Candidate Q&As 2023: Joel Mills for Newton City Council, at-large

Oct. 25—Name: Joel Mills

Age: 39

Occupation: Health, safety, and environmental coordinator at Chevron Renewable Energy Group in Newton.

Elected offices held: None on behalf of public voting. However, among my peers I have held multiple elected positions within community organizations, congregations, during school and private fellowships.

Office seeking: Newton City Council, at-large

1. Introduce/Reintroduce yourself to voters and explain why you are running.

My name is Joel Mills and I live in Newton. I am originally from Sioux Rapids, Iowa. I grew up on a farm that my parents still operate. After high school, I attended the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls and graduated with a degree in political communication. I was a laborer in agriculture for a year then began my graduate studies also at UNI to earn my masters degree in public policy. I met my wife, Karin, while she was in her graduate program at UNI.

In July of 2016, I began working at the biodiesel facility northeast of Newton as the health, safety, and environmental coordinator. In November of 2016, my wife and I bought our house in Newton. We attend St. Luke United Methodist church in Newton. I serve on the board of trustees for my church. I also sing in my church choir. I serve on the board of directors for the Greater Newton Area Chamber of Commerce. I enjoy volunteering around Newton and have led volunteering efforts with my employer on park clean-ups and park improvements.

Since I've worked in Newton for over seven years, it is now time for me to serve the community for which I work in. I have been privileged enough to get to know people who work for the city of Newton, conduct business in Newton, and I would be honored to be elected to the position of city council at large. Thank you in advance for your vote.

2. Housing continues to be a priority for Newton, a city whose population has remained relatively stagnant for several decades. How do you think the city should approach new housing?

New housing opportunities need to attract and fit a variety of age groups, personality types, and most importantly price ranges. Not everyone wants a new house priced well over $300,000. Some could afford that, some cannot. Not everyone wants to share a wall with a neighbor in an apartment building setting. Still, others could not live without a big yard to play in. In keeping a multi-faceted approach, Newton can continue to attract a variety of residents who wish to be homeowners or renters, or those that are nearing the age of assisted-living chapter of their life.

3. Street projects are frequent goals for the city council every year, but some people in town say more work is needed. How do you feel about the city's current processes when it comes to street repairs and replacements?

How I feel matters about streets and street repair matters only some to me as I drive on our city streets. However, let's be clear that our feelings about streets do not matter that much. What actually matters are the budgetary constraints, requirements and limitations of spending, and real-life constraints placed upon the city workers and the contracted firms to complete the roadwork.

If elected, I would learn more from our public works operations department about how our roads can be budgeted for further improvements. Our public works department can benchmark against other similar sized to cities around Iowa to see if our traffic flows are dramatically more or far less than those cities. I would recommend our city streets have traffic flow data more frequently to verify which streets could be improved ahead of other scheduled repairs.

4. One of the goals of Newton's new comprehensive plan, Envision Newton 2042, is to make the city a compelling destination for residents and visitors. How do you think the city should go about accomplishing this goal?

Newton can capitalize on their geographic location better and therefore sell Newton better to those that don't live here or conduct business here. We are fortunate to be the county seat. We are fortunate to have beautiful lakes within an hour away. We are just over an hour away from a world class hospital and clinics facility. We are just over a half hour away from downtown big city attractions. We are fortunate to have Interstate 80 as our thoroughfare through our city. We need to remember during every planning decision to attract all persons, from all chapters of life, and from a variety of professional backgrounds.

Having 11 city parks in a community of this size is impressive. Having an arboretum with beautiful scenery year-round is inspiring. Having the Speedway and the events it can host is exciting. Having the industrial areas and growth opportunities we possess is intriguing. We need to further expand upon the comprehensive plan with a precise strategic plan that has specific, benchmarked metrics.

5. Newton Police is attracting new recruits and putting them through the academy, but many decide to leave for higher paying jobs. How do you think the city gets out of its role as a pipeline? What are ways the city can retain officers?

If elected, I would seek to have discussions with the police chief and the entire department to get to know more about this concept. It is possible that most all cities around Iowa have this similar problem, perhaps a common issue for police departments. We need to ensure that our new police officers are supported after they are through the academy. If we are in fact losing new police officers after a few years, are we holding exit interviews to find out why they are leaving Newton? Are we finding out how connected they felt to Newton? I would work with the police department and fellow council persons to identify and troubleshoot this concern.

6. Council goals from 2022-2024 and the $1.6 million park bond passed by voters show an increased focus on city parks. How do you think the council should handle its parks system and the amenities that come with them?

Our city parks were an aspect of why my family and I chose to buy a house in Newton. Delivering results from the bond that voters desired is not only required, but certainly in the best interest of Newton city management and Newton City Council. Continuing to support those parks and golf course brings in a wide variety of events to our city. If elected, I would continue to plan for and budget for supporting our parks and the amenities that come with those parks.

7. Property taxes continue to be a concern for residents, especially after another round of increased valuations means they may have to pay more. How do you think the city should maneuver its levies and its use of property taxes?

By referencing public documents currently available, the city will likely reduce the levy in the fiscal year 2025 budget. If elected, I would learn more about city budgeting, plans already in place and previous decisions already implemented.

I would support a budget with a lower levy rate if we still meet the need of the demands on the city departments and our core partnerships. Our core partnerships must remain in place as extensions of what the city government cannot solely accomplish, nor has the plans to accomplish. Those partnerships are built from reliable relationships. If elected, there would be collaboration meetings with applicable persons to chaperone reliable relationship development.

8. How will you keep politics out of local government?

State level or even federal level politics has no place in local governance. Local government is intended to be non-partisan. I will learn from the Iowa League of Cities to ensure that I am trained on city management techniques. I will take the time to read the council packets so I am well-informed. I will continue to seek the guidance of many voters within our city so they are represented. I am not running for city council because of a pre-conceived intention. I am not running because of a single-minded, one goal in mind, or for personal gain. I am going to be a decision-maker for future generations, so they are set up for their best success.