Dean Soash, Waverly’s first-term mayor, is ready for an encore.
The 82-year-old business owner will run for re-election, he told Waverly Newspapers on Monday morning. His wife, Sandy, he added, had given him the go-ahead a couple of weeks ago, but for Soash the decision was a straightforward one.
“I wake up in the morning, thinking what can I do for the future of Waverly, what I can do to make Waverly better,” he said. “I have been encouraged by a lot of the public to do this.”
Here is how the race is developing:
Two prospective candidates — Matt Schneider, a furniture business owner, and Adam Hoffman, a pre-planning family counselor for a Grundy Center-based funeral home — have said they plan to run, but are seeking guidance from the public if they should aim at the mayoral seat or run for the council-at-large post.
Current At-Large Councilwoman Edith Waldstein has declared her intention to run for her second full term. The Ward 4 seat is open, as Councilman Mike Sherer has said he would not run for a new term. Ward 2 Councilman Dan McKenzie has not announced his intentions yet.
Soash said what motivated his first candidacy for office — he wanted to provide leadership and unite a divided community — remains the reason why he is seeking to stay in office.
“That’s another challenge and chapter in my life is what it amounts to,” he said.
Soash had never run for an elected post prior to his first bid for office. His write-in campaign resulted in a run-off with then-incumbent Chuck Infelt when neither earned a majority of the vote on Nov. 7, 2017. Soash later emerged as the winner in the Dec. 5 revote.
Soash said his first term has been a learning curve.
“The mayor doesn’t have the power and authority that might be apparent,” he said. “You are not part of all the staff meetings. You learn that there are things you can’t talk about. There are two or three official duties of the mayor — lead the council and support their decisions, [be] the official representative for city functions.”
But in his term, Soash has not seen many of those.
Instead, he has had to deal with some controversial decisions on his watch, and in the face of vocal opposition.
One ongoing issue, which is expected to be placed for review on the council agenda for the Aug. 19 meeting, is the conversion of Bremer Avenue, Waverly’s main street, which also doubles as Iowa Highway 3, from four to three lanes, a change which is dubbed a “road diet.”
The council voted to follow the recommendation of the DOT to reduce the lanes, as the conversion is believed to be safer for motorists and friendlier to pedestrians and bicyclists. A group of opponents, which eventually united under the umbrella of Keep Waverly Moving, disputed the accuracy of the DOT data, and continually called on the council to reverse its decision.
Soash has stood firmly behind the council’s decision and resisted calls from the opposition to use his mayoral veto and reverse the lane reduction.
“It would have been symbolic,” he said. “It was a 6-1 vote, and a veto would not have done anything. The veto would have been overturned. I was urged to veto it, but I resisted that pressure.”
During council, Soash has also spoken forcefully against the Keep Waverly Moving supporters, at one time telling them bluntly that he would not allow the topic to be brought up in public comments any more, causing some of his detractors to question his judgment and temper.
In Soash’s book, this is one of the “rather bold” decisions he has made.
“They were telling us the same things over and over again,” he said in his defense.
Waverly Newspapers sought legal opinion from the Iowa Public Information Board whether the mayor, or any other city official, can ban a specific subject from being discussed during the public comments section of a meeting.
In an advisory opinion dated July 18, 2019, and not addressing the First Amendment issue, the IPIB said the following:
“It would appear that limiting the topics to be discussed during a public comment period would not be a per se violation of Iowa Code chapter 21, given that the Code allows a governmental body to set limits on audience participation,” said Margaret E. Johnson, the IPIB’s executive director.
Soash also received pushback from announcing the demise of Champions Ridge, the now defunct partnership between the city, the fair board and the softball association.
Launched years ago, the partnership envisioned the construction of 12 ball diamonds on city-owned land as well as the relocation of the fair there. However, the city — which was the major investor, along with the county Board of Supervisors — eventually pulled the plug because of the pace of the fundraising for the diamonds.
Later on, the city met twice behind closed doors, to review offers from the softball association to buy the rest of the Champion’s Ridge site from the city. No action was taken in an open session, except that during the July 1 meeting, city administrator cautioned the mayor to be careful with his words. The mayor then reported, in a letter to the editor, published on July 9, the outcome thusly:
“Both offers by the ball diamond group were rejected by the City Council as not being feasible as secure financing to purchase and complete the project were not adequate,” Soash wrote. “The consensus by the Waverly City Council at the July 1, 2019, council meeting was, ‘It was time to take control of providing for our youth and adult baseball and softball facilities.’ Thus, the statement, ‘We are pulling the plug.’”
Reflecting on his experiences, Soash said having a spine has helped him do his job.
“It gets a little curved, but it’s still there,” he said. “I am glad they are picking on me and they are not picking on someone else. My skin isn’t any thicker than it was before, after 55 years of dealing with the public on a daily basis with business, it gets thickened up.”
He said he does not respond to negative comments on his mayoral Facebook page.
“All is does is add logs to the fire,” he said.
He said the experience of being the mayor has changed him in some ways because he has to perform public duties, but internally, he has stayed the same.
“It has made me more appreciative of what the public has to deal with when it comes to city politics,” he said.
As mayor, he said, he has been responsive to citizens complaints and questions, like fireworks, unmowed lawns, lane configuration and others. He added that the city employee appreciation dinner, which had become a tradition under the late Mayor Ike Ackerman, and has been suspended during the last two administrations, has now been restored.
In November, the second dinner under Soash will be held.
“It is not paid for by taxpayer money,” he said, declining to elaborate if he helps fund the dinner, as his predecessor had done for years.
Soash listed the following important issues that would coincide with the mayor’s next term.
“The traffic study in the spring of 2020 will give us some direction on whether the council made the right decision on the three lanes controversy,” he said.
Soash also mentioned the upcoming discussion of the replacement of the Third Street Bridge, popularly known as The Green Bridge, and the youth baseball and softball program.
“It will hopefully come to fruition next year,” he said of the ball diamonds.
Soash noted that the relocation of the fair would be another issue the next mayor would have to see through. He said the fair board has yet to decide their next step, and added that if the fair was to stay at its current location next year, assuming the council would grant an extension, they would have to deal with the reconstruction of Fourth Street Southwest, which would make access to the current fairgrounds, now at Memorial Park, a problem.
He said the fairboard has two choices: to go ahead with developing their portion of the land they had purchased, (the city still holds the deed for that purchase until certain conditions are met) or find a different site.
“Champions Ridge is, for all practical purposes, dead,” he said.
Summing up his intentions, Soash said he’s ready for a second go-round.
“I have chosen to run because I still feel the need to serve the citizens of Waverly,” he said. “And the other side of the coin is if I had chosen not to run, regardless of the reason, the Keep Waverly Moving group would have claimed victory that I chose not to deal with the controversy, and that wasn’t going to happen.”