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The Scarlet & Black

City council candidates speak before voters at forum

Candidates at the forum had the chance to inform voters on their aims and goals. Photo by Mahira Faran.

By Seth Taylor

As local elections approach, Grinnell candidates are taking every opportunity they can to sharpen their edges and spread their messages. The League of Women Voters and the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce held a public candidate forum Wednesday night, at which all candidates for mayor and city council were in attendance. These candidates had the chance to outline their platform and list what they see as the major issues facing Grinnell. They then participated in a Q&A session with the audience.

The candidates include Dan Agnew for mayor, running unopposed, as well as Julie Hansen and Rachel Bly, running for the councilmember position for the first and third wards, respectively, and John Clayton challenging incumbent Jim White for his position as the at-large councilmember.

As the lone mayoral candidate, Dan Agnew is set to replace 18-year incumbent Gordon Canfield. Agnew has lived in Grinnell since he was 11, attending the University of Northern Iowa and working as a teacher in Newton, Iowa, before taking a job at the Grinnell Mutual Insurance Company where he worked for 40 years, finishing his career as the President and CEO of the company.

As mayor, Agnew said he would work to prioritize what he calls “non-sexy” agenda items, such as upgrading the sewer system and building a new wastewater treatment plant. Agnew also believes that continuing collaboration between the city, college, business owners and local industry is key to encouraging more people to live in Grinnell, especially those who are already employed in the city. He hopes to further develop resources such as the school system, the hospital and city recreational facilities — what he sees as the major draws to those looking to settle in Grinnell — as well as the “zone of confluence” between the city and College.

Julie Hansen, first term incumbent and unopposed candidate to represent the first ward, also graduated from Grinnell High School and has lived in Grinnell for much of her life, working for Grinnell Mutual for the last 20 years.

Hansen believes her first term was an excellent learning experience, saying that she “looks forward to learning more” in her second term. She was proud of the work done to develop the Spaulding Transportation Museum in her first four years, and in the future she hopes to continue working towards better sidewalks across the city — something she also advocated for in her first election — and the revitalization of downtown Grinnell.

Candidates at the forum had the chance to inform voters on their aims and goals. Photo by Mahira Faran.

Rachel Bly is also unopposed in her candidacy for the third ward seat. She is a graduate of Grinnell College and is currently the Director of Conference Operations and Events at the College. This will be her third term.

Like Hansen, Bly stressed the need for continued infrastructural improvement in neighborhoods and the downtown area, as well as finishing the wastewater treatment plant. Bly also praised the ability of the city council to work both together and with other city organizations, something she claimed was unique.

“Most cities don’t function in the same way that we do, that we are able to have the really good conversations within the committees and really talk things out so by the time we’re taking things to the council, good decisions are happening,” Bly said.

John Clayton is contesting the at-large City Council seat, currently held by Jim White. White has been invested in the Grinnell Community for many years now, owning a local business, Bates Flowers, for 45 years and serving in a slew of community organizations. He has been a member of the City Council since 1986. In his tenure he’s taken part in decisions on the airport, swimming pool, library, public safety building and the new parks. But above all, White emphasizes transparency, communication, and “the will of the people” as priorities of his time on the City Council.

“The one thing I’ve probably been most proud of is that I’m accessible. I don’t think I’ve ever said to someone, ‘I don’t have time to talk to you — I can’t talk to you’ … That’s part of what being a good councilperson is. You have to listen,” White said.

John Clayton is challenging White for his seat. Clayton describes himself as a progressive and a conservationist. He emphasizes social justice issues and the risks of climate change as major issues he would address as a city council member, suggesting investing in solar energy and a city composter as initiatives the city could pursue. At the same time, Clayton would like to divert money from the downtown and focus more on improving neighborhood infrastructure, fixing the street curbs and handicap inaccessible crosswalks.

“If people are coming to look at Grinnell to live they want to see nice sidewalks … they want to see curbs — street curbs — that are actually there, erected, not crumbling,” Clayton said.

Also on the ballot is an initiative for a new 41-cent tax levy to renovate the Veterans Memorial Building in Central Park. Clayton voiced strong support for the levy; the other candidates avoided explicitly endorsing the levy, but they were all adamant that the decision was in the hands of Grinnell voters and that whether or not the initiative passes, the space would remain dedicated to veterans.

Whatever happens in the next two weeks before the election, voters will make their voices heard Tuesday, Nov. 7 at the local Elks Lodge.

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