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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell reelects local representatives

Stephen Sieck, professor of Chemistry at Grinnell College and Director-At-Large of the Grinnell-Newburg Board of Education attests to Grinnell’s community involvement. Photo by George Kosinski.

On Nov. 5, this past Tuesday, elections were held for the Grinnell-Newburg School Board positions of Director-At-Large, Director District Three, and Director District Four, as well as the At Large, Ward Two, and Ward Four positions on the Grinnell City Council. Grinnell Mayor Dan Agnew was also up for reelection.

Leading up to the elections, the School Board held a forum at the Drake Community Library on Oct. 30. Of the Board members in attendance, three were unopposed incumbent candidates in Tuesday’s election, leading the small audience of fewer than 10 residents to speculate on what the lack of opposition said of Grinnell’s local political climate.

Members of Grinnell’s local government do not believe the lack of attendance at this forum, and lack of opposing candidates in Tuesday’s races, indicate a lack of community engagement in town politics as a whole. Sondi Burnell, Ward Four on the Grinnell City Council who did not seek reelection on Tuesday, said, “My ward is very involved … Overall Grinnellians are very involved in their local government.”

“I grew up here, so I’m from the area,” she continued. “I think politics in general, enthusiasm for the city of Grinnell being the best that it can, has always had a lot of involvement from all different types of people.

She then recounted how several of her constituents once brought to her attention the dilapidated state of the old Grinnell skatepark. She was able to secure funding through local government and refurbish the park, bettering it and making it safer for all Grinnellians to use. She cited this as an example of community and government working harmoniously in Grinnel. She added that many Grinnellians participate in local politics through nonprofits and civic organizations instead of running for office or attending forums.

Stephen Sieck, professor of Chemistry at Grinnell and Director-At-Large on the Grinnell-Newburg Board of Education, echoed Burnell’s statements, saying, “I don’t think there’s a lack of ideas coming from the community, so they’re engaged in that way. Maybe they just don’t have the time to be able to participate in terms of as being members of the City Council or the School Board.”

Burnell added that perhaps one reason for community members not being as engaged with the City Council as they otherwise would be is the Council’s attention to matters that are extremely necessary, but of general public disinterest.

“A big investment that we’ve put in, and we’ve been saving for, is a new wastewater treatment plant. That is just coming online and getting completed and that is a huge investment in the community. We’ve been doing a lot of infrastructure underneath–sewer lines and water lines–and that’s also something that community members don’t see but appreciate when they don’t have water issues.”

The School Board, like the city council, is focused on investing in local infrastructure. Sieck brought up the need for new schools to be built in the area, saying “the schools we have are old and aging.” He noted that this was a difficult issue to address, as a sixty percent majority must be obtained in a district-wide bond vote in order to raise taxes that would generate funding for new schools. Sieck listed three failed bond votes in the past six years alone.

Grinnell resident Stuart Porter exemplified this debate. “Our school board does not have a grasp on the needs of our school system, in my opinion,” he said. “As far as the bond issue for Iowa Valley, let’s use buildings to a better advantage as opposed to building new buildings. Buildings do not make an educational project. It’s the students and the teachers. You could hold a class outside if you had a willing teacher and wanting-to-learn students. So, a building to me doesn’t mean that much as far as education goes.” Other Grinnell residents declined to speak on the topic.

Sieck thought that perhaps this tax issue, which he described as “fairly heated,” might engender some level of opposition towards his and other School Board members’ campaigns. “There were a lot of issues going on,” he said. “I thought maybe some people who had a different way of thinking about what the district should be doing would potentially run, but that hasn’t actually happened.” Sieck ran unopposed and was reelected on Tuesday.

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George Kosinski, Staff Writer
George Kosinski is a fourth year from New Haven, Connecticut, studying English at Grinnell. He will tell you that he reads a lot, but actually spends most of his time gravel biking. He is a staunch champion of the oatmeal raisin cookie.
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