MASON CITY | A former employee of the Cerro Gordo County Treasurer's office who sued the office for illegal retaliation and termination is now running against current treasurer Patricia Wright.
Natasha Lewerke, a former deputy treasurer, was placed on administrative leave in July 2015 and fired in January 2016. According to court records, Lewerke dropped her lawsuit against the county in September of last year.
Lewerke, a Republican, said Monday her decision to drop the lawsuit was to focus on running for treasurer. She currently works in the Department of Transportation, and believes this experience outside the office would lead to improvements inside it, specifically within titles for motor vehicles.
She added she was confident in her chances in winning the lawsuit, but that she wanted to use her energy and time to focus on her campaign this year.
"The lawsuit continued to be drug out and it was most important for me to be able to run for this position," Lewerke said. "Pursuing my dream to be treasurer is much bigger than any lawsuit."
Lewerke's dismissal stems from a state audit which showed a shortfall in nearly $284,000 of uncollected taxes.
That audit determined policies and procedures for recording vehicle registrations and title transactions did not follow state guidelines.
"Based on the DOT's calculation, a dealership and a company performing upfitting avoided paying approximately $283,867.50 in first-time registration fees and use tax," a report from State Auditor Mary Mosiman stated in June 2016.
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Lewerke then filed a lawsuit against Cerro Gordo County in September 2016. It claimed that Wright had retailated against Lewerke for "reporting potential fraudulent practices to the Cerro Gordo County Treasurer violated the public policy of the State of Iowa."
That lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice September of last year.
Wright, a Democrat, said last June the issue was that money should have been received, and not a misuse of funds coming in and out of her office.
"I guess if she dropped the lawsuit, maybe there was no justification in filing the lawsuit in the first place," Wright said about the lawsuit against her office. "Her attorneys were the ones to call about it when she dropped it."
Wright added she's not sure why the lawsuit was dropped, but stated she is bound to state law concerning the events that led to Lewerke's firing. She added was confident about her chances for re-relection this fall, mentioning the "honesty and integrity" of the office during her time as treasurer.
Wright has served as Cerro Gordo County Treasurer since 2010, and worked in the office for over 40 years.
The primary election for treasurer is June 5, and general election is November 6.