Melbourne mom pushes for tornado sirens

MELBOURNE – Athena Valdez doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers, especially when she thinks about improving the safety of her town for her two young sons.

Athena, the mother of Luis, 7, and Christopher, 7 months, and wife to Victor Valdez, has been fighting for more than a year to get the town of Melbourne to install a tornado siren.

“The number one reason it means a lot to me is all the children we have in this community,” Valdez said. “You can’t put a price on a life.”

She said she has been met with resistance from city leaders time and time again who say a siren is too expensive. Valdez said she even had another town offer to donate a used siren to them but the city did not want to pay for it to be installed.

Melbourne Mayor Stanley Randall did not return a call to the Times-Republican for this story.

Since the city hasn’t taken up the cause, Valdez has taken her fight to the state level. She has worked with Rep. Dan Kelley, D-Newton, to get a bill introduced that would require towns to have warning systems and use grant money from a homeland security fund to pay for them. The bill did not make it out of committee in time to be debated this session, but Valdez and Kelley hope to get it back into the House next year.

Kelley said he feels strongly that residents in the rural communities in the state deserve this safety measure.

“I’m concerned for the safety of Iowans in rural communities,” Kelley said. “Some are not alerted when a storm is coming.”

Valdez has also been in contact with Sen. Steve Sodders, D-State Center. Sodders said he is in favor of the bill if something similar would land in the Senate as long as the money is there. He would not be in favor of it if the bill mandates that cities have to install sirens without the funding in place.

“I’d certainly look at it,” Sodders said. “It’s important to keep people safe.”

Valdez said she will continue to do what it takes to get a siren in her town and also wants to help other small towns get sirens for their safety.

“I won’t go down without a fight,” she said. “This is important to me.”