Steel Wheels

Daniel Zimmerman, father of Derek Zimmerman, uses steel-wheeled tractors at Stillwater Greenhouse near Orchard.  

OSAGE | Unlike last year, Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk wasn't surprised a district court judge upheld a previous decision in a court case involving steel wheels, local Mennonite Church members and a county ordinance.

"Just in general terms, it was what I anticipated the court was going to do," Walk told the Globe Gazette by phone this past week. 

Walk was referring to a case where Derek Zimmerman, 14, of Orchard, was charged with a road protection violation and unauthorized use of metal tires on Addison Avenue near Howard County.

Magistrate Nicholas Larson ruled last June while the county's ordinance restricting steel wheels on paved roads was unconstitutional — citing freedom of religion under the First Amendment — Iowa code required Zimmerman to apply for a state permit, which is not included in Mitchell County's ordinance. 

The freedom of religion portion stems from the fact that Zimmerman is associated with the Old Order Groffdale Conference Mennonite Church, which prohibits its members from using rubber wheels. 

Walk appealed last year's decision, citing a similar case involving Mitchell County and the Iowa Supreme Court in 2012.

He told the Globe Gazette last year he was surprised at Larson's ruling, but after further consideration, he understood why Larson arrived at his decision.

"After reviewing the magistrate’s decision, and why he found it was unconstitutional, I thought the ruling was on solid ground," Walk said this past week.

District Judge Rustin Davenport stated in a ruling filed last week that he agreed with Larson's decision, determining Mitchell County's ordinance is unconstitutional, but that Zimmerman should have applied for a special permit under Iowa code.

"The existence of a conflicting county ordinance would not necessarily prevent the issuance of a permit under state law," Davenport's ruling stated. "Here there was not an effort to seek a permit, and it was not certain that no permit could be obtained."

David Kuehner, the attorney who represented Zimmerman, told the Globe Gazette that like Walk, he wasn't surprised by the court's ruling.

"If the county is really concerned about the condition of the roads, then they need to work with members of the Mennonite Community to work through that," Kuehner said by phone.

Davenport's ruling means Zimmerman still needs to pay a $20 fine, along with other court costs, for violating the state code.

Walk and Kuehner said they don't plan on appealing the district court's decision.

While Walk hoped for a different outcome, he wasn't upset about the ruling.

"Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?" he said. "I would like to see it reversed in terms of the decision regarding the state law, but I can’t say I’m surprised."

Contact Steve at 641-421-0527 or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.

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