Three-way race for mayor shapes up in Morris
By Sarwat S. Ahmad Correspondent February 25, 2013 1:02PM
Updated: April 13, 2013 6:02AM
For the first time in 12 years, Morris will have a contested mayoral race with three parties vying for the position.
Since unseating Mayor Bob Feeney in 2001, Mayor Richard Kopczick has run unopposed but will now have two opponents on the April 9 election — Morris Alderman Drew Muffler, who is a Republican, and newcomer John Brooks, who is running as an independent.
Brooks, a Kentucky native who has lived in Morris since 1998, said that his more than 20 years of service with the country’s armed forces in various capacities has more than prepared him for the challenges of running a city.
“There were military leaders (like Eisenhower) who used to get into politics but now they are gone,” Brooks said. “They were good facilitators, they did the right thing for the people.”
Military veterans have experience with budgets and civil affairs, having helped to re-establish governments, schools and agriculture in countries around the world, Brooks said.
“Military people know leadership and honor, and are goal-oriented with a focus on ‘mission accomplishment.’ And they are realistic with their goals,” he said.
Brooks feels that a middle voice is missing across the national political scene with the two major parties “being polarized.”
Locally, Brooks, who said he is a fiscal conservative, believes that Morris “has lost its priorities. We are overlooking the basics. We are overspending on priorities and on things that don’t match the people’s needs.”
Brooks said he wants to see the city decrease its legal and engineering fees, and that he will focus on bringing manufacturing jobs to Morris.
Muffler, a lifetime Morris resident, has been on the city council as an alderman for the 3rd Ward since 2009. He has been a firefighter with the Morris Fire Department for seven years.
“We need to get back to priorities,” Muffler said. “We need to take action that reflects our town. I want Morris to be the community people want it to be and not overreach.”
Muffler believes that the city has been spending its funds unnecessarily on things such as the new municipal services building, the swimming pool improvements and the band shell.
The city’s efforts should instead have been on using tax increment funding for “core needs” such as job growth and police protection, Muffler said.
“We are down four cops, and have just now hired two,” he said. “This should have been done years ago.”
If elected Muffler said he also wants to “empower” the city council by making sure that aldermen have a more active part in the process of drafting ordinances, which he feels he has seen less of in his years on the council. “I don’t want the aldermen to be just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ men.”
Another priority for Muffler is to clean up the dilapidated paper mill property in his ward.
Kopczick points to the recent upgrade of the city’s $5.4 million general obligation waterworks and sewerage refunding bonds by Moody’s — to an Aa2 bond from the A+ rating in 2006 — as an indication that the city has been moving in the right direction. The city reissued the bonds last year because of the lower interest rates and saved $347,000 in loan interest, he said.
Furthermore, the city has had no debt and no increase of taxes while he has been in office. The new municipal building was built with funds that had been saved for that purpose, he said.
“As of May 1, 2012 there has been a $4 million increase in fund balances since 2001 and that is with going through all the projects that we’ve done without debt,” Kopczick said.
“If our priority was to overreach then we would have had 2100 more roofs in Morris,” he says. “But Morris said ‘no’.”
Bringing in industry and creating manufacturing jobs has been a focus, Kopczick said, but this cannot happen without updating the city’s infrastructure to accommodate the growth.
On the issue of empowering the aldermen, Kopczick said that all aldermen sit on three committees and have minutes from all other committees. They also have the opportunity to come in and see him to discussing pending action whenever they have time.