NEVADA — The League of Women Voters put on a public forum featuring the four candidates for Story County Supervisor on Monday evening. The forum was held at the Extension Office at the Story County Fairgrounds.
In the order they were seated at the forum, here are a few highlights of what candidates said during their remarks/answers given during the forum.
Rick Sanders, Republican, of Ames (incumbent)
n In opening remarks, he shared that he’s the current chair of the BOS and he was elected in 2010. Serving on the BOS is “absolutely the best professional experience of my life.” He serves on 19 other boards and commissions. His case for re-election: “You elected me based on my strong belief in fiscal management … You re-elected me in 2014, because we were doing exactly what we said we’d be doing.” And he plans to continue strong fiscal management if re-elected this year. He also noted he is very proud of Story County having a balanced budget, which has been done for six years now, after happening for the first time in 2013.
n On economic development, he said he’s proud of the decision made and work that’s been done with the Ames Economic Development Commission in contracting with Story County for countywide economic development. “If you want to increase wages, you better add good jobs.” And in recent economic development wins for the county, he said not one job being added is “less than $17 an hour … The future is really, really bright …”
n In answer to a question about making Story County more open to diversity, he said, “Diversity is unbelievably important … it makes us all better.” In fact, Sanders said that while all the others at the table were raised in Story County, he is not originally from here. He’s lived in other states. “My experience is this broad base of looking at what this American experience is … and this (Story County) is easily the most welcoming place I’ve ever been.”
n On the complicated matter of drainage districts and the importance of agriculture, he explained, “We have 119 drainage districts in Story County … the county was basically built in a bog … and farmers decided they were going to help the land drain to be used for ag production.” But drainage district infrastructure wasn’t kept up over the years. Sanders said he and former supervisors Wayne Clinton and Paul Toot started developing a program to go in and rebuild the infrastructure. “It’s (drainage districts) the dirty little secret they don’t tell you about when you run for supervisor,” he said, describing this as a huge issue that anyone on the board had better get “ramped up quickly” on if they are going to help tackle it.
Marty Chitty, Republican, of Nevada (incumbent)
n Noted in opening remarks that he came to the board in a “very unpleasant manner,” being appointed to the seat his friend and fellow Nevadan, Paul Toot, left vacant following his unexpected death. Made note of the fact that he formerly served on the Nevada School Board. About Story County, he said the county will never have a mountain range or a beach … “but we control the ability to make this a user-friendly environment … and offer value to the cost it takes to live here.”
n In answer to a question about how to make Story County and smaller towns more open to a diverse population, Chitty said, he is on the board for Boys and Girls Club of Story County and is a founding member of the Nevada-based Boys and Girls Club, an organization that involves children from diverse backgrounds. “I have watched Story County change before my eyes … I don’t think we’re there yet (to where we are fully embracing our diversity)” … but we are at “a destination along the way.”
n About the importance of ag and the complicated matter of drainage districts: After Sanders described Story County historically as a “bog,” Chitty said, “Slough is what we are … but (agriculture) is our story …” He noted, “Agriculture (including work needed in drainage districts) does not come free.” Chitty said on Dec. 11 there will be a meeting about the Grant 5 drainage district, which with recent annexation of the Eastview portion of Ames, will bring Ames to the table to discuss what happens with the city of Ames and farmers and landowners in the district (which lies between the cities of Ames and Nevada). At that meeting, Chitty said, “We are going to see some proposed changes” in how surface drainage happens in the district.
n In answer to a question from Ames resident John Klaus about what can be done to protect the environment, Chitty said Story County has made some wise choices on how it is heating and cooling its buildings (geo-thermal) and using other energy efficiencies. “We should have conversations in the quiet of our own homes … if we value the world we live in. We need to be doing all we can.”
Linda Murken, Democrat, of Gilbert
n Said in opening statement that she’s lived in Story County all of her life, grew up on a farm, lived in Ames 20 years, and now lives back on a farm, west of Gilbert. Noted she worked many years in community corrections. Sees Story County as a “great place to live and a great place to raise a family.” Said the reason she’s running for the BOS is to assure representation for the people in this county who do not have sufficient income or assets. “We have to think about those people and what we can do for them as county supervisors …” She would like to see funding for assistance programs increase, and she’s very concerned about mental health care for children.
n To a question about economic development, she replied, “What we really need to concentrate on is our smaller communities … that they have the amenities and services in them (to keep residents living in those towns).” Said the fact that Ames Economic Development is working with the smaller communities is a positive thing. She also said she wishes Story County could attract or see startups of different kinds of businesses here like she often sees when watching the IPTV series, “Iowa Entrepreneur.”
n In answer to a question about diversity, she shared a story of a friend who no longer lives in Ames, but who did come to Ames at one time to help her daughter’s family while her daughter was attending graduate school. The family was African-American, and she said one thing they noticed right away when driving around was that there weren’t a lot of other African-American people in Ames. So, when it comes to diversity, Murken commented that Story County may not be as welcoming for everyone who comes here. She has tried to open herself to diversity by attending conferences and events that would have people of various backgrounds. “I want to hear different perspectives. I need to do more of that … and we need to challenge each other to do more of that.”
n When it comes to drainage districts and farming, she said, “I would assume we would have learned some things in the past 100 years … there are a whole lot of things that we can do and maybe move into a future that is a little different than the drainage system we have right now.” She sees the drainage district problems as a “management problem … Where do you even start with modernizing our drainage system? … We can’t just rebuild the same old antiquated system we have right now.” Her main point with drainage districts and with climate change is that elected officials need to listen to scientists and those who are experts in these fields.
Joshua Opperman, Democrat, of Ames
n Shared that he grew up under difficult family circumstances, having a father who abused alcohol and a mother who was a high school dropout. He was bounced around a lot and grew up in poverty. “I graduated at the bottom of my class at Ballard High School because at the time I didn’t really see there was much of a reason to go.” With encouragement from others, he finally attended college, majored in business management and eventually attended law school. He ended up as a human resources consultant … supporting over 700 employees with over 60 companies, many of them in Story County. Based on his own story of overcoming major challenges, “I want to invest in people of Story County,” he said, so others can find success when faced with difficult challenges.
n About how to pull people up from difficult circumstances, he complimented the Mid-Iowa Community Action (MICA) organization and was glad that Story County has a housing trust fund to help people have the basics in life. He also feels that workforce development is very important … “I’m a ‘take action now’ kind of guy” when it comes to things like getting people adequate housing, finding jobs and human services, he explained. He also noted that employees have come to him needing leaves of absence because they can’t find child care, because there’s a shortage of it. He’d like to see more companies provide a child care service. He also is an advocate for more mental health programming being available.
n On economic development, “it’s hugely important,” he said, and the key to economic development is to “build that pipeline that will sustain jobs in the future.” He said he’s concerned about whether Story County has the workforce to take on added jobs that companies which are expanding will need to fill. “We have to take care of how Burke (Corp. in Nevada, which recently announced an expansion to bring over 200 new jobs) is going to expand, not just enticing them to (expand).”
n Dealing with the issues of drainage districts and water runoff, he said there is an urban piece to this problem. “The more impermeable we build … those are things (that) cause increased water flow, and I think we need to take a better look at that.” He does believe farmers are doing a much better job of planting cover crops; and he acknowledged that tiling is a big expense and a very complex issue.