Ann Campbell: ‘Thoughtful and thorough’


K Rambo/Iowa State Daily

Ann Campbell served as the mayor of Ames for 12 years. Campbell was replaced by John Haila.

K. Rambo

Ann Campbell sat behind a large, reflective wooden desk in the Ames City Hall on Dec. 29, the same office she had sat in since Jan. 3, 2006, when she was first inaugurated as mayor. Campbell knew this would be one of the last times she was on that side of the desk.

Campbell left an empty office in City Hall on that frigid evening, with temperatures reaching several degrees below zero.

Just down the hall from the mayor’s office is the City Council Chambers where Campbell served as a member for 16 years. As Campbell left, her political career of over 40 years came to an end, at least for now.

Campbell said residents of Ames shouldn’t expect her to disappear.

She joined the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County in 1975, holding several leadership positions throughout the years. Campbell was integral to fostering conversation between local law enforcement, schools and organizations that work with youth as the Juvenile Justice Chair.

Campbell had a tremendous impact in the formation of one of the most well-known institutions in Ames, CyRide. Campbell was the first chairperson of what is now the Ames Transit Advisory Board where she was tasked with bringing stakeholders together to find a solution for public transit in a growing university town that lacked a key resource.

While Campbell had engaged in some research on public transit for the League of Women Voters, she did not feel she was particularly educated on the topic. Nevertheless, she was tasked with a massive responsibility.

“I wasn’t smart enough to be nervous,” Campbell said.

It was during her time on the Ames Transit Advisory Board in early 1981 where she met Bob Bourne, a transit consultant.

“She was the person who got everyone together to talk about how a transit agency would look compared to a city department,” Bourne said.

Bourne, who has known Campbell for more than 35 years, echoed what many in Ames have felt to be Campbell’s greatest strength: communication. More specifically, the ability to get others to communicate.

“In the first couple years there, it was a very tenuous relationship between the city, the university and the students, because no one really knew what they were getting into,” Bourne said. “I think her key attribute was that she was able to get people to talk through whatever the issues were and then come to a consensus as to what was best for CyRide.”

Bourne remembered that “conflicts were constant,” in questions of which groups should be paying for CyRide, and in some cases still exist, but said that Campbell displayed a tremendous ability to quell conflicts for the benefit of CyRide. He described Campbell as the “key element.”

“She had a wonderful ability — or still has the ability — to get people to see the big picture and then how they fit into the big picture,” Bourne said.

Bourne said he has been consistently impressed with Campbell’s ability to keep her energy level after so many years, when others may begin to lack drive.

“What I think is most interesting is that she’s somewhat tireless,” Bourne said. “Her ability to keep the enthusiasm level, and the analytical level, and the sociability level high is a real plus.

“The enthusiasm she had for CyRide in 1981 is similar to the enthusiasm that she’s had for the mayor position in 2017.”

When asked to describe Campbell, Bourne was concise.

“Thoughtful and thorough,” he said.

Campbell said her months of research and finding compromise on CyRide through communicating with different stakeholders and experts is what laid the foundation for her to run for City Council. CyRide was such a success, Campbell appeared at the White House in 1983 to accept an award on behalf of CyRide.

Regardless of the praise heaped on her by colleagues and residents of Ames, Campbell was quick to point out that not everyone has the most positive opinion of her.

“My file of hate letters is extensive,” Campbell said with a smile.

Campbell felt that some citizens have asked her to address problems that she lacks the ability to, but tried to hear and respect the opinions of those who were dissenting.

Of course, she found that being mayor was often rewarding as she was able to give back to the community.

“I go and read ‘Cat in The Hat’ to the nursery school,” Campbell said. “I go to the third grade where they have a city planning unit and then they build a city out of shoe boxes and oatmeal boxes and invite the mayor over so they can explain why the police station is by the donut shop.”

Campbell also spoke of receiving letters from K-12 students in Ames and that she tried to respond to each one.

Campbell has been in office, both in City Council and as mayor, during some of the most drastic changes that Ames has seen. Enrollment at Iowa State has increased by more than 10,000 students since Campbell was sworn in as mayor. The population of Ames has increased by nearly 14,000 in that time.

Campbell was in office as a City Council member and mayor for six different presidents. The Soviet Union had yet to dissolve when she was first elected to City Council. While the city of Ames and the world around it has changed, Campbell has been a steady presence.

When John Haila was sworn in as mayor on Jan. 2, the composition of Ames city government was unarguably different with the absence of Campbell. The significance of this change was not lost on Haila. Haila has known Ann Campbell for “six or seven” years from his time working in the community.

“It’s extremely significant,” Haila said. “Instead of facing coming in, trying to establish credibility, trust, repair damage — none of that exists.”

Haila had several takeaways about what Campbell means to the community after meeting so many members of the public while campaigning for mayor.

“There’s a familiarity and approachability, a comfort with her,” Haila said. “She’s somebody very trustworthy and [community members] know they are going to be respected.”

Haila noted that when speaking to people about Campbell there was maybe “two or three” people who had anything even slightly negative to say about her.

Haila said Campbell has not been one to offer unsolicited advice, but she has made herself available if he has questions. Campbell has also helped Haila in meeting mayors and other political figures in Iowa.

“Since being elected, there’s been a more frequent interaction to get [Haila] oriented,” Haila said. “Even more so in terms of ‘how does she think about or approach situations that may come up’ — that will come up, probably.”

Haila has a wealth of experience in the Ames community as a business owner, former president of the Campustown Action Association and the president of the Ames Transit Advisory Board.

“[She has] done a very good job of representing the city government to the community at large,” Haila said. “I think [her ability to communicate] comes from having significant, long-term relationships with a broad cross-section of people.”

Campbell leaves behind a long legacy of inclusion, communication and innovation. She said she won’t be disappearing from Ames and looks forward to being able to be more vocal about her opinions.