Steven Kovarik, 54, the new mayor of Cambridge, sits at a table in the town’s new City Center library space, and makes it very clear that it’s because of the work of a lot of others that he’s able to enjoy such nice surroundings.
“There’s a lot of people who have worked so that I now have the opportunity to come in … it’s not just about me,” he said.
The new Cambridge mayor isn’t new to the community’s government. He’s served on the Cambridge City Council for 15 years and has been a part of the city’s recent accomplishments — like the new modern Main Street facility. “I started by finishing out someone else’s term who had moved away,” Kovarik said. “There were three years left on that term (when he was appointed).” Kovarik ran for the first time in the 2005 election and took a permanent seat on the council in January of 2006.
Why get involved back when there was a vacancy? “I was asked by the previous mayor (Scott DeYoung),” he said. And Kovarik, in all honesty, said he did have a little hesitation. “Any time you’re asked about doing something as big as being on City Council, you have to contemplate that,” he said. But he said the previous mayor was good at moving people along.
“Scott is dynamic…a really nice guy that has a lot of vision,” Kovarik said. “It was a pleasure to work with him.” Kovarik said DeYoung had a strong voice for the city, which is one of the things he wants to continue in his tenure. He said he comes into the mayor’s position knowing that DeYoung is always close by, as he still lives and is active in the community. “I know he’s willing to help me.”
Also aiding in his comfort, Kovarik said, is a capable group of City Council representatives. Tricia Todd and Zach Pelz are both in the second half of their first terms on the council. They are joined by Dave Thom, an incumbent recently re-elected; Mike Macki, new at this time, but having previous council experience and Barb McBreen, who is new. “I think they’re an awesome, conscientious group of people who will do very well,” Kovarik said.
Kovarik is also happy to have a hard-working city staff in Dale Hennick, public works director; Don Erickson, part-time public works; Deb Thompson, city clerk and Library Director Janet Thorson. “They will do anything needed to be sure everything’s up and running,” he said.
Kovarik works as the manager of IT for the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State. He’s worked for the university in IT-related jobs for 19 years. He’s been with Veterinary Medicine for the past three.
Kovarik was raised in the small Iowa town of Spillville, where he worked on a lot of farms in his younger years. “When you’re younger (in smalltown rural Iowa), that’s really the only job that is available.”
A 1981 graduate of South Winneshiek High School, Kovarik headed to Northeast Iowa Community College at Calmar for a degree in construction. He worked in construction awhile, worked in a small appliance business awhile and even worked for Tombstone Pizza, doing deliveries, for awhile. After doing the delivery gig, “I thought going back to school sounded like a really good idea.”
Living in Clinton at the time, he started back to school at Clinton Community College, hoping to eventually transfer to Iowa State. When his wife, Karen — who was his high school sweetheart and married him in 1982 — was offered a job at Iowa State, he and their two sons, in grade school at the time, finished their fall semesters and then followed her to this area, moving to Cambridge right before Christmas 24 years ago.
They’ve loved the area. “We go to St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames, and we love our church,” he said. Their boys — Jeremiah (who is married to Jocelyn) and Zachariah — are also still in this area, both live in Ames.
It is clear that Kovarik gives a lot of credit for the things that are going well in Cambridge to the leader he is following into the mayor’s role. DeYoung has left him with a town that Kovarik feels has a lot of things going well. “It became very evident to me … we have a lot of things that are kind of in the pipeline and I wanted to help continue to direct those processes and that flow, to be sure we didn’t lose anything,” he said about his decision to run for mayor.
Even with lots going well, “there are always things that have to be taken care of,” he acknowledges, but the list of things that are good starts with a new water filtration system, new pumps for wells and new water tower, as one big area of improvement. “We’ve done a lot of water main work. The sewer treatment plant’s been worked on and the looping of water mains. Our infrastructure is in pretty good shape.”
The Cambridge City Center celebrated its opening on Dec. 19. “This (facility) is going to help with growing the town,” Kovarik said. And growing the town is an important challenge that lies ahead for Cambridge, which he said is landlocked by flood plain issues to the east and is also landlocked to the north.
“Growth needs to happen slowly, and needs to be done wisely,” he said, so as not to ever overtax the city’s current infrastructure and systems.
Like many other small towns, Cambridge wants to bring in small businesses and find more land for housing, Kovarik confirms.
When he’s not doing mayoral things or busy with his full-time job, Kovarik said, oddly enough, he enjoys spending his free time doing computer and technology things. “Even though I’m at home, I still love messing around with technology.” That love of technology came in handy for the city of Cambridge recently, as Kovarik did the IT work needing to be done at the new City Center himself.
Another thing Kovarik and everyone in his family enjoys is scuba diving. It’s an interest that started back in 2000, when Iowa State offered a six-week class. Kovarik and his wife did their first open water dives during a trip to the Bahamas; his sons did their first open dives in a quarry here in Iowa a few years later. Now the Kovariks love to travel to dive whenever possible. Their passion has taken them to California, Mexico and the Florida Keys. “We’ve got about 36 dives under our belt,” he said.
As the town’s mayor, Kovarik said he will strive to listen to the community and to what the residents have as their visions for the town. “This is a bedroom town and we have a lot of older residents. We want to keep taxes low and make it so people can afford to live here.”
Kovarik believes his broad shoulders can handle the job of mayor. “I’m willing to take a little hit (if needed), but I’ll keep coming back,” he assures. It’s not his job as mayor to make everyone happy, but to do what’s in the best interest of the city, he affirmed. “And frankly, the mayor is more of a directional person; it’s (on matters that come up) really up to the council to vote and decide.”