Hiawatha Mayor facing a re-election challenge

Former council member Waller mounts campaign for Hiawatha's top job

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Mayor Tom Theis is seeking re-election, and Steve Waller, a City Council member here in 2002 and 2003, is running against him.

The two see things differently and so will give local voters a real choice in the Nov. 8 election.

The two disagree, for instance, over the future of Edgewood Road and over how any future sales-tax money should be used.

Waller wants Edgewood Road to extend as a four lane to Tower Terrace Road, while Theis says Edgewood should be a three lane to Boyson Road, but will cost too much for now to take it further north.

Waller says the city should use 100 percent of the revenue from any extension of the local-option sales tax for residential property-tax relief, while Theis says such a practice is a bad one. What happens when the sales tax ends and property taxes suddenly need to skyrocket? the mayor says. His preference is to use any revenue from an extension of the existing sales tax as it is being used, for city projects, though he says 10 percent of any extended tax should be used for property-tax relief.

Theis, 68, served as mayor in the early 1980s and for much of the 1990s and has held the job since 2008. Since the mid-1970s, he’s been a member of the City Council for many of the years he was not mayor.

“I think things are going reasonably well,” Theis, of 1500 Lyndhurst Dr., said Wednesday in explaining why he is seeking re-election. “The budget is balanced, we’ve upgraded some equipment and we’ve tried to keep things on an even keel.”

The city, he pointed out, is completing two major road projects, North Center Point Road and Stamy Road leading to a new industrial complex called Tower Commerce Center, and he said the city is getting ready to move ahead to widen Boyson Road to three lanes and improve the congested intersection at Boyson and Robins roads.

Waller, 54, a senior manufacturing electrical engineer at Rockwell Collins, said Wednesday that Theis and others at City Hall have done a good job of focusing on a vision, but have done less well delivering on the details of governing, he said.

For starters, “the traffic (in the city) is horrendous,” Waller said. He pointed to what he said has been a long-standing traffic headache at Boyson and Robins roads and added that there also is too much north-south traffic on the residential street of 18th Avenue.

“How many millions are we spending to make Center Point Road look nice?” Waller, of 300 13th Ave., asked. “But I don’t think the city wants to get down and dirty, spend a lot of money on things that are more functional.”

Waller said it comes down to philosophy. He said he’s an engineer and thinks like an engineer.

“The form is nice, but it has to be functional first,” he said. “And I don’t think Hiawatha really prioritizes it that way. I think they’re looking for it to look good and hopefully it works well, too.”

Waller called on the city to make the extension of a four-lane Edgewood Road north of Blairs Ferry Road to Boyson Road and on to Tower Terrace Road a top priority, in part, to take the traffic pressure off 18th Avenue.

Waller’s interest in Edgewood Road is nearly a decade old and stretches back to his time on the Hiawatha council in 2002 and 2003 when he pushed the road’s extension without success.

In fact, he ran for mayor in 2003 and was defeated by then-incumbent Tom Patterson. Patterson won 1,100 votes, Waller, 349, and a third candidate, Reta Saylor, 214. After the election, Waller said he resigned from the council when he said it was apparent that the council majority had different ideas than he did.

Waller noted that Hiawatha had once been the fastest growing community in the region, but he said the city’s growth has slowed. He said the traffic problems in the city might dissuade businesses from locating in the city until there is a fix.

Waller said he is not a member of the emerging Tea Party movement in Iowa and across the nation, but he said he does favor “limited government.”

Theis said the city of Hiawatha continues to grow, noting that its population increased by 8.4 percent from 6,480 to 7,024 from 2000 to 2010. He said the city also has secured a growth corridor to the northwest, which is now being developed, to avoid being landlocked by Cedar Rapids and Robins. He said, too, that businesses have and continue to knock on Hiawatha’s door, looking into the city has a place to locate.

Theis said Hiawatha has been accused of trying to steal jobs from Cedar Rapids and Marion, an accusation that he said is not true.

“We will never tell somebody we won’t talk to you,” the mayor said. “We’ve been told we are reasonably friendly to talk to. We try to treat people like I would like to be treated.”

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