The recent municipal election brings five fresh faces to the Rolla City Council, so nearly half of the seats will be taken up by new members following the next council meeting. Of the twelve council seats, six were up for reelection. Two of those six council members, Matt Miller and Kelly Long, chose not to run.
City Administrator John Butz, and City of Rolla Mayor Lou Magdits said this high turnover is a sign of positive civic engagement, and shows that Rolla’s citizens are aiming to take an active part in it’s growth.
“There’s nothing bad that can come with active civic engagement,” said Magdits. “When people ask me over the years what’s contributing to Rolla’s success, part of it has to come back to the fact Rolla has been very fortunate to have good civic engagement.it would be a whole lot worse if nobody...put the time and effort into running and seeking these positions.”
Butz commented “there wasn’t a lot of campaigning done by anybody,” prior to residents casting their ballots. He said it was an interesting experience to see such a high turnover without a lot of campaigning and political rhetoric.
“It seemed to me there was a lot of interest in bringing diversity to the council, but not necessarily going at the incumbent,” he said.
Both he and the Mayor said this spoke positively about not only the election, but about the present and elected council members.
Magdits said when individuals run for office because they’re upset with a particular councilperson or particular event, somewhere along the lines their post becomes part of an agenda, rather than focusing on contributing to the city.
“It people like this are running just because they’re wanting to contribute in a positive way, that’s a really good thing,” he said.
The new council members will be sworn in on the Monday, April 16 meeting. Once in office, Magdits and Butz said there will be a period of time where they will have to acclimate to the positions.
Magdits added his perspective not as the Mayor, but as a former 20-year council member.
“It takes a term, a full two-year term, to really understand the job.” He said. “When you’re on the outside and you just look at what meets the eye...you don’t often get an understanding of all the details that go into that three hour meeting on a Monday night.”
Rather than being given a crash course on how to serve as a council member, the new members will learn over time, according to Butz
“If we brought them in for two or three nights and tried to download a year’s worth of projects and information, their heads are going to spin,” he said. “We almost have to give them time to get acclimated with the procedures of it, and then introduce topics as they come up.
The Mayor and City Administrator compared this to an onboarding process, rather than training, as they are confident the new council members already have the skills they need to serve the city.
“These are bright people, accomplished in their own careers,” said Magdits.
According them, it might be hard at first to judge what the council’s new collective personality will shape up to be, but the goal is to achieve a balance within the council, with some members having more experience, and others asking questions that might seem obvious, but force the council to revisit ideas and explain them, which can be a benefit to not only the council, but for residents.
“When we present something new we’re going to have to give a little bit more backstory to the issue,” said Butz. “And that’s going to help the average person back home.”
One of the larger issues the council will soon discuss is the upcoming sewer treatment plant expansion, according to Butz.
“It’s complex work,” he explained. “We’ve brought the council along over the past six or seven years on some of these high level changes. We haven’t talked about it enough were I think even the existing council is well versed enough.”
The sewer treatment expansion will be the second largest bond issue the city has ever done, according to Butz, totalling approximately $25 million.
“We’re finalizing a lot of those plans,” he said. “It really works out to have this new board in place while we’re getting ready to roll that out over the next six or seven months.”
As the new and returning council members prepare to tackle this issue and others, Butz and Magdits also wished to express their thanks to the members who have already dedicated their time to serving the city.
“We appreciate those members that did serve, who either chose not to return or were defeated,” Butz said. “These are folks that are virtually volunteering. It takes some humility to step up and put your name on a ballot under any circumstance.”