of cool stuff going on that could all be interrelated to tell the story of Grinnell in a really exciting way.”

Improvements in Central Park are a definite priority for the Council, along with the fate of the Veteran’s Building at the corner of 4th Avenue and Broad Street.

“The Veterans Building is closed because of asbestos issues,” Bly said. “All of the asbestos has been removed of course, but now it’s just a mess inside. We want to figure out what the future of that is.”

The future of the Veterans Building, like many of the City Council’s upcoming decisions, is contested in the Grinnell community. Since the 2010 asbestos removal project, many different groups and voices in the community have suggested repurposed uses for the space, ranging from making it a local community meeting place to razing the building to expand Central Park.

Less contested in town is the prospect of the new wastewater treatment plant slotted for construction in the next few years, which has been required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In planning the new plant for the city, there are a variety of factors for consideration, primary among them being the city’s current infrastructure for handling storm water. Last May’s dramatic flooding inundated many basements in Grinnell at the time, and concerns of flooding and future water treatment capacities are under discussion.

“Probably the most pressing issue we have [is] our new wastewater treatment plant,” White said. “Our current plant is more than 50 years old, so how big do we make it, this new one? And how much can we afford without raising [citizens’] water bills off the map?”

Though it comes with its difficult decisions, the job of council member is clearly fulfilling in one way or another, given the longevity of some of its members.

“I’m thankful that the people have elected me all these years,” White said. “People have been good to me and my business and my family, and this is a way for me to pay back [the community].”

The community has consistently renewed White’s service, as his long career on the Council continues.

“He calls himself ‘the old dog’,” Bly said. “He’s literally the longest serving council member. He’s seen everything and done everything with the Council.”

Being the longest serving council member does not keep White from continuing to have long-term goals and aspirations for Grinnell. White hopes to work in the next term especially in improving ‘town-gown’ relations and links between the townspeople and college students.

“I want our downtown to be welcoming to Grinnell College kids and I think it should be,” said White. “Because [they’re] good for us and we’re good for [them].”

Bly, going into her second four-year term now, enjoys learning on the job and using her insight of the town’s plans to educate other citizens on the goings-on of Grinnell.

“I love learning about different programs and process and things that make our city run,” Bly said. “[My goal is] helping folks understand and wanting them to know the information and not just make assumptions.”

If its past action has been any indication of their future trajectory, the Grinnell City Council will be keeping Grinnell the unique town it has always been.

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