Incumbents departing as new wave of candidates seeking county office
Tama County is preparing for one of its most active elections in recent memory.
With four county offices up for election in November, Tama County voters are guaranteed to see at least three new faces in office once the election proceedings conclude later this year.
Long-time District 1 Supervisor Larry Vest recently announced his intent to retire from the board at the end of the year and to not seek another term.
In Vest’s absence, a crowded field of first-time candidates have amassed to vie for the District 1 seat. Candidates include Republicans Curt Hilmer, Maurice McWhirter, Jim Niebergall, Tiffany L. Feisel and Democrat Randie R. Brodigan.
Curt Hilmer, 57, of Dysart is a 25-year veteran employee of the Tama County Road Department. Prior to beginning work with the county, Hilmer previously worked for E.C. Concrete in Dysart. He also spent several years coaching high school wrestling and football.
“With 25 years of experience, I feel I can definitely have a positive impact with all the departments of the county, (in terms of the budget) and getting the secondary roads taken care of better.” Hilmer said. “I enjoy working with people and look forward to that.”
Maurice McWhirter, 67, is a retired U.S. Navy captain, judge and lawyer from Traer. McWhirter has also served as the chair of the Tama County Republican Central Committee in recent years.
Jim Niebergall, 55, of Buckingham is recently retired from John Deere where he worked for 29 years as an engineer, supervisor and project manager within the company’s Product Design Engineering department.
Niebergall said one of the factors that motivated him to seek county office was concerns about decisions being made by Democrats around the country.
“I am a conservative and wanted to get involved in county leadership to help ensure that Tama County remains a wonderful place to raise a family, to help support local businesses and to continue to improve the quality of life in the county,” Niebergall said. “After I retired, I found time to pay attention to what is happening in other parts of the US and even some other counties within Iowa. I do not agree with the decisions made and the actions taken by Democrat leadership across the US. This compelled me to get off the sofa and get involved to help ensure that common sense leadership in Tama County continues after Larry Vest retires from office.”
Tiffany L. Feisel, 46, works in the service industry as a server and bartender at La Terraza Mexican Grill in Traer and is currently studying full-time at Marshalltown Community College to become a Certified Medical Assistant.
Feisel lives in Traer and is originally from rural Chelsea near what is known as the Vining Alps. She is the only candidate in the field to have run for or been elected to public office, previously serving on the North Tama Board of Education from 2011 to 2019, including two years as the board president.
“I feel I have made an investment in Tama County as a whole having been raised in the southern part of Tama County and living currently in the northern part of Tama County,” Feisel said. “I want to represent District 1 from top to bottom and is being equally run from north to south. I feel as a supervisor it is my job, along with fellow supervisors to work together as a team to be engaged, face challenges and grow within our districts and ultimately as a county as a whole.”
The four Republican supervisor candidates will face off in the June 2 primary election that will be decided by District 1 voters in Traer, Dysart, Clutier, Chelsea, Elberon and Vining, their surrounding townships as well as Buckingham, Geneseo, Carroll and part of Highland Township.
The winner of the GOP primary will be on the general election ballot in November to run against the presumptive Democratic nominee, Randie R. Brodigan.
Brodigan, 65, of Dysart is the lone Democrat running in the field of five supervisor candidates. Brodigan works for the Tama County Road Department and said he plans to retire in July.
When asked why he decided to run for office in 2022, Brodigan said, “I think I can bring some fresh ideas to the table.”
Vest leaves legacy
Supervisor Larry Vest has been with the county board since 1994. He recalls first being exposed to the county supervisor’s office as a high schooler attending the annual Government Day events the county held for many years.
Vest, who made his career as a farmer around the rural Traer and Dinsdale area, won election to the office in 1994 but came to the job a month early after the death of his predecessor, Ferd Kvidera.
Much has transpired in the county over the nearly three decade tenure Vest has been in office, though he noted a few projects and efforts that he was most proud to be a part of.
In the early 2000s, Vest was a member of the board that helped develop the 28E agreement between the local municipal governments and the county government to establish the Tama County Economic Development office and the commission that oversees its work.
Other notable projects that Vest had a hand in were the reconstituting of the county zoning ordinances and a statewide committee that changed the distribution formula for the state road use tax fund in the early 2000s from a needs-based system to a more equitable method that brought more funding to counties throughout the state.
“I’m going to miss it, there’s no doubt about it,” Vest said. “But they’ll be absolutely fine here in the years to come. We have good department heads at the county and folks in Tama County are just awesome to work with. I have no doubt the future is bright.”
Vest said his decision to retire was driven mostly by the redistricting process that broadened District 1 to encompass the entire eastern swath of the county from Buckingham down to Chelsea.
Earlier in the year he said he had plans to run for another term, but after taking out the petition paperwork, his decision changed once he considered the level of campaigning and outreach that would be required
“I know what it takes to run an election right,” Vest said. “It’s knocking on a lot of doors and visiting with people all over the district. And I was at a point where I didn’t need that.”
His advice for the next person to take on the supervisor responsibility is to be open, accessible and to be willing to work with a wide group of people.
Vest plans on endorsing fellow Republican Jim Niebergall in the primary election.
“He’s retired but he’s also at a point in his life where he still has the energy to get out and do something other than sit in a rocking chair,” Vest said of Niebergall.
Once Vest’s term is complete later this year, he will have served 28 years on the board of supervisors, a tenure that is among some of the longest in the state.
Treasurer, recorder and attorney
Although there appear to be no contests shaping up for the county treasurer, recorder or county attorney races this year, voters still will have two new names to consider when they head to the polls.
Amelia Kemper will be the sole candidate running for the county recorder office, while Amanda Kriegel will seek election for the treasurer’s post.
Kemper, 28, of Toledo has worked for Kids Corner Daycare in Toledo for nine years and has been serving as the center’s director since 2017. She is running for office under the Republican party.
“I decided to run for office in 2022 because for the past nine years I’ve enjoyed giving back to the Tama-Toledo community,” Kemper said. “The qualities I have gained from my leadership role make me an ideal candidate for the recorder position. As a lifelong Tama County resident, I am looking forward to broadening my service countywide.”
Amanda Kriegel, 28, of Tama was the lone candidate to file for election to the treasurer’s office after Yuska announced her resignation last week to take a new job as the city clerk for the city of Ankeny later this month.
Kriegel, who is originally from Chelsea and is running as a Republican, has spent her career working in and around public finance. She currently works for the Iowa Veteran’s Home in the Resident Finance department and has past experience working with budgets and accounting with Poweshiek County Community Services. She said when she heard the current treasurer was moving on from the office that it was an opportunity she couldn’t resist.
“I’ve been interested in working for the county for years,” Kriegel said. “I am excited to share my knowledge and experience at the county level. Tama County is a great place to raise a family. I graduated from South Tama County High School, and have the honor of sending my kids through the same school system. I believe as a community we have a lot to offer and am thankful to be a part of it.”
The board of supervisors plan to appoint an interim treasurer on April 12 during a special board meeting. Kriegel has expressed interest in serving as the interim treasurer. If appointed, her name would also be on the ballot in November for election to a four-year term starting in December.
A similar process will be undertaken for the recorder’s office later in the year as Kupka is not set to retire until July.
On March 29 the supervisors approved creating a temporary full-time position in the recorder’s office that would be in effect from May 2 until Kupka’s retirement in July.
The temporary staff member would train under Kupka for two months and then the board would appoint an interim recorder once Kupka departs to serve from July through the election in the fall.
Incumbent Republican Brent D. Heeren of Toledo was the lone candidate to file for the county attorney office this year after facing a spirited challenge from Democrat Michael Marquess in 2018.
Heeren will be seeking his 11th four-year term in office and according to a November 2021 survey by the Iowa County Attorneys Association, he would be the longest-serving county attorney in the state should he be reelected later this year.
Currently, Fayette County Attorney W. Wayne Saur holds the distinction with 42 years of service but reporting this week from the Oelwein Daily Register indicates Saur will not be seeking reelection.
Heeren’s tenure has paralleled the historic run by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller who is now the longest-serving state attorney general in the country with 38 years of service.