Swisher mayor to steward town through city's largest-ever public works project

From chasing raccoons to fixing doors, Christopher Taylor wears many hats

 

SWISHER — On a Wednesday evening earlier this month, Mayor Christopher Taylor was busy fixing Swisher City Hall’s wedged front door.

He still was wearing a button-up shirt and slacks from his day job in the University of Iowa’s Conflict of Interest in Research Office.

The 37-year-old first took over as mayor of the small Johnson County town of nearly 1,000 residents in 2014. Since then, he’s learned that small-town mayors have to take on a few roles that may not be in the job description, such as repairing City Hall’s front door.

“I got a call one day that a raccoon was in someone’s backyard acting strangely, and I ended up chasing a raccoon through people’s backyards with a shovel,” Taylor said, adding the animal eventually disappeared into a drainage culvert. “But that’s part of what makes it so much fun and so interesting to do.”

 
 

Swisher sits between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, which makes it an ideal location for those looking to commute and parents who want their kids to attend the College Community School District. The crime rate is low, and the residents are friendly, Taylor said.

But what makes Swisher stand out, he said, is the sense of community and small businesses such as Kava House and Cafe and the DanceMor Ballroom.

“It‘s small enough that you really can get to know many of your neighbors and walk from one end of town to the other in half an hour at a fairly leisurely pace,” Taylor said. “And I think that goes a long way in creating sort of the sense of community that everyone feels like they belong to something just by virtue of living in Swisher.”

Sometimes on those walks across town, Taylor gets “abducted” by residents driving by in golf carts who take him back to their garages to talk about issues.

“I mean, it’s that kind of one-on-one contact that I really appreciate that I think many mayors of larger towns obviously don’t get,” Taylor said.

Leading a small town such as Swisher isn’t without its challenges. It costs more every year to keep the lights on, Taylor said, and city officials have to plan for expensive infrastructure improvements.

 
 

Division Street, a major access point into the city that serves as a farm-to-market road, is in bad shape. Planning for the replacement of the street has been five years in the making, and the project is expected to cost about $5.5 million. That is 60 percent more than the most expensive municipal improvement project ever done in Swisher, Taylor said.

Construction is set to start this summer, and the street is expected to have one lane open throughout the project. The first phase of the project will be completed in late fall, with some landscaping coming in the spring.

“It’s very complicated,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be really inconvenient for a lot of folks. And it’s, it’s going to be expensive.”

But he noted the city is trying to be proactive by tackling the project now.

“Instead of waiting for something to fall apart,” he said, the city is saying “ ‘We know we’re going to have to get to this. Let’s do it in a responsible way.’”

 

The end of the first phase of the Division Street project will coincide with the expiration of Taylor’s term at the end of the year. Whether he’ll run again is up in the air.

“You can never ask a politician that because you’ll never get a straight answer,” Taylor said, adding that the town has a number of projects underway that he’d like to see through. “But you never know.”

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