Looking for leadership in West Des Moines: A case for change

Local elections are coming up this Tuesday, November 7. Julie Stauch shares her perspective on the candidates running in West Des Moines, the largest Des Moines suburb and eighth-largest city in Iowa. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Last winter, in response to the bill by Representative Jarad Klein that went after the Des Moines area water utilities, I became involved to stop that horrific piece of legislation. I went to my first Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement meeting and learned that West Des Moines was one of the suburbs where our leaders had not spoken out against the legislation. I volunteered to go to the next city council meeting and make what I thought was an easy ask – oppose this legislation.

And I learned firsthand of the dysfunction of our system of government and the deceit of our city leaders.

That led to a desperate need to find actual leaders – people who will represent the people of the city and not just themselves – which has taken me down the path of civic activist in a way that I haven’t traveled since the 1980s when we lived in Mason City. I’ve met and connected with a great group of West Des Moines residents seeking leaders who will be thoughtful, engaging and listen to all points of view.

Here are my thoughts and recommendations for West Des Moines residents. We need you to vote! Change begins here and now. Below are my assessments and recommendations on our candidates.

At-Large City Council seat – Everyone across the city can vote in this race. The incumbent is Rick Messerschmidt. The challenger is Renee Hardman. ENDORSEMENT: Renee Hardman.

Rick is a lifelong resident of West Des Moines, whose family owned a bank. When he finished his education he went to work in the bank. He sold the bank a few years ago and now is considered retired. People who know Rick talk about him as “nice guy.” I’m sure he is. But what does that have to do with leadership? Let’s look at how he leads on the council.

He doesn’t. He bumbles and questions and doubts himself and talks and talks and talks and never says anything meaningful. On a recent vote he asked for a “fourth button” as a choice because support, oppose or abstain weren’t enough choices for him. In the end he opposed a decision he had spoken in support of just a few minutes earlier. And this isn’t the only time this has happened. Indecision is not a quality of leadership. Being born and raised in the community is not a quality of leadership.

Renee Hardman is a highly successful business leader, having worked as Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Banker’s Trust, where she oversaw the human resource work in four different states and innovated many new programs for more than twenty years. She now owns her own business – Hardman Consulting – where she works with organizations and businesses on human resource related matters. She moved to Iowa to go to school at Drake, where she earned both her undergraduate and Masters in Business degrees.

From the day Renee graduated, she became involved in community activism and has received statewide honors and recognition for her commitment to community service. She is the kind of woman who is fully present and engages in the work in front of her, whether it is her paid work or her volunteer leadership.

She is an exceptional listener, which is why she has been such a strong leader. People need to know you understand their point of view in order to follow you. She has strong business contacts and longstanding working relationships with people all across the metro area.

Perhaps the most dramatic difference between Renee and Rick is that Renee is respected, Rick is tolerated. Renee has depth, the intellectual capacity to make decisions on a variety of matters, and is much beloved by many different people. She has a lifetime of reaching out to all the people who might be affected by the work she is doing in order to make sure that all voices are heard. She is courageous, having jumped into this race done all the work whether knocking on doors, raising money or speaking at different events. Her leadership qualities shine in every conversation.

We need Renee’s thoughtful, smart leadership style in West Des Moines.

Third Ward Council seat – If you live in the Third Ward of West Des Moines – roughly west of 39th and south Ashworth Road – then you will be able to vote in this race. The incumbent is Russ Trimble and the challenger is Nadir Mehta. ENDORSEMENT: Nadir Mehta.

Russ Trimble is my councilmember. I’ve known him since the first time he ran in 2005 when he was one of two candidates who opposed Loretta Sieman for the seat.

Russ works for the Iowa Senate Republican Caucus staff. He’s married and they have four children. His wife runs a nonprofit that provides birthday parties for children living in poverty.

When Russ knocks on the door of municipal voters, as he has done at my home, here’s what happens. You open the door and this guy immediately says to you something like, “Do you like the fireworks bill or not?” No intro, no anything, just right to a question that allows him to think he’s engaged you, but avoids an actual conversation about the city, the concerns of the resident, allowing him to avoid a real dialogue under the guise of a question. This is how he has always canvassed.

Russ himself told me that because of his work in the state legislature, he can’t vote on bills affecting the city, which means that when the city leaders are making decisions on some of the most impactful actions for or against the city, residents of the third ward have no representation from our council member. This alone is the reason I oppose him for the role. But there’s more.

Russ Trimble was in the news articles related to the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Kirsten Anderson. Russ testified that in fact the harassment did occur and he walked out of the room because it made him uncomfortable. He admits that it was not his finest hour.

Russ Trimble has a voting record of ALWAYS voting with the majority on the council. ALWAYS.

What does this add up to? Russ Trimble is a coward. He could vote on legislative matters at the city level, but he doesn’t want to piss off anyone, so rather than fulfill the office he sought, he abstains. He could have stood up to those harassing Kirsten Anderson, but he walked out of the room. He could speak out in city council meetings against the majority but he won’t. In fact, it’s cowardice that has him blurting out a question when a resident opens the door. He doesn’t want to really engage. He just wants to seem to engage.

Nadir Mehta is an electrical engineer by profession. He was born in Pakistan and has been a resident of the United States for many years, having lived here for 42 years. He’s married, has three daughters and grandchildren.

Nadir is also losing his eyesight and is legally blind. He has become a strong advocate for persons with disabilities, using his engineering expertise to show corporate leaders, community leaders, and anyone who will listen how we can make it easier for persons with disabilities to engage fully in our society.

I know Nadir and appreciate his intellect, humor and courage. He has been door knocking in the third ward since July. He will be a conscientious leader and a refreshing contrast to the cowardice of Russ Trimble.

First Ward and Mayor – There are no challengers for these two seats. I cannot endorse the mayor, but I do endorse Kevin Trevillyan.

First Ward –Kevin is a lifelong resident of West Des Moines, although he was absent for six years while he served as a U.S. Marine. He’s married and has two children. He has worked as a volunteer emergency responder before the city began hiring and paying responders. He is both a Mason and a Shriner. He has a technical degree as a computer aided designer (CAD). He is an engineering technician and does all the CAD drafting for the water main projects at West Des Moines Water Works.

I wanted to get to know Kevin and so have had several conversations with him about the city. I have found him to be thoughtful, engaging, and very dedicated in making decisions that help the people of West Des Moines. He is often the lone opponent to votes by the council, typically because he thinks the choices are not well thought out. I have found him open to understanding my point of view. I’ve also found him to be responsive to assist me as a constituent, even when I don’t live in his assigned part of the city.

His constituents find Kevin accessible, responsive and he represents their points of view. That’s what a city council member is supposed to do. Kevin is very proud that he always holds a quarterly meeting with residents to have a time to talk about what’s going on and any needs people have from the city.

Mayor – I first met Steve Gaer years ago when he decided to seek the mayor’s seat. He did not impress me in the initial meeting and he continues to disappoint.

Steve Gaer is an attorney for R&R Reality. He is married and has two children, both in their mid to late 20s. His daughter is well known as she suffers from severe epilepsy. His wife Sally has worked very publicly to seek the legalization of medical marijuana as a source of relief for their daughter. Gaer is also a lifelong resident of West Des Moines and followed his father in service as a city councilman.

The city of West Des Moines has a strong council/weak mayor system of government. This is very common in mid-sized to larger communities across Iowa where professional city managers are employed to lead the city employees and manage the day-to-day operations. This means that the council is the decision making body. The mayor’s role is that of public relations and appointing citizens to the various boards and commissions.

When I showed up at my first council meeting I made the request that the city oppose the bill. The mayor asked me if I had checked the updates that day. I said I had not and returned to my seat wondering why he asked that of me. Larry Anderson then spoke, pointing out that a letter had been filed by Steve Gaer as mayor in SUPPORT of the awful water bill. What? Mr. Anderson went on point out to the mayor that there was no council vote on record for that support of the bill. Clearly the mayor had done on this on his own and assumed an authority that was not his.

My eyes were opened. The strong council/weak mayor system of government in West Des Moines is broken. We have council members who are weak and let the mayor tell them what to do. We have a mayor who views this community as his own, and ignores his role as a servant of the people. He does not feel the need to speak honestly and transparently with people, or he would have stated to me that today he filed a letter at the legislature in support of this bill. I could give more examples of the mayor’s deceit, but this piece is already long.

I share all of this with you to give you another reason to vote for Renee Hardman, Nadir Mehta and Kevin Trevillyan. They are not weak vessels to be led by the mayor. They will think and act based on their own judgment and knowledge. They will be open to residents and actually serve the community. We desperately need a quality leadership change in West Des Moines.

And, if you like, you can join me in writing in someone else for mayor. In the last election 110 or so people did not vote for Steve Gaer. Let’s make that number much larger. Write in someone else. Let Steve Gaer know that he’s being watched and considered to fall short.

About the Author(s)

Julie Stauch