By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
After running unopposed in 2010, incumbent Mayor Roy Hark is receiving opposition from a former councilman and a political newcomer in his bid to earn a fifth three-year term.
Lou Barta and Monica Williams are running against Hark in the April 2 election. All three cited the need for economic development and job creation. However, each candidate also brings a list of priorities as well as a vision regarding the mayor's role in the city government.
Hannibal voters approved a switch from a mayor-council form of government to a council-manager form of government in November 1996, and the city charter now limits the mayor's power.
During his tenure, Hark says he has tried to serve as a voting member of the council and a promoter of the community, as well as be a liaison between residents of various city departments.
"I don't believe in heavy-handed government," Hark said. "I like to try and work with the people."
He said Hannibal has seen growth during his 12 years as mayor. He said he works with other councilmen to drive change in the community. He cited the downtown sidewalk project, the Stardust Drive extension and additional baseball fields as some of the more recent community improvements.
He said City Manager Jeff LaGarce has a strong plan pending for economic development, and he hopes to play a role. He noted that the city budget is stable, and Hannibal maintains a comfortable reserve. When the city needed to downsize jobs earlier this year, it did so through attrition. Hark said the city will save $180,000 annually by not replacing two positions at the Fire Department and one at the Police Department. Hark also said this downscale will not impact the safety of either department or the citizens.
Barta intends to work with other councilmen to review existing property laws and add enforceable specifics to the codes.
As an example, he noted the city's weed ordinance lists a specific height limit for weeds. When that limit is reached, the resident receives a warning letter and then a fine. He said the city needs to develop a similar way to measure the amount of junk in yards. Right now, Barta says it's too often left up to the discretion of city officials to determine whether there is too much refuse at property.
He noted that city law bans bare wood exteriors on buildings, but several buildings have chipping paint, and there is no ordinance that determines how much chipping paint a building can have.
Barta also hopes to foster lines of communication between the council and Municipal Judge Fredrich Cruse to assure that fines are imposed.
"For the most part, we have stuff on the books that apply, but we don't have any actual consequential teeth in those ordinances," he said.
He hopes to clean up the town by utilizing a method similar to the one the Hannibal Police Department recently used to reduce the number of abandoned vehicles. Since HPD began the program, the city has seen a steady decline in the number of abandoned cars. He hopes to add more specific regulations to laws that would clean up the city, notify the public of changes, fine violators and then steadily see a decrease in the problem.
"I won't let the small percentage of people who are negatively affected by change to impact what I do," Barta said.
He also believes the city should enforce codes in all areas, regardless of the neighborhood's age or the economic status of its residents. He noted more affluent neighborhoods often receive more attention, and he believes older neighborhoods need to be held to a similar standard to maintain a consistent quality of life for the community.
"There are parts of town (where) people may have been allowed to have less personal responsibility than others," Barta said. "Everyone needs to be asked to maintain things the same."
Williams said she hopes to explore opportunities to receive federal grant money for energy efficient projects that would create more jobs and clean up the community. As an example, she believes adding a city-run recycling plant could help create more jobs.
"I'd like to see them tap into all the money that president and Congress has put out into going green," Williams said.
If elected, she believes her voice will add a female perspective to the currently all-male city council.
Additionally, she hopes to act as an advocate for the community's children and senior citizens. She said she'd like to encourage city-run, age-specific activities for children. She hopes to direct more city funding to the Douglass Community Services and Meals on Wheels so the elderly have more access to food.
She said the experience she gained from managing a 120-bed unit at the Levering House in Hannibal, as well as the time she's served on the Robinson Cemetery Board and the Douglass Community Board has given her the leadership skills she needs to act as a liaison between city departments and the community.