Bick aims for 'unity in the community'

·4 min read

Oct. 16—OTTUMWA — Rick Bick has always tried to live by the words "unity in the community."

It's an adage he hopes to ride right into the mayor's seat.

Bick sat down with members of The Courier's editorial board Tuesday to discuss some of the key issues facing Ottumwa voters when they head to the polls for the city/school election next month.

Like all but one candidate in the eight-person field vying for city leadership positions, Bick has no background in public office. He does have a background in bridging divides.

"When I first got here, I was confronted with a huge prejudice toward the Latino community, and so I kind of made it a point to break barriers within that community," Bick said. "We have to take time to learn more things and ask more questions.

"When you can make people of different races and ethnicities feel at home, and you work with different civic groups to integrate these people into the community, the whole community goes forward."

Bick is the pastor at New Life Center, and also works at Fareway, where he runs into people of different backgrounds and races.

"I said, you know, 'Welcome to Ottumwa. We're glad you're here,'" Bick said. "What can we do for you, and what kind of food can we get for you that you don't get? There's just things we can ask and do to make them feel at home here."

Another item that has been discussed recently is a petition to lift a ban on pit bull dog breeds. Bick did his homework and cited statistics, but was noncommittal one way or the other on the topic.

"There's something about pit bulls. They can be the best dog you ever had, and all of a sudden they snap for no reason," he said. "I asked animal control, and they showed me a whole bunch of stats you don't see anywhere else. One of them is that 63% of human deaths by animals are caused by pit bulls.

"Whatever happened here so many years ago, I think it was a 3-year-old that was killed by a pit bull," he said, "I don't think we're ever going to be able to really overcome that."

Bick was also asked what his plans would be to keep younger adults in the community, rather than leaving for bigger metropolitan areas. He said he doesn't blame younger adults for leaving, but that that wasn't an excuse for not trying to keep them here.

"Kids at 18, I mean, I think kids of every generation coming out of high school, just want out of here for a while," he said. "It's kind of difficult because I'm not a youngster. One of the things I'm asking people is, 'What do we need to do here?' I know there's some gaming stuff going on, so maybe we need that. I'd want to know what kind of businesses they need downtown or whatever that attracts them."

Bick was in favor of the agreement that was recently passed by the city council to build a hotel at Bridge View Center. The project will be funded by tax-increment financing, in which a rebate will go back to the developer, but the city will also claim money for hotel/motel tax, local option sales tax and road use tax.

The idea of a housing development on Bonita Avenue, for which a public hearing will be held on Election Day, is a different story. Residents are skeptical of a development on 10 acres, mostly because they want it in a different area and weren't really asked for their input.

"It's really not that hard. JBS is not buying that property, but their part is they want to contract the rent for their people to transition into the community," Bick said. "One party has looked at five other properties and landed on this one.

"It's already zoned for multi-residential, and how do you undo it at this stage?" he said. "It may become a city issue when they approve building permits. I think it's people being upset that we didn't expect them to be doing this, and here we are doing this."

Overall, Bick sees collaboration between entities to make Ottumwa a welcoming place for those considering a move to the area.

"It's a hard answer, but I don't think it has to be just the city," he said. "I think it's church groups, civic groups, JBS, all working together. I think long-term that Ottumwa can be an example for other cities around the country if we pull this off in a positive way."

— Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury

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