SIOUX CITY | If Kayla Jabre were mayor of Sioux City, the Mater Dei Nativity Center seventh grader said she'd advocate for more walkways and bigger fines for litterbugs and, more creatively, attract a restaurant that sold nothing but chocolate.
"I know there's a restaurant like that in New York City," the 12-year-old said. "Sioux City could have one as well."
Kayla was one of the 36 students in teacher Andrea Bengford's English class participating in Iowa League of Cities' annual "If I Were Mayor" essay writing contest.
Open to seventh graders across Iowa, the contest provided students with the chance to step into the shoes of their mayor. A winning essay will be chosen in each of the state's four congressional districts, with the writer receiving a $250 college scholarship. A grand prize winner, chosen to represent the state, will pick up a $500 scholarship to be used towards college.
"We've participated in the contest for the past six years," Bengford explained. "But this is the first year that we've invited the mayor of Sioux City to hear what our kids have to say."
Sure enough, Mayor Bob Scott listened Thursday to the top eight essays chosen by Bishop Heelan Catholic School staff members.
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For instance, Scott heard from an essay written by John Paul O'Connor, a 13-year-old who didn't like it when city projects would overlap.
"If I were mayor, I'd make sure that one project would be completely finished before the next one can be started," he said, reading his essay inside of the school library.
Indeed, John Paul even came up with a mathematical formula in which to divvy up his proposed city budget.
"I'd devote 10 percent of the budget to road work, 49 percent to go towards starting projects and 41 percent to go towards finishing existing projects," he said, earnestly checking his figures over again.
Complimenting the students on their suggestions, Scott said he was impressed that several of them recommended repurposing old downtown buildings to be used in new ways, while other students spoke of the need for more nature trails and green space.
"Those suggestions all call for economic development," Scott explained to the students. "To me, economic development is a quality of life issue. If a city offers more recreational opportunities, young people will stick around for a longer period of time.
While John Paul O'Connor wouldn't mind becoming mayor of Sioux City, it isn't currently in his long term plans.
"I'd rather go into engineering," he said.
Likewise, Kayla Jabre isn't interested in city politics either.
"When I grow up, I want to go into the military," she explained. "That way, I can see the world."
After hearing about the 250-pages of City Council-related reading material Scott must read each week, Kayla is even more certain she doesn't want to become mayor.
"No, that's way too much homework for me," she said, shaking her head.