The race for the mayor’s office in Keokuk features a pair of candidates who say they have what it takes to lead the city for the next two years.
Keokuk is one of the only cities of its size in Iowa that is still operating with a full-time mayor and without a city manager or administrator.
What that means is the responsibilities facing the next mayor, be it incumbent Tom Marion or newcomer Melanie Wells, are plentiful.
Tom Marion has served as mayor for the last four years, after a two-decade stretch as city attorney.
He says, if re-elected, his top priority for the next two years would be economic development.
Marion says it is important for the city to seek growth on its own, as he is doing with two potential projects, but he says the future is regionalization.
He says that starts with the merging of the economic development groups in Keokuk, Fort Madison and Lee County.
“We need to be one entity and in five years, we better have one entity,” says Marion. “We need to go out and recruit businesses, we don’t need to sit here and wait for them to come.”
Marion describes his leadership approach as being laid-back, trying to directly handle the problems facing the city so the department heads can run their departments.
Melanie Wells describes herself as a very positive and energetic person. She feels one of her best traits is that she is willing to listen to both sides of a situation before making a decision.
Wells says one of her top priorities is to protect the city’s history, in the hopes that it could eventually boost the city’s economy.
“History draws people,” says Wells. “People will come from all over the world to see the history that we have. People come from all over the world to go to Nauvoo, Il., which is ¼ the size of Keokuk. Why aren’t we bringing them here?”
Wells says if elected, she would work to address the disconnect she believes exists between the city and its residents.
She says that could be helped by requiring city council members to hold ward meetings.
“Once a month, I want those council members to be out in their wards,” says Wells. “Talk to their people, find out what their concerns are, looking at their wards and physically seeing what needs to be addressed in that ward.”
Both Wells and Marion agree that when it comes to improving Keokuk, it starts in the neighborhood and it starts by the example of hard work and dedication.
Marion says his other priorities include keeping Keokuk Area Hospital open and lobbying the state for help with police and fire pensions.
“They are underfunded,” says Marion. “I think (the state) ought to be stepping up and funding those and taking some of the burden off of the cities.”
Melanie Wells says if she is elected, she would work to establish community-wide mentoring programs and neighborhood gardens.
The winner will take office in January.