SIOUX CITY -- Matthew O'Kane, a 34-year-old Sioux City native, thinks he can bring a "fresh perspective" to the City Council.
"Our city is growing younger. The data shows that we have more young people moving into the city; and we need voices that represent those younger generations," the K-12 art teacher, who is employed with the Sioux City Community School District, said during an interview at The Sioux City Journal.
O'Kane will square off against fellow first-time candidate Ike Rayford and incumbents Alex Watters and Dan Moore in the Nov. 2 general election for one of three seats on the five-member Council. He said he wants to make city government "more accessible" to people.
"Communication, I feel like, needs to be more open, but also, we need to show people how they can be involved," he said. "I think a lot of people see that as being a wall. They would like to be involved with the way the city is run, or they would like to be involved with how funding is spent, but they don't know how to get involved."
O'Kane said his strengths lie in listening, communicating and seeking out people who have differing opinions. He said everyone should be working together to accomplish the city's business and that there is "no room for red or blue at the table."
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"A lot of times, people just need a mentor or a voice. I feel like I'm ready to mentor. I'm ready to bring people into the public space; and I'm ready to get involved," he said. "My training as a teacher has really taught me to look for the positives in people's characters and choices and get them involved in positive ways. I think that that's something that we need in this city."
Being a good steward of the land is another thing that O'Kane said he would bring to public office. O'Kane, who does some "heavy gardening" and isolates his own seeds, said nature is very important to him.
"When I make choices with my property or anything that I'm involved with, one of the things that I always think about first is, how is this going to affect our environment?" he said. "We have an amazing city with lots of green space. We also have just a great historical past. We have historical buildings. We have all these beautiful spaces in town that are there for us to enjoy. We have to make sure that we're protecting them for the next generation."
Since the voters he has spoken with are concerned that their voices aren't being heard, O'Kane said he would like to see "more open public forums." He said many of those voters just don't know how to get their message across.
"I would like to do something along the lines of hosting at least a bi-weekly meeting, where council members are present and people can kind of air their grievances or talk about things that they're interested in, or we could just get more involved in community happenings and community activities," he said. "I also feel like there needs to be some transparency in that what is discussed at council meetings should be available to people in terms that they understand, so it shouldn't take any kind of degree to read through council minutes."
Making sure all Sioux Cityans are represented and have access to him, O'Kane said will be his top priority if voters decide to give him a seat on the council.
"One thing that I've seen that I really appreciate is politicians that have kind of like a weekly letter. A letter that gets sent out just letting people know this is what I've accomplished this past week. This is what I'm working on this week. This is the feedback that I've received. This is my answer to that feedback," he said. "Just a simple newsletter that can be sent out or made publicly available to people so that you can tell what is being done."
O'Kane said Sioux City's riverfront is a "very special place" and he likes the idea of having a "classic river city kind of view," however, he said he feels the city has bigger priorities to focus on, such as infrastructure improvements.
"I live on the west side. I'm on Rebecca Street. Driving down Rebecca Street, there's potholes that are older than me," he said. "There's potholes that are more than a foot deep; and we just keep shelling some blacktop and some tar into them. And, then, the next year they have to be filled again. It's not a problem that ever gets fixed. It's just one that gets patched."
Besides investing in roads, O'Kane said the city needs to start investing in "something that will have an outcome and build a brighter future for our community, tomorrow."
"If I went back in time 25 years and saw the same pothole, I would think, 'Wow, what did we do we do with this last 25 years," he said. "I think by correctly fixing the issue or replacing the sections of street that need to be replaced, we're building a better future for the kids to take over. We need to leave it better than what we found it."