After an eight year term, Ottumwa Mayor Lazio speaks on accomplishments and changes

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 8:49 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Ottumwa will have a new mayor in January, as Mayor Tom Lazio is not running for another term.

With the mayor’s ending his term, KYOU met with him to look back over his eight years as the City’s Leader. We asked him how he’s changed since first becoming mayor in January 2014. “I feel like now I really know something about city government,” he replied, laughing.

But with two terms now under his belt, Mayor Tom Lazio is ready to move on. He announced he wouldn’t run again in August, saying he owes his wife some family time.

Over the past eight years, he’s seen the city grow and change beneath his leadership. Eight years ago, Lazio explains he wanted Ottumwa’s city government to be more efficient, accessible, and customer friendly. “We’re a $72 million dollar corporation that ought to be run like a corporation,” he says. “Making ourselves much more open and available to the public is the thing I’ve tried to do.” Lazio has tried to answer every email and phone call he’s gotten. Though he admits sometimes that’s not enough to serve the public: “I think sometimes we as city employees forget how complicated it is, and almost intimidating for the average citizen,” referring to function within a city government.

One way he says he’s succeeded in openness: with the city’s business development review committee. The Mayor set it up early in his tenure to provide local businesses the chance to meet with every city department all at once. According to the Mayor, it’s greatly boosted efficiency for local business owners. “It’s time and money for them if they don’t have to run around to three or four or five or six offices and get mixed messages. This way, everyone’s there to check each other.” Zach Community Development Director Zach Simonson has now taken over as the head of the committee.

Another success the Mayor sees - massive changes throughout Ottumwa’s downtown. Looking back, Mayor Lazio calls it a “disaster area.” He cites one way streets, boarded up windows, and loud train sirens sounding down Main Street. But over the course of his terms, Lazio has worked to support the people who can change that.

Now, Ottumwa’s downtown is full of two-lane streets, quiet zones, and a main street slowly building up traction. “People who haven;t been here [for] a while say ‘wow, what a difference’,” Lazio says. He notes the ribbon cutting last year really capped off the downtown project.

But the Mayor admits it hasn’t been a road of just victories. Sometimes things he’s supported haven’t worked out. He points to the Blackbird Construction project, which has been rolling around without much result since 2016. Mayor Lazio put his support behind it, even as the years passed without any construction. “I really jumped on board and I’ve been very supportive, but it just didn’t come to fruition,” Lazio explains. “I don’t know that I could have done anything differently, because I didn’t have any control over the fact that they got overextended and simply couldn’t follow through on their commitment.” Now, City staff are looking at a way of perhaps getting that property back under local control.

Something else he wishes had gotten done: Ottumwa’s Amtrak platform. The Mayor says it’s looked bad for years. “We had a broken up asphalt platform. It was hard to get in and out of the station…” He’s been trying to get the wheels moving on making it more attractive to visitors. “That’s kind of the window to our community. When people come from the east or west coast, and they’re coming through Ottumwa and they have a long train stop there, it’s their first glimpse of Ottumwa.”

Looking forward, we brought up several recent personnel changes throughout Ottumwa. A new superintendent, college president, City Administrator, Chief of Police, among others. Lazio notes there’s been of 17 changes of key positions recently, and is optimistic on how they’ll handle running the city in the future. “I think we have a great team in place now, and I’m ready to retire and move on to some other things.”

As for the two candidates running for his seat, the Mayor leaves them with advice - listen carefully, ask good questions, and challenge staff. “They’ve got to do that. Because I think that keeps everybody honest and working together. Lazio sees his role as mayor as “the ambassador for the city, a spokesperson for the city, and trying to influence things that will make the city a much more attractive, comfortable place to live and raise their children.”

Mayor Tom Lazio’s term ends in early January of next year. And he’s departing with optimism. “Ottumwa’s back on the move again.”

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