Olympic lessons

ap photo Brittany Bowe and John Shuster, of the United States, lead their team in during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, in Beijing.

Sports analogies are common and often overused, so I’ll try to avoid them in future columns, just not this one. The improbable story of the Cincinnati Bengals or the realization of potential with Matthew Stafford has made for some great stories and comparisons this past week. I am not going there, though. Rather, I am intrigued by everything Team USA and the Winter Olympics.

While I do not have deep knowledge about many of the events in competition, it’s the Olympic spirit and credo that comes to mind — pursuit of excellence, leading courageously, serving others, and fostering belonging. I suspect you may be wondering how I will be tying this to my impressions of the first month of being on the Marshalltown city council, but there is one more layer that is too rich to overlook. The start of the Olympics, in China, coinciding with the Chinese New Year has given me a good reason to learn about the Year of the Tiger. Based on my research, the tiger at a very general level represents courage, competitiveness and being ready for a challenge. In a year where the foundation of the Olympic games and the zodiac animal symbolism are largely synonymous, it seems only fitting that our city could strive for similar standards.

I found myself fully captivated by mixed doubles curling on Wednesday night. Each team is looking to outscore their opponent by sliding 42-pound granite stones on ice the length of a basketball court into a precise location in the scoring zone called the house — all of this was completely unknown to me before watching.

What I found so fascinating was hearing the strategy discussions amongst the team members before each turn. Not only were they deciding where to place their current stone, some of their consideration was also in anticipating the next couple of throws to position themselves to win the current end, which is viewed like an inning in baseball — deciding the immediate with an eye on the future. Human error and the undetermined action of the opponent heightened my anticipation of each delivery.

From a city council perspective, the month of January was largely dedicated to the annual budgeting process. As highlighted during each of our three meetings, we find ourselves navigating another projected deficit for fiscal year 2023. On the surface, the solution is quite simple: reduce expenditures. The causes become very nuanced and not always within our control. A corrective one-time measure in expenses gets us through the immediate need but puts us in a challenging position the next time around.

Much like the curlers, we are required to focus on the immediate need of a balanced budget, maximizing the impact of taxpayer dollars, working to anticipate forces outside our control, while driving towards goals outlined in our three to five-year plan. We have strategized for the immediate horizon and, like the curler’s next delivery, are awaiting outcomes of proposed legislative changes like an opponent’s throw and collaborating on where we need to position ourselves to win the end. This is not to trivialize the seriousness of the situation, but lacking responsiveness to the immediate needs nor staying focused on the future will lead to unfavorable outcomes.

What do we need to do then? Quite simply, grow. Some of the structural changes in recent tax laws have presented challenges to a community like Marshalltown with stagnant growth. The decline in residential rollback coupled with increasing costs for example are outpacing any increases in property valuations. Providing the same level of services year over year is becoming unsustainable.

Recall the Year of the Tiger, and the Olympic motto. To embrace challenges and strive for excellence, that is where our focus needs to be. We have strong examples of public/private partnerships, detailed master plans, grant awards validating visioning efforts, rebuilding and reinvestment projects occurring throughout the community – all signaling growth and positive momentum. We have endured the challenges of the past few years and still have plenty of work ahead of us, however, with the pride we all share, the extremely qualified city leaders, strong business leadership and active citizens and groups, I really like our chances.

Curling called to me this week, but I see the biathlon on the schedule for next. It will be fun to see what analogies I learn from that event. Go Team USA!


Barry Kell is an At-Large Marshalltown City Councilor.


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