As a child and teenager growing up in Carroll, Jerry Fleshner knew only one mayor — the late Bill Farner, a pioneering businessman and community icon. The youthful Fleshner assumed Farner would be mayor forever.
“I never pictured myself considering something like this,” Fleshner said. “The first mayor I knew was Bill Farner, and I just remember thinking that he was always going to be the mayor.”
Now, Fleshner, 64, the owner of Lincoln Highway Pharmacy and the Clinic Pharmacy of Carroll, a long-time public servant with a combined 15 years of experience on the City Council and Carroll Community School Board, is running for mayor himself — seeking the office Farner held from 1960 to 1975.
“I think it’s logical and makes sense to have someone at the top running this who has good experience, and I don’t know of anyone who has more experience than I do, since I am just finishing with City Council terms,” Fleshner said in an interview with The Times Herald. “I decided it was important enough to go ahead and make the commitment to the time I know it will take to be mayor, because I want someone up there who has experience, and I do.”
The bottom line, Fleshner said, is that the people of Carroll know him — and know how he will serve as mayor.
“I’ll run under the same campaign that I have in the last four elections, and that is that I’ve always felt that I’m a reasonable person, I’m a reliable person and plain, flat-out ready to serve,” Fleshner said. “I’ve done my time in other positions, and I think I carry the experience, and I am as well prepared as anybody could be to take the next step.”
Fleshner said his priorities will a balanced budget and maintaining secure and stable city water service as new federal and state mandates come into play.
When he first ran for the City Council, Fleshner called for an expansion of the city’s wellfield — which happened in his first term — and he now is assisting the city in its response to drought conditions.
On a high-profile issue, The City Council appears to have reached a consensus on modernizing the Carroll Recreation Center with the financial tools the city has at its disposal rather than putting a more far-reaching plan before the full community with a referendum after a proposed referendum on the ballot failed.
The partial modernization of the Rec Center that has a clear majority, if not the unanimous, support of the City Council is a $7.3 million project that would include construction of a second gymnasium, a raised walking/jogging track inside and improved locker rooms. The difference between this plan and the one that failed to clear a referendum: the sweeping swimming pool enhancements are removed.
The council would rely heavily on local option sales tax revenue so it would not have to issue the level of general-obligation debt financing that triggers a public vote.
“I’m on board with going ahead on a reduced plan on the Rec Center,” Fleshner said. “Basically, I view this as a necessary remodel, and what I have been saying to people is every 50 to 60 years, something needs to be done to revitalize.”
He’s particularly supportive of the raised walking/jogging track in what will be an expanded gym area.
“The most important thing is a walking track, because I and many people have been concerned about the safety of people walking around,” Fleshner said, “In fact, I think people avoid the Rec Center as a walking location because of the fact the walking area now is around the active gym floor.”
Fleshner said he is committed to the success of efforts to improve the commercial district and attract new businesses, a joint venture of the City of Carroll and Carroll Area Development Corporation.
He has a nuanced view on vacant buildings in Carroll.
“That can be a plus or a minus,” Fleshner said. “Hopefully, it can be a plus, because when we are recruiting, now at least there are places for people to go. No one has to look at this city and say they can’t find a location to place a new business.”
He’s concerned about the workforce, with low unemployment rates’ effects on local business. Fleshner said he’ll work on the sorts of initiatives needed to attract new residents — and he’s hopeful that initiatives for more housing will pay dividends.
To this point, Fleshner is the only announced candidate for mayor.
Mayor Eric Jensen, in the final stretch of his third two-year term as mayor, has said he would not seek re-election in November. His decision will bring to a close a decade of public service at City Hall.
“First of all, the reason I’ve chosen to run is because the current mayor has chosen not to,” Fleshner said. “I would not have done this if he was still interested in continuing as mayor.”
City elections in Iowa are held Nov. 2. The filing period for candidates runs from Aug. 23 to Sept. 16.
Fleshner, with the mayoral announcement, won’t be standing for re-election to an at-large City Council seat. First Ward Councilman Mike Kots is not seeking re-election. Jay Norgaard is the lone announced candidate to this point in the 1st Ward. Third Ward Councilman Clay Haley is running again.
The other three members of the City Council don’t face re-election until 2023.
“I said early on that I would only run for two terms at City Council,” Fleshner said. “I wouldn’t advocate for term limits, but personally I think two terms is what I should serve, and then it is time to give someone else an opportunity.”
Fleshner said he doesn’t expect to serve as mayor for more than eight years.
“We’ve had a great progression of mayors in my lifetime,” Fleshner said.
Over the last eight years, Fleshner said the collective accomplishments of the City Council and staff also include improving water service, accelerating street repair and, while unpopular in some corners, constructing a new streets maintenance building.
“I know there’s a lot of people that have objected to that,” he said of the streets building. “But I’m pleased to do that, because I took a tour of the old one, and I know what that was like, and a lot of people that say we didn’t need something new, I’m not so sure that they walked through the old one.”
Fleshner also stressed his accessibility. He still keeps a home phone because its allows all citizens to see his phone number.
“I still do maintain a phone that a lot of people don’t,” he said. “I keep that at home. That puts me in the phone book, and that means anybody can call me if they need to.”
Twenty-two years ago, when former Mayor Ed Smith ran for office, he said the No. 1 concern he heard from residents while campaigning through Carroll was train-horn noise.
Fleshner has generally opposed spending city money to reduce train noise.
“I’ve been one of the people that has felt that money might be better spent in another direction than mitigating train-horn noise,” Fleshner said.
Fleshner is a 1975 alum of Carroll High School who went on to earn his undergraduate and pharmacy degrees from the University of Iowa. He remains an avid Hawkeye fan.
Fleshner has three children: Jessica Tunal of Annapolis, Maryland; Dr. Brian Fleshner, a dentist who lives in Carroll and practices in Audubon; and Matthew Fleshner, a pharmacist who works with his father.