"State of the City" stable

Mayor Ethan Anderson says city is moving past civil unrest and has several developments happening


Much like the State of the Union address, West Liberty’s Mayor Ethan Anderson gave his own address during the WeLead (West Liberty Area Economic Development) Annual meeting last Friday.

This was the first time a mayor would give a “State of the City” address since the 1970s.

Anderson started his presentation by saying the city is “stable.”

“I know you were expecting me to say strong,” Anderson said. “Weren’t you? It’s more typical.”

He said he likes to say it like it is. His assessment is stable because there have been some bumps in the road the past year. When he decided to put his name in for mayor he said his goal was to bring stability to the city.

“In order to build you have to have a strong foundation,” Anderson added. “Sometimes the foundation has be repaired and stabilized before you continue to grow so that has kind of been my vision and goal for this time, right here where we are.”

Anderson then went into the history of West Liberty. The city was originally supposed to be called Wapsinonoc and has a population of 3,858 people. West Liberty is 58 percent Hispanic currently.

“I’m also proud to serve with the very first majority Latino city council in the state of Iowa,” Anderson said, which drew a round of applause from everyone.

Anderson went on to speak about the environment of the city.

“How easy is it to do a project in the city of West Liberty?” Anderson asked the crown. “If a developer calls city hall, is that a roadblock or does that smooth it out?”

There are permits, regulations, zoning, fees and utility connections that are all things city hall manages, he added. Parks and recreation, police and fire are also items in the city that deal with city hall.

“And actually, it’s much broader than city hall,” Anderson said. “It’s the entire community – the attitude of the entire community.”

Being positive plays a role in the shape of things that are happening in the community, he said. He said the question was whether or not things are going smoothly right now or are in choppy waters.

When things are smooth people are excited and move faster. When things are choppy people move slower. The leaders of the city’s job are make things go smoother, Anderson said.

In the past, there were developers and investors who wanted to build something in West Liberty but things were too choppy.

“And so our goal and vision is to make the water smooth,” Anderson said. “It has been building for a while.”

Twelve years go, Anderson moved to the city and bought a building downtown for his business. There were a lot of empty storefronts but not the downtown storefronts are filling in.

Past issues

Some of the things that made the city unstable in the past were finding and retaining city management, staffing challenges and financial constraints. The city has $14 million city budget currently with requests for new amenities but this can’t happen if the city can’t grow. “The city financially is strong,” Anderson said. “The city is healthy financially but we want to keep it that way but that’s why we can’t overspend.”


Investing in leadership is one example he gave as a solution.

“The city council made a bold decision recently to hire from within for the city manager position and in doing that they hired somebody, they chose somebody who is strong in a way that many previous city manager’s have been weak,” Anderson said. “Which is an absolute proven dedication and commitment to the City of West Liberty.”

City Manager Lee Geertz has spent a lot of time reorganizing the roles inside city hall, he added. Now staff is working hard to work in the role is the best fit for them and the most efficient.

The city is also investing in development and improvements.

A local grant program was started in 2020 for property owners wanting to make improvements, Anderson said. The money gets quickly into the hands of the property owners, which the city can match. WeLead manages those grants and has been instrumental in getting business owners to invest in the city.

Seventy new homes are being built around town by different developers, he added. Residents on Knotty Circle Drive, Gibson and Division Streets will be getting their street done with sidewalk improvements. This is part of the capital improvement plan already in place for the city.

Rainbow Drive and Maxson Street will have a new walking trail installed from the sports complex at Dutton Park to the new housing division there, Anderson said. This project is $2.3 million.

Other items on the capital improvement plan include: new playground equipment at Railroard Park, lighting at the sports complex at Dutton Park and a new leaf vacuum, he added.

Public Safety investments

Money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds went toward this. A hundred thousand dollars will be used for purchasing a new ambulance and two new squad cars for the police department. One squad car has already been purchased for the city and is used for patrol. The other one is on order.

The 28E agreement between the fire department and the city is continuing to move forward.

“I don’t know exactly what that is going to look like,” Anderson said. “And I also don’t know exactly what the timeline is. It’s a long project. It’s a complicated project and we need to resist the urge to put a date on it because we don’t quite know yet.”

The taskforce is making progress and is a long process, he added.

“That’s a valid comment,” city councilmember Dana Dominguez added.

In the meantime, the relationship between the fire department and the city are returning to a better state, Anderson said.

“That has to happen,” he said. “And it is happening so that’s the best progress report you could ever get about that situation.”

The final solution he gave to everyone was changing the conversation. Changing the way people talk about the city, Anderson said. He loves seeing post good things about the community on social media.

“And that’s something we all need to play a role in,” he said. “Just continue to keep that ball rolling.”

This is something he thinks people will continue to see, he added.