Keith Jones, a retired Hills Bank vice president, was sworn in Tuesday as Coralville's newest City Council member the other four councilors unanimously appointed him to a vacant seat.
Jones said being on City Council is an honor and something he had wanted to do for a very long time. He was chosen from seven applicants to fill the seat.
"I do not intend to run next fall, so there is opportunity for all of those people if they would like to occupy this seat here," he said.
Mayor Meghann Foster and the four council members interviewed the applicants for the vacant seat, ultimately opting for Jones, last Thursday. The other choices included former Coralville Police Chief Barry Bedford; University of Iowa professor Phuong Nguyen; retired veterinarian Fay Vittetoe; Riverside Casino marketing coordinator Eric Gissendanner; and attorney Mackensie Graham.
Kent Christen also applied, but did not appear for his time slot to be interviewed last week.
After each candidate was interviewed, Foster and the four City Council members informally decided to appoint Jones. Their decision was largely due to Jones' decision to commit to not running for reelection next year. Vittetoe was the only other applicant to make the same pledge.
The seat became vacant when former councilmember Jill Dodds resigned after her husband was accused of sexually abusing a child at a day care the two owned. Jeffrey Dodds pleaded not guilty to all three charges last week.
Who is Keith Jones? A retired Hills Bank executive and active community member
In his application, Jones said he and his wife have lived in Coralville since 1975 while he spent 48 years working at Hills Bank and Trust Co.
Jones said he served on the Coralville Public Library Board of Trustees for 30 years and currently is president on the Coralville Public Library Foundation. He has served in several other organizations, such as the community food pantry
After earning a business degree from the University of Iowa, Jones joined Coralville Bank and Trust in 1971. A year later, it built a new bank building where Jones worked for nearly five decade. It became Hills Bank in 1984.
The Press-Citizen reported in 2019 on Jones' extensive history as the mastermind behind some of the most iconic floats in Coralville's annual Fourth of July parade, a practice he also retired from.
Jones said in his application that he had desired to be on the council in the past, but circumstances prevented him from running in an election.
"I ... felt my employment would create too many conflicts of interest and therefore would be unfair to the city as well as my employer," he said.
Jones said in his application that while he has not been directly involved in the city council, he has attended multiple meetings over the years. He said he has a positive view of the work done by the City Council.
"As I reflect on the growth of Coralville in the last four decades, I would be honored to have the opportunity to assist in continuing that growth in a fiscally responsible way," Jones said.
He said he thought his financial background and knowledge of how the city operates would be an asset to Coralville.
Mayor Foster and City Council question Jones on reelection, TIF and affordable housing
Jones told the council that the idea of serving only 18 months appealed to him. That is the time remaining in Dodds' term.
"I can tell you without a doubt that I would not run in 2023," he said.
This answer seemed to sway Foster and the council when they discussed who to appoint. Once they lauded the diversity of those who applied, they quickly narrowed it down to Jones and Vittetoe.
Foster asked Jones how he would approach affordable housing. Jones said he thinks the issue has been challenging for Coralville. He said what Coralville has done to rehabilitate older homes is a good step and said the city could consider expanding that effort.
"I think there may be some opportunities for some cooperative-type efforts, whether some rental assistance or things of that nature," he said.
Foster also asked Jones about how he would handle intense discussions or criticisms he could face as an elected official. Jones said he has dealt with that many times in his work, especially when helping people with loans.
"I think all you can do is ... listen and try to explain in the best way you can why that decision was reached. If there was valid points that a citizen had, you can investigate it further," he said.
When asked about his view on Coralville's "somewhat aggressive" use of tax increment financing by Councilmember Mike Knudson, Jones said that approach has been successful in the city. He said managing Coralville's debt would be a priority.
"I think that Coralville and the council has worked hard to have a plan in place to pay debt," he said.
When Councilmember Laurie Goodrich asked Jones how he would preserve a positive image of the city, Jones responded he would try and act more like Goodrich herself, by being engaged with citizens and going to public events.
Special election petition could still be submitted
The clock is now ticking for any residents of Coralville who want to submit a petition for a special election by June 28, a 14-day window from Jones' appointment.
Someone circulating a petition would have to gather at least 396 signatures. The earliest a special election could be held is Aug. 16.
The petition to request a special election is available on the Iowa Secretary of State's website at https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/pdf/specialelecpetition.pdf.
Whoever wins a special election would immediately be placed on the council in place of Jones.
George Shillcock is the Press-Citizen's local government and development reporter covering Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, GShillcock@press-citizen.com and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Keith Jones gets nod from Coralville City Council to fill open seat