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Robert LaPoint – Ottumwa Mayor

By Ellis Codjoe, September 29, 2017

Ottumwa City Council/Mayor Candidate Questionnaire Responses
Submitted by: Robert LaPoint
(641) 799-1986

1: Explain why you are running for public office.
I am running for the office of Mayor because I feel as though I would conduct City business as a Mayor instead of usurping the role of City Administrator. With rare exception, Ottumwa has operated as a City Administrator form of government, not as a strong Mayor form of government. The City Council has formed search committees to seek the best candidate, hired the person they selected, and let the City Administrator take over the responsibilities of conducting business for the City. The City Council hired a City Administrator to coordinate city business, work with department heads, and ultimately ensure that City business is being conducted appropriately and professionally. The Mayor’s role consists of facilitating City Council meetings, appointing citizens to various city-related boards, attend meetings to represent the City and be a visible good will ambassador for the City of Ottumwa. As Mayor, I would gladly accept those responsibilities, and all others that are described in the position description for the position of Mayor.

2. What will be your primary focus if elected?
If elected, my primary focus will be to search and seek out employment opportunities for Ottumwa that will be living wage jobs. A single person struggles to make ends meet on minimum wage salaries, and even if two people are working in a family of four, that family has to cut corners to make ends meet. Ottumwa definitely needs to focus on attracting employment opportunities that will provide positions that pay more than minimum wage. Ottumwa needs jobs that will provide people with enough money to ensure they don’t have to worry about how they are going to pay the ever-increasing power bills, water bills, etc. Additionally, the City of Ottumwa is in dire need of improvement to our infrastructure, which will be a financial burden, but can also provide opportunities for employment. Another focus I have is on Public Safety. The City is currently understaffed in both the Fire Department and the Police Department, and cultivating new businesses to move to Ottumwa will help offset some of our financial shortcomings. There are numerous other issues that need to be addressed, but the top three concerns I have for the City are infrastructure, safety and employment/new businesses.

3. How long have you lived in Ottumwa?
I have lived in Ottumwa all my life.

4. What is your professional work history? Are you working now?
My employment consists of working for CRST. I worked in the Operations Department, served as a Safety Trainer, a Driver Trainer and a Driver Instructor. I am retired.

5. Please provide a list of your volunteer activities and some information about those activities (include time governmental boards, commissions, councils, etc.)
Ottumwa Parks Advisory Board – 2001 – 2014.
Ottumwa Transit Board Chairman – 2011 – 2014.
Ottumwa Beach Committee – 2014 – 2015.
St. Patrick’s Parish Council (Currently President) 2012 – Current.

6. What is your educational background?
Graduate of Ottumwa High School. Attended Indian Hills Community College.

7. Who is your biggest political influence? Why?
The individual who had the biggest impact on my political views was President Abraham Lincoln. Even after several defeats, he never gave up. He also contributed a significant amount of ideas and concepts that helped foster our country’s growth during the worst chapter of our Nation’s history.

8. We often hear from individuals seeking public office of a need for better transparency and communication with the public. What specifically will you do if elected to improve transparency and communications?
If a problem surfaces that impacts the community, it needs to be publicly addressed. With the exception of the Solid Waste Commission, all City Council meetings are televised, which I would want to see continued. I would also like to explore televising the Solid Waste Commission meetings. Our landfill is rapidly reaching capacity, which will require building yet another cell at an enormous cost. Making that process more transparent would be very good for the citizens of Ottumwa and Wapello County.

9. What are the three most pressing issues facing the City of Ottumwa? How would you address those issues?
In my opinion, the three most pressing issues facing Ottumwa are, jobs, infrastructure and housing. Ottumwa needs to develop in-roads to new businesses that will provide wages that make it possible for people to make ends meet instead of trying to find a way to get a 2nd or 3rd job to cover the basics of life. New businesses that could be filling empty spaces at the mall would also enhance employment and help Ottumwa be the shopping hub of Southeastern Iowa that it once was. Sewer separation is not only infrastructure issue that Ottumwa needs to address. Bridges, streets, and on-going maintenance are all issues that will continue to be in need of repair – all of which requires money. With more employment, new businesses, better paying jobs and affordable housing many needs can be met. First, however, the City has to find a way to enhance Ottumwa that will help draw new industry, jobs to entice potential employers and/or businesses to want to come here to start a new business, or expand an existing business.

10. What skills, qualities or experience do you possess that separate you from your opponents?
If elected, I would defer to the City Administrator instead of stepping outside the role of Mayor. As I indicated before, the Mayor’s role is clearly defined in a position description, and that would be the role I would assume. Unless I had meetings, I would not be at City Hall every single day. I would not attend Department Head meetings, as those meetings are facilitated by the City Administrator. If requested to speak to an issue at a meeting of an organization, I would most certainly attend. My door would always be open to citizens who have questions or concerns. I will take and/or return calls to citizens and if it is something I cannot solve for them, I will refer them to whomever it is they need to speak to get an issue resolved. I will be glad to be at the opening of a new business, or attend an organization’s meeting, but I am not going to try to be and do everything. That is why we have a City Administrator form of government.

11. What can the City of Ottumwa do and what should it do to ease the property tax burden put on homeowners?
As Mayor, I would suggest that the City Administrator select a small group of people who have expertise in various areas to form a committee to explore potential avenues for cost reduction of the homeowner tax base. I would think people with fiscal expertise, revenue expertise, grant knowledge and/or expertise and investment expertise might be a good start. I also think that as information becomes available, there should be transparency and open communication so the citizens can be apprised of actions that could be forthcoming.

12. What can the City do to help young adults and millennials become home owners?
Ottumwa needs jobs to keep young people in Ottumwa rather than watch them graduate from school and leave for places that have better paying jobs, better infrastructure, less taxes, and more to offer. Without better paying jobs, more diversity in employment, shopping, etc., young people will continue to do what has been done for years – they will leave.

13. What can the City of Ottumwa do to improve the overall quality of our roads? Would you support a one-time massive push to improve all roads, even if that meant borrowing a large amount of money?
I would first spend money on a good grant writer who could explore grant money availability for infrastructure improvement. Then, augment grant monies with potentially resorting to borrowing a smaller amount of money to complete the project. Once again, I would suggest a committee be formed to explore alternate avenues for income, grant monies and lastly borrow monies. With the cost of license plates being what they are, and the money is supposed to be going to streets and roads, why is it, Ottumwa rarely sees any of that money at work?

14. What can the City of Ottumwa do to improve quality of life activities for its residents?
There are many activities for Ottumwa citizens to enjoy with room for more. We already have Octoberfest, Hot Air Balloon Races, Air Shows, etc., so perhaps this is where the Chamber of Commerce comes into play with ideas. Once again, maybe a committee could be of assistance in developing ideas for additional activities that people will enjoy. Remember the Duck Races?

15. What can the City of Ottumwa do to help establish new attractions? (Example: Museums, zoos, casino, traveling attractions, concerts, festivals, events, etc.)
Here is just a short list of ideas that could be incorporated:
Mini Amusement Park by the Beach or the Mall; Indoor Water Park; Family Entertainment Center; Indoor Skating Rink; Imax Theater; Mini Casino; ADA Playground; BMX Motor Cross Bike Course; or Develop a survey and get the word out to the citizens, asking them what would they like to see?

16. Do you support efforts to revitalize downtown Ottumwa including: White Box Program, Roof Program, Facade Improvement Program, Upstairs Apartments Program, Downtown Camera System, Street-Scaping Plan, Canteen Alley Project, etc.? Should these programs be expanded to other business districts?
Yes, I think it is great to see what is going on in downtown Ottumwa, but I want to know what is being done to fix the problem. If I remember correctly we lost a major living wage employer because Ottumwa could not handle the plant. We lost living wage jobs. Are we fixing, or working to fix that problem? We need to get living wage jobs – let’s build for that.

17. Ottumwa has long held a great financial rating however budgets continue to decline state-wide. Should Ottumwa consider eliminating or privatizing city services in order to make quality of life improvements for citizens? Explain including what services you would consider cutting or privatizing.
Safety is a top priority cutting in this area will only cost us more in other areas. I recommend looking at hotel/motel tax as a way to maintain public safety. I do not think privatizing helps in the long run and hurts those affected.

18. Do you believe that tax credits, breaks and other benefits given to box stores wishing to locate in Ottumwa (Example: Hobby Lobby, Kohls) harms other businesses already located here? Should the city continue those tax breaks and benefits? Should the council decide to stop offering these types of tax breaks, what would you do to continue attempting to attract new businesses?
The City needs to be very careful in this area. It needs to proceed on a case-by-case basis and not always offer benefits. Aside from that “opinion” I don’t really think this is a Mayoral task. Certainly, the Mayor can make suggestions as to what type business, etc., but recruitment of a new business should be done by other entities.

19. Which is more important for Ottumwa’s prosperity in the future: Retail or manufacturing (industry)? Explain.
Both are equally important. We need manufacturing to generate income for employees who, in turn, can spend some of their income on a new retail complex/store. Simply put, we need industries and retail stores. We need to grow and thrive and without a concerted effort, we won’t.

20. Wapello County has a higher unemployment rate than all bordering counties and is often considered one of the top 3 poorest in the State of Iowa do you feel that is the case and what would you do to correct it?
We need new businesses, growth, new housing, rehab houses to make them livable and affordable, employment opportunities, a living wage instead of sub-standard, we need to be what we used to be – the hub of Southeastern Iowa. If elected, I would encourage anyone who would care to listen that Ottumwa has the potential to be something special, and I would do everything I could to get other community groups, organizations, etc. to encourage people to take a second look at Ottumwa as we are on the move and the move is a forward move. No more backward ways, no more loss of OHS graduates or those who stay for two more years to go to IHCC then go on to another location for better paying jobs. We need good paying jobs here. We need affordable housing here. We need community involvement (via transparency and communication). We need our citizens to buy into the concept of making Ottumwa a great place to live, to raise a family and to thrive.

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