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Six seeking NL council seats

Introducing Brent Smith, Matthew Eckhardt, Mike Nichols, Bryan Wayson, RaQuishia Harrington and Chris Hoffman

NORTH LIBERTY– Three incumbents will face two challengers on the Tuesday, Nov. 5, election ballot in North Liberty for three city council seats. RaQuishia Harrington, Chris Hoffman and Brent Smith will defend their four-year terms against challengers Matthew Eckhardt and Michael Nicholls. Harrington and Smith are new to the council with Harrington winning a special election in March to fill the vacancy left by Jim Sayre (who moved out of state) while Smith was appointed by the council in May to replace Jennifer Goings (who also has left the area).
Brian Wayson, a previous council member, is running unopposed for an open two-year term.
All candidates were sent a series of questions, and their responses are printed below.
Brent Smith is a battalion chief/paramedic for the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. He and his wife Amanda have lived in North Liberty for 16 years, and they have an 11-year old son, Carter. Smith is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with a BA degree in communications study, and a minor in childhood psychology. He received his paramedic specialist certification from the University of Iowa.
“I have been in the fire service for 20 years. I have worked for Cedar Rapids Fire for 16 years rising the ranks from firefighter, to captain and currently am a battalion chief. Being a civil servant is in my blood. I enjoy serving the public and solving complex emergency problems to help save lives and property,” he said. In addition, Smith has been the Arlington Ridge Homeowners Association president for 10 years, and has served on the North Liberty Porchfest planning committee for the past four years. He has also coached little league baseball in North Liberty. “I was appointed to North Liberty City Council after a 4 to 0 vote in favor of my appointment back in July of this year. I am running for a full 4-year term in the Nov. 5 election.”
Matthew Eckhardt is the owner/operator of PlayOps, LLC, and moved to North Liberty 12 years ago after accepting a position with the City of Iowa City as the aquatics program supervisor for the recreation department.
“My work was focused on creating a safe, inclusive and fun environment. While there I worked to remove barriers for all users. Starting a scholarship program, we provided funds for youth to participate in swim lessons at no charge. As a local business owner my company currently oversees daily operations for North Liberty
Coralville Baseball Softball.”
Eckhardt is also a substitute teacher and coach in the Iowa City Community School District, and for several years he chaired the North Liberty Parks and Recreation Commission. He currently occupies a chair on the Iowa Foundation for Parks and Recreation, an agency that supports recreation projects and services. He is the father of two. “My wife and I most enjoy time with family and friends. We are regulars at local sporting events and church outings.”
Mike Nicholls is currently semi-retired and has lived in North Liberty for the past 15 years ago. Thirteen years ago he started a business called “Dental Handpiece Repair Guy,” which served local dentists with on-site repairs of the various tools they use (“handpieces”) out of a van. “I was able to grow with an eBay store and website to a point I no longer need the van,” he said. “They now mail directly to me. I have customers all over the US and worldwide.” Nicholls is a graduate of Mid-Prairie High School in Wellman and attended Area 10 Community College (now Kirkwood).
***Note*** Nicholls sent in answers to a League of Women Voters questionnaire, which have been adapted, but not altered, to the questions the Leader sent out.
Bryan Wayson and his wife Sheila have lived in North Liberty since 1990 and are both native Iowans. “I call Independence my hometown and Sheila is from Fort Dodge,” he said. The couple has three children who all graduated from Clear Creek Amana High School. He is the adult cystic fibrosis coordinator, and a hospitalist nurse practitioner in pulmonary/critical care at the University of Iowa (UI) Hospital. Sheila also works for UI Healthcare in Diabetes Education.

Harrington is the special & underserved populations programs supervisor with the City of Iowa City, and has resided in North Liberty with her husband Willie, and their three children, T’Shailyn, JaQuoi, and Zy’Ail for 12 years. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Iowa with an emphasis in therapeutic recreation, and has served the community for several years in human services. “I am a wife, mother and community advocate with a passion and desire to help the community at large. My background professionally and personally has given me the opportunity to bring community leaders and diverse community members together on many big topic issues.” She has been on the council since March of 2019 and had previously served on the parks and recreation commission. “You can find me often volunteering through my church, serving on the boards for several non-profits and mentoring area youth.”
Hoffman has been a member of the city council since 2007 and has spent a quarter of his life in service to the City of North Liberty. Currently he is Vice President, Solar PV Sales with North Liberty-based Moxie Solar. He was the fifth employee hired into Moxie, and helped the company grow to over 120 employees today. He attended Tipton schools until sixth grade when his family moved off of their farm. He graduated from the Midland School District (Jones County), and attended Iowa State University where he earned a BS degree in finance with a minor in economics.
“After college I moved to the Washington, D.C., area where I met my wife, Valerie (Coach Val). I lived within a mile of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and dodged the “DC Sniper” in 2002. We moved to North Liberty on Halloween Day, 2002.”
The Hoffmans have two daughters; a seventh-grader at North Central Junior High, and a third-grader at Grant Elementary. “I volunteer in their (elementary) classrooms weekly during the school year, and also work with the North Liberty Optimist Club for Avenue of Flags as well as the Friends of Coralville Lake.”

Why are you running for election to the city council? If an incumbent, why are you seeking reelection?
Smith — “First of all I am running for re-election because we have a unique opportunity to help shape the future of our growing public safety agencies. This is the perfect time to elect someone who fully understands what it takes to reduce turn out times, reduce response times and what tools both fire and police need.
Second, I am running because we need a five and 10-year developmental strategic plan for both residential and business growth. I will use my experience in strategic planning to assist in creation of this plan. I have already begun this work by voting in favor of and participating in the North Liberty visioning project.
Lastly, I am running because we need stability on council. We have seen our share of folks leaving in the middle of their terms. I commit to fulfilling the full four years of this term and beyond. I encourage you to go to our city website and watch past council meetings to see for yourself how I come prepared and how I vote on the issues. When I make a decision, it comes from time spent understanding the issues, listening to constituents and understanding how my vote will affect things today and in the future.”
Eckhardt — “Public service has always been at the core of my pursuits. From an early age I have gravitated toward helping others. My professional life includes non-profit work and administrative municipal employment. When deciding to start my own company the main goal was finding a way to better serve our local community turning passion into a profession. Our first client, NLCBS, serves over 2,000 local youth annually. My hope is to take that to the next level by earning a spot on city council.”
Nicholls — “What is motivating me to run for city council is, I want to give back to this great city. I want to share my abilities of common sense and truth that I was born with and have used my entire life.”
Wayson — “I am running for election to the North Liberty City Council for several reasons. First, there are several needed infrastructure projects that I feel my experience will be helpful in ensuring completion. Second, I want to promote continued development of City parks and recreation facilities, a functional transit assistance program, and continued targeted funding of groups/agencies that work to meet the social service needs of citizens. Third, my experience on council and as a longtime resident will be helpful in moving North Liberty forward and promoting the city as a great place to live and do business. I would also like to continue to work with other elected officials in maintaining North Liberty’s excellent financial status.”
Harrington — “My decision to run for re-election to city council is because I strongly believe that having unique perspectives that reflect our growing and diverse community is important. I will work diligently to offer a broader spectrum of understanding to ensure when decisions are made at the council table, they’re a reflection of the entire community. I am committed to bringing a fresh, independent perspective and to help ensure that opportunities that are created and are enjoyable align with the concerns I share and hear from community members and others like me, the young and old at heart. I am always thoughtful, transparent and honest in decision-making processes. I see this role as a natural progression from my past volunteer and professional work in city government.”
Hoffman — “I first ran for city council in 2007 because I felt the challenges our growing city were facing were not being fully addressed by the then-current council. Each year since, and through two more elections, growth continues to be the driving topic of conversation at the council table.
Our work as a city has transformed from playing catch up to that growth, to planning for what we’d like it to become. We’ve welcomed thousands of new residents and dozens of new businesses during that time.
I think my biggest contribution to city government is connecting ideas to solutions. I’ve learned that being on council isn’t about having all of the ideas but rather helping staff, residents and businesses succeed by making government work for them. Budgeting, zoning, visioning and listening are a few examples of the ways we’ve made North Liberty what you know today.
Growth is challenging but obviously enviable. Long-time residents of North Liberty will tell you stories of challenges and difficulties as well as successes and excitement. I think I’ve been able to be a voice of measured, and studied, perspective as we continue to push ourselves into the future.”

What skills, experience, and background do you bring to the council?
Smith — “I have worked in the public sector for over 20 years. I lead a team of 35 firefighters daily within my battalion. As an incident commander, I make difficult decisions every day that affect the lives of our citizens we serve. My background allows me to work at a high level of customer service, teamwork and have a goal-oriented approach. After my appointment to council back in July, I have had the ability to make immediate contributions to council using my organizational, networking and leadership skills.
I have had a unique experience that no other candidate in our race has had that gives me a unique perspective. In the summer of 2013, I worked for the NL parks department as a seasonal employee. This unique opportunity has allowed me to see, from the inside, how our individual departments work. I have seen the collaboration and teamwork between departments. I have seen the dedication our city employees have to their work by being creative to do more with less. This experience has allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of our city and also shown me where improvements can be made.”
Eckhardt — “Working for the City of Iowa City for the 11 years has provided a unique insight on the ins and outs of local government. There I established a swim lesson scholarship fund designed to eliminate the financial barrier, taking one more step in the overall goal, teaching every child to swim. The annual budget for the department was significant in size overseeing three facilities and over 70 part-time staff.
For several years I chaired the Parks and Recreation Commission for the City of North Liberty. Currently I occupy a seat on the Iowa Foundation for Parks and Recreation. An organization providing financial support for parks and recreation initiatives/ projects across the state. My experience in local government, non-profit management and state level foundations makes me an ideal fit for city council.”
Nicholls — “I learned to be a good listener and will only act when all the information is completely clear to me and will benefit the great citizens of this community. I believe that as a council member it is my responsibility to listen to the community. I would like to establish a listening forum, where council members would go out into the community and sit in on groups like the Optimist Club, church groups, etc. and find out what their needs are and report back to the city council.”
Wayson — “I feel I have some strengths that are useful for city councilors. First, I have several years’ prior experience on the city council. I have a good working relationship with city staff. I have an understanding of how the city operates. I also am aware of anticipated upcoming municipal needs. Second, as a councilor I have had the opportunity to work with other elected officials in Johnson County while serving on the Emergency Management Commission and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Third, my long residency in North Liberty gives me a unique perspective of how the city has grown, including the positive and problematic. This sense of history in helpful in repeating past mistakes. Finally, I am used to working with a team to manage complex issues. Teamwork and consensus building is very important as the city council works through municipal issues.”
Harrington — “Community involvement is something I value deeply, and it is important to me that I continue to play a positive role in strengthening our community as well. My experience of working in non-profit has provided me an insight to working with social services. I have had the pleasure developing initiatives from a grass roots approach that has brought groups from all backgrounds to the table to work on addressing issues and reaching common goals. During my time serving on boards and committees, I have learned a lot about strategic planning, overseeing budgets and thoughtfully setting measurable goals and outcome.
I have served on the Board of Habitat for Humanity, Juvenile Justice Youth Development, the Iowa Children’s Museum, Sankofa Outreach Connection and formerly the North Liberty Parks and Recreation Commission. My employment with the City of Iowa City gives me a true advantage as to how municipalities work in our communities and how each decision that is made impacts the lives of its residents. My day to day work includes providing opportunities for underserved groups, including youth and individuals with disabilities. Ensuring that opportunities are accessible, fulfilling and without limits to all.”
Hoffman — “An open mind and a willingness to work toward a shared purpose are critical to the success of any council. If you’ve watched North Liberty city council proceedings over the past five years, you will have seen me sacrifice my personal goals for the benefit of the city and our council.
I am willing to try new approaches in solving for the challenges we will face as a city. I work with solar energy technology every day and have done so for nearly six years. I know how important it is, then, to help others understand how something works and how it will benefit them.
Importantly, I use that approach when connecting residents/businesses with city services or finding a solution to their issues. A city councilor is a conduit between residents/business and our city staff.
I have developed trusting relationships and shared purposes with both our community and staff and will continue to help the city to grow and improve each day. I believe my experience on city council and my work inside a local business uniquely positions me to continue to be a trusted voice for our city, our residents, our businesses and our community.”

What do you see as the greatest challenge, or challenges, facing the City of North Liberty?
Smith — “Due to the rapid growth of our town over the past few years, our city council has had no choice but to be reactive in meeting the needs of that growth. Infrastructure expansion has been the top of everyone’s list as we had to pave new roads, put in trunk systems for water and sewer to the new high school and provide services to new developments.
Now it’s time to look ahead and change our focus to being proactive. Now more than ever, we need a focused and detailed developmental strategic plan that will meet the needs of our residents and businesses alike. Being able to show on a map what we as citizens want to see in the Forevergreen Road expansion that is coming, to what businesses need to help grow their current businesses. This five and 10-year blue print must be started soon to help guide our council for future allocations and decisions.”
Eckhardt — “North Liberty has experienced significant growth over the last decade. City staff and council have done an excellent job building infrastructure. This sort of work takes time and significant investment. We have reached a point where we can start to turn our focus on social programming and services. As the population grows so does the need for recreation services, park/ green space and social services. While a large part of our demographic is young families that must be taken care of we cannot ignore the need for other populations as well including active adults.”
Nicholls — “I think that one way to help with the work shortage is to expand small business that can offer well-paying jobs, much like the type of service jobs like the type of business that I started.”
Wayson — “I feel the biggest challenge facing North Liberty at the current time will be the budget. North Liberty has a stable tax levy rate and strong fund balances for the last several years. This has allowed the City to continue to expand services to residents and fund infrastructure improvements but if the State Legislature continues to limit funding streams for municipalities this will begin to affect the services and improvements that can be provided by North Liberty.”
Harrington — “North Liberty needs to ensure that thoughtful and deliberate opportunities are provided in order to meet the rapid growth of our citizens. Transparency and diversity of ideas will be important for successful decision making in meeting the wants and needs of our citizens.
In addition to drawing large and small businesses to our area, affordable housing and transportation are at the top of the list. Having a variety of housing options and accessible options in order to frequent new businesses, schools and workplaces, will encourage individuals and families to want to live, work and play here. Continued work on a successful transit program for residents with limited transportation means is necessary.
Willingness to reassess programming options is something I am passionate about. In order to continue to draw in more businesses and truly be an inclusive, livable and desirable community for all stages in life these must be addressed and resolved.”
Hoffman — “Honestly, I believe the biggest challenge we will face as a city is the one we have been working with for over a decade now… growth. Growth challenges today, though, are not the same challenges we had 12 years ago.
For example, we will need to provide for more fire department service coverage in the years to come. We will do so, most likely, with an additional location and expanded staff.
We will also need to continue to address the cost of housing/living in North Liberty. Providing as much diversity in housing options as possible will be critical to the long-term health of our city. We must also continue to provide a high level of service to our residents while minimizing needed increases in taxes/fees.
We will continue to build new homes, add more streets, provide more services, and become what we envision for ourselves. Getting there, though, takes all of us working together and listening to the body of residents and businesses to see it through. We will continue to work alongside our school districts, our neighboring cities, and the larger Johnson County community to be the leader and resource we are known to be today.”

What would be your proposed solution, and as one voice on the council, how would you garner support?
Smith — “The great thing about our current council is we have recognized this need for planning and have all voted in favor of, and participated in, the North Liberty Visioning project. We have already begun the process of gathering public input into what North Liberty means to them. Our “Spark” event that was held recently, brought out some absolutely fantastic ideas of what projects could be tackled in the next few years.
As only one voice on council I will use my community network to build support for and get feedback into our planning process. I have already had discussions and gotten buy in from some of the current council to develop this strategic plan. I will dedicate to holding citizen and business forums to take input on what we want to see come to North Liberty. I will work with our planning office and planning and zoning commission to assure zoning alignment. This is one of the factors that drove me to want to serve on council. I am excited to continue the work I have already begun since my appointment in July, to assist you the residents, in developing OUR North Liberty Vision.”
Eckhardt — “Developing a comprehensive recreation master plan that incorporates
both parks and recreation services is crucial to developing effective programming. At this time I feel its necessary to acquire, through cost-effective measures, city data that can be weighed against national standards to ensure our systems are adequate. This may require hiring an outside contractor to retrieve and analyze this data and in-turn work with council and city staff to develop and execution plan.”
Nicholls — “I would help promote a healthy business environment by knowing what the community needs from the listening forms that come in from council members. Then make recommendations to small business that could be created, such as healthy eating, tutoring children with their schoolwork, breaking addictions, mentoring seniors. Whatever the citizens feel is needed in their community.”
Wayson — “As a Councilor I would work with the other elected officials and City Staff to continue a conservative fiscal policy while working to promote both residential and commercial growth to increase the tax base. Promoting commercial development in the city would be major focus since it can have a larger impact on the tax base. Identifying problems then being committed to finding a consensus-based solution is how I believe the council best functions.”
Harrington — “I would like to see engagement with the community year-round from our city leadership. I believe city leadership can be more welcoming to new businesses and embrace innovative partnerships with local resources to reenergize our overall future city planning. I will work tirelessly to bring our collective goals to fruition and make sure to share information to individuals and families new to North Liberty.
With forward-thinking, collaborative and passionate services I believe our leadership will be open to reassessing our approaches to ensure our community is the best it can be.”
Hoffman — “Just as I have done for the past 12 years, I recognize that I am but one voice in the conversation. I will continue, then, to champion those ideas, projects and people that will allow us to be of most service and benefit to our city.
Doing the most good for our city is ultimately the best I can hope for as a city councilor. If my ideas are worthy of consideration, others will recognize their worth as well. I tend not to push my ideas onto others but rather understand how they can help answer a question or issue we face.
I have been most effective in helping our city by working alongside, and not against, our city staff, fellow councilors, residents and businesses. All of the work we do, and the solutions we offer, must come from a shared sense of purpose and outcome.
I will continue to link good ideas with solutions they seek. Those ideas very rarely come from me exclusively but instead from a collaboration of many people or organizations working together. The many voices of our community are what is most needed as we move forward as a city.”

What is your assessment of the state of the City of North Liberty overall, and how do you think you can benefit it by being on the council?
Smith — “The current state of North Liberty is strong, vibrant, growing and welcoming. What a great time to be a resident of North Liberty! Our town has seen the addition of a new high school, new elementary schools, new interchange on I-380, new businesses too many to list and currently building a new police station. Whether you are a Clipper or a Lightening Bolt, North Liberty has been able to find an identity in our supported schools and it is evident from the blue and purple apparel found throughout our community.
I am proud of our very strong bond rating that has allowed us to borrow money at a much-reduced interest rate. This strong financial management has yielded more than $1million in taxpayer savings. We have a strong reserve and have plans of expanding our parks, trails, fire department and continuing our support of community service partners.
I will continue my commitment of strong financial management of your tax dollars, building on the successes we have produced and working hard to better serve our citizens in every way we can as a city. Please join me at facebook.com/bsmith4nl to learn more about me and help me build the North Liberty you envision for you and your family.”
Eckhardt — “North Liberty is an amazing place to live. We can access the amenities of a larger community yet maintain the feel of a small-town Iowa. It’s important to maintain that balance as we continue to grow. The steps we take in the next few years will be crucial and we must take great care as we progress. My experience in city government partnered with my love of community service will prove beneficial on council.
Thank you and please remember to vote this Nov. 5!”
Nicholls — “I love the small-town atmosphere and the people are open and friendly.”
Wayson — “North Liberty is a great place to live. In the time I have lived here it has grown into a large city but still has a sense of community. It is in also good shape financially but will face some challenges in the future. Much of my previous time on Council was spent working dealing with issues associated with rapid growth but now many of these problems have been resolved. Now is the time where North Liberty can be more involved in shaping how the Creative Corridor develops and in recruiting new business to the City. In the past I worked very hard to be prepared for meetings and as much as possible tried to help develop consensus when working out solutions to problems. I feel I have the experience and I am motivated to help North Liberty move into the future and continue to be a great place to live.”
Harrington — “We have a strong sense of community for those who want to call North Liberty home. We are close to defining how we want to be viewed by the rest of the corridor. North Liberty has been voted one of the best places to live in Iowa. Our town values sustainable growth: strong schools, safe roads, trails and neighborhoods. By leaning on and learning from each other and leveraging our growth and resources. I want to be a part of shaping our identity. I believe in working alongside our neighbors to uncover and address the gaps in our community for services and celebrating our successes will ensure we manage our growth strategically.”
Hoffman — “As the longest-serving member of the North Liberty City Council, I am both humbled and excited by where we are as a city today. I believe my experience and relationships with staff, residents and businesses, along with the surrounding communities will serve our city well in the next four years.
Experience and relationships are important in local government. I know how decisions were made, and the challenges we faced along the way. With that information, then, I can help newer members of council be more effective and efficient in our service to the city.
Most importantly though, I love this city. I love the people and businesses that make up North Liberty, and want them to succeed. I love the community we are, and what we represent to so many that call North Liberty home.
Thank you for allowing me to serve and represent this great city for the past 12 years. I hope to have earned your trust and support for another 12 years!”