Wacha wants to give back by seeking Ward 1 seat

Tom Wacha is running for the first ward seat on city council. Wacha is running against Dan Rice, who is seeking re-election to the position. Photo: Whitney Sager/Iowa State Daily

Whitney Sager

Tom Wacha is running for the first ward seat on city council. Wacha is running against Dan Rice, who is seeking re-election to the position. Photo: Whitney Sager/Iowa State Daily

Alexander Hutchins —

Tom Wacha is running for the Ward 1 seat on the Ames City Council because he “simply loves our community” and believes in the people of Ames and giving back to city.

Wacha is a former Navy ROTC cadet and traveled the world for five-and-a-half years before moving back to Ames with his wife, Teresa. They returned to Ames after agreeing the community was an ideal place to raise their two children, Camden, 4, and Parker, 2. Wacha said he and his wife made a conscious choice to move back to Ames because it is where they want to be more than anywhere else.

Wacha said he believes in volunteering and making the world a better place, which is part of why he is running for City Council.

“I’m a believer in that people are inherently good,” he said. “I believe in the people of Ames. I want to serve them and be their voice on City Council.”

Like many people who return to Ames from afar, Wacha said his return was due partly to his ties to the university. Wacha met his wife as a student at Iowa State and loves the university partly because of the community of Ames.

“I’d go back in a second,” Wacha said of his college days.

He said Iowa State is fortunate to be a big-city university with a small-town feel. He and his wife returned to Ames for the good schools, safe neighborhoods and the educated feel with big-city amenities. Very few communities with only 50,000 residents have these kinds of opportunities, Wacha said.

Wacha prompted students to vote, and said it is easy to be complacent but that Ames needs students to be more ambitious.

“Traditionally student turnout in local elections has been really low, and we’re doing everything we can to increase those numbers,” he said. “Even if you get a 25 or 30 percent turnout that’s pretty good. And that’s only a third of the community getting out and voting.”

Sandee Bodholdt, a friend of Wacha’s, has known him for four years. She said he’s very positive and always looks out for the good of others.

Bodholdt said she believed Wacha should be elected to City Council because he would look out for the good of the whole community. She said he is good at listening to people and knowing what their needs are. Bodholdt also said Wacha has been an asset to the Board of the Ames Community Preschool. Bodholdt has been out door-knocking for Wacha’s campaign to promote his candidacy.

Daily: What is your vision for a thriving Campustown, and how would you achieve this?

Wacha: Campustown has the most unrealized potential of any part of Ames. I envision a Campustown that’s the gateway between the university and the community of Ames. First we need to have the parking issue solved; I’m very hopeful that we will receive the federal funding for the transit facility. I would love to see, down the road, a pedestrian mall on Welch between Lincoln Way and the clock tower. That will get the business owners in that block to hopefully reinvest in their businesses and do some facade maintenance, things like that. No matter what we do, we need to make sure we’re communicating between all the various stakeholders; we need to make sure that the students are involved, that the university administration is involved, that the City Council and the city staff are involved, that the business owners and residents are involved.

Daily: Do you think the parking issue in the greek neighborhoods needs to be resolved, and how would you resolve it?

Wacha: It’s been a while since I’ve frequented the greek neighborhoods, so I guess I don’t really know enough to know if it’s a problem. I think certainly that it is a valid concern. The reason we have the rules we have in the parking area is because we need to balance the desires and concerns of the students in the greek community with those of the residents. I’m for addressing that issue any way we can, and certainly a bigger concern for me is that safety issue, when you’re talking about young women having to walk after dark to go move their car.

Daily: What kind of sustainability program does Ames need and what would you do as a city council member to implement this program?

Wacha: I think Ames is doing a lot of very good things in that area. I’m a very environmentally-minded person; my day job is developing software for environmentally friendly buildings. [The city] lacks an overarching environmental umbrella plan. The city does have the smart water and smart energy programs, which are energy conservation programs giving rebates back to businesses that install energy-saving features and thereby save energy and their money. We need to keep going with that. As far as recycling goes, that’s been a frustration of mine, the difficulty of communicating with students the process of recycling in Ames. The resource recovery plant automatically recycles for you and in my mind it’s a more convenient way of doing it because not everyone is going to recycle. It reduces the coal we use and that improves our carbon footprint. I would be for examining the feasibility of, in addition to glass, having people voluntarily recycle plastic.

Daily: How will you attract businesses to Ames that will create jobs for current and graduating students?

Wacha: It’s my number one priority. We have so much going for us here in Ames. We have one of the nation’s leading research institutions in our backyard … and entrepreneurial resources. All of those bodies are doing good work, but we need overarching vision from the City Council to really see our full potential. My vision for Ames is to be the high-tech center of the region, and what’s happening is that a lot of the tech companies that should be in Ames are going to Ankeny and Des Moines. That’s something we can stop. It’s a win-win for everybody. Students who want to stay in Ames should be able to stay in Ames. I want to instill a program that’s a marketing program much like Des Moines and other cities have to really educate people about why people should stay here or move back here. There are a lot of great companies here that need talent. I work for a small software company and we have a tough time finding talent. A lot of other companies in Ames are in the same boat. There are students who want to stay here after graduation and they don’t even think to look in Ames because they just don’t think they can find a job here. We need to do a better job of putting those two groups together. Work has been done, but it could be done better. We need to have a consolidated job market; consolidate some of these Web sites or link them together through some type of promotional program. We need to really market Ames to potential companies and job seekers.

Daily: Is the OneAmes initiative still active, and how would you implement such a program?

Wacha: It’s absolutely something the community needs to be addressing. Ames, by Iowa standards, is a pretty diverse community, and I’m proud of that. I think we need to embrace diversity. We need to find ways to continually educate everyone about other cultures and we’re just a richer community if we do that. One of the programs that’s tied into that is the sense of fostering community on a neighborhood level. I’m a huge believer in that; it helps prevent crime, it helps keep neighborhoods up, it makes sure we’re not neglecting our urban poor and it just makes the neighborhood a better place to live.

Daily: Is there a growing crime problem in Ames, and how would you deal with it?

Wacha: Crime certainly is a growing problem in Ames. The increase in crime, and especially violent crime, over the last four or five years, is the number one issue that people talk to me about. Some people are upset and I totally understand that as the father of two young boys. The police department is doing a good job of being proactive; they’re going out and putting officers in areas that they think might have a higher crime rate. And with the residents, they’re building a relationship with those people on an individual level, which should be done. We need to be sure we’re supporting the police department through the budget and to keep their funding level as high as we can. And I think the City Council has a responsibility to take a look at our city programs. And while I think, unfairly, that it’s been easy for some people in the community to point a finger at the housing assistance program as the sole cause of the increase in crime, I don’t think that’s a true statement. Having said that, I think that there’s some truth to the statement that the program has had an impact on the crime we’ve experienced. So I think that as a City Council we have a responsibility to the citizens of Ames to at least look at that connection. If there’s a real connection then we need to make that known and dispel the rumors and the myths out there. And if there is a connection, we need to look at it very seriously and change the program or do whatever is needed to stop the crime. And I’m all for the section 8 housing program … but no matter how much good a program is doing, if it can be proven that an offshoot of that program is violent crime then that’s a pretty serious side effect. I think it’s pretty outweighed by the benefits of the program.

Daily: Why should students vote in the City Council election?

Wacha: It’s essential for students to vote. Students are full-fledged members of the community of Ames. It wasn’t too long ago that I was a student at Iowa State, and you really have done a lot of work to bring together the university community and the city community. And I hope that students really feel like they are part of the community because they are. The City Council is going to make decisions that are going to affect students, and we’ve seen that in the past with how quickly snow gets removed or couches on front porches or keg ordinances. As full-fledged members of the community I would hope that students would get involved and get educated about the issues and about the candidates and make their voice heard. I’m a big believer in that if you don’t make your voice heard and you don’t like something down the road, you really should have voted.