In the wake of a contentious conflict surrounding Newton’s inspection programs for rental and commercial properties, four residents — some of which are local business and property owners — announced at a private event Sept. 14 that new leadership is needed and that they are running for city council seats and mayor.
Barney Bushore, owner of Barney’s Wrecker, is running for the Ward 3 seat soon to be left vacant by councilman Craig Trotter; Julia Prendergast, owner of Fine Things Reclaimed, is running for Ward 1, currently held by Mark Hallam; and Bob Williams, a teacher in Des Moines, is running for an at-large council seat.
Lonnie Appleby, who previously ran as a write-in for the 2021 mayoral election and earned about one-third of the votes, announced his bid to run again after mayor Mike Hansen announced he will not be seeking re-election this year. Current at-large council members Randy Ervin and Evelyn George also want the seat.
Candidates described as “pro-business” in flyers for the event were joined by a number of other business owners, as well as city council members Melissa Dalton and Vicki Wade and even former mayor and state senator Chaz Allen. The event was hosted by the Newton Business Council.
Several of the candidates have appeared at council meetings regarding the inspection programs, which has caused a rift between both commercial and rental property owners and the city over fees, frequency of inspections, the contracted inspector and the conduct of the inspections themselves.
Williams, a lifelong Newton resident who teaches fourth grade at Des Moines Public Schools, advocated for fiscal responsibility, saying in his household he does not spend more than he has. He asked everyone whose taxes went up this year to raise their hand; of course, all hands went up.
“And how many of you plan to stay at the ‘boutique’ hotel in town?” Williams asked, referring to the Legacy Plaza project that will be converting old Maytag buildings into a new hotel and apartment building. “I don’t think our tax dollars should go towards a new hotel when we have great hotels right in town.”
Instead, Williams said money should be spent on businesses already operating in town.
“Those are the people we should be taking care of,” Williams said. “…Let’s make this a great place, because it used to be a great place.”
Prendergast, who previously ran for supervisor in 2022 but was unable to secure a nomination in the primary, said if someone had told her six months ago that she would be running for council she wouldn’t believe them. Prendergast said it has been an exhausting six months trying to work with the city’s inspection program.
“My level of exhaustion of trying to jump through hoops, the barriers, the all the things we had to go through to grow business in Newton, to conduct business in Newton, and we’re supposed to just sit down and take it,” Prendergast said. “I can’t take it anymore, guys. So here I am.”
Prendergast yearns for a time when Newton was “smart, better and a place you want to start a business, a place you want to come to live.” But business isn’t that way anymore, she said. For a town the size of Newton, Prendergast said it has to strive to be better, cheaper and faster.
Other candidates were not as talkative. Bushore only went as far as introducing himself and the ward he is running for.
“We’ll see how things go,” he said.
Appleby recalled his past, self-funded write-in campaign, which was bolstered by a month of Facebook posts, a radio ad and word-of-mouth. To his surprise, he received more than 30 percent of the vote against the technically unopposed Hansen. Appleby said the votes came from friends and neighbors.
“But they weren’t just friends and neighbors — they were Newtonians, like all of you,” he said. “Newtonians that were looking for change. I second that sentiment. I definitely think we need some change. We could start right here. I think one of the things we can start with is accountability to our elected officials.”
Appleby added Newton needs new eyes when it comes to making decisions for the city, saying that in some instances the same people have been “in decision making seats for 20 years.” The candidate does not believe that is healthy for any community, and certainly not Newton.
“New faces. New ideas. New people.”