Despite a warning from their attorney that the county will likely end up in court, the Floyd County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to reject a local group’s petition asking for a special election.
The group, Coalition for Better County Government, had circulated a petition asking for a special election to determine how the county elects its supervisors. State code allows for several different options, with Floyd County opting for plan "one," which allows all of the county to vote for each supervisor. The coalition's petition asks voters if they'd like to divide the county into three districts, with voters in that district voting only for the supervisor living in that district. That ensures voters in both rural and urban areas are represented on the board, according to the coalition.
To force the issue to go to ballot, the group needs 10 percent of the turnout from the last election, or 809 people, to sign. And those folks need to be registered voters in Floyd County.
On June 1, Gordon Boge, president of the coalition, presented a petition with more than 1,100 signatures. Auditor Gloria Carr, upon the advice of the Iowa Secretary of State's office, deferred formally approving the petition to the county's board of supervisors.
At issue was the fact that the petition question was not listed on every signature page. Under state code, that's a requirement for nomination papers for anyone seeking an elected office. However, the coalition and its attorney, Michael Byrne of Mason City, argued that part of Iowa code, Chapter 45.5, does not apply to petitions for special election. Chapter 331.207 applies to those, and does not require the question appear at the top of every signature page.
Assistant County Attorney Randall Tilton told the board there is no state case law that directly applies to Floyd County's situation, but that two similar cases were worthy of note.
The first was a Supreme Court ruling regarding a petition to amend Iowa City's charter. The court ruled that the petitioners did not need anything more than the petitioners' names, addresses and the date on the petition. Tilton noted this decision came after the Legislature enacted Chapter 45.5.
The second was an attorney general opinion in 1980 issued in regard to a Black Hawk County petition, with the result being the same -- petitioners need only the signature, address and date on the form, Tilton said.
He then went a step further, indicating that he had spoken with the coalition's attorney, Byrne, and from that assumed that if the board voted to reject the petition, it would face a lawsuit from the coalition.
Several residents in attendance also spoke up, so much so, that at one point, board chair Tjaden had to repeatedly call for order.
One resident wanted to know, "What are you so afraid of?"
Coalition president Boge told the board that it was based on 1,228 signatures (the number of "yes" votes on the bond referendum that exceeded the "no" votes) that board bonded for $13.5 million to construct the law enforcement center.
When Tjaden and Schwickerath pointed out that they had received calls from residents who claimed they didn't know what they were signing, another resident at the meeting said the $13.5 million bond referendum question wasn't well explained, either, since most residents thought the board couldn't spend more than that on the project. But the board still moved forward on that.
The project's projected costs exceed that number by nearly $5 million.
"Everyone, and I mean everyone, didn't know that," the resident said.
Supervisor Doug Kamm accused the coalition of using bullying tactics to get signatures, saying he was told someone in a white truck drove up to a resident's home, thrust the petition out the window at the resident and told them to sign it. When the resident refused, the person, whom Kamm refused to identify when pressed, "drove off in a huff," he said.
Calling the coalition, "your little group," as he addressed Boge, Kamm also said the group "scared people."
Tjaden and Schwickerath both said they based their vote to reject the petition on the legality of it, contending, despite Tilton's comments, that the petition did need to have the question on every page.
"We have to do it when we turn in nomination papers," Tjaden said. "This would've been a non-issue if you'd worked with the auditor. We need to make sure that we're following all the rules."
After the vote, while leaving the boardroom, Boge told the board they'd see him again, only next time the room would be "much bigger."
Like a courtroom.