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City elections Tuesday, Nov. 5

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader

TIFFIN– Municipal elections will take place Tuesday, Nov. 5. Voters in Johnson County will be asked to choose city council members to fill any vacant seats. There is only one public measure on any municipal ballots this time around; Iowa City residents will be asked if the age for entry to a bar that serves alcohol should be changed back to 19 years, instead of 21. Iowa City, University Heights and Coralville all have strongly contested races for council positions, and Coralville has four candidates running for its mayor’s seat.
Otherwise, races throughout other Johnson County communities are somewhat quiet, with just a smattering of challengers in Oxford, Shueyville and Swisher. Lone Tree is the exception; there are three empty council positions and only one candidate on the ballot. Solon has three council vacancies and just three candidates, while Hills’ and North Liberty’s incumbents are the only individuals running for open council and mayor seats.
Tiffin’s council race is slightly more interesting. Mayor Steve Berner is running unopposed for a second two-year term, but voters will have five choices to fill the three vacancies on council.
Berner and the five council candidates responded to a Leader questionnaire submitted via email. Their responses appear below.

Steve Berner, mayoral candidate

Personal background:
I am married to Tina, and we have five adult children. I have lived and worked at Solon State Bank in Tiffin Since 1997. I have been a member of Tiffin Volunteer Fire Dept. as an EMT-B and firefighter since 1998.

What experiences will help you serve on Tiffin city council?
I have nearly 25 years experience in the financial industry and more directly I was chairman of Tiffin Planning & Zoning Commission for 14 years, then became mayor January 2012.

What are your top three priorities if elected?
My first term has been only two short years. I am running for mayor for many of the same reasons as 2011. I see the three top priorites as: 1. Infrastructure and capital improvement projects must keep up with growth such as completing the Ireland Avenue extension. 2. Develop, implement and continue to update a comprehensive plan which serves as a guide for Tiffin. 3. Do not increase city property tax levy.

What is your position on using TIF to spur further economic development?
TIF districts are established to spur economic development by allowing the city to keep a greater share of the tax revenue for infrastructure and other capital improvements. Within the past year Tiffin has approved six new developments. TIF funds allow our city to pay for city projects to keep up as needed for a variety of city services to these developments. TIF funding is now working in Tiffin as it was intended many years ago. At this point, I do not support adding new TIF districts within the Tiffin Urban Renewal area.

In recent meetings, the council has displayed obvious signs of tension between its members. What do you see as the role of the 5-member/single mayor board in terms of working together in the best interest of the community? What do you see as your individual role in moving the city forward into the future?
As mayor I do not vote on issues, my job as presiding officer of the city council is to guide the council in policy making that addresses problems and issues that I feel are facing Tiffin. It is important for the council to work as a cohesive unit to approve and oversee city policy to accomplish what is best for Tiffin as whole, the councilors should not have a personal agenda. Currently council member Royce Phillips appears to be determined to make it difficult for the council to do their jobs as policy makers for Tiffin. To me it seems Mr. Phillips goal is for Tiffin’s failure to succeed while I am mayor. Actions by Mr. Phillips at council meetings causes tension on nearly all issues when the other council members support my recommendations. I plan to continue to guide and push the council to approve city policy that I feel is best for Tiffin as a whole.

Contact Berner via email at steven.lee.berner@gmail.com or by phone through Tiffin city hall at 319-545-2572.

Jim Bartels, council candidate

Personal background:
I am from a farm family and served three years in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. I attended the University of Iowa and was a U.S. Postal letter carrier in Iowa City/Coralville for 42 years before retiring in 2007. I have lived in Tiffin since 1967 and been on the city council since 1989. I am married to Darla Allen and have two children Steve and Brooke, graduates of West High and Clear Creek Amana respectively.

What experiences will help you serve on Tiffin city council?
Letter carrier union membership.
Canopy Lodge 290 (Mason) membership (philanthropy).
Served on Tiffin city council 24 years.

What are your top three priorities if elected?
Ireland Avenue Extension. I pushed for this over 10 years ago suggesting buying the two Stratton properties to make room for Ireland when the time came for the road.
TIF Policy: Support a TIF policy in place prior to businesses asking for this tax.
Controlled growth: New developments and businesses should blend in to the community (include areas for parks, children, animals, accesses, parking).

What is your position on using TIF to spur further economic development?
I like TIF funding but hope our council sees the benefit of developing a TIF policy prior to more requests by commercial businesses.

In recent meetings, the council has displayed obvious signs of tension between its members. What do you see as the role of the 5-member/single mayor board in terms of working together in the best interest of the community? What do you see as your individual role in moving the city forward into the future?
We need to add at least one work session a month to develop strategies among the council and mayor. Larger issues could be worked on by two council members (two members with opposing views), plus the mayor. These plans would be brought to the council after the separate factions of the council have agreed upon it. This group could then present their suggestions to the whole council. This would involve all members and get a cohesive plan before large items are put on the agenda, thus saving time at the twice monthly council meetings.

Contact Bartels at 319-545-2613.

Bruce Hecox, council candidate

Personal background:
I have lived with my wife Brenda on Dakota Avenue for three years. I have one adult daughter living with her husband, who is stationed in Las Vegas with the U.S. Air Force. I retired from my job as a city letter carrier after a motor vehicle accident left me paralyzed and unable to walk. We chose to build in the Tiffin for its small town atmosphere and easy commute to the Iowa City area and University hospital. I served as secretary for branch 471 of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Keokuk from 2000 until my retirement in 2009. I also served as president of student board at Southeastern Community College in my sophomore year. I later graduated with honors from Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, receiving a Bachelors of Science degree. Prior to my carrier at the post office I managed a restaurant which employed about 70 people. These things have helped me gain valuable experience in finance, budgeting and government process.

What experiences will help you serve on Tiffin city council?
I am running for city council because this is a crucial time for our town. The rapid growth in Tiffin is mostly due to its proximity to the Iowa City area just as North Liberty grew years ago. This growth will continue, and how it is managed will determine what Tiffin will become. We have the opportunity to learn from both the successes and the failures of our neighboring cities. In speaking with residents I have heard many of the same concerns over and over. I believe with foresight and planning Tiffin can become a beautiful extension of Iowa City and Coralville. Conversely, without diligence, Tiffin could become a random mix of apartments, businesses and single family homes and frustrating traffic issues.

What are your top three priorities if elected?
If I am elected I hope to help guide the choices that the citizens, not the developers, will live with for a long time. My goals will be to remember that zoning, infrastructure and green space can keep Tiffin a desirable place to live. As new neighborhoods are developed there must be adequate usable common areas such as trails, neighborhood parks, or recreation space. This needs to be guaranteed by the developers as part of the high cost homeowners pay for lots. With each new development comes more traffic. The improved access to I-80 will help but many people prefer to use Highway 6 to get to town. Making changes to state highways takes time so work to make this artery safer needs to begin now. There are multiple intersections from Tiffin to Coralville that could benefit from the addition of turn lanes. But the most common concern I have heard is that apartment buildings and/or businesses will be mixed with single family housing. Proper zoning and disclosure can keep that from happening. It would be easy to focus on the new developments and forget that there is an older, more mature Tiffin in the middle of all this activity. All these developments have nice new streets, curbs, and storm sewers. In 25 years they will start to show their age. This fact alone makes it that much more important to improve the center of town before these costs hit hard.

What is your position on using TIF to spur further economic development?
Tax Increment Financing has become a popular tool used by many cities for economic development. One benefit of having businesses in a city is to increase the tax base and help reduce the dependence on residential property taxes. It is my belief that the close proximity to both I-80 and Coralville will help Tiffin attract business even without dangling the carrot of TIF money. I also believe the law is clear that TIF funds are to be used to attract new business and should not be used to poach business from neighboring towns. I would not say that TIF cannot be used to bring desirable business, though it should not be used as incentive for business that is likely to locate here anyway. As any issue, it would need to be thoroughly studied before being used. I strongly believe that Tiffin will have plenty of businesses on both Highway 6 and along I-80 within the next 10 years.

In recent meetings, the council has displayed obvious signs of tension between its members. What do you see as the role of the 5-member/single mayor board in terms of working together in the best interest of the community? What do you see as your individual role in moving the city forward into the future?
If I am elected I will work to be the voice of my community for the goals of my fellow residents. I believe that Tiffin City Council should have no problem working toward the common goals of its citizens. Tiffin has a unique opportunity to become the city people want to live in, but it won’t happen all by itself. It will take the input of the citizens and hard work by the planning and zoning committee, the council and the mayor. I am willing to do that work.

Contact Hecox by email at bruce.hecox@gmail.com.

Jo Kahler, council candidate

Personal background:
I was born and raised and lived most of my life in Oxford. I have lived in Tiffin the last 12 years. I’ve been married for 58 years, and have five children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

What experiences will help you serve on Tiffin city council?
I served on the Oxford city council for 22 years.

What are your top three priorities if elected?
In moving forward I would like to see the Ireland Avenue project completed. I am happy the new construction of the city hall is on its way.

What is your position on using TIF to spur further economic development?
No response.

In recent meetings, the council has displayed obvious signs of tension between its members. What do you see as the role of the 5-member/single mayor board in terms of working together in the best interest of the community?
No response.

What do you see as your individual role in moving the city forward into the future?
No response.

Mark Peterson, council candidate

Personal background:
I retired from UPS in 2011. I currently work part time as a driver for the Clear Creek Amana School District and Deery Ford in Iowa City. I have lived in Tiffin for over 14 years with my wife Kris and our children Elizabeth, Rachel, Jayson and Heather, we also have three grandchildren Danyeal, Dayvon and Dayshia.

What experiences will help you serve on Tiffin city council?
I have served two four years terms on the city council and during that time I also served as mayor pro tem. I have served on the planning and zoning committee in Tiffin, the emergency management committee and the Tiffin Fest committee. I am currently on the comprehensive planning committee for Tiffin.

What are your top three priorities if elected?
1. Increase our commercial and industrial growth to expand our tax base.
2. Control the number of multifamily units while monitoring the continued growth of our community.
3. Work to update and make improvements to the south side of Tiffin including the completion of the Ireland Avenue/Highway 6 road project.

What is your position on using TIF to spur further economic development?
If the TIF funds are used in the appropriate way it is a great asset for smaller communities to deal with their sudden growth making it away to establish their infrastructure.

In recent meetings, the council has displayed obvious signs of tension between its members. What do you see as the role of the 5-member/single mayor board in terms of working together in the best interest of the community? What do you see as your individual role in moving the city forward into the future?
The three most important things for a city council to run in a professional manner are 1. Be professional 2. Use common sense 3. Remember that the council is there to represent the community that elected them to and do the best they can. If we abide by these three things the five-member board along with the mayor will be a successful team representing the community of Tiffin. I plan to keep open communication with the people in Tiffin, I will try to address their concerns I do the best I can over the next four years.

Contact Peterson at 319-936-1768, 319-545-9917 or by email at petersenforcouncil@gmail.com

Royce Phillips, council candidate

Personal background:
My family and I moved to Johnson County in June 1983. I have served as a pastor since that time. In 1999 we built a house and moved to Tiffin. I have served two terms as mayor and was elected to fill a vacancy on the council in 2012. I have been married to my wife Cindy since 1977 and we have four grown children. Between them we have eight grandchildren.

What experiences will help you serve on Tiffin city council?
The experience as mayor and city councilor so far. As such I have served on numerous boards and committees, including the Johnson County MPO, and represented the city in various boards and other ways. It has enabled me to build relationships with people in all levels of government.

What are your top three priorities if elected?
I believe the city has taken a dramatic turn backward in the past two years. There has been a loss of trust in our city government. That must be restored, along with a transparency that has been lacking, and efficiency in city hall. There are repeated actions that call into question the ethics and conflicts of interest with city leaders. Future planning seems dominated by a handful of insiders hand-picked by the mayor. Planning must be by citywide participation.
Though there has been a show of that, the ultimate decisions still go to a handful of insiders. Contrary opinions are ignored at best, and often rejected with great animosity. The city is growing at a very fast rate, and the decisions must be well thought out now before we find ourselves in a great difficulty. We are currently at about 2,300 and could easily be at 4,000 by the end of the decade.

What is your position on using TIF to spur further economic development?
The TIF laws can be a very useful tool to spur economic development, especially in a small town. However, it can be vastly overused and used in ways that run counter to its purposes. There are many portions of the law that are not very well understood by the general public and discussions often sound like two attorneys arguing about vague phrases. In the past two years our city debt has grown from just over $2 million to over $8 million, and the mayor is already talking about raising it another $3 or $4 million.

In recent meetings, the council has displayed obvious signs of tension between its members. What do you see as the role of the 5-member/single mayor board in terms of working together in the best interest of the community? What do you see as your individual role in moving the city forward into the future?
There clearly is much tension within the current council and mayor. There has been significant slander against opposing opinions, if the opinion is even allowed. Much of it has become very personal. This clearly is counter-productive to conducting city business. In my two terms as mayor I was proud of the congenial nature of the council. Most votes were 5-0 and most of the rest were 4-1. Seldom was it 3-2 on anything. Decisions must be fully discussed by the whole council, without information kept from them or orders what they must do. I believe cooperation starts at the top with the attitude and behavior of the mayor crucial to that cooperation.