City severance issue moves forward

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The Community Development Board in Des Moines awarded the city of Marshalltown and three property owners seeking to sever their properties from the city one win and one loss each at a Tuesday hearing in Des Moines.

By a 4-0 vote with one abstention, the city was allowed to keep former City Administrator Richard Hierstein of Marshalltown as their representative. He retired as a city employee in 2010.

By a 5-0 vote, Marshall County retained Robert Duke as their representative.

A procedural quirk was Duke and Hierstein could vote for, or against themselves during proceedings.

Hierstein selection OK’d

Earlier this year, the CDB asked the city and Marshall County Board to each appoint one representative that may help the CDB issue a final rule on the severance requests as early as Oct. 4.

Property owners Monte and Leisha Eaton,James and Susan Gruening, and Gregory and Linda Jacobs through local Attorney Michael Marquess, sought to disqualify Hierstein as city representative because of conflict of interest as a former city employee. Additionally, property owner Monte Eaton filed an affidavit claiming Hierstein should be disqualified since the latter had seriously disagreed on numerous occasions with Monte Eaton’s father — the late Darrell Eaton — who served on the city council when Hierstein was administrator.

Marquess said earlier this year if Hierstein did not remove himself, then he requested the CDB require his withdrawal.

Earlier this year Hierstein denied his relationship with Darrell Eaton was extremely contentious, and also said he would be open-minded on the severance request.

Information presented by Attorney Patrick O’Connell showed Councilor Darrell Eaton voted seven times in eight roll call votes to either give Hierstein a raise or adjust his contract. Darrell Eaton was absent for one vote.

Additionally, Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer said she never observed animosity between Hierstein and Darrell Eaton. At the time, Spohnheimer’s office was next to Hierstein, and the two discussed city issues. Board member Barbara Brown of Cedar Falls said she “was disappointed the city of Marshalltown with 27,000 residents had selected two people with ties to the city as representatives.” (The first being Sharon Greer, spouse of Second Ward Councilor Joel Greer and she a long-time volunteer on the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission. The city replaced her with Hierstein. Lowrance has stood by both selections, and said he would make them again).

Brown, James Halverson of Cedar Rapids; Dennis Plautz of Fort Dodge; and Duke voted to retain Hierstein, while the former city administrator abstained.

Duke selection OK’d

The county selected Robert Duke, resident who had been called on before by the county to resolve a number of issues.

The city contested Duke’s selection earlier this year.

O’Connell filed a Motion to Remove Local Representative Appointed by Marshall County, and a Resistance to Petitioners’ Motion for Disqualification of Local Representative with Hearing Requested.

He said Duke did not live in the territory or area proposed to be severed, and therefore was ineligible to serve.

“It is evident from Mr. Duke’s address … he is not a resident of the territory (i.e. “land area to be severed”).

Attorney O’Connell said the city was not questioning Duke’s capability or honesty, they disagreed with how he was selected.

However, CDB Attorney Matt Oetker of the Iowa State Attorney General’s office disagreed with the city’s motion, saying the county’s intent was clear to select an impartial representative.

Additionally, Oetker said it “be more time, more meetings, and more expense” for the county to do over the process, which would result in Duke being selected again.

After much discussion pro and con, board members Brown, Halverson, Plautz, Hierstein voted to retain Duke, who also voted for himself to retain membership on the committee.

Commentary

“I was disappointed with the decision to retain Hierstein,” said Marquess, but was pleased with one to keep Duke. We are looking forward to the actual merits of the case being discussed.”

Lowrance emphasized the city did not dispute Duke’s impartiality, credibility or honesty, but in how he was selected.

He was pleased Hierstein was retained — citing him as an outstanding individual, “who showed his impartiality in voting for Duke to be retained on the committee.”

Lowrance said he and city officials are looking forward to a second hearing tentatively set Oct. 4 In Marshalltown. That hearing will give both sides the opportunity to make their case for or against severance to the CDB.

The Dispute

The issue started in December last year, when the three property owners who live in the southernmost portion of city limits south of Marshalltown Community College asked the council to sever their properties, The trio claimed they do not receive city services but yet pay taxes to the city, an allegation the city disputes.

The council rejected their application by 3-2 vote. Voting to deny severance were Mike Gowdy, Joel Greer and Bethany Wirin.

The late Bob Schubert and Al Hoop voted to approve.

Creating additional drama to the one vote margin was the absence of at-large councilors Leon Lamer and Bill Martin.

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