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Candidates face questions at Charles City Council election forum, Part 1

  • Charles City Council candidates appear at a public forum Wednesday night to answer questions about themselves and city issues. From left are Craig Hamm, Phillip Knighten, Phoebe Pittman, Keith Starr and Ann Teeter. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Charles City Council candidate Phoebe Pittman speaks at a candidate forum on Wednesday evening at the NIAAC Center. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Charles City Council candidates Keith Starr (left) and Ann Teeter get ready for the start of the candidate forum on Wednesday evening at the NIACC Center. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

  • Charles City Council candidates Craig Hamm (left) and Phillip Knighten get ready for the start of the candidate forum at the NIACC Center on Wednesday evening. Press photo by Kelly Terpstra

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

Part one of two articles.

(Here’s part two.)

Charles City residents got a chance to know five candidates running for City Council a little better on Wednesday evening.

The NIACC Center played host to a forum where candidates answered questions submitted from would-be voters. The candidates also gave reasons why they thought they would be the right fit for the council.

There will be at least two new City Council members after two incumbents decided not to run again when their four-year council tenures expire.

The terms of Keith Starr, Michael Hammond and Dan Mallaro are up after Jan. 1, 2020. Of those, only Starr is seeking reelection.

Also running are Charles City middle school teacher Phoebe Pittman, tax accountant Phillip Knighten, custodian Craig Hamm and former bus driver and housewife Ann Teeter.

Question topics included the creation of a city-owned broadband utility, how to deal with nuisance properties, the current status of Main Street downtown, the condition of city streets and how to bring more jobs into Charles City to attract younger residents.

About 100 people packed into a large conference room at the NIACC building. Each candidate gave opening and closing statements. The answers to the questions that were fielded were just as diverse and wide-ranging as the candidates’ backgrounds.

Teeter said she was on the fence regarding the proposed broadband municipal utility.

“We have to look at the expense and all the positives or negatives that it might bring to the community,” she said.

Knighten said he supports the broadband initiative and thinks it’s a positive opportunity.

“I’m very excited that it’s on the table and an option for Charles City. Going down to visit with some people in Cedar Falls and they have their own broadband capability, I don’t think they ever want to look back,” said Knighten.

Starr said he is waiting to see the final analysis on the broadband project so he can better understand the cash flows and the profitability.

“The internet is extremely important and I think there is a real dissatisfaction with the way the internet in Charles City has operated. We’d like to resolve that and really make this a place for businesses to grow,” said Starr.

Pittman said broadband is a necessary part of modern infrastructure.

“If we want to be competitive with other communities, if we want to draw businesses in for future economic development, broadband is really just something that you have to have these days,” said Pittman.

Hamm said he is undecided about the creation of a municipal telecom being run by the city with no city utility to help support the funding.

“It’s a $13 million loan paid back in 20 years. Hopefully, I think they say a third of us have to be interested in it and brought to our house in order for them to do this,” said Hamm.

The current state of the downtown area along Main Street was one of the first questions the forum moderator, Tony Noah, asked the candidates.

Hamm said the area doesn’t need any more office space and thinks that stretch of retail shops could use more small businesses.

“Our Main Street to me looks pretty tough at times. I’m sorry I said that. I’ve been here 46 years. I know what has been in Charles City and what it’s like today. I’m probably the only candidate here that’s lived here all my life,” said Hamm. “We need some more Rustic Corner’s on Main Street. That way we keep the people from other communities in our town, not just to come to one store.”

Teeter agreed that more small businesses being added to the downtown area would be a positive.

“We have to look for people who want to work hard and bring their business to our town. We just need more people willing to put their ideas into a storefront. Too many people shop online, so it’s harder to bring those people in,” said Teeter.

Knighten said the city needs to focus on making Main Street a priority.

“It seems like the trend is going downward on Main Street. I think we need to take it upon ourselves to revitalize Main Street. … Just a week ago I was in Osage and went out to the football game. Then, after, we went down to Main Street Osage to get a bite to eat. Their Main Street is thriving. We have the capability to match it, if not even exceed what Osage is doing. We have a larger community and we have a bigger tax base,” said Knighten.

Pittman said that there are stores downtown that are successful and draw people to that area, and that needs to be increased.

“I guess right now I see our Main Street as a beautiful smile that’s missing a few teeth. That’s all you notice. We really do have some bright spots. There’s just a lot of missing spots. We need to really reach out to those young entrepreneurs, see what their ideas are. What are they thinking about?” said Pittman. “How can we further beautify our Main Street? What can we do with our Streetscape that makes it more appealing and nicer looking – kind of whiten those teeth up. Get everybody a nice, shiny smile when we go down Main Street. There’s a lot of potential there.”

Starr said Charles City’s downtown is no different than many communities across the nation that have seen downtown areas need revitalization.

“When I go down to College Square Mall (Cedar Falls), that’s pretty empty. When I go a little further south into Iowa, many of those malls are empty,” said Starr. “But I think of Charles City as more than just being the six or eight blocks of Main Street that we think of. I remember when I came to town there was a downtown mall that was limited in the amount of people that were there. Through the vision and risk taking of people, that turned into Hy-Vee and Theisen’s.”

Each candidate summed up why they thought they would be a good addition to fill out the council alongside current members DeLaine Freeseman and Jerry Joerger.

Knighten said his financial background and working well with others would be a great way for him to make a positive impact on the council.

“New visions, amplified integrity, diverse perspectives. I hope to contribute those attributes to my Charles City Comet community. I’d be honored to have your vote,” said Knighten.

Teeter said she is up to the task of listening to the concerns of the public and making changes for the better.

“I’m running because we live in an awesome community and I want to do my part to keep Charles City growing and improving. I want to represent your views and your voice on the council at the council table as a reflection of the entire community,” said Teeter.

Starr thanked members of the audience and Charles City for voting him into his current role on the council.

“When I was first elected seven years ago, I made a commitment to represent the city and not my own agenda. That commitment served me well,” said Starr. “I think my 30 years of business experience plays well into being a councilman. I really think that the consensus that we built with the council, where we realize that all of us are in the same boat and what’s good for one helps everybody else.”

Pittman said her work with students has prepared her for a role on the council.

“Being a middle school teacher for quite awhile, I’m really prepared for anything that gets thrown my way. I’m very willing and able to look for novel solutions to problems. That’s something that I have to do everyday working with students,” said Pittman.

“As an educator, I look at myself as a public servant already and I serve the youngest members of our community. I look forward to serving every member of our community. As someone who was a transplant here to Charles City, this is my chosen home. I want to be able to work to make it the best possible place that it can be.”

Hamm said he will listen to community members to help find solutions to problems throughout the city.

“I’ve got drive and determination. I am a guy that is loyal. I belong to a lot of clubs and committees in Charles City. Tonight, my answers weren’t very polished. I hope you guys give me a chance at being a councilman. I am a people person, believe it or not. I work at a church and I listen to a lot of complaints,” Hamm said.

More coverage of the City Council candidate forum will be in Monday’s Charles City Press.

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