Sunday evening’s storms blew Mallory Smith into Maquoketa Monday morning, giving her a crash course in how the city operates in critical situations.
As the city’s new property maintenance inspector, Smith said she learned more observing storm damage Monday than a formal orientation or employee handbook could ever teach her.
“It was a great opportunity to see how different facets of the city work together — city administrators, Public Works, elected officials, even the businesses and residents,” Smith said Tuesday morning.
She rode around Maquoketa with city officials inspecting the uprooted trees, felled branches, and other damage.
“I saw how everyone communicates. It turned out to be a really good training exercise to see how it all works,” Smith explained, laughing at her whirlwind
inauguration into the inner workings of Maquoketa. “Maquoketa has a ‘can-do, we got this’ attitude.”
Smith thoroughly enjoys creating and being in new positions.
“It’s irresistible to me,” she said, noting numerous programs, committees and foundations she’s founded and implemented in her 56 years.
Councilwoman Erica Barker is confident Smith is the right person for the job and can help solve some property maintenance issues around the city.
“… I knew when I heard Mallory speak at the Property Maintenance Symposium [October 2018 in Maquoketa] that Maquoketa needed someone like her to develop a program from scratch and implement it effectively,” Barker said. “We are ready to raise the bar.”
Smith, with help from city’s Property Maintenance Board and other city officials, will use city ordinances to recreate a property maintenance program for Maquoketa. City residents identified property maintenance as a citywide concern, according to a 2018 comprehensive plan survey.
Decades ago, Maquoketa paid a full-time property maintenance inspector to ensure buildings looked presentable and were safe, grass was mowed, junk was cleaned up, etc. After the inspector quit, maintenance enforcement passed to the police, public works, and the city.
As the Maquoketa City Council considered re-instating a such a program, residents opposing the program and inspector said taxpayer dollars should not pay for such efforts, while supporters said more attractive properties will draw new residents to the community.
Council members decided the city needs a property maintenance inspector and program, hiring Smith for the job and paying her $60,000 per year plus benefits.
The property maintenance program will oversee residential, commercial and industrial property, including city-owned property. Smith will enforce property maintenance violations under current city code. The job includes building permits, zoning, problematic properties/nuisances, and beautification projects.
Smith eventually will conduct the city’s rental inspections, which the city currently pays East Central Intergovernmental Association to complete. Having someone in town doing the inspections helps the city build a working relationship with property owners, including those labeled as “nuisance” properties.
“It’s not about the person, it’s about the property,” the inspector said.
She also will oversee and enforce an Entryway Corridor Maintenance Program, a new program that will focus on cleaning up property along the city’s entry corridors — the streets leading to downtown Maquoketa, including Platt and Main streets and Western Avenue, Smith said.
However, the first step is assessing Maquoketa’s needs and forward-thinking vision, Smith said.
“I have to assess where are we, why the vision exists, who the players are, get a feel for the city’s vision for Maquoketa,” she explained.
So far, Maquoketa seems to have “the usual mix” of well-maintained commercial and residential buildings as well as those that are empty or deteriorating, Smith observed during Monday’s tour.
She said she will analyze Maquoketa’s deficiencies and prioritize them by safety, the number of people impacted, conditions of buildings, and visibility.
Until June 28, Smith worked as the community development director for Columbus Junction for more than 10 years. She established an internship program, helped immigrants become citizens, established a rental housing inspection program, developed a vacant building registry, started the Keep Columbus Beautiful program, and more.
Smith graduated from Western Illinois University in 2004 with a master’s degree in community development. She volunteered with the Peace Corps in Honduras, managed and owned businesses, and ran a consulting business.
Smith’s work experience includes time as a Chamber of Commerce president, Hometown Pride Committee member, economic development director, and historic preservation commission member — all organizations she’ll be working with in Maquoketa.
“… as we continue to build our property maintenance program, Mallory’s experience will be essential in ensuring we create a sensible and comprehensive program,” said Mayor Don Schwenker.
Smith and husband Mike Mullinnix are native Iowans and bought a house in Elwood.
Although her job entails both indoor and outdoor work, Smith will have an office at Maquoketa City Hall, 201 E. Pleasant St. Stop by, call 563-652-2484, or email email@example.com.
Smith said she likes the teamwork she’s witnessed so far and the described Maquoketa as “progressive, optimistic, and enthusiastic.”
“This is work I really like doing, that and the idea of being able to re-start a [property maintenance] program here,” she said.