County candidates vying for three open seats in two electable offices fielded questions ranging from healthcare to the hours of operation at the DeWitt Satellite Offices Wednesday night’s candidate forum in DeWitt.
The second candidate forum leading up to the Nov. 6 election was moderated by former county attorney G. Wylie Pillers III.
In the treasurer’s race, the focal point of the discussion for both candidates — incumbent Rhonda McIntyre and challenger Emily Gipe — was the status of the office’s hours of operation in the Satellite Building.
The office is open every Wednesday and, much more recently, officials extended those hours to Mondays as well. McIntyre said the traffic on those Mondays has been sparse.
McIntyre said she would encourage the county’s offices, including the auditor and assessor, to expand their cross-training to include the treasurer’s office as well. That effort, she says, could mean more presence at the DeWitt building that offers a more wide array of services to clients.
The incumbent, who has been in office since 1995, says she would work more closely with the county board of supervisors to organize that effort.
“We need a universally trained employee to help Monday through Friday with all those services that works for all those offices,” she said. “It is something to work toward with all the supervisors. If we all work together we can get bigger and better service in the DeWitt office.”
Gipe, who is the human resource director and fund development director at the Clinton YWCA, said more hours at the location are critical to the western side of the county.
“[I support] having staff [in DeWitt] and a presence Monday through Friday. When I knocked on doors in Lost Nation and Delmar, that was the number one complaint,” Gipe said. “They have to work around schedules or drive an hour to Clinton. As a taxpayer, you want to be served where you’re at.”
Gipe said inter-office communication would accomplish that goal.
“Expanding the hours Monday through Friday is my number one goal,” she said.
McIntyre explained recent computer upgrades, including the ability for car dealerships to process vehicle registrations from their buildings may change how their workflow operates soon, potentially altering some of the duties the office completes. Her stance on the office’s hours depends on the foot traffic, she said.
“If we increased customer traffic to where we need more days, I’m for it,” McIntyre explained. “But it’s not efficient to have someone here with nothing do to. Increasing the services we offer will increase traffic. I think that’s a necessity.”
Gipe said increased hours would encourage that foot traffic.
“I am taking the field of dreams standpoint: if you build it they will come,” she said, referencing the 1989 Kevin Costner film. “If you open up the office, people will come at their leisure without having to work around a one- or two-week schedule. And, it will create goodwill with in the county and it is going to grow the rural areas [of Clinton County].”
Two of the three candidates on the ballot for the Clinton County Board of Supervisors fielded questions as well.
Kurt Dreger, the lone Democrat running for the board, did not attend the forum. Republicans Jim Irwin and Dan Srp, who was first elected to the board in 2014, answered an array of questions.
Srp, a Camanche resident and former member of the Camanche School Board, said his number one priority in seeking re-election is slowing Clinton County’s population loss. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Clinton County’s population has decreased 4.3 percent since 2010, the largest decrease of any of Iowa’s 10 counties bordering the Mississippi River.
Ways to fix that, Srp said, are expanding U.S. 30 to four lanes between DeWitt and Lisbon.
“We started to see the loss as population started when I-80 was created, and ever since we’ve been watching our opportunity slip away from us. We need to finish the connection to the west to Lisbon, but also on the east side to Interstate 88 [in Illinois]. Opening that corridor will help attract employers. Employees will travel if there are good, quality, safe roads.”
Irwin said his motivation to run is, in part, to help with economic development. He said turning around the county’s population loss is paramount.
“[Losing residents] creates an issue for the rest of the taxpayers,” Irwin explained.
They, too, addressed the county’s presence in the DeWitt office. Irwin believes the office should be open more hours.
“It’s really going to come down to utilizing the most efficient way we can,” he explained. “The treasurer’s office needs to be open more hours in the building. The only way to do that is to get cross-training between offices.”
Srp expressed his frustration with the usage at the Satellite Building, which opened in 2014, and said the topic has been “a point of contention” between the Board of Supervisors and the treasurer’s office.
“In the 2015 budget session, the treasurer came to [the board] because she thought she needed another part-time position because she thought a couple members of her staff were going to get pregnant,” Srp said. “She wanted to pad up her staff in case that happened, and if we didn’t do it she was going to close up the office. And, we had a hard time with that.”
In 2008, the Clinton County Treasurer’s Office staffed three deputies and six clerks plus the treasurer, and in fiscal year 2018, four deputies and six clerks were on staff, plus the treasurer.
Srp said the office is staffed adequately, and that the Satellite Building should be open to treasurer office traffic a minimum of three days per week.
“I have serious issues with how [the treasurer’s office in DeWitt] being open has been represented, because that didn’t happen until about a month before the current treasurer had an opponent in the primary. I feel like that was a politically motivated decision. There was nothing that changed within the treasurer’s budget that would allow more staff or anything else. So, somehow now we could go from one day a week to two? It should have been that way at the minimum all along.”
McIntyre left the forum before the supervisors spoke and did not have a chance to re-address the issue. When The Observer called the treasurer’s office Thursday seeking comment, a clerk said McIntyre was out of the office for the day attending meetings in Des Moines.
Irwin, who served 11 years as member of the Central DeWitt School Board, said he’s focused on leveraging Clinton’s transportation infrastructure, including the Mississippi River, railroad system and highways, to enhance the local economy. He also supports the effort to develop a regional technical center for high schoolers to receive hand-on instruction and build skills.
“That enhances our students and future development opportunities,” he said.
Srp said his previous four years on the board of supervisors has prepared him for another stint.
“It really has been a rewarding experience,” he said. “It hasn’t come without challenges. There have been a couple sleepless nights … I am always open to feedback and I try not to be set in my ways.”
Mike Wolf, the county attorney since 1998, is unopposed and therefore was not offered questions to answer. However, he spoke for two minutes on his status as attorney.
“Our county is a can-do county,” Wolf said. “I am available for assistance at any time; my office takes calls at any time, day or night. We seek and obtain justice not only to the victims of a crime, but to the people we prosecute. The people in this county are very interested in seeing justice applied fairly and equally.”
Provided a write-in campaign doesn’t unseat him, Wolf will become the county’s longest-tenured attorney once he is elected.