This year marks Don DeWaard’s first term as the mayor of Pella, but he’s no stranger when it comes to being in a position of leadership.
“I’ve always been in a position of leadership, whether it’s running my own business or coaching football,” says DeWaard. “I think I’m well-equipped to lead the city of Pella.”
DeWaard has been involved in the accounting, tire and real estate businesses since relocating to Pella in January 1979. Originally a farmer in Northern Iowa, he first became acquainted with Pella when his younger brother attended Central College. He later received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the college, along with his CPA certificate, and worked in public accounting for 13 years.
DeWaard made a career change and entered into the tire business for nine years, following a 15-year stint in real estate development. Working with the city on real estate projects throughout the years, like the Molengracht in the early 2000s, peaked his interest in city government.
“I also believe that I have vision,” says DeWaard. “Like the Molengracht for instance, that’s a big project to drop in the center of a community this size. But, I think I really saw the idea of it. When I saw the city planner’s sketch for it, I thought ‘you know, that can be done, we can really do something like this.’”
DeWaard was also a part-time assistant football coach at Central College for 35 years, which kept him busy.
Now that he has more free time on his hands, DeWaard is eager to take on other projects, like the community center, the Oskaloosa Street Corridor and the new telecom utility. Moreover, he would like to find a solution for the city’s lack of housing in addition to attracting and retaining workforce. He says developing community amenities and indoor recreation will also help attract and retain workers.
“In my lifetime, what people want has changed so dramatically,” says DeWaard. “It used to be financially driven, or where they can make the most money. But talking to employees now, they’ll rank living conditions and amenities higher than that. We have to focus on that, I think.”
DeWaard says individuals have told him that finding housing to relocate to the community is difficult due to higher costs and minimal options. According to a study conducted for the city in 2015, 966 additional housing units are needed by 2025 to accommodate future growth.
“What we have is a supply problem,” says DeWaard. “We currently don’t have the supplies to meet that demand. As a city, there are some economic development tools that we can use, and I think we need to focus those on developers to encourage them to create that supply to meet the demand. The city is already involved in that, so I think we need to continue it.”
DeWaard says amenity developments depend heavily on private investors, but it’s important that the city walks hand-in-hand with them to make those developments as smooth and as easy as possible. Apart from this, DeWaard believes the city has done well with addressing outdoor recreation, but the community is lacking indoor recreation. He plans to make this demand one of his priorities.
“Pella is a great place to raise a family,” says DeWaard. “But people like to have things to do, and we’re competing with bigger cities. You look nationally, and many people are gravitating towards the city, and rural areas are being left behind. We’re not a big city by any means, so I think we really have to try to be creative in how we can provide amenities for people.”
DeWaard says he likes to get things done, but it’s important to develop projects the right way.
“There are some hurdles to get over, and you can’t do everything all the time or all at once,” says DeWaard. “But the most important thing is doing it right. Not fast, not haphazardly. We need to make sure we plan and do it right, because a lot of these things, whether it’s the utility or the community center, you simply have to think 50 years down the road … we have to maintain a long-term perspective.”
Most importantly, DeWaard believes clear communication and transparency is necessary in order to form a strong, trustworthy relationship with the community.
“I encourage people to tell me what they think,” says DeWaard. “You can’t always give people the answer they want to hear, but the way you communicate your response to them will help … I know how hard it is to please people sometimes, and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do, but for the most part, it’s about how you handle those situations to get things resolved.”