Ottawa’s new mayor is ready to continue the city commission’s emphasis on transparency and development, while placing a weightier emphasis on road maintenance.
“This is a progressive community that has many things going for it,” said Tom Weigand. “Overall, I want to engage more people, more faces in the workings of the city and its direction. I think doing so will help more become interested in running for office, and become involved in the direction of our city.”
Weigand, an area realtor and former president/chief executive officer of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, was appointed mayor by fellow commissioners earlier this week. The City of Ottawa’s form of government does not include a mayoral election. Instead, commissioners appoint a new mayor annually from among their governing body. Weigand was originally appointed to finish a term left vacant by a departed commissioner and was re-elected in November 2019.
After his appointment, Weigand outlined his priorities for his term as mayor in 2020.
“I will continue the effort to make our leadership of the city of Ottawa as transparent as possible — where tax dollars go, and what they are derived from,” he said. “I want to continue to focus on housing development throughout the city, in all price segments. We have great programs, including neighborhood revitalization, to work toward building housing for our workforce and for retirees.”
A continued emphasis on the newly built Proximity Park industrial park south of Ottawa will also be key, Weigand said.
“Our employment opportunities with industrial partners are very important — we need to keep them thinking ‘Ottawa’ and keep recruiting for Ottawa, and talking other industries into coming to Proximity Park,” he said. “It’s been a big and very necessary investment if we are going to be sustainable and keep our community moving in a positive fashion.”
Weigand also plans to initiate renewed involvement of the city commission in street infrastructure improvements.
“I want to work with the commission, city manager and staff to formulate a plan to improve our streets,” he said. “I notice there are rough spots and curbs that need some work; we need to look at a long range plan for those.”
Commissioner Sara Caylor, membership manager for Girl Scouts of Southwest Kansas and Northeast Missouri, was appointed mayor pro tem. Caylor has served on the commission for nearly a decade and has served as mayor twice.
After her appointment, Caylor emphasized the importance of civic involvement by all groups in the community.
“I’ve noticed there is a vacuum, where we don’t have women that are stepping up, we don’t have younger individuals that are stepping up; we need to grow more opportunities for those individuals,” Caylor said. “It’s no longer OK for us to step back and say ‘It’s somebody else’s problem.'
“I would challenge those that hear this to become active and become a part of our community, because you are the ones who will make the community move forward.”
Also this week, the city proceeded forward on a plan to move the first alley west of Main Street between 15th and 17th streets closer to the Prairie Spirit Trail, which the alley runs adjacent to. Progress on the move will likely not be visible to the public for several months, officials said.
The city commission is also considering an ordnance that would allow the department of utilities to require resident-owned electricity generation systems to comply with construction standards.
“This would give utility the right, when someone is installing generation — which would mean solar, gas-fired, any other kind of generation — to their service, that we be given the right to make sure that service is up to current [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] standards,” said Dennis Tharp, city director of utilities.
Tharp emphasized the move would be made with an eye toward preserving the safety of city utility employees and first responders. The ordinance was endorsed by Tim Matthias, city fire chief.
“As a community, we are 36% renewable energy — we are obviously not against renewable generation,” Tharp said. “We just want it to be safe.”