Attorney: ‘City trying to stack the deck’

Severance issue heats up

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The attorney for three local property owners wanting to sever their properties from the city is asking former city administrator Dick Hierstein to remove himself from the committee which will decide the matter.

Michael Marquess of Hinshaw, Danielson and Marquess, P.C. said Hierstein has a conflict of interest because he is a former city employee, among other issues.

“We feel strongly the city is attempting to stack the deck by appointing advocates rather than impartial electors,” said Marquess in a July 14 email.

Additionally, Marquess said if Hierstein does not remove himself, then it has requested the State of Iowa City Development Board require his withdrawal.

Marquess and his client, Monte Eaton, one of the three College View Lane property owners requesting severance, said in their July 14 Motion for Disqualification of Local Representative filed with the City Development board Hierstein served as Marshalltown’s City Administrator from 2003 until retirement in 2010.

It alleged Monte Eaton’s father, the late city councilor Darrell Eaton and Hierstein “were fiercely opposed on multiple city issues resulting in much bitterness and bias between them.”

The motion also requests the city council “should be required to appoint a local representative who has no former or current ties to city administration, and will not act as advocate for the Respondent (city) during deliberation of the Petition (request to sever).

It was unclear at press time when the City Development Board will act on Marquess’ request.

Marshalltown City Administrator Jessica Kinser and City Attorney Roger Schoell were out of town and unavailable for comment.

However, Mayor Jim Lowrance defended his selection of Hierstein at a special June 22 meeting, when the council, by 5-0 vote, ratified Hierstein’s selection.

Councilors voting were Joel Greer, Mike Gowdy, Al Hoop, Dan Kester and Bethany Wirin.

Councilors Leon Lamer and Bill Martin were absent.

Monte Eaton was present at the June 22 meeting and immediately objected to Hierstein’s selection.

“I have a problem with Hierstein because he is the retired city administrator,” said Eaton. “He was city administrator when my father was on the council. I know from conversations with my father he and Hierstein did not see eye to eye on a lot of subjects. So the potential for a conflict of interest is there.”

Hierstein disagreed that he and Eaton were “fiercely opposed on a number of issues” in a telephone conversation with the T-R shortly after the June 22 meeting.

The council’s appointment of Hierstein rescinded a June 12 appointment of Marshalltown attorney Sharon Greer to serve in the same role.

She was appointed by a 6-0 vote at the June 12 council meeting, with her husband and law partner, Second Ward Councilor Joel Greer, abstaining.

However, since that meeting, concern had been expressed that Sharon Greer’s appointment “could have potential conflict of interest,” according to wording in the new resolution appointing Hierstien and rescinding Sharon Greer’s.

Eaton also commented on Sharon Greer’s appointment following his comments on Hierstein.

“I am not sure how or why Sharon was appointed,” he said. “But there was a conflict of interest with having her husband on the council at the same time (as the severance matter is being discussed). Hierstein also has a conflict of interest … I am not sure if you (the council) have someone else in mind … does my lawyer call the state?”

Mayor Jim Lowrance told Eaton he had recommended Sharon Greer and Hierstein. And he said he would appoint Sharon Greer again if given the opportunity.

“I understand the reason why we had to reconsider,” Lowrance said. “Hierstein is very qualified, I do not see a conflict of interest, but I am not an attorney. I would assume you can challenge the appointment on the basis of conflict of interest … you should call your attorney.”

Eaton said he would contact Marquess, who previously filed a petition of involuntary severance with the City Development board on behalf of Eaton and spouse Leisha; James and Susan Gruening; and Gregory and Linda Jacobs.

The three filed non-refundable application of $250 each to the city last year. Their applications are unique. There are no records of previous applications to the city requesting severance, according to city officials.

Matt Rasmussen of the City Development Board told the T-R last week severance requests in Iowa are rare.

The Eatons, Gruenings, and Jacobs houses and lots are on the extreme southern border of Marshalltown city limits.

The Iowa Code says only property owners bordering city limits can request severance.

In December of 2016, the three presented information before the council claiming they are paying city taxes but not receiving city services, a claim the city denied.

The council turned down by 3-2 vote their request.

Voting to deny were Joel Greer, Gowdy and Wirin. Voting to approve was Hoop, and the late Bob Schubert.

In June the Marshall County Board of Supervisors appointed Robert Duke of 2604 Smith Ave. to serve as county representative. The severance hearing is Aug. 9.

The city representative, Duke and City Development Board members will serve as the Special City Development Committee and preside.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com