Randy Ervin appointed to vacant at-large city council seat

Jan. 19—Randy Ervin spent the past few city council meetings sitting with residents in the audience after he was vacated from his at-large seat following an unsuccessful bid for mayor this past election cycle, but on Jan. 16 he received enough support from his peers to return to the council chambers desk.

In total, five individuals — Ervin, Jerry Chandler, Larry Freed, Bob McCormick and Steve Mullan — showed interest in being appointed to the at-large seat left behind by Evelyn George when she became mayor of Newton. At the council meeting on Jan. 16, possible appointees each had a chance to speak.

After finishing four years on the city council, Ervin said in his speech that he was an integral part in city projects. Council frequently talks about making Newton a better place to live and to visit, and Ervin said he is still working on projects that propel the city forward in that goal. As a councilperson, Ervin believes he can continue to help.

"In my mind there are only two of us that are going to speak to you this evening that put their name on the paper and went through what I would consider one of the strangest and unique elections in Newton's history," Ervin said, referring to himself and Chandler as the only people that should be considered.

Ervin recalled a conversation with an unnamed business owner who encouraged him to seek the appointment. With the mayoral election being decided by 13 votes between him and George, what that told Ervin is that the citizens of Newton wanted both of them to serve on the council.

"So not just for me but for the people of this town that believe in me and believe what I can do for this city and what we can do as a group together, I ask tonight that you put me back on the council and allow me to serve beside you," Ervin said in his closing statements.

Mullan, a retired teacher and former council member, asked council members to remember three words: character, compromise and courage. He recalled conflicts between his father and grandfather being settled by a handshake and their word, which was a sacred bond.

"Dad always reminded me: guard your character. I remember and subscribe to that," Mullan said. "In my previous position on the council, a constituent contacted me with a question to which I did not know the answer. I found out the answer and either contacted the constituent myself or had a staff member reply."

Residents the city council members represent need to know they can count on us, he added, because character really does count. Mullan said his family moved to a small town where kids created softball games using rocks and dried cow pies as the bases.

"There were no umpires around, both sexes played and there were plenty of disputes that happened. But we settled them," Mullan said of his childhood experience. "Because we knew if we didn't, then we didn't have a game. We always tried to part as friends and often did."

So, too, must a council member find compromises. Mullan said the council will be forced to find workable solutions to city challenges while still retaining core responsibilities. To move the community forward will require compromise, he said. Mullan also recalled a speech from Theodore Roosevelt.

"In the presentation he stressed that it's easy to criticize others, but it takes courage to be the person that's actually in the arena facing challenges head on," Mullan said. "(Ernest) Hemingway used this thought in his book 'Death in the Afternoon,' focusing on what it takes for a bullfighter entering the bull ring."

Hemingway famously said: "Courage is grace under pressure." Mullan said a council needs to have that courage.

Chandler said he wants the appointment because this and past councils are wasting tax dollars on things we do not need. He also said council members need to listen to citizens. As a lifelong citizen of Newton who came from a humble family with no ties to Maytag, he knew what it was like to want.

"I know what it is to want and need," Chandler said. "And this city council, this past city council has done a lot of wanting. We want $400,000 homes. We want pickleball courts. We want certain things. Well, do we need those things? Do we need to waste our citizens' tax dollars on things we really don't need?"

He also agreed with Ervin's sentiments on who should be considered for the appointment, noting his second place finish to Joel Mills for the at-large seat. Chandler also said he is not afraid to say no and that he is very passionate about his town, which he claimed is falling apart.

"As far as the people we have working for this city, we need to hold those people accountable," Chandler said. "We need somebody out there getting a business, getting someone here that's going to pay our people in this town."

McCormick prefaced that he has never done this before and had only been to two council meetings in his life. He has enjoyed living in Newton since 1970 and operated four different businesses since 1980. In 2022, he sold his business, Cappy's, and has been working full-time with the new owners ever since.

Recently, he has moved to part-time and has found himself with more time to pursue his interests of being a city council member.

"Being a city councilman is a significant commitment, and in my opinion you have to be honest in your actions and honest and intelligent in your approach to the issues and be committed to working with the city professional staff, council members and mayor without automatically deferring to their judgement," he said.

Council members must also do what is in the best interests of the community overall, now and into the future, McCormick added. They must also listen to residents, businesses and city employees to know their concerns, and be committed to the meetings and vote.

"I feel I bring a balanced view. I understand the need for a strong local economy and know how to make decisions to stay within budget," McCormick said. "I'm open to new ideas, concerns and perspectives. Most importantly I want the City of Newton to prosper and the citizens to be proud of where they live."

The fifth person, Freed, decided to withdraw after seeing the other interest. The Newton City Council voted anonymously for their pick, resulting in four votes for Ervin and one vote for Mullan. Ervin later told Newton News he is excited to be back on the council.

"There is a lot of things we can do with this council," he said. "We got a couple of new members that are really good. I think Evelyn is going to end up being pretty good as a mayor. I'll be able to help some of the new members get accustomed to things. And I'm always up for a little bit of a challenge."