The Fifth Avenue South Corridor of Commerce project and the planned crosstown connector figured prominently in the discussion Tuesday evening when nine candidates for the Fort Dodge City Council fielded questions during a public forum.
The Corridor of Commerce effort, which included widening the street and burying the overhead power lines, was generally praised by the candidates. Even councilmen Mark Taylor and Don Wilson, who were previously critical of it, had positive things to say during the forum at Iowa Central Community College attended by about 75 people.
''It's really revitalized that part of town,'' Taylor said.
Fort Dodge City Councilman Dave Flattery, left, listens during a candidate forum sponsored by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance at Iowa Central Community College. Fellow candidates Richard Higgins, Councilman Andy Fritz, Jeff Halter and Greg Nolting, at right, listen.
However, Steve Clayton, who's running for the Ward 2 seat, said he didn't know anything about it.
The proposed crosstown connector and its most controversial feature, a downtown street realignment that would join First and Second avenues south with a roundabout intersection near Sixth Street, generated more disagreement during the forum sponsored by the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance.
Taylor, who represents Ward 1, has consistently opposed the project and he said Tuesday that he still doesn't like it. He said he believes the community has experienced a lot of growth without it.
His opponent, Dr. Terry Moehnke, said he's in favor of the crosstown connector.
''I think it's irresponsible that the City Council hasn't proceeded with this project,'' he said.
Councilman Dave Flattery (Ward 3), Councilman Andy Fritz (at-large) and candidate Jeffrey Halter (at-large) all said they were in favor of it. Fritz and Halter both said that the kind of growth which has occurred on Fifth Avenue South will happen downtown once the crosstown connector is completed.
Flattery said the crosstown connector ''gives life to downtown and opens opportunity for private investment.''
Candidate Richard Higgins (Ward 3) said he's not opposed to the crosstown connector, but said he still has questions about it. Although the city staff has produced detailed reports outlining how the multi-million dollar project would be paid for, Higgins said he still has questions about the money. He called for a referendum on the initiative.
''Let's let the people vote on this issue,'' he said.
Greg Nolting, a former councilman and former Webster County supervisor who's running for one of the two at-large seats, said he views the crosstown connector as something that would be nice to have, but isn't a necessity.
''I think the plan looks great and sometime there might be a need for that,'' he said.
Clayton said the crosstown connector should be studied with the knowledge that it will cost lots of money.
''If the people of Fort Dodge really want this crosstown connector we have to understand that there goes tax dollars,'' he said. ''I know I don't want to pay more taxes and I know you don't want to pay more taxes either.''
Wilson, who has been critical of the project in the past said Tuesday that he's ''not totally against the crosstown connector.'' he said he thinks the project should start on the east side of town on First Avenue South between 25th and 29th streets.
A question about the state open meetings law that the council must comply with prompted Flattery and Fritz to claim that three of their colleagues are meeting together apart from the other four council members.
Flattery said the three meet privately to discuss issues in advance of the regular council meetings.
''It violates the spirit of the law,'' he said.
Flattery did not name all three council members he believes are having such meetings. However, he did say ''This is why Councilman Hill doesn't speak up because he's already deliberated these issues.''
He was referring to Councilman Dean Hill, an at-large member of the governing body whose term doesn't expire this year.
Fritz said three council members asked the city attorney for an opinion on the open meetings law ''so they could skirt it.'' He did not name the council members he was referring to.
Higgins, who regularly attends council meetings and addresses the elected officials there, said the council isn't open to input from residents. He said his opponent, Flattery, argues with him.
'Every time I get up and say something, he always contradicts me,'' Higgins said. ''If I said red is red, he'd say it's blue.''
When the candidates were asked to briefly summarize their priorities, here's how they responded.
Clayton: Create jobs, especially for young people
Flattery: Make Fort Dodge attractive by improve retail options, recreation and housing
Fritz: Continue to make Fort Dodge a better place
Halter: Improve the quality of life in the city
Higgins: Reduce taxes and utility bills
Nolting: Repair existing streets and create jobs
Moehnke: Continue economic development and follow the Envision 2030 strategic plan.
Taylor: Create jobs and improve the infrastructure in Ward 1
Wilson: Pay down the city's debt, cut taxes and expand the tax base
Near the end of the forum, Taylor appeared to take a jab at his predecessor, the late Councilman Curt Olson, when he said that the people of Ward 1 ''didn't have a very good voice before.''
After the forum, a man in the audience approached Taylor and said that the comment was inappropriate.