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Meet the candidates

Four candidates for two seats on Solon City Council

SOLON– Eligible voters in the City of Solon will have their choice of council representatives in November.
Four candidates, including one incumbent, are vying for four-year terms on the Solon City Council.
The two Solon City Council seats occupied by Mark Prentice and Shawn Mercer will have their terms come to an end at the end of the year. Mercer is seeking re-election, joined on the Tuesday, Nov. 5, ballot by John D. Farlinger, Daniel P. O'Neil and Kevin Samek.
In addition to the council contests, a ballot issue will be decided by residents of Solon. The City of Solon will be asking voters to consider a seven percent hotel/motel tax which would go into effect July 1, 2020. The question requires 50 percent approval to pass.
At least fifty percent of the revenues derived from the local hotel and motel tax would be used for the promotion and encouragement of tourism, with the remaining revenues going to general purposes.
All four council candidates were asked to answer a series of questions. Their answers appear below, alphabetically.

1) Please tell us a little but about your personal background:

Farlinger: I was raised by two entrepreneurial parents in West Liberty, where I not only went to grade school, but also learned values of hard work and customer service that now guide my daily actions as a business owner. After grade school, I went on to get my associates degree from Highland Community College and then my bachelor’s degree in business management from Simpson College. After college, I moved closer to home to be near family and met my wife, May. We started a family in Iowa City, but then moved to Solon as our daughters grew older. We moved to town five years ago and didn’t know many people initially, but were welcomed by the community and couldn’t be happier with our choice to relocate to this great small town. We also relocated our business, REP Radon and Electric to Solon and have continued to grow and employ additional people.

Mercer: My family and I have lived in Solon since 2010 and lived in the area since 2004. I received a Bachelor of Science from Upper Iowa University and a graduate degree in management from Bellevue University. I am currently a Midwest Region Manager for American Airlines. Prior to launching a second career with American Airlines, I retired from the State of Iowa Parole High Risk Unit where I was a certified law enforcement officer. I am an active volunteer in the community and Johnson County and currently serve with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Division, a retired Solon firefighter, and current Solon City Councilor.

O'Neil: My wife and I moved to Solon in 2013 and have three boys (ages 5, 3, 1). I grew up in West Branch and enjoy living in a close-knit community. I hold a BA in business administration/finance and an MBA. I worked in operations at Proctor & Gamble for roughly seven years before transitioning to General Mills. I currently work in procurement (sourcing/purchasing) and worked in operations prior. I’m passionate about giving back; volunteering, fundraising, and public service are ways that I enjoy doing this.

Samek: I’ve lived in Solon for 40 years, I’ve been married to Sue for 37 years, we have two sons both whom graduated from Solon High School. I’m very active in my church having served as President, Elder and Sunday School Teacher, Mondays I read to the children in our preschool. I’ve been involved with our youth in this community coaching youth football and baseball for eight years, junior high baseball for two years. I’ve served on the library board as well as the city council for two terms (eight) years. I enjoy fishing, hunting, gardening and music with the honor of being elected into Iowa’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

2) What is the City of Solon doing well? What does it need to improve?
Farlinger: Through the new business activity on main street (and other parts of town) and growth in the residential areas, Solon is growing, but continues to keep its small town feel that we all love, which is very positive. I would like to help the city continue to grow in a responsible manner– bringing in new business as it is needed and wanted by the residents of this town.
The sense of pride for being a Solon Spartan student/parent, or a local business owner in this town radiates from so many of the residents. The community is connected and willing to lend a helping hand when needed. I’ve learned this with my experiences with the school district, the Lions Club, Beef Days committee, etc.

Mercer: The City of Solon has handled the city’s growth extremely well. Careful consideration to financial obligations while continuing to make Solon one of Iowa’s best small towns can easily be seen as you just look at the beautiful downtown area and upgrades to parks and city streets.
I think the City of Solon could better leverage modern technology to communicate with Solon residents.

O'Neil: The City of Solon has done a great job managing growth. This is something I’m passionate about as Solon is an ideal community to live in (city services, school system, business offerings, location, etc.). From my perspective, I feel that the city and school have a great relationship, this is something I would like to help maintain.
I feel the city is in a great spot where there are not glaring issues/concerns that need to improve. Transparency and communication are areas that always need maintained but feel that the city is in great shape currently. Overall, I feel that continuing down the current path while bringing ‘experienced, fresh eyes’ to the council will be beneficial for us.

Samek: There are many great things done by the city, for example, the recreation programs in place, a great relationship with our school system, keeping up of our infrastructure, roads, curb and gutter, support of our excellent fire department as well as our public image. I believe we could definitely improve on communication and transparency, it’s my opinion too much business is done without the public being aware of or given the chance to get involved. We need to make sure we have the best interest of our residents in mind, when making decisions.

3) What do you see as the responsibility of the city government in providing collaborative social services like the Old Gold Diner?

Farlinger: The city has been contributing to this program, as well as other business and service organizations, and I believe it is important for city government to stay engaged to ensure programming is available for the residents of Solon. For the Seniors of Solon, it is important to stay active and social, and Old Gold Diner enables that.

Mercer: The City has an obligation to provide social services and activities to all of the residents of Solon. This population has grown in diversity over the last several years. It is imperative the city work collaboratively with social service stakeholders to provide activities and services for a diverse community.

O'Neil: I feel the Old Gold Diner is a great service to senior community members. I believe the responsibility of city government is to find areas to include all age groups of the community. This service is an example of finding opportunities to engage with senior community members in a friendly environment where conversation can be enjoyed over a healthy meal.
Although I have not participated in any of the events for the Old Gold Diner, I look forward to being able to participate in the fellowship soon.

Samek: I believe our city should take an interest in most of, if not all of our civic organizations, not to run them, but to offer advice when asked and possibly monetary support if needed and possible. I would like to see the city team up with our American Legion for fundraisers, the above-mentioned Old Gold Diner, food pantry and other services.

4) How can the city better engage with residents of the community?
Farlinger: Whether we like it or not, the use of social media has a strong presence in our everyday lives, as real-time information has become more prevalent and expected by all. The city does an excellent job utilizing Facebook to provide quick updates to the residents of Solon, and I believe there is even greater opportunity for the city to leverage these online platforms to keep residents informed. For example: using YouTube or Facebook Live to stream council meetings would allow more people to understand and stay informed of what is happening through city government in the comfort of their own home. The school district sends short videos via email to parents to keep them informed of major news– replicating that may be another idea/option.

Mercer: As previously mentioned, the city needs to leverage modern communication technology to effectively communicate information in real time and engage the community for feedback in all aspects of the operational works of the city.

O'Neil: This is another area where I feel the city has done a great job. The city staff is very proactive with communication and has an open-door policy. I find the current staff, mayor and council to be very approachable.
My approach may be slightly different when it comes to engagement. I am in favor of having routine ‘office hours’ where I can meet with community members at the public library, city hall, etc. as well taking calls and e-mails. Engagement with the community is something that I truly enjoyed while previously serving on the West Branch City Council.

Samek: How about some meet and greets, open houses? Team up with Lions Club, Optimists and senior citizens meetings for questions and answer sessions. Possibly hold meetings at different locations, churches, community center, schools, special events with our veterans?

5) What do you bring to the table? What are your strengths as a potential council member?

Farlinger: I bring passion and commitment for the City of Solon to the table. I have become increasingly involved with the Solon Centennial Lions Club and have the privilege of serving as the President of the chapter this year. I enjoy helping the community and living the Lions’ slogan of “We Serve.” In addition to serving on the Lions Club, I have been actively helping with Solon Beef Days for the past few years and am thrilled to be part of a great festival that our families enjoy every year. I value everything this town offers and want to do my part in keeping Solon a thriving community.
As mentioned previously, I am also a business owner. I have owned and operated REP Radon and Electric for the past 13 years and bring a strong knowledge base of small business ownership to the table, and my success comes from a strong community that supports local business owners. I am confident my background and perspective will benefit the council, residents and businesses of Solon.

Mercer: Aside from being a current four-year member of the Solon City Council I hold a college degree in public administration and have the knowledge and insight into city government best practices. I understand a multitude of the city’s departments and have worked directly in some of the city’s departments, specifically law enforcement and fire prevention, as well as a member of the personnel, finance and public library sub committees. As a career manager and a student of the management sciences, I have great potential for city leadership and am an outstanding choice for many years to come.

O'Neil: I bring a lot to the table as a member of council. My greatest strength is my experience. Previously serving on the West Branch Council provided exposure to city government, the budget process, hiring process and other HR related items, making difficult decisions, and developing a working relationship with the current city engineer and city attorney (for Solon).
All these areas are critical for success in a community. In city government (especially small communities) making the right decisions are critical for success as resources and staffing is typically limited.
My current role in procurement and prior experience in city government allow me to think ‘outside the box’ and to find creative ways to stretch the budget.
Although previous experience isn’t necessarily a requirement, I feel my experience would allow me to dive in on projects or decision making.

Samek: I bring years and years of common sense, as well as 40 years of sales management experience, at times up to 25 sales reps. I’m a leader, I can relate to people of all ages, having lived in Solon for decades I know what this town was like when I moved here and what it has grown to. What you see is what you get with me I’m honest and there is no gray area. This town is my home, I would like to bring my managerial and people skills to this council to continue to improve as well as take care of what we have in my town.