Final Ames Candidate Forum draws large student crowd


Sarah Henry/Iowa State Daily

Members running for positions on the Ames City Council at the Memorial Union answer questions for the public about how they believe they would be the better choices for the City of Ames on Nov. 2nd.

K. Rambo

Over 50 people descended on the MU Sun Room to watch the final Ames candidate forum, presented by the Iowa State student government. The crowd was largely comprised of students.

The forum gave residents a chance to ask candidates their own questions before the rapidly approaching Nov. 7 elections.

Vice president Cody Smith opened the forum by reading one-minute biographies of each candidate, detailing experience and accomplishments. Each candidate was then given three minutes to further explain their experience and motivations for running for office.

All candidates thanked various groups before their statements including attendees, student government and the Iowa State lectures program.

Mayoral candidate John Haila’s opening statements, in which he said were an explanation of why he was best qualified, focused on leadership and facilitation experience.

“I founded Haila Architecture Structure Planning 30 years ago. During that time, over 60 percent of our clients were public sector clients, which included cities, counties, school districts and universities. During that time, I facilitated well over 1500 meetings, many of which required working with competing stakeholders in order to arrive at consensus and direction.”

Haila also spoke of his focus on making Ames an inclusive and welcoming environment for all residents of Ames.

Haila also served as the president of the Campustown Action Association for two years and is the current president of the Transit Agency Board of Trustees. Haila has been endorsed by Mayor Ann Campbell and outgoing third ward councilman, Peter Orazem.

Mayoral Candidate Victoria Szopinski was next to introduce herself. Szopinski said she wanted to spend her introduction speaking about being “innovative and forward-thinking,” rather than discussing her qualifications.

“I know that success and innovation come from bringing diverse voices together to address the challenges and opportunities we face, not just in Ames but around the country,” Szopinski said. “Long before I began running for the mayor of Ames and was a member of the Ames City Council, I knew we would need new models for exploring and building on new ideas at the city level. It’s why I did not wait to become mayor to co-found the Ames Progressive Alliance.”

Szopinski said that the Ames Progressive Alliance “exists to bring people together” and “empower all of us to move bold ideas into bold actions to benefit our community.” Szopinski also said that she will not be the “status-quo mayor.”

Amber Corrieri, the incumbent for the at-large council seat is running unopposed. Corrieri briefly reflecting on her first term in city council and her belief that the council had worked well together. Corrieri discussed her main priorities for her second term which include the Healthy Life Center, investing in Campustown and downtown, including public gathering spaces.

Third Ward Candidate Rob Bowers, who is running against David Martin, also began his introduction discussing his experience being a part of the Iowa State community for his “entire life.”

“It’s been a great experience for me, living in Ames and working here for the last thirty-plus years,” Bowers said. “Ames has been a wonderful place for us. I graduated in 1985 with a degree in political science and economics and then while working full-time for the university in the department of public safety, I earned my masters degree in public administration and graduated in 1990.”

Bowers went on to detail his experience in various areas of public service in Ames. Bowers referenced involvement in church activities, school activities, youth sports and several boards and commissions including the Girls Softball Association and the Ames Human Relations Commission.

Bowers is currently a member of the Ames Planning and Zoning Commission and will reach his term limit in March. Bowers feels that his experience on the Planning and Zoning Commission gives him important experience when it comes to being a member of city council during the upcoming replacement of the Land Use Policy Plan.

Martin, Bowers’ opponent, was the next candidate to speak. Martin started by pointing out that he grew up in Campustown and outlining his main objectives for city council.

“On the city council, I will stand for inclusivity, internet connectivity and quality of life. Inclusivity does not mean just telling people that they are welcome to attend public meetings and wishing that they would come,” Martin said. “The best way to pull people in is to invite them specifically, not generally, if you can.”

Martin discussed what he feels is the importance of reaching beyond your comfort zone, which is learning about others and connecting with them. He explained that he has made many connections throughout his campaign, which he feels will be an asset if he is elected to city council.

Martin felt that for Ames to begin increasing diversity, it is important to elect leaders from minority communities. Martin is gay and while he didn’t feel that in itself is a leadership quality, he expressed his belief that being able to stand for what is right and challenge voters to examine their potential prejudices is.

Martin again outlined his belief that internet is an infrastructure issue and should be treated as such.

“Internet is not a luxury amenity anymore and I do not think I have to convince [students] of that,” Martin said.

The final candidate to give an introduction was first ward incumbent Gloria Betcher. Betcher, running unopposed, is a professor at Iowa State and spoke to the crowd about living near campus and her family’s extensive history in Ames. Betcher spoke of her belief that improving quality of life is not solely about focusing on homeowners or students, but on “striking a balance,” so that everyone has a high quality of life.

Questions from Smith discussed occupancy ordinance changes, landlord issues, community safety, medical amnesty and campus and community relations. Understandably, the majority of topics discussed were focused on students and issues in Ames that affect their lives.

The candidates were given three minutes to answer each question, allowing candidates more time to explain their positions in depth.

Q: What do you feel is the best way to handle regulating rental occupancy with the state legislature’s decision to eliminate “three non-related occupants” ordinance?

Haila: “I believe that at this point in time, council is landing on one adult per bedroom plus one and I believe this seems to be a reasonable compromise,” Haila said.

Haila added that when a significant number of students occupy a house, parking and parties can be an issue, adversely affecting quality of life in a neighborhood. Haila said he would support the the ordinance the council is considering from a short-term point of view, but said if mayor, he would propose a roundtable discussion with student representatives, the university, landlords and surrounding residents.

Szopinski: “I think one of the solutions is that we need to have Iowa State University more connected to students who are living off-campus. When I was a student here… there was an off-campus housing office that worked with students on finding someplace to live, on making sure that there were good relationships with landlords so that students were not being taking advantage of and there were a variety of other services that were offered through that office.”

Szopinski said that bringing back the off-campus housing office needs to be a starting point. Szopinski said she feels the current moratorium on new rental permits is a “great idea.” Szopinski referred to South Campus Area Neighborhood Association as a great example of “bringing new voices to the table,” and applauded the amount of research they did when making recommendations to city council.

Bowers: Bowers did not offer specific solutions but did speak about potential unintended consequences if the new ordinances are not written carefully.

Bowers spoke of a Ph.D. student at Iowa State that may not be able to sell the home be bought when starting school because potential buyers will want to to be able to rent the home out. Additionally, Bowers indicated that faculty who go on sabbatical would potentially be limited from renting their houses while they are away, which is a common practice.

Bowers also said he feels that zoning overlays that allow different neighborhoods to have different housing regulations are important. He said he doesn’t believe a “one size fits all” approach always works out.

Martin: Similar to Bowers, Martin approached the question more from a cautionary standpoint, rather than outlining specific policies he believes would be successful.

Martin feels limiting occupants based on parking spots is problematic because not all occupants will own or drive cars, and was concerned they would be penalized. Martin said the council has been trying to approximate just what exactly the old ordinance achieved, saying there’s some guess work right now and “it might take awhile to get right.”

Martin shared his experience of living off-campus for the five years he was a student at Iowa State. Martin said that he has been closely monitoring the situation and has been in contact with the South Campus Area Neighborhood Association and several others. Martin also felt it was important to note that when talking about limiting occupancy, the city is talking specifically about limiting adult occupants.

Q: Oftentimes in the city of Ames, students struggle with landlords who are not the most cooperative to their situation. What would you do to improve the landlord-tenant relations in regards to student life?

Szopinski: “As a city, it is our job to make sure that when you are living wherever, when you are in the street, that you are safe,” Szopinski said. “We owe it to your friends, your family, whoever it is that you are connected to… that we are taking care of you and we want to be offering great situations that make you want to stay.”

Szopinski again spoke of the importance of more university involvement with off-campus housing and trying to facilitate positive relationships between tenants and landlords. Szopinski also feels that improving the connections between the university and city are crucial and a model where “as many voices of students are at the table, as possible.”

Szopinski also mentioned the lease gap and said she feels the city should be monitoring the situation more closely and putting regulations in place to ensure students are in safe living conditions.

Martin: While Martin was quick to point out that he does not have recent experience as a student dealing with a landlord, he did say that council members in the ward someone lives in can be a conduit for dealing with problems.

Bowers: Bowers felt the “very nature of the question itself was kind of phrased in terms of almost making all landlords look bad.” Bowers felt that by framing any groups in a negative light, people come to the table with preconceived notions about other stakeholders.

Bowers believes that solutions to problems between landlords and tenants will be found on both sides which is why he took issue with the phrasing of the question. He feels that the collaboration between landlords and tenants is critical to finding solutions.

Bowers also reiterated his belief that students knowing what is in their lease will help solve problems such as the lease gap.

Haila: “I would not be supportive of the city starting to insert itself into dealing with lease issues,” Haila said. “A lease is a legal document that you enter into, a student enters into with a landlord and for the city to start getting into and dealing with lease issues, I believe becomes an overextension of what the city’s responsibilities should be. I am certainly sympathetic to that and I know that when you are going to school and you sign a lease that there’s a lot of fine print.”

Haila said he did support an advocacy group for student tenants but said that he feels it falls under the responsibilities of Iowa State more than the city.

“If this is really a significant issue, I would encourage student government, university administration, to look at engaging in some sort of a dialogue with landlords, identifying what the issues are, and then endeavoring to come to some solutions that can be implemented,” Haila said.

Haila said the last thing he wants to see is more ordinances and regulations adopted that he feels would be difficult to enforce and require more time from city staff.

Haila told the Daily after the forum that his son is a landlord in Ames.