Three of the four candidates battling for a seat on the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors participated in a public forum Tuesday evening via Zoom meeting.
The event, which ran about 45 minutes, was hosted by the Council Bluffs Community Alliance in conjunction with the Western Iowa Labor Federation. Nonpareil News Editor Mike Brownlee served as moderator.
The video, livestreamed on the alliance’s Facebook page, will be available for viewing at least through the election season, according to Mike Yowell, the organization’s president.
Candidates participating were incumbent Republican Tim Wichman, who took over the seat in 2017; and Democratic candidates Lisa Lima and Fran Parr. Republican candidate Brian Shea didn’t participate in Tuesday’s event.
The quartet are vying for two available seats. Supervisor Marilyn Jo Drake is not seeking reelection.
All candidates had the chance to respond to five questions, which were selected and presented to each person 48 hours ahead of the forum.
The questions were:
- With Iowa’s infrastructure aging, what should Pottawattamie County do over the next four years to ensure that its roads, bridges and other infrastructure are safe and in good repair?
- What is your stance on allowing citizen militia groups to act for law enforcement to help protect businesses, institutions and governmental buildings around the county?
- As of May 13, 2020, the production of hemp products is legal in Iowa, although the consumption of CDB-containing products is not. The Iowa Attorney General wrote on May 14, 2020 that local law enforcement agencies retain the authority and discretion to take criminal enforcement action against people who sell or possess over-the-counter CBD products. Some county attorneys are taking criminal enforcement action and some are not. What position does the Pottawattamie County Attorney take on this matter and do you support this position?
- What actions have you taken or will you take to ensure that county workers will be able to collectively bargain over all permissive subjects of bargaining?
- Has the state/county done enough to combat COVID-19 in this area? Should the board enact a mask mandate?
On the road front, Wichman said he and his cohorts continue addressing infrastructure and road issues through short- and long-term planning, and that he is pleased with the direction that work is heading.
“We are attacking it and we are addressing it and I’m pretty proud of our engineering team an all our employees who maintain the road, plow the snow and do their jobs,” he said.
Parr said she believes it’s important for county leaders to have a good grasp on how infrastructure is being used, and then for proper assessing and testing to follow.
“I’m a big advocate of that testing and inspecting, and that’s my engineering background, as well -- my mechanical engineering background," she said. "It’s something I’m very oriented to and have a huge appreciation for."
Regarding CBD products, Wichman noted the importance of being aware of product enforcement locally, but highlighted that he doesn’t see it as an area for the board to insert itself into.
Parr noted that it's something worth discussing, but that her understanding is that there are bigger issues that law enforcement and the county attorney’s office are currently dealing with.
Lima highlighted some of the ambiguity associated with CBD laws and enforcement.
“The law on this is evolving, it’s changing all the time,” she said. “I personally do not have anything against CBD or the selling of it.”
When the discussion of a citizen-based militia arose, Wichman deferred to local police and sheriff office officials, whom he said are best equipped to answer this type of question.
Lima said she doesn’t support these groups, largely in part to their tie -- in her mind -- to biggotry.
“I do not support the utilization of any citizen-armed militia,” she said. “I think we have well-trained law enforcement here in Pott. County that is here to stand up during engagements to protect citizens. My true opposition to this militia is due to the nature of their motivation, which is race-based in my opinion."
All candidates spoke in favor of county employees having the ability to advocate for themselves through collective bargaining.
Wichman said that he and his cohorts have done their part to ensure the process runs the right way at the county level.
“In my four years of being on the county board of supervisors, we have done very well with all of our bargaining units … I think we are in great shape,” he said.
Parr, the wife of an iron worker, said she’s seen the benefits of this sort of advocacy.
"I am supportive of those permissive subjects, of those people being able to stand with one voice and being able to say what they want to happen,” she said.
Lima concurred, saying, “I am a supporter of union workers and rights and I think county workers have the right to organize, form unions and utilize the permissive subjects of bargaining and collective bargaining."
Locally, all candidates praised certain aspects of the local response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think they’ve done about all they can (do),” Wichman said of the county health department, noting the variety of information dispensed to the public regarding pandemic safety measures. “In my opinion, I’ve seen the efforts in Pott. County at work and they’ve done a tremendous job."
Lima was the sole candidate to openly say she was for the board enforcing a mask mandate.
“I do think it’s important,” she said of a mask mandate. "We have a lot of people to protect, especially the elderly and disabled. We need to be creating a safe environment for everyone.”
Parr emphasized the severity of the pandemic, noting that southwest Iowa -- and the state as a whole -- aren’t necessarily trending in the right direction COVID-wise.
“There’s still some sense of denial among some segments of the population that just doesn’t want to deal with it or wear a mask -- to me it’s a simple measure,” Parr said.
She added, though, that she’s unclear of all the legal issues relating to enforcement of a mask mandate.
“I don’t really have a good understanding on how legal some of that is, where some of that infringes on rights,” Parr said. “But, it’s interesting to try to compare and understand.”
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