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Transparency, other topics discussed at Avondale candidates’ forum

Avondale Estates residents listen to the five mayoral candidates during a fourm.

Avondale Estates residents listen to the five mayoral candidates during a forum

Transparency has become a concern for some Avondale Estates residents after the mishandling of an annexation bill by former mayor Ed Rieker, and residents are looking for a mayor who will keep them in the loop of all city business.

Residents got an opportunity to question the five mayoral candidates about transparency and other topics at a candidates’ forum Feb. 19. The candidates—Paul Brown, Jonathan Elmore, Jim Hutchens, John Pomberg, and Todd Pullen—gave their thoughts on transparency, annexation, education and other topics at the forum.

Hutchens, a U.S. Navy vet and retired engineer, mentioned transparency in his opening remarks to clear up rumors about his feelings on annexation.

 Jim Hutchens

Jim Hutchens

“Jim Hutchens is not opposed to annexation,” he said. “What I am opposed to is closed, secretive deals where we don’t have open government that we’re all a part of. In 2014, we woke up one morning and there was a bill in the House delegation of the state that was for annexing property into Avondale. I didn’t know; I don’t think very many people in this room knew about it. I support well-thought-out annexation that will help Avondale.”

Rieker’s resigned from his mayoral seat a day after he apologized to residents at an Oct. 1, 2014, meeting on how he and the commission handled an annexation bill. At a September meeting, residents questioned the mayor about House Bill 1130, filed by state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) that included a proposed annexation map for the city.

Residents were not aware of the bill when it was filed, and the commission never discussed it in a public forum. Residents found out about the bill at a Sept. 15 city planning and zoning board meeting.

Brown, a local architect, said if he is mayor, he would “maintain a conservative fiscal policy in regards to growth, and create newfound trust, faith and confidence through a transparent government.”

“The next mayor must set the standard for transparency and community involvement by making the process of listening to the citizens the most vital part of government,” Brown said. “If Avondale Estates is to move forward in a manner that respects the needs of the residents, it must first inform them of plans and hear their positions before deciding whether to move forward.”

Elmore, who also is an architect, said he is running for mayor because he wants to be the leader for positive change.

Jonathan Elmore

Jonathan Elmore

“I support responsible growth—growth that is community-based, pedestrian-oriented, and mixed-use with more public spaces for all of us,” Elmore said. “I do support annexation; I do support the decision by our board to annex.

“If elected, I will conduct myself in an ethical, transparent matter,” Elmore added. “I’m a collaborative, relationship-orientated person by nature, and I look forward to serving with our board. As mayor and chief spokesperson I will always present our community in a positive manner that reflects the small, diverse community that we are.”

Pomberg, who moved to Avondale Estates in 2012 from Iowa, believes his newness to the city makes him the better choice for mayor.

“As a fairly recent resident, I can approach the current and future issues from a position of objectivity, free of allegiance to any group or cause,” Pomberg said.

Pullen said he is running for mayor because of his “vested interest” in the development of the arts and the business district.

“I see this develop filled with great opportunity,” Pullen said. “It’s crucial that it’s executed with sensitivity that preserves what already makes Avondale Estates unique and special to each of us.”

The special election will take place on March 17.

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