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Six seeking NL council seats

Introducing Brent Smith, Matthew Eckhardt, Mike Nichols and Bryan Wayson

NORTH LIBERTY– Three incumbents will face two challengers on the Tuesday, Nov. 5, election ballot in North Liberty for three city council seats. RaQuishia Harrington, Chris Hoffman and Brent Smith will defend their four-year terms against challengers Matthew Eckhardt and Michael Nicholls. Harrington and Smith are new to the council with Harrington winning a special election in March to fill the vacancy left by Jim Sayre (who moved out of state) while Smith was appointed by the council in May to replace Jennifer Goings (who also has left the area).
Brian Wayson, a previous council member, is seeking to return for an open two-year term.
All candidates were sent a series of questions, and their responses are printed below.
Brent Smith is a battalion chief/paramedic for the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. He and his wife Amanda have lived in North Liberty for 16 years, and they have an 11-year old son, Carter. Smith is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with a BA degree in communications study, and a minor in childhood psychology. He received his paramedic specialist certification from the University of Iowa.
“I have been in the fire service for 20 years. I have worked for Cedar Rapids Fire for 16 years rising the ranks from firefighter, to captain and currently am a battalion chief. Being a civil servant is in my blood. I enjoy serving the public and solving complex emergency problems to help save lives and property,” he said. In addition, Smith has been the Arlington Ridge Homeowners Association president for 10 years, and has served on the North Liberty Porchfest planning committee for the past four years. He has also coached little league baseball in North Liberty. “I was appointed to North Liberty City Council after a 4 to 0 vote in favor of my appointment back in July of this year. I am running for a full 4-year term in the Nov. 5 election.”
Matthew Eckhardt is the owner/operator of PlayOps, LLC, and moved to North Liberty 12 years ago after accepting a position with the City of Iowa City as the aquatics program supervisor for the recreation department.
“My work was focused on creating a safe, inclusive and fun environment. While there I worked to remove barriers for all users. Starting a scholarship program, we provided funds for youth to participate in swim lessons at no charge. As a local business owner my company currently oversees daily operations for North Liberty
Coralville Baseball Softball.”
Eckhardt is also a substitute teacher and coach in the Iowa City Community School District, and for several years he chaired the North Liberty Parks and Recreation Commission. He currently occupies a chair on the Iowa Foundation for Parks and Recreation, an agency that supports recreation projects and services. He is the father of two. “My wife and I most enjoy time with family and friends. We are regulars at local sporting events and church outings.”
Mike Nicholls is currently semi-retired and has lived in North Liberty for the past 15 years ago. Thirteen years ago he started a business called “Dental Handpiece Repair Guy,” which served local dentists with on-site repairs of the various tools they use (“handpieces”) out of a van. “I was able to grow with an eBay store and website to a point I no longer need the van,” he said. “They now mail directly to me. I have customers all over the US and worldwide.” Nicholls is a graduate of Mid-Prairie High School in Wellman and attended Area 10 Community College (now Kirkwood).
***Note*** Nicholls sent in answers to a League of Women Voters questionnaire, which have been adapted, but not altered, to the questions the Leader sent out.
Bryan Wayson and his wife Sheila have lived in North Liberty since 1990 and are both native Iowans. “I call Independence my hometown and Sheila is from Fort Dodge,” he said. The couple has three children who all graduated from Clear Creek Amana High School. He is the adult cystic fibrosis coordinator, and a hospitalist nurse practitioner in pulmonary/critical care at the University of Iowa (UI) Hospital. Sheila also works for UI Healthcare in Diabetes Education.

Why are you running for election to the city council? If an incumbent, why are you seeking reelection?
Smith — “First of all I am running for re-election because we have a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our growing public safety agencies. This is the perfect time to elect someone who fully understands what it takes to reduce turn out times, reduce response times and what tools both fire and police need.
Second, I am running because we need a five and 10-year developmental strategic plan for both residential and business growth. I will use my experience in strategic planning to assist in creation of this plan. I have already begun this work by voting in favor of and participating in the North Liberty visioning project.
Lastly, I am running because we need stability on council. We have seen our share of folks leaving in the middle of their terms. I commit to fulfilling the full four years of this term and beyond. I encourage you to go to our city website and watch past council meetings to see for yourself how I come prepared and how I vote on the issues. When I make a decision, it comes from time spent understanding the issues, listening to constituents and understanding how my vote will affect things today and in the future.”
Eckhardt — “Public service has always been at the core of my pursuits. From an early age I have gravitated toward helping others. My professional life includes non-profit work and administrative municipal employment. When deciding to start my own company the main goal was finding a way to better serve our local community turning passion into a profession. Our first client, NLCBS, serves over 2,000 local youth annually. My hope is to take that to the next level by earning a spot on city council.”
Nicholls — “What is motivating me to run for city council is, I want to give back to this great city. I want to share my abilities of common sense and truth that I was born with and have used my entire life.”
Wayson — “I am running for election to the North Liberty City Council for several reasons. First, there are several needed infrastructure projects that I feel my experience will be helpful in ensuring completion. Second, I want to promote continued development of City parks and recreation facilities, a functional transit assistance program, and continued targeted funding of groups/agencies that work to meet the social service needs of citizens. Third, my experience on Council and as a longtime resident will be helpful in moving North Liberty forward and promoting the City as a great place to live and do business. I would also like to continue to work with other elected officials in maintaining North Liberty’s excellent financial status.”

What skills, experience, and background do you bring to the council?
Smith — “I have worked in the public sector for over 20 years. I lead a team of 35 firefighters daily within my battalion. As an incident commander, I make difficult decisions every day that affect the lives of our citizens we serve. My background allows me to work at a high level of customer service, teamwork and have a goal-oriented approach. After my appointment to council back in July, I have had the ability to make immediate contributions to council using my organizational, networking and leadership skills.
I have had a unique experience that no other candidate in our race has had that gives me a unique perspective. In the summer of 2013, I worked for the NL parks department as a seasonal employee. This unique opportunity has allowed me to see, from the inside, how our individual departments work. I have seen the collaboration and teamwork between departments. I have seen the dedication our city employees have to their work by being creative to do more with less. This experience has allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of our city and also shown me where improvements can be made.”
Eckhardt — “Working for the City of Iowa City for the 11 years has provided a unique insight on the ins and outs of local government. There I established a swim lesson scholarship fund designed to eliminate the financial barrier, taking one more step in the overall goal, teaching every child to swim. The annual budget for the department was significant in size overseeing three facilities and over 70 part-time staff.
For several years I chaired the Parks and Recreation Commission for the City of North Liberty. Currently I occupy a seat on the Iowa Foundation for Parks and Recreation. An organization providing financial support for parks and recreation initiatives/ projects across the state. My experience in local government, non-profit management and state level foundations makes me an ideal fit for city council.”
Nicholls — “I learned to be a good listener and will only act when all the information is completely clear to me and will benefit the great citizens of this community. I believe that as a council member it is my responsibility to listen to the community. I would like to establish a listening forum, where council members would go out into the community and sit in on groups like the Optimist Club, church groups, etc. and find out what their needs are and report back to the city council.”
Wayson — “I feel I have some strengths that are useful for city councilors. First, I have several years’ prior experience on the city council. I have a good working relationship with city staff. I have an understanding of how the city operates. I also am aware of anticipated upcoming municipal needs. Second, as a councilor I have had the opportunity to work with other elected officials in Johnson County while serving on the Emergency Management Commission and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Third, my long residency in North Liberty gives me a unique perspective of how the city has grown, including the positive and problematic. This sense of history in helpful in repeating past mistakes. Finally, I am used to working with a team to manage complex issues. Teamwork and consensus building is very important as the city council works through municipal issues.”

What do you see as the greatest challenge, or challenges, facing the City of North Liberty?
Smith — “Due to the rapid growth of our town over the past few years, our city council has had no choice but to be reactive in meeting the needs of that growth. Infrastructure expansion has been the top of everyone’s list as we had to pave new roads, put in trunk systems for water and sewer to the new high school and provide services to new developments.
Now it’s time to look ahead and change our focus to being proactive. Now more than ever, we need a focused and detailed developmental strategic plan that will meet the needs of our residents and businesses alike. Being able to show on a map what we as citizens want to see in the Forevergreen Road expansion that is coming, to what businesses need to help grow their current businesses. This five and 10-year blue print must be started soon to help guide our council for future allocations and decisions.”
Eckhardt — “North Liberty has experienced significant growth over the last decade. City staff and council have done an excellent job building infrastructure. This sort of work takes time and significant investment. We have reached a point where we can start to turn our focus on social programming and services. As the population grows so does the need for recreation services, park/ green space and social services. While a large part of our demographic is young families that must be taken care of we cannot ignore the need for other populations as well including active adults.”
Nicholls — “I think that one way to help with the work shortage is to expand small business that can offer well-paying jobs, much like the type of service jobs like the type of business that I started.”
Wayson — “I feel the biggest challenge facing North Liberty at the current time will be the budget. North Liberty has a stable tax levy rate and strong fund balances for the last several years. This has allowed the City to continue to expand services to residents and fund infrastructure improvements but if the State Legislature continues to limit funding streams for municipalities this will begin to affect the services and improvements that can be provided by North Liberty.”

What would be your proposed solution, and as one voice on the council, how would you garner support?
Smith — “The great thing about our current council is we have recognized this need for planning and have all voted in favor of, and participated in, the North Liberty Visioning project. We have already begun the process of gathering public input into what North Liberty means to them. Our “Spark” event that was held recently, brought out some absolutely fantastic ideas of what projects could be tackled in the next few years.
As only one voice on council I will use my community network to build support for and get feedback into our planning process. I have already had discussions and gotten buy in from some of the current council to develop this strategic plan. I will dedicate to holding citizen and business forums to take input on what we want to see come to North Liberty. I will work with our planning office and planning and zoning commission to assure zoning alignment. This is one of the factors that drove me to want to serve on council. I am excited to continue the work I have already begun since my appointment in July, to assist you the residents, in developing OUR North Liberty Vision.”
Eckhardt — “Developing a comprehensive recreation master plan that incorporates
both parks and recreation services is crucial to developing effective programming. At this time I feel its necessary to acquire, through cost-effective measures, city data that can be weighed against national standards to ensure our systems are adequate. This may require hiring an outside contractor to retrieve and analyze this data and in-turn work with council and city staff to develop and execution plan.”
Nicholls — “I would help promote a healthy business environment by knowing what the community needs from the listening forms that come in from council members. Then make recommendations to small business that could be created, such as healthy eating, tutoring children with their schoolwork, breaking addictions, mentoring seniors. Whatever the citizens feel is needed in their community.”
Wayson — “As a Councilor I would work with the other elected officials and City Staff to continue a conservative fiscal policy while working to promote both residential and commercial growth to increase the tax base. Promoting commercial development in the city would be major focus since it can have a larger impact on the tax base. Identifying problems then being committed to finding a consensus based solution is how I believe the council best functions.”

What is your assessment of the state of the City of North Liberty overall, and how do you think you can benefit it by being on the council?
Smith — “The current state of North Liberty is strong, vibrant, growing and welcoming. What a great time to be a resident of North Liberty! Our town has seen the addition of a new high school, new elementary schools, new interchange on I-380, new businesses too many to list and currently building a new police station. Whether you are a Clipper or a Lightening Bolt, North Liberty has been able to find an identity in our supported schools and it is evident from the blue and purple apparel found throughout our community.
I am proud of our very strong bond rating that has allowed us to borrow money at a much-reduced interest rate. This strong financial management has yielded more than $1million in taxpayer savings. We have a strong reserve and have plans of expanding our parks, trails, fire department and continuing our support of community service partners.
I will continue my commitment of strong financial management of your tax dollars, building on the successes we have produced and working hard to better serve our citizens in every way we can as a city. Please join me at facebook.com/bsmith4nl to learn more about me and help me build the North Liberty you envision for you and your family.”
Eckhardt — “North Liberty is an amazing place to live. We can access the amenities of a larger community yet maintain the feel of a small-town Iowa. It’s important to maintain that balance as we continue to grow. The steps we take in the next few years will be crucial and we must take great care as we progress. My experience in city government partnered with my love of community service will prove beneficial on council.
Thank you and please remember to vote this Nov. 5!”
Nicholls — “I love the small-town atmosphere and the people are open and friendly.”
Wayson — “North Liberty is a great place to live. In the time I have lived here it has grown into a large city but still has a sense of community. It is in also good shape financially but will face some challenges in the future. Much of my previous time on Council was spent working dealing with issues associated with rapid growth but now many of these problems have been resolved. Now is the time where North Liberty can be more involved in shaping how the Creative Corridor develops and in recruiting new business to the City. In the past I worked very hard to be prepared for meetings and as much as possible tried to help develop consensus when working out solutions to problems. I feel I have the experience and I am motivated to help North Liberty move into the future and continue to be a great place to live.”
Note: Responses from Harrington and Hoffman were not received in time for this issue, but will run in an upcoming edition of the North Liberty Leader.