Former Ames business owner runs for mayor

K. Rambo

Mayoral Candidate John Haila walked in the side door of HAILA Architecture Structure Planning Ltd. in downtown Ames at a brisk clip.

There was a sense in the office that Haila, or John as he is known to his colleagues, was extremely busy. Although Haila sold HAILA-ASP last year, he still works with the firm on a consultation basis while campaigning for mayor.

Describing himself as “passionately non-partisan,” Haila explained his platform with a series of questions and objectives.

“How can we continue to build on the strong foundation that preceding councils and mayors have laid,” Haila said. “And to continue on a path of appropriate growth, strengthening and starting a conversation with the university, what is happening with enrollment?

“Enrollment is down by a few hundred students for the first time in like over a decade. Is that a anomaly, or is that possibly a trend? What is the university president going to focus on? We need to talk together because we need the university to be a success, we want the students to be successful, because that will make the city continue to be successful.”

Enrollment at Iowa State in 2016 was 36,660 and is 36,321 in 2017. University officials described the enrollment decrease as an anticipated “leveling off.”

Haila added that he wants to ensure that jobs in the public sector in Ames continue to be stable or grow because of how many of the jobs in Ames fall in that category.

When tackling key issues impacting Ames, Haila felt the most important course of action was to get input from as many impacted constituencies as possible.

On the topic of Ames being a “sanctuary city,” Haila was not aware that Ames had been designated as such but was aware of certain policies that are related to the designation.

“I do know that the police department has made it abundantly clear to council at a council meeting that they do not target, nor if they have any kind of traffic violations or any other altercations, they do not go looking and checking to see if someone is an undocumented resident,” Haila said.

While Haila did not feel prepared to make a judgment either way on agreement or disagreement with Ames being a sanctuary city, he did share some opinions on the topic.

“I do not advocate for people actively being sought out and deported, but I’m also highly committed to we are under a rule of law, and federal law and state law need to be abided with and to be an outlier to trying to reject that … to try and go a different direction could become a very slippery slope,” he said.

In regards to the state legislature recently voting that housing laws related to the number of family members in a household are illegal, Haila again stressed his belief in hearing as many viewpoints as possible before making decisions about how the city should respond.

“That’s actually one of the things that I’m really committed to is getting people around a table and talking about things and I already started talking to some developers and some realtors, and talking to neighborhood associations, ‘okay we need to get together and come up with a solution that listens to and respects everyone else, as well,’” Haila said.

Although Haila was unaware of the phrase “lease-gap,” he was aware that students often have a period of time at the end of summer when they are between leases. Haila had “heard of it being a few days,” but was unaware students can spend weeks without housing.

“I don’t know if the city really gets into that, or not, from the standpoint that it’s really a landlord, property-owner situation. I can understand and am very sympathetic to the plight that it puts students in, without question,” Haila said.

Haila said he wants to seek a solution to these housings issues by having more conversations. He said he was unsure whether there is a solution.

“So the question of the conversation would have to be ‘does the city insert itself into that topic or issue, or not,” Haila said. “If so, on what grounds would it do that?’ Which would call into the question, what’s the philosophy between separation between private property owners and the city. I’d have to think that one over before I really gave you an opinion one way or the other.”

Haila said his initial interest was in running for city council but his aspirations changed when he found out Mayor Ann Campbell may not run for office again.

“I was approached by a couple people who said ‘Hey, Ann [Campbell] may not be running again, would you consider running for mayor? We believe that your leadership qualities and attributes and what you’ve demonstrated through your business, through CAA, through transit board would really serve the community well.’ And I didn’t make that decision lightly, so I believe in wisdom in many counselors,” Haila said. “So I met with about 50 or 60 people across a broad cross-section.”

Haila said he met with all of the city council members and asked if they were planning to run before he announced his candidacy. Haila said he would have supported any of them, instead of running himself. Haila also said that he contacted Mayor Campbell to offer to work on her campaign instead of running if she were to run again.

“I intentionally waited until she announced that she is not going to run, which was like in early April, I think. Then I announced at the end of April, again, out of profound respect and appreciation for [Mayor Campbell],” Haila said.

Haila founded HAILA-ASP, originally operating out of Boone, but eventually moved his business to Ames.

Haila met his wife, Mary, at Iowa State and they moved to Boone following graduation and raised two sons who also attended Iowa State. Although the Haila family moved to Boone, they kept their roots in Ames.

“We moved to Boone but we just had lots of friends here in Ames, we were involved with the faith community here, so we pretty much just lived here on the weekends,” Haila said.

Haila brought the business to Campustown in Ames in 2009 because he felt being near Iowa State would be good for business and increase his talent pool. Haila eventually made Ames home again in 2011.

Haila got involved with the Campustown Action Association in 2010, serving as their president until 2012 and ended his official involvement in 2014.

“That got me involved with talking to both the city council, as an advocate for Campustown Action Association, and Dr. Hill and Warren Madden and Steve Schainker,” Haila said. “While I was on Campustown, actually on the board, Mayor Campbell approached me and asked if I would consider serving on the transit board.”

Haila joined the city of Ames Transit Agency Board of Trustees in 2014 and has served as president of the Transit Agency Board of Trustees since 2015, but his interest in running for office began a few years prior.

“Maybe back in 2009, 2010, I was really inspired by the city council. Just their interest in both Campustown and Main Street, and understanding the critical nature of those and how they benefit the community,” Haila said.