Exiting leaders reflect on time with council



JASPER — Sometimes, Earl Schmitt would lay awake in bed until 2 a.m., reflecting on the decisions he made as a member of the Jasper Common Council. He’d think about whether they were the right ones, and he’d hope that they were.

John Bell was forced to learn patience. How to accept the slogging pace of government, even when he wanted to speed it up to help those who counted on him.

The two Jasper councilmen cared for their constituents. Wednesday night, they walked away from their council seats for the final time.

Neither Schmitt nor Bell will return to the chambers in City Hall as decision-makers in 2020.

After the rest of the council members and public attendees filed out of the room following a lengthy monthly meeting Wednesday night, the two veterans remained. One last time, they reminisced on their years with the city and looked ahead to its future.

Before joining the council in 2016, Bell had served as the president of the Jasper Redevelopment Commission, on The Parklands of Jasper’s advisory board and had participated in the downtown and riverfront plan. This spring, he and his wife, Bobbi Jo, will move to Fountain Hills, Arizona — which is about a half hour north of Phoenix.

“I really have gotten so much out of the community growing up,” Bell said. “And I just appreciate the fact that who I am today is because of the community where I grew up.

“And it was just the point in time in my life where I had the ability to reach out and give back, and so I threw myself out there, took that opportunity, and thankfully was elected. And just had a great experience.”

His vacant seat will be filled by Republican Chad Lueken, who defeated Democrat challenger Daniel Kreilein in last month’s election. The same night, Republican challenger Paul Lorey defeated Democrat incumbent Schmitt in the council’s District 5 race.

Following Wednesday’s meeting, Schmitt — who is a Vietnam War veteran and a retired truck driver who worked for Kimball International for 47 years — thanked his family and everyone who voted for and supported him during his two terms.

“I was fortunate enough to get elected,” he said when reflecting on that backing. “I gave four years to my country, and I thought, ‘I want to give something back to the community.’ But I didn’t know anything about city government or anything. But I learned. And I hope I did a good job.”

When reflecting on the decisions or actions they were most proud of during their time with the city, Bell pointed to the creation of the riverfront area tax-increment financing district.

“I think now and going forward, we’re going to see the fruits of our labor because we’re starting to see some of that tax increment financing income come in,” he said. “And it’s gonna really give our community the ability to be able to renovate and build new things that we would never have the funds able to do if it wasn’t for that TIF district being set up.”

The city’s much-discussed Courthouse Square renovation project was put on hold in favor of other projects in May 2017, but both Bell and Schmitt agreed that the exploration laid the groundwork for future planning. They both feel that the enhancement will be revisited in the future.

They also spoke highly of the River Centre development, the Thyen-Clark Cultural Center’s construction and the establishment of the Parklands of Jasper.

“There was a lot going on,” Schmitt said. “It was every month. And now, everything’s starting to come together.”

Both men said their council spots allowed them to meet and interact with a wide variety of residents, people they might not have met otherwise. And even though they’re leaving, they feel those residents are in good hands.

“I think we’ve got the right team in place,” Bell said.

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