PELLA — For the second Pella City Council meeting in a row, Mayor Don DeWaard addressed alleged misinformation currently being spread about ongoing city projects leading up to Tuesday's local elections.
On Oct. 19, DeWaard first responded to a letter accusing GenLink, the shareholder group representing Pella Corporation, of “hand-picking candidates for mayor and city council positions.” The letter, signed by “Citizens Concerned for the Future of Pella,” claims DeWaard was elected in 2019 “courtesy of Genlink and [Stan] Van Wyk.”
Van Wyk, CEO of GenLink, addressed allegations at the Oct. 19 meeting about the shareholder group and RDP Holdings, which specifically works on development projects as part of the group. The unsigned letter distributed around town accuses GenLink and RDP Holdings of giving incentives to DeWaard, current city council members and those running for election, including Spencer Carlstone and Kyle Nelson. It also claims taxpayer money is being used for corporate profit.
DeWaard and Van Wyk say there is no validity or truth to these claims.
Development agreements that have been completed or are currently in development are with Smash Park, Lely North America, Vermeer, GenLink and RDP Holdings, among others. The developments total about $130 million in investments that include the Prairie Ridge Housing Development, South Main and the upcoming Main Street Market grocery store.
DeWaard discussed how tax increment financing or infrastructure bonding worked for each project, saying all debt or tax incentives are being paid for by newly generated taxes from each lot.
At the Nov. 1 meeting, DeWaard further challenged additional alleged misinformation about the future of the Pella Public Safety Complex and Pella Community Center.
DeWaard says an email was sent to the Pella Fire Department that claims the city plans to relocate emergency services in order to build a community center south of the Molengracht. Recently, the city purchased Second Christian Reformed Church, located behind the current public safety complex. DeWaard recognized the property as a potential location for both an expansion of the public safety complex or a potential community center, but he says these are only two of many options the council will consider in the coming months.
Friends of the Pella Community Center, organized by Pati and Arvin Van Zante, have developed renovation and preservation options for the current Pella Community Center. DeWaard says the city will explore these renovation options alongside new facility options.
DeWaard added the current council intends to fully invest in both the Pella Community Center and a proposed recreation facility, and they will be considered separately. DeWaard declared a decision would be made for both projects before the end of his term in December 2023.
To date, no formal action has been taken for any of these projects, and DeWaard says no action will be taken without first consulting groups who will be affected by the council’s decisions, along with seeking public input.
DeWaard also challenged the “Citizens Concerned for the Future of Pella” to a public debate about the groups’ claims, but said he has received no response.
“There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation going on, and it’s going on one of two ways. One way is that someone just doesn’t understand how some of these things work, and that’s not ok, because it’s our responsibility to educate the public,” DeWaard says. “The other is that it’s being told by someone that knows the truth but has decided they’d rather not tell the truth. That’s pretty disheartening to me.”