With less then one week before the local election, five candidates vying for two Marion City Council seats faced off Sunday at a candidate forum in the Community Center Ballroom.
Those candidates included incumbent Steve Smith and challengers Todd Heitschmidt, Lee Vogel, Jerry Dieter and Dick Varenhorst. Bill Holdeman, who holds the other council seat, will not seek another term.
About 30 people attended the 90-minute event, moderated by?Howard Collett.
One questions drew strong opinions regarding the roles of the mayor, city council and city administrator.
Heitschmidt said he believed “lines are being crossed.” The council and mayor should provide leadership, he said.
“They have the 30,000 feet level view of what goes on in setting policy and establishing ordinances that help run the city,” he said. “When it comes to the city administrator, it is his job to implement that.”
Heitschmidt said it is not the role of the council and mayor to be administering policy.
Vogel said he believes the council, mayor and city administrator should act as one unit.
Smith said he feels like being a member of the city council puts him on the defensive when he hears this type of discussion.
“This is a political position and we try to make decisions in the best interest of the city,” he said.
Heitschmidt also talked about the differences in how to run a city, citing the recent bucket-truck issue as “an embarrassment.”
“This truck was on the list for years and our council cannot make a decision,” he said.
In response, Smith said he didn’t think the decision was whether it was needed, but what was the function of the truck.
“Did we need two small trucks, did we need a big and small truck? I think everyone was confused as to whether we were replacing a truck or not replacing a truck,” he said.
Smith said a mayor needs to have an integral role in setting direction. The best interest of Marion is in Mayor Mary Olson’s heart, he added.
Varenhorst said the city council, mayor and administrator function like a three-legged stool.
“They all have to cooperate and get together on these things or nothing gets done. For the city council, they are there to set policy, give a budget, to approve a budget that the city administrator goes by.
“The mayor is like the spokesperson for the council. She initiates somethings or implements things the council passes,” he said.
Dieter said in Marion the mayor is part of the council and has voting rights.
“I think the mayor has to be an integral part of the council, with leadership and in conjunction with the city administrator,” he said.
In that mode, Dieter said priorities can be determined and brought before the council to consider.
“It has to be a smooth working operation to really work,” he said. “In the past there have been conflicts between personalities, but it needs to be minimized in order to work for the good of the city,” he said.
Another question that sparked debate among candidates dealt with the city’s in economic development.
Varenhorst said the city needs to encourage and assist any individual or business for the sake of economic development.
Vogel said he would want to support businesses that bring more jobs to the city. “We have to provide the same help no matter how long or short a business (has been in the city),” he said.
Heitschmidt said he doesn’t believe city government should be involved in economic development, but it already is by buying a business and industrial park.
“We need to work with what is in place and make it work correctly,” he said.
Dieter said the city should have some involvement in economic development.
“It is important,” he said.
Smith said that while the city council believes it has a role in economic development, it is on the back burner right now.
“It is a challenge that is not going away,” he said.
Asked what the first priority of city government should be, All the candidates said safety.
Several people attending the forum also asked questions directed at one or more of the candidates.
The event was sponsored by the Marion County Record and Marion PRIDE.