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Nielsen elected first female mayor of North Liberty

Amy Nielsen is to be sworn in as North Liberty’s new mayor.

NORTH LIBERTY– The Nov. 4 election brought big changes to the political make-up of the nation’s congress, with Republicans taking many state-level races by storm over Democrat candidates and seizing control of the United States Senate.
It also brought a shake-up to the leadership in the community of North Liberty.
While city elections are nonpartisan, there was an obvious divide between the styles and experience of the two candidates seeking North Liberty’s mayoral seat. Incumbent Gerry Kuhl, appointed to the position in May after the death of Mayor Tom Salm, had been involved in city government for 15 years. Kuhl, 71, had been a North Liberty council member for two four-year terms, was mayor pro tempore and then mayor for the last six months and served on several city and multi-jurisdictional boards and committees over the years. Challenger Amy Nielsen is a newcomer to municipal government, never having served in an elected position but bringing the experiences of working on other political campaigns and leading various school organizations and district-related efforts.
Kuhl’s campaign drew upon his background as a city leader: years of knowledge and practical understanding of city operations and a long-standing history with the North Liberty as a resident of 30 years. Kuhl focused on the city’s Capital Improvements Plan and strategies to stay on course for important infrastructure projects.
Nielsen has lived in North Liberty for seven years and is just 37 years old. Her campaign had a distinctly different message: the desire to implement new ideas, offer a fresh perspective on issues, and key into the lifestyles and needs of North Liberty residents through expanded citizen input.
Kuhl’s position ended this Thursday, Nov. 13, as Nielsen was to be sworn in after the election’s official canvass. In a city with 10,468 registered voters, overall turnout for all of North Liberty’s six precincts was 30.37 percent. The mayor’s race alone garnered a total of 4,768 votes, or 45.5 percent of registered persons.
Nielsen said the contest was uncertain until the end for her and her campaign team.
“We really only got two numbers,” said Nielsen; the results of early voting and the final poll numbers, considered preliminary until the auditor’s official canvass Nov. 12. Nielsen received 2,609 votes over Kuhl’s 2,125– a difference of 484 votes. “I’d like to think it indicates people are ready to see some change in the way North Liberty is growing, and for some fresh ideas,” Nielsen said.
Kuhl said he wishes the city, the council, and the city’s boards and commissions well as they move forward.  
“Both North Liberty and Johnson County have seen tremendous growth in the past 10 years, and the growth in the Corridor is expected to continue well into the future,” Kuhl said via email Monday. “I am most proud of the infrastructure that was put into place, and the plans for infrastructure and improved roads in the years to come.  We have a nice mix of jobs for all skill levels.  The future is very bright for the entire area.”
Immediately after the election, Kuhl said it was too soon to know if he will remain involved in government. “However, I have always been in some kind of public service my entire adult life,” Kuhl said. “In addition to the infrastructure being put into place, I have enjoyed working with the citizens, knowing that my contributions have made life better for everyone.” 
Nielsen, meanwhile, was preparing to step into her new role.
“I will be working closely with city staff and specifically Ryan Heiar to get up to speed, and with city council members to ask for their advice and counsel,” said Nielsen. “The first thing we are going to address is the budget. That’s a pretty big item, and luckily I’ve had some experience.” The council will hold a special budget goal setting meeting Nov. 18, from 6:30 until 8:30.
City staff and administration handle the day-to-day operations of the city, Nielsen said, and she has great confidence in their expertise, but her style is to be a hands-on leader as well.
“The idea of being just a figurehead or a placeholder is just not me,” Nielsen said. “I want to be involved in the work. That doesn’t mean I want to micro-manage every decision, but I want to be involved and understand why those decisions are made.”
And citizens will see a lot of her as well, she said. Nielsen plans to attend school functions, library programs and other community events to stay engaged in what’s going on.
“Hopefully they will notice there is more of a presence in the community. I’m working on setting office hours. I just want to be out and available and always participating in every part of what our residents are doing every day,” said Nielsen.
Also newly-elected to a leadership position in the community is Annie Pollock, who earned 3,651 votes in an unopposed run for one vacant North Liberty City Council seat.
Pollock has been part of North Liberty’s Planning & Zoning Commission for two years, the group responsible for reviewing proposed development and making recommendations to the council for approval, revisions or denial.
Pollock said that position has prepared her well for the transition to city councilor, a term that will expire Dec. 31, 2017.
“I have read, discussed and learned through our monthly meetings topics of amendments to the comprehensive plan, annexation, zoning and plats for subdivisions and commercial sites,” Pollock said via email Monday. “In addition, the interactions we have on a monthly basis with our city staff have been a great experience. Through all of this, my experience for the past two years on P & Z has positioned me well for city council. With the continued and extensive growth of our city, I will be able to hit the ground running on several topics including our comprehensive plan, infrastructure, planning for our new high school and interacting with city leadership.”
Looking toward the community’s future, Pollock said there are three important areas where city should focus.
“One, setting the strategic direction of our city; two, continuing to be strong financial stewards of our resources; and three, creating and promoting a healthy community to live and work,” Pollock said. She thanked the residents of North Liberty for supporting her campaign, and encouraged them to contact her via her new city email at annie.pollock@northlibertyiowa.org. “It is a privilege and honor to serve our great city in this capacity.”
North Liberty has had several female city councilors in the past, but Nielsen is believed to be the city’s first woman mayor. Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey researched council meeting minutes as far back as they were available, and found no mention of a lady mayor. Local historian Joan Belknap, who has compiled a comprehensive collection of historical documents chronicling the community, also said she is not aware of any females to have been elected mayor in North Liberty. Therefore, all indications are that Nielsen has already set an historical first for the community.
“I’m very proud I was able to stay true to who I am, true to my message and the positive-based campaign I ran,” said Nielsen. “I am especially proud of the example I set for my kids, and that is, you should chase your dreams even if you risk losing.”