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MARION — The four finalists for Marion’s next city manager position took to the stage Friday night to present their visions for the future of the city.
The candidates — Aaron Kooiker, Mike Pogge-Weaver, Al Roder and Ryan Waller — spent an hour answering questions submitted before the town hall. The city manager position, which opened when Lon Pluckhahn left after 14 year to take a new job, is the only job in Marion that the City Council hires.
“This is one of the most important decisions we will make as council members in our time so it’s not one we take lightly,” council member Rene Gadelha said.
All four said they were interested in the role due to Marion’s size and continuing growth. When it comes to what the candidates thought Marion’s major challenges would be over the coming decade as it continues to grow, all four men cited keeping up with new and old infrastructure.
“I’ve gone from a small community to a medium community to now what I think of as a capstone or destination of Marion,” candidate and Fairfield City Administrator Aaron Kooiker said. “As a city administrator, it’s great to help the community have the services they deserve through their taxes.”
“Marion has a strong identity,” candidate and Carroll City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver said. “The idea is to provide that good, safe community and being laser-focused on keeping that small-town community that is viable. As we grow, we have to keep providing quality services the community expects.”
Independence City Manager and candidate Al Roder said the great part about the city government of Marion is the “consistent focus on its people,” which he said he would continue if given the job.
“My focus is building collaboration with people,” Roder said. “We listen to citizens, staff and council and building that collaboration is what will keep Marion moving forward. The greatest risk as Marion grows is losing that touch with people.”
Indianola City Manager and candidate Ryan Waller said he thinks the population of Marion is in a “sweet spot” currently.
“‘Reach Higher’ resonates with me,” Waller said. “When I spoke to Lon, he talked about everyone moving in the same direction and moving momentum and how you carry that forward. … It's all about people. Public service is a passion of mine. How do you get the most out of people? You treat them kindly. You empower them.”
All four candidates said running a successful city takes strong relationships with citizens and staff alike, providing “great customer service” to residents and resources to staff.
“I’d go back to my college football playing days,” said Kooiker, who played for the University of Iowa. “When Hayden Fry coached, he spent more time dealing with position coaches and coaching them to coach us. My leadership style is like that. I work with department heads to make sure they are supported to coach their staff and accomplish our goals.”
“You don’t want to focus on just department heads,” Pogge-Weaver said. “Really going down to all levels, really understanding what their wants, needs and wishes are. Getting them to succeed and getting them the resources they need, that moves us forward.”
“My focus is on building partnerships,” Roder said. “I hold people accountable but in return, I create vulnerability because I want to be held accountable in return.”
The candidates, who are all white men, also answered questions about their views on equity and inclusion.
“This is something that is very important to me as a leader of organizations,” Waller said of equity and inclusion. “It’s about setting an example. In Indianola, we’ve done a series of emotional intelligence training and also the 21 Equity Challenge. It’s also about implementing training and having conversations. And hiring practices: Even though our community may not be that diverse, how do we make sure we are bringing in a diverse workforce?”
“I’ve really paid attention to my own personal biases,” Roder said. “We all have them. … Let’s be open and honest about them and once you understand it, you can be open and relate to other people.”
“The city of Fairfield is an extremely unique community because the city has Maharishi University,” Kooiker said. “It represents 85 different countries that come to our community. The neat thing about diversity in ideas and people is it makes us stronger. It opens us up to accept and see different points of view.”
Of the 43 total applicants, 38 chose to self-identify their demographics, City Human Resources Director Kirsten Fisher said. Of the self-identifying applicants, 92 percent were male and 8 percent were female.
Of the applicants, 92 percent were white with 5 percent identifying as Black. One applicant who identified as Black withdrew and accepted another offer instead. 3 percent identified as Hispanic.
In addition, 37 percent of the applicants were in state while 63 percent were out of state.
The city council held closed sessions with candidates on Saturday and an announcement could be made as early as the coming week. The new hire would have to be officially approved by the City Council. Though contract terms with a new manager would be negotiated, Pluckhahn last earned $186,068 annually in the position.
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