Government

Coralville has seen lots of change, but its leadership remains virtually the same

The city transforms but its City Hall doesn't

Coralville Mayor John Lundell, who begins another uncontested term as mayor in January, speaks Aug. 28 during the topping off ceremony for the Xtream Arena at Iowa River Landing in Coralville. The arena project is one of the key developments undertaken by the city. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Coralville Mayor John Lundell, who begins another uncontested term as mayor in January, speaks Aug. 28 during the topping off ceremony for the Xtream Arena at Iowa River Landing in Coralville. The arena project is one of the key developments undertaken by the city. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
/

CORALVILLE — Pop into Coralville City Hall on any day of 2019 and you’re bound to run into some of the same public officials who have worked there since 2009.

Or 1999. Or, in some cases, 1989 and beyond.

Consider that City Administrator Kelly Hayworth has been at the helm since 1988 — 31 years — and isn’t even Coralville’s longest-serving municipal employee. Kevin Callahan — set to retire this year — joined the city as its Water Department superintendent in 1987. Dan Holderness, city engineer, has them both beat. He’s been in that capacity since 1986.

“I don’t know that there’s anybody that has any seniority on me,” Holderness said.

Police Chief Shane Kron and Human Resources and Risk Manager Mike Funke have been with the city since 1990, Building and Zoning Official Jim Kessler since 1991, Parks and Recreation Director Sherri Proud since 1997 and Library Director Alison Ames Galstad since 1998. Coralville fire Chief Orey Schwitzer joined the department as a volunteer in 1995, was hired by the city in 2003 and made chief in 2018. Streets and Solid Waste Superintendent Eric Fisher has been with the city since 2004. Assistant City Administrator Ellen Habel was hired in 2005.

Tradition of longevity among elected officials

Even among officials who regularly face election, Coralville has remarkable consistency.

Mayor John Lundell will begin a fourth term in January, the third time he’s run unopposed. Lundell succeeded former Mayor Jim Fausett, who served nine terms, before deciding to not seek reelection.

Among City Council members, Tom Gill has served most of the past 32 years and Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Gross has served since 2008.

“We have a tradition in Coralville of longevity in our elected officials and — not everyone would agree — but I think it’s a good thing,” said Lundell, who as mayor has no voting powers but runs council meetings and can veto council action — a power he’s not used in six years. “The town has been going in such a great direction that I think the fact that we have this longevity as elected officials is indicative of that and contributes to that.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Longevity among city staff has helped Coralville take on large development projects over the last few decades, from the Coral Ridge Mall to the Iowa River Landing and many in between, Hayworth said.

When there is a long-standing group of department heads and elected officials, it allows them to look long-term at the big picture, he said.

“We know what everybody expects,” Hayworth said. “We know what the mayor and council expect, which is great service for our residents.”

Holderness said longevity helps streamline how city staff functions, and he attributes the trust between the mayor and council, Hayworth and department leaders to that streamlining.

“The council is really good at setting goals for us,” Holderness said. “They let us deal with the details. They don’t micromanage us. Because we have a lot of continuity, once you have the vision ... if you have the same people who have the same mind-set, it becomes easier. We work together as a team.”

2013 election proved voters support city’s direction

If there was ever a referendum on Coralville’s way of doing things, or the direction it was heading, it was the 2013 general election.

That year, four candidates ran for former Mayor Fausett’s seat and eight candidates sought three council seats.

The election drew the involvement of conservative group Americans for Prosperity, which was known for spending more than $33.5 million to try to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012.

Much of the focus of the election was on Coralville’s debt, its extensive use of tax increment financing and the city-owned Iowa River Landing development.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Lundell, who had spent 10 years on the council before running for mayor, said it was evident that if the challengers won, Coralville would change direction significantly.

“Clearly, they did want to take Coralville in a very different direction in terms of, primarily, economic development,” he said. “In the forums, they made it clear that, first of all, they were going to replace Kelly Hayworth. They were going to sell the Marriott hotel and the other property we own in the Iowa River Landing and basically privatize that area.”

Ultimately, Lundell won decidedly in his only contested election for mayor with 65 percent of the vote. City Council incumbents Bill Hoeft and Gill were the two top vote-getters in the council race. Current council member Laurie Goodrich came in third and won her first seat on the council.

Lundell said the election showed that the city’s residents approved of the work that had been done in Coralville.

“I think they had trust,” he said. “It shows they had trust in the direction that Mayor Fausett and the council were taking the city.”

Institutional knowledge within city an asset to newcomers

When Meghann Foster joined the City Council in 2018, many of the city staff she worked with had been with there for decades. That experience has been a resource to her, Foster said.

“The institutional knowledge is invaluable,” Foster said. “Dan Holderness, he’s brilliant. I really think he is. And we’re so very lucky we have all these great people and we’ve been able to keep them. Kelly is brilliant, the vision he has.”

With that institutional knowledge comes trust, Foster said, and it helps in the decision-making process. That’s not so say that Coralville isn’t open to new ideas. Foster said she has brought ideas to the table, and plans to continue doing so.

One of her big goals is to determine how to best serve Coralville’s increasingly diverse population — and those ideas have been welcomed by city staff and leaders.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Hayworth “is not a person to shy away from any type of challenge,” Foster said. “I don’t feel like I’ve ever had the experience where I brought something to the table where I felt like, ‘Oh, well, we can’t do this.’ They’ve been, in general, very receptive.”

Even with elected officials and city staff having decades of experience and letting that experience guide them, Hayworth said Coralville leaders make an effort to ensure they don’t get into a predictable rut.

He said the city solicits feedback from the community and listens to what citizens want. Consultants are brought in to advise on big projects and city leaders also interact with their peers on a regional or national basis to stay up to date.

And, Lundell said, there’s always a new project or initiative the city is working on, whether it be the Iowa River Landing or development on the west end of Coralville tied into the opening of the Forevergreen Road interchange on Interstate 380.

“There’s always something that keeps us fresh,” Lundell said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.