Indianola Mayor Retirement Leads to Citizens Petitioning for Special Election

by Ethan Humble, Staff Reporter

Indianola’s new mayor, Pam Pepper. Photo from the city of Indianola.

A total of 647 citizens of Indianola signed and submitted a petition on Oct. 30, which, if validated, will force a special election for the mayoral position which was abruptly departed by former Mayor Kelly Shaw in Sept.

The current mayor, Pam Pepper, was appointed by the city council and took office on Oct. 29.

Indianola City Clerk Andy Lent started reviewing the petition on Nov. 2 for at least 335 valid signatures to meet the Iowa Code’s standards. If this threshold is met, the special election will take place at earliest in late winter or early spring.

Mayor Pepper served on Indianola’s city council from January 2011 through December 2017. Her first step into the council was also an appointment when former councilman Steve Richardson had to step away from his seat early.

“If I have to run in March to continue to be the mayor, I said I would do that,” Pepper said. “I have not committed yet to what would happen next November.”

Pepper had nothing but praise for the council and staff seated alongside her as she started her term as mayor.

“I loved my seven years on council, and I found it to be very rewarding. We have a great staff, and they do the heavy lifting,” Pepper said. “Council’s job is to provide the visions and the direction, and the staff implements it.”

Pepper initially came to Indianola through her work at Simpson for seven years; she is now commuting between her job at Drake University in Des Moines and being the Indianola mayor.

One of Pepper’s first wishes as mayor is to give proper attention to the city’s achievements through better marketing.

“I really want to work on marketing the city and our wonderful works,” she said. “We have done a ton of work while I left the council to move the city in many ways, and I want to market that.”

The new mayor says she wants to be a positive force to keep the city moving in the right direction.

“I want to be a cheerleader, in simplistic terms, for the city,” she said. “If you have questions, let us talk through those questions and explain why we are doing the things we are doing.”

Regarding the special election, Pepper always believes citizens have the right to vote, but the election’s cost causes some hesitation.

“Every chance you get to vote, you should be voting,” she said. “But during a pandemic when we are trying to be budget smart, I am not sure this is the best usage of our dollars.”

Costs for the special election are estimated to be $10,000.

“I hope to continue to be the mayor, but time will tell,” Pepper said.

Former city council candidate Steve Armstrong is hopeful that the signatures will be validated soon to get the process going.

“We last reached out to the city clerk to see how the process was going…they are working on validating the signatures, and they have been doing it for a week,” he said. “Hopefully, soon, we will know that everything is validated. It is exciting for the people of Indianola to come together to use democracy to its finest.”

The former candidate believes that Pepper was a sure thing to win the mayor seat right once the position was announced and does not think the council’s appointment was entirely fair.

“She was on council with some of the people sitting up there. They know she will step in and go along with whatever they are wanting to do,” he said. “I am not saying she was not qualified. I am just saying I do not think anyone got a fair shot that applied.”

Armstrong also points out that being the incumbent in an election has its advantages.

“You have built-in name recognition and a base as the incumbent,” he said. “If the advantage is going to be built in, I think we should vote on the advantage.”

When asked for his prediction on how the special election would go, the former candidate said it could go either way.

“There are a lot of people angry with the city right now. You will have people casting votes specifically against [Pepper] simply because the city chose her,” he said. “I will sit back and see who is going to run and see where I am going to put my vote.”

Former mayor Kelly Shaw. Photo from the city of Indianola.

Former Mayor Kelly Shaw stepped away from the mayor’s position because he had many disagreements with the city council during his time in office.

“There was not due diligence in terms of talking about options. The council has become a rubber stamp on administration,” Shaw said. “I had a hard time signing off on some of the things they did.”

One of these things was saving the YMCA through the rent reduction that the council approved.

“I think it was a horrendous policy. There was a year for them to come up with other policy options,” he said. “Taxpayers are not subsidizing that project so I could not sign off on that.”

The former mayor also vetoed the budget that the city had put forth this past spring, which included raising the taxes.

“From that decision, there was a lot of name-callings and calling me a bias,” he said. “That is just not a constructive work environment. They tried to make both my and my family’s lives miserable.”

Shaw then decided to step away from the position of the city mayor.

“There are a number of different reasons, most of which had to do with policy and council taking powers away from the mayor,” he said. “For the headache, it was causing both my family and me, I decided it was not worth it,” Shaw said.

Regarding the new mayor’s appointment, Shaw said it was no surprise that the council chose Pepper to fill the role.

“The council operates on a lack of transparency, involvement and engagement,” he said. “They really do not want to change the status quo.”

Shaw views the special election as a necessary piece of democracy and believes it needs to happen no matter the expense.

“This council has spent a lot more than $10,000 on things that are not democratic and not transparent,” he said. “Therefore, I think this is a good use of money.”

However, until the city clerk has validated 335 signatures, the special election cannot occur.