Close up with the candidates

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, November 1, 2017
The West Liberty city council election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7., noon-8 p.m., in the Activity Center in the Muscatine County Fairgrounds.

For council there are three candidates running for two seats, including council member Robbie Rock and write-ins David Smith and Jose Zacarias.

Meanwhile Mayor Robert Hartman is running for a third term as mayor. There’s more on Hartman in a separate article.

Here’s a closer look at all three candidates and why they’d like to represent you as a member of the city council.

Write-in

David Smith

David Smith is not your typical council candidate. The 20-year community member has never run for council before, but he’s willing to give it another try.

That’s because West Liberty stepped up and supported him during a difficult time for him and his family, now he wants to return that sentiment.

“A couple years ago the community and this town really came forward for my family when my daughter had cancer, so I want to give back,” says Smith.

David and his wife Tammy have two daughters, Kayla and Haley. Both are grown now, but both graduated from the West Liberty Community School District.

Unfortunately, Kayla was diagnosed with cancer several years ago. During that time groups like 100+ Women Who Care, the Hispanic community and churches stepped up to help the family.

While his daughter Kayla underwent her last chemo treatment two years ago, David Smith has never forgotten what West Liberty has done for him.

“I like to listen, I like to talk,” he says. “I know I do some griping with the city, so I feel that if you’re going to gripe and complain you should be willing to help out and make a difference.”

Smith was a member of the Navy for eight years, he also served as a member of the West Liberty Fire Department as an EMT for 10 years.

Smith works for Oral-B in Iowa City as an engineer. He’s currently the Fire Protection Leader for the whole plant. He has a no-nonsense attitude veiled behind his smile.

“There’s more to just saying something and it gets done,” he says. “I understand that there are steps that have to be done. I think I have that quality in me; I know how to handle people.”

So what’s important to him?

Well, he doesn’t understand the negative way outsiders look at the town. He’d like to see that change, possibly with a bike trail connecting our city to others.

“I think our city can be beautiful, if we built a bicycle trail from another trail from another town to here, that would bring people coming through, that’s more business for us,” he says.

He’s also interested in the completion of the many major ‘water’ projects by the city.

That includes the state-mandated $2.5 million upgrade to the wastewater facility and the $3 million upgrade to the water plant that included iron-filtration and reverse-osmosis filtration.

“I think that this is a good opportunity for a town to make it better and, if possible, to see if we can do things a little different,” he says.

Smith was not a fan of the way the city organized sidewalk repair, which involved dividing the town into four quadrants and enforcing repair a quadrant a year.

“I think the project was started off wrong, but I do believe we need it,” he says. “For our city to demand 90 days for us to complete repairs, I think we should uphold our city to do the same thing.”

“If you’re going to tell the people in the community they only have so many days to do something, but the city isn’t going to do the same…it’s not right to me,” he says.

He’s not only referring to sidewalk repair, but enforcing ordinances like nuisance vehicles, and other rules. The city has to do their part.

“If we have rules and regulations in our town, I believe we need to uphold them. I don’t believe we need to make more rules, we need to uphold what we have,” he says.

That all being said, Smith admits he would have a lot to learn if elected to the city council. However, he’s willing to do so.

“I’ll listen; I don’t think in one way,” he says. “I believe in hearing both sides and trying to decide. I believe you’re never going to make everyone happy, but what is the best for the town?”

“If you’re going to have something, it needs to benefit most of the people, not just a few,” he adds. “If we’re going to spend our taxpayer’s money, let’s do it in a very smart way.”

Council Member Robbie Rock

Council Member Robbie Rock is hoping to reclaim his city council seat. He’s the only candidate currently serving on the West Liberty city council.

However, this is the first time that Rock is seeking to serve a full four-year term. Last December, council member Felicie Simmons resigned three years into her four year term in order to relocate to Kalona.

In January, 2017, the council nominated and unanimously approved Rock to fill out the remainder of Simmons’ term. Now he’s back for more.

“There has been a lot of success in my short time on council,” he says. “The Maxson Street project, upgrades to our city water and wastewater treatment plant, just to name a few.”

Rock has lived in West Liberty his entire life. Married to Nicole, he has three children: Tyler, Lyvia and Huxley.

While he works for the City of Muscatine Fire Department, Rock wants to get further involved within the community that he calls home.

“I enjoy being active in our community and making sure it's a safe place to live,” he says. “We have a strong council and city staff right now, and I want the opportunity to help develop the future.”

Speaking of safety, Rock has been a member of the West Liberty Fire and Emergency Department for 15 years, including six years as chief.

In fact, he has served on the 911 Board (Muscatine, Cedar and Johnson), Emergency Management Agency Board, County EMS Association and the MUSCOM (County dispatch center) User group.

So what’s driving Rock to run for a full term?

Well, financial stability is one reason. He believes City Manager McNaul and City Treasurer Geertz have done an amazing job getting the city's funds in order.

“We need to maintain positive fund balances so we can continue capital improvements as needed and prepare for future cost,” he says.

“Also, public safety is always a top priority,” he says. “We need to make sure our police and fire departments have everything they need to keep themselves safe and our community.”

He believes that curbside recycling is also an important topic. He and his family started two years ago thanks to his son Huxley.

“Huxley learned about recycling at school that day and was adamant we start recycling,” he says. “Prior to recycling our garbage can was always full, usually so much the lid would not close.”

Council member Rock says when curbside recycling fully starts many residents will be able to get smaller garbage cans, which will lower the cost of their city bill.

Recently, the City of West Liberty partnered with HBK Engineering to put together a full Comprehensive Plan Update, adopted on Nov. 15, 2016.

The plan contains a lot of info, from city demographics and size to strategic planning in the future. Part of the planning includes trails.

“The next step is to determine priorities,” he says of trails. “Then this winter we will be having strategic planning to act on the Comp Plan priorities and that is where we as a group will make a combined decision.”

When it comes to downtown development, Rock says the council is taking steps to attract more businesses and people.

Part of that has been the Mayor’s Downtown Task Force (DTF), which he says has made huge strides and has full council support.

He and the council were involved with TIF funding that offered incentives for developers to begin the Short Street housing project.

“The council continues to support and invest annually in the We Lead,” he says. “As a council we support and depend on the city manager, clerk and department heads to make recommendations and bring the best solutions to the council.”

Write-In

Jose Zacarias

Jose Zacarias served as a member of the city council from 2012 to 2016. Now retired from his job in Iowa City, he’s decided to give the council another go.

Born in Leon, Mexico, he wants to represent the Hispanic/Latino community. Since Zacarias moved to West Liberty in 1984 he’s been that representative.

In fact, it was this philosophy he carried through his first city council term, as well as when he served as a member of the WLCSD school board for four years.

“It’s the difference between renting a house and owning a house,” says Zacarias. “When you own a house, you are very careful about the things you do.”

“It’s not going to be until the younger (Hispanic/Latino) generation feels that they are home that the new generation will take on responsibilities,” he says. “To do that we need to work very closely with the school.”

In that vein, Zacarias not only sees himself as representative of the Hispanic/Latino community, but a bridge between the school district and the city.

Zacarias has lived in West Liberty for 33 years. He has four grown children, two of which are biological and the other two are adopted.

Like many others he came to West Liberty in 1984 thinking he’d only be here for two years. Now he’s fully vested in it, with no thought of moving away.

One of his main concerns is the amount of projects the city takes, including Maxson Street, the wastewater plant, and the water plant reconstruction in the last year alone.

“They are things that need to be done, but there is point at which you have to give a break to the population,” he says. “People’s wages are not going up; I’m going to make sure the council hears that.”

On that note, he brings up West Liberty Foods. The community’s largest employer is responsible for a good portion of its population and tax dollars that come in.

Zacarias believes at some point they’re going to talk about whether the main plant stays in West Liberty. When that day comes there’ll be big decisions for the city.

“The second reason I want to run: I want to keep the police department doing the work they are doing, the community policing and being present in people’s lives,” he says.

“That’s good for the community,” he adds. “That works fighting the misgivings of the Hispanics over police in their countries. These guys are acting like everybody else.”

Jose Zacarias was around during much of the recycling turmoil that struck West Liberty several years ago.

While he’s all for improving recycling, he’s skeptical of the amount of money it would take to go full curbside. It’s a $1.7 million project, minus the $900,000 SWAP grant secured by the city.

When it comes to citywide walking trails, Zacarias is all for it.

“I think the city needs to talk to property owners, it’s got to be a public/private partnership to get this thing moving,” he says.

“Trails attract new buildings and property owners because the property value goes up,” he adds. “When you are investing in trails you are investing in public health.”

In fact, that’s only the beginning in attempting to make West Liberty a bigger destination for people, a dream on the minds of many community members.

To get there Zacarias would like to see more affordable housing. He says he doesn’t see the city providing enough incentives to make it possible. He’s also critical of West Liberty Economic Area Development (We Lead).

“I know we don’t have the skills and the workforce for something better than this,” he says of economic development. “We need to work on that.”

“I’ve always been an advocate that we need to get into the school system,” he says.

Zacarias adheres to this idea that practical jobs are just as important for students to work towards as life goals as going to college.
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