With the ballot finalized and the special election only three weeks away, four candidates are officially running for an open seat on Bettendorf’s city council that’ll give residents of the 3rd Ward a new alderman for the first time in 20 years.
Candidates had until Friday to file nominating petitions with the Scott County Auditor’s office for a spot on the ballot. Now in the running are Bill Connors, the city’s last community development director; Don Wells, the vice chairman of Bettendorf’s parks and recreation board; Richard “Dick” Frantz, a retired machinist with the Rock Island Arsenal; and Tom Luton, a retired schoolteacher and former member of Bettendorf’s school board.
The vacant seat comes after the death of longtime Alderwoman Debe LaMar, who was first elected to represent the southeast-side ward in 1997. LaMar died in November at age 61 after she had been ill with cancer.
As required by law, the candidates are all residents of the 3rd Ward. To earn a place on the ballot, candidates needed only 25 signatures from fellow ward residents this year, a reflection of the low voter turnout during the 2015 election in which 254 people voted for LaMar, who ran unopposed.
In January, Bettendorf aldermen asked the Scott County Auditor to schedule a special election instead of going through an appointment process, saying the 3rd Ward residents should be the ones to choose their next representative. The special election, scheduled to take place March 5, will determine who takes over LaMar’s unexpired term, meaning whoever wins will have to stand for reelection again in November.
Here’s a look at the candidates running for the seat:
Connors announced last week that he would run for the office, pointing to his 20-year career with Bettendorf’s city administration as a big reason why 3rd Ward residents should pick him to lead. If elected, Connors says he’ll be able to hit the ground running and work well alongside sitting aldermen.
A first-time office-seeker, Connors has said his job working for city government had kept him from getting involved with city government. He says he can be a clear voice for the residents of his ward and the rest of Bettendorf, noting that most of the policy decisions aldermen make ripple across the entire city.
“I want to be able to help the residents of the city,” Connors said during a recent interview. “I want to be responsive to their needs. If people have concerns or issues in the 3rd Ward, I want to be there for them."
Richard 'Dick' Frantz
Frantz prides himself as a lifelong Bettendorf resident who lives only a few blocks away from his childhood home. A first-time office-seeker, Frantz is a Vietnam Marine veteran who retired nearly a quarter-century ago following a 26-year career as a machinist foreman with the Rock Island Arsenal.
Frantz says the property tax bills and costs for services have risen too high for many residents in the 3rd Ward, especially seniors who are often on fixed incomes. As an alderman, Frantz said he’d advocate for wiser use of taxpayer dollars, saying he’s witnessed his own property tax bill double over the past eight years.
“I think we’re spending our money foolishly,” Frantz said. “I think we ought to be satisfied with what we got .. and spend the money on other things like maybe freeze the taxes for the elderly.”
A retired public school teacher, Luton has lived in the 3rd Ward with his wife, Jan, for the last 50 years. Aside from his experience in the classroom, he spent six years on Bettendorf’s school board — the only other elected office he’s ever sought or held — between 2000 and 2006.
Luton pointed to some of what he described as the city’s luxuries as an area of concern, saying property tax bills for residents have gone up in recent years to pay for certain projects he questions. Areas he’d like to pay attention to include downtown development, “ambitious” plans for the city’s community centers. He also says more attention might be needed to improve the city’s alleyways and sewers.
“I consider myself a good listener,” said Luton, adding that he’s ready to listen to fellow ward residents and address their concerns as their representative.
Wells, who has been on the city’s parks and recreation board since 2008, is the only serving elected official in the mix.
With his bid for city alderman, Wells says he’s already “satisfied” with the job on the parks board but wants to see if he “can make a difference on a bigger scale.”
His day job is with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security with the Transportation Safety Administration. He also runs the Greater Bettendorf Community Foundation, which organizes the city’s Fourth of July Parade and other major community events.
Priorities for Wells on the council include maintaining the city’s parks and recreation programs, a focus shared by his predecessor LaMar. State law prohibits anyone from holding more than one elected office at a time, meaning Wells will need to resign his parks board commission spot if he wins. If he loses, Wells said he’ll seek reelection to his current spot on the parks board.