Four years ago, when campaigning for the Dubuque City Council, Luis Del Toro promised to pursue changes in some areas and put more focus on others.
Del Toro won that Ward 2 election, soundly defeating an incumbent, and, with Jake Rios in Ward 4, became the first council member of Hispanic descent in Dubuque history.
Del Toro moved to make good on his pledges. He soon found out how hard it is to effect change in an institution with more than 700 employees, six elected colleagues and thousands of constituents. He acknowledges that the job is tougher than he anticipated.
These past four years, he learned, persisted and learned some more. He has shown a willingness to take on traditions, question colleagues and senior administration, and remain accessible to citizens.
All in all, though he has taken some positions with which we disagree, Del Toro has rounded into a solid elected official. Though facing a quality challenger in Laura Roussell, he receives our endorsement for a second four-year term.
Whether the issue involves city spending and debt, sidewalks along Kennedy Road or when citizens may speak at council meetings, Del Toro, senior program manager for the call-center firm Humach, has spoken his mind and voted accordingly.
We firmly disagree with his minority vote that blocked a JFK sidewalk project. The greater good of safety and access for the overall community — which includes the taxpayers who already foot the bill for their sidewalks — should have priority over the objections of individual property owners who eluded sidewalk responsibilities for decades. He should have voted yes, but, to his credit, we acknowledge his belief that the city should come up with a fairer sidewalk policy and consider other funding approaches.
Division among council members was laid bare just a couple of months ago, immediately before and after Kate Larson’s resignation from Ward 3, concerning closed sessions to discuss personnel matters surrounding veteran City Manager Mike Van Milligen. Depending on whom you talk to, these meetings were merely efforts to gather information and discuss concerns or they were setting the table to jettison the city manager. Del Toro, who voted to hold the sessions, suggests it was the former. Whatever the new council roster — there will be at least two new members — members should be laying out performance expectations long before taking any action to cut ties.
One of Del Toro’s achievements, accomplished early in his first year in office, was persuading council colleagues, over the reluctance of Mayor Roy Buol, to place public comments early on the council agenda rather than the unpredictable end. It was a sensible victory for constituent access to government, and the dire predictions of midnight-oil-burning meetings never materialized.
For citizens who recognize the importance and benefits of diversity, this city council election has to be a bit of a downer. Among the eight candidates seeking four seats, there are six white men, one Hispanic man and just one woman. And the only contest not involving white men is in Ward 2, where either Del Toro or Roussell will prevail.
Recently retired as community relations manager after 30 years with Black Hills Energy, Roussell has plenty of experience interacting with people, including customers, government officials and employees. As such, she offers a bias toward collaboration and compromise. While no one needs a council member itching for a fight at every turn, there is also a problem with collaborating to the point of being a rubber stamp. The council needs members asking the tougher questions, even when it annoys the mayor or city manager, and in our view Del Toro will continue to do that more than Roussell would.
Ward 2 voters are in a good spot. They will choose between two worthy candidates. However, returning Del Toro for a second term is the better choice.