by Paul Attema
Over a thousand Pella residents voted in the City Council election that was filled with an unexpected upset and a narrow victory. According to KNIA/KRLS, in Ward 1, Lynn Branderhorst ousted incumbent Dan Vanderbeek by receiving more than 2.5 times the number of votes. Mark DeJong, with 40 years of experience, will continue serving the citizens of Pella after receiving only 58 more votes than rival Rhonda Kermode and 243 more votes than Daniel Spotten for the at-large position according to the same source. In Ward 3 Councilmember Bruce Schiebout, uncontested during the election, will be entering his fifth term of office.
Correspondence with council members indicates that they will have various issues which need attention. From the construction of a new sports park on the south-east side of town to the maintenance of city roads and sidewalks, council members anticipate no shortage of short-term projects. While these are important, council members are also looking towards the future. According to DeJong, the public library, the community center, and the police and fire stations are nearing maximum capacity and might benefit from expansions. In addition to this, Schiebout noted that slow internet affects Pella business owners and general citizens alike. “One important thing that is facing us as a community is high speed technology,” said Schiebout.
One contentious issue for many voters concerned the possible regional airport. While most candidates either supported a partnership with surrounding communities or did not confront the issue directly, Spotten centered his campaign around his opposition to the current direction that the City Council has taken on the matter. On his website votespotten.com, he described the project as a “want,” saying that the supposed need was unquantified. Referencing a vote by the citizens of Oskaloosa, Spotten said, “It seems immoral to me that the City of Pella will take farmland in our neighboring county to build an airport that the neighboring county itself wants out of.”
Supporters of the regional airport say that it would satisfy the needs of major employers like Vermeer and Pella Corporation, while also attracting new businesses. “The airport is important,” said Schiebout. “We have transportation needs. As a councilmember you need to look what is good for the long term, forty or fifty years down the road.”
While issues like this can often become points of contention between candidates, they all share a common respect for the system and a love of Pella. Since candidates are not accountable to large-party platforms, they can more attentively listen to the concerns of individual citizens. “It is a great situation that election races in Pella are not partisan. Candidates run for office because they are interested in the betterment of the community,” said DeJong.
Schiebout, a strong proponent of grassroots government, said, “The election is a good opportunity to touch base with constituents. It forces you to state your goals and vision for the community.”
Whether candidates were born and raised in Pella or moved here later in life, they all appreciate the aspects of Pella that make it special. Dutch heritage and the Christian faith continue to play an integral role in the community as can be seen through the Tulip Time celebrations. In addition to these underlying traits, people appreciate more palpable advantages like job availability and general safety. “I think it’s most important to preserve the low crime rate, to strengthen the sense of community and watch out for each other,” said Spotten. “It’s very important to feel safe and we must do all we can to remain a ‘safe’ place for all to thrive in.”
Although it might seem distant to some high school students, sooner than expected they will become the leaders of the communities in which they settle. It is important for students to become active and informed citizens so that the municipal political system can function properly. “Never underestimate the influence you wield just because you are young,” said Schiebout. “I urge you to seek an opinion and seek that opinion out for support.”