Residents of Dubuque’s Ward 1 can vote now through March 2 to fill their respective City Council seat. Regardless of the outcome, they will be well represented.
Vying for the seat are two newcomers to elective office with long Dubuque roots, both with strengths that would serve the community well.
John Pregler has a broad and deep knowledge of city issues, including historical context and spending implications. He has decades of experience working as a consultant with local, state and federal governments, he has long served on volunteer City of Dubuque boards, and he seeks to represent citizens that he thinks sometimes get overlooked.
Susan Farber brings impeccable credentials, a wealth of corporate business acumen and the sensibility of a local small business operator. She’s articulate and eager to serve, vowing to be diligent in researching issues that arise.
In the estimation of the TH Editorial Board, Pregler is the better choice for the open seat.
Pregler unsuccessfully ran for the same seat in 2017 against fellow newcomer Brett Shaw, whom this board endorsed. At the time, Pregler, while earnest in his interest in serving, lacked a big-picture view of the council member’s role and focused instead on specific details, some of which were outside of the council’s purview.
Pregler is a much stronger candidate in 2021. When it comes to city priorities or expenditures, Pregler has specific ideas about how the city should and should not spend money, having combed through budgets each year for the past decade.
Among Pregler’s top priorities is building a firehouse on the southwest side of the city with an ambulance to serve Ward 1, something the council has acknowledged is needed but deferred.
Another area of Pregler’s focus is championing retirees and fixed- and low-income residents as they combat the rising cost of living in the city, noting almost 40% of the city’s population, or 24,000 people, have a low or fixed income. He said those people don’t get discussed a lot when considering city spending.
Asked for examples of areas to trim expenses, Pregler points to re-examining spending as it relates to the development of Chaplain Schmitt Island. He opposes an increase in local-option sales tax. He doesn’t agree with the “go big or go home” approach to a Five Flags Center project, especially in light of the pandemic. Instead, he suggests the facility needs to be gutted — but not torn down and built bigger.
Another Pregler priority is core services, suggesting the city should increase the funding for the city street overlay, which he believes will pay dividends over time, provide better roads for driving and make them easier to clear of snow.
He questions adding a city position to address poverty, suggesting that the responsibilities likely fall under existing city offices. Instead, he favors a collective-impact model aligning resources within the city with those that need them. That idea sprang from Pregler’s time serving on the city’s Source of Income Committee.
Regarding housing, Pregler has specific concerns about whether developers given tax benefits tied to building apartment complexes with low-income options are in fact creating affordable housing. A decade of service on the Long-Range Planning Committee has Pregler asking the questions of accountability.
While Pregler is running on his knowledge of issues big and small, Farber seems to be running on her resume.
Farber has held leadership positions in huge corporations, including AT&T and Verizon, working with budgets larger even than that of the city. Yet she appeared to have spent no time familiarizing herself with Dubuque’s budget, despite the online application that easily allows the public to explore it (dollarsandcents.cityofdubuque.org).
Instead, Farber seems to be waiting to be elected before digging in. A few examples during the discussion with this editorial board included:
On the use of housing vouchers within the city: “I don’t know enough about that yet ... because I’m not sitting behind that desk yet.”
On the local option sales tax: “I would have to take a look at that and better understand what (the city) is looking for.”
In fact, Farber couldn’t point to anything the council has done in the past 15 or so years that she might have disagreed with. “I can’t say what I would or wouldn’t do until I have a better understanding.”
While we believe the City of Dubuque has strong leadership and is headed in the right direction, having knowledgeable council members who will push back on assumptions and ask tough questions will make city governance stronger.
John Pregler has shown he is the candidate to do that. Pregler’s is a voice that needs to be heard.