Meet the Candidates: Clayton County Supervisor

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Clayton County supervisor candidates Steve Doeppke (left), Doug Reimer, Lester Simons and Phil Specht

Two seats on the Clayton County Board of Supervisors are up for election on Nov. 8. Four candidates are running for the position, including Republicans Steve Doeppke (incumbent) and Doug Reimer and Democrats Lester Simons and Phil Specht. The four (pictured left to right) recently participated in a candidate forum hosted by the Times-Register and Monona Outlook newspapers, and shared their thoughts about key issues. Responses are included below, edited for length and clarity. Watch a full recording of the forum on the Times-Register YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIfQ-BuGX9I. Find more election information at elections.claytoncountyia.gov/.

 

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Steve Doeppke is a lifelong Clayton County resident and graduated from Central Elkader High School. He's been married to wife Janita for 49 years, and the couple has three sons. Doeppke worked for the Iowa DOT for 42 yards, and also served as a fireman and police officer for 25 years each. He's been a county supervisor since 2019.

 

Doug Reimer is the fourth generation to run the home farm his great-grandfather bought in 1870. He’s served on the Land O’Lakes corporate board, Silos and Smokestacks board and Guttenberg Hospital Board. “I want to give back to the county, and do what’s best for the county and the majority of the people. I don’t have an agenda,” he said.

 

Lester Simons is from Colesburg and has been married to wife Carol since 1962. He’s served on the Colesburg Fire Department, including as fire chief, and was an EMT and ambulance director for 25 years. 

 

Phil Specht grew up in northern Jones County and bought a farm on Pleasant Ridge Road, near Marquette, in 1971. He’s been married to wife Sharon for 47 years. Specht has served on the Three Rivers FS board, chaired the local dairy herd improvement association, been on the Clayton County Conservation Board and was one of six people on the Iowa Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign Committee that allocated all advertising dollars for the state party. “I’ve contributed millions to the local economy as a family farm, with employees and my milk check and all the things I’ve purchased. Dairy farming is the single largest multiplier effect of local dollars, and family farms are central to Clayton County’s economy, and I want to assist there too,” he said.

 

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What is the top issue you’d like to tackle if elected, and why?

 

Doeppke placed the budget at the top of the list. He noted it’s become harder to get equipment and parts to fix the equipment. The county is also dealing with communications towers for the sheriff’s office and EMS. “I’d like to improve our level of service to the public. Our roads need to be upgraded,” he added.

 

Reimer stressed there’s more than one area to work on, listing the budget, economic development and tourism, housing and labor. “We need a lot of different things in this county and we just have to prioritize,” he stated.

 

Simons noted that communities are having trouble financing—and manning—their volunteer ambulance services. “There are your people at the push of a button who are there for your safety and to help you. We need a little more funding for services,” he said. “If we rely on hospitals [for EMS], then we need more staff at the hospitals to maintain the service.”

 

Specht’s priority is to leverage tax dollars, and he suggested hiring a employee whose main purpose is writing grants. “Because the dollars are coming down from the federal government, the state is contracting and property tax pressures are going to be rising at the county level. Roads is a big issue, and bridges. Housing, in my estimation, is the number one need in the county. Affordable housing so we can get young families that work and add more kids into our schools,” he explained. “Do it by leveraging whatever resources we can provide as property tax payers through these other programs.”

 

How would you work to be a good steward of the county tax dollars?

 

Specht said the number one way to learn how to be careful with dollars is to be a farmer. His experience with the FS board, a cooperative, was also helpful. “A county tax base, if we treat it like a cooperative, where it’s for the good of the membership, that’s how tax dollars ought to be spent,” he shared.

 

Simons stated it’s difficult to discuss the topic without seeing the budget. “I’d look at keeping the taxes under control, so we can keep people going,” he said.

 

Reimer stressed being a fiscal conservative helps. He plans to look at the broad picture and allocate funds where they’ll provide the biggest bang for the buck. “The dollar spent to help the most people—that’s the bottom line,” he said.

 

Doeppke said Clayton County is fortunate to have department heads who manage their budgets well. “They come before us and present a budget, and we go over it all. It makes our job a lot easier, as a whole, to distribute the money,” he explained.

 

What are your ideas for attracting and retaining younger people in Clayton County?

 

“That’s a problem,” Doeppke said. “We have trouble getting young people to come to work, and getting people to come and stay is a problem. I don’t know what the answer is to it.”

 

Reimer said housing plays a factor, as does family connections to the area and job availability. “We need to provide good paying jobs, but we also have to think about their nightlife and recreation—what they want to do here too. It’s a combination of things,” he stated. “It’s something we have to work on with the development group, all the towns. It’s going to take a group effort.”

 

Simons said adequate pay is important. “We can’t expect them to spend money in the county unless they have it to spend,” he noted.

 

Specht listed housing as the number one need, as well as good paying jobs. “This county has three main resources: agriculture is number one, tourism is big or the attractiveness of the county, and the third is our skilled workforce. The good jobs we do have are manufacturing jobs. Two of the three are based on the natural resources we have. We have to protect and preserve our land. This is a three-legged stool,” he said.

 

Natural resources are important in Clayton County, not only for agriculture and tourism but overall quality of life. How will you work to preserve them?

 

Reimer said farmers have to protect the land, and estimated 99.9 percent do. He also advocated for working together. “Part of it is to protect our resources. You have to have people out there monitoring, but you have to be realistic. Our counties in northeast Iowa, livestock has been very important and crops are very important. But, again, tourism is very important. Our tourism is natural with the streams and these beautiful trees,” he said. “It’s a combination of people working together and doing the right thing.”

 

Doeppke said the county works with the soil conservation district, secondary roads and other groups. For him, it comes down to common sense: “You leave it as you found it, instead of disturbing and destroying.”

 

Simons championed conservation. “We’ve got to have the farmers do good soil management, good fertilizing and keep our forests intact,” he said.

 

Specht cited his experience with the Bloody Run watershed. Federal and state money, paired with cost share from farmers, made a difference. “From the time I started farming with Bloody Run running through my farm in 1971, to after that program was done, there was tremendous improvement in the water quality in the Bloody Run Trout Stream. Because of all the terraces that were built, the conservation structures and conservation farming adopted,” he said. “The county needs to involve itself in promoting partnerships.”

 

What is your long-term vision for Clayton County?

 

Tourism is one aspect, according to Specht. “We have a great cultural resource here in the county. We’ve got tremendous customer service through restaurants, and the local music scene is incredible. We can play off or assist in that as a county,” he said. Specht added the county also has to shift thinking toward what would appeal most to young people, to bring and keep them in the area. “Then the county will just grow naturally, and we’ll keep our schools open,” he said.

 

Simons also stressed tourism. He often sees visitors pass his home in vehicles, and even on bikes. Opening up county level C roads could aid this. “They could leave them open and use it for tourism for side-by-sides. If they could ride other roads that join one another, I think that would be a good idea,” he said.

 

“Having it better than it is today—and we’re in good shape today,” said Reimer. He referenced the expansion at the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, and drawing some of that tourism to Clayton County. “Any job being done can be done better, and we just have to look at the right ways to improve things. It takes cooperation from everybody, whether you love the tourism part, the ag part, the industrial part. We’re pretty diverse,” Reimer said. “I see nothing but positive things as long as we keep working together.”

 

Doeppke said county infrastructure needs improvement, particularly bridges and farm to market roads. “It’s got to work together with the budget,” he added. “Our county services that support all people do a good job. It’s a community effort to make things better.”

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