Property owners and city battle in council chambers

T-R PHOTO By MIKE DONAHEY Marshalltown Public Works Director Justin Nickel, far left, looks on while Attorney Patrick O’Connell, standing, speaks before State of Iowa City Development Board members not pictured Wednesday in city council chambers. Also looking on are Attorney Michael Marquess, seated center, and petioner Monte Eaton, seated, lower right. City Development Board members heard arguments from Marquess, representing Eaton and Jim Gruening to sever their properties from the city. O’Connell, representing the city, contested their request be denied.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a two part series which will conclude Friday.



On Wednesday, an attorney representing two property owners desiring to sever their property from the city, and an attorney representing the city of Marshalltown seeking to block their request, debated at a public hearing in city council chambers.

The hearing was called last month by the State of Iowa City Development Board to resolve the issue either in favor of the property owners or the city. Witness testimony and questions from CBD members and public resulted in a nearly five-hour hearing.

Decision and special election?

A decision on the matter will come later this month at a CDB meeting in Des Moines.

“If the petition (to sever) is approved (by the CDB) the issue of whether the territory will be involuntarily severed from the city of Marshalltown will be decided by the qualified voters in a special election,” said CBD Chairman Dennis Plautz of Fort Dodge. “Registered voters residing in Marshalltown, including registered voters in the territory proposed for involuntary severance, will be eligible to vote in this election.”

The hearing

Local Attorney Michael Marquess, representing property owners Monte and Leisha Eaton, and James and Susan Gruening, argued they be allowed to sever their properties from the city, claiming they are paying city taxes but not receiving city services.

Marquess called seven witnesses, ranging from City of Marshalltown Public Works Director Justin Nickel, to Marshaltown Water Works Chief Executive Officer/General Manager Steve Sincox, to Monte Eaton in an effort to support their application for severance.

The City of Marshalltown countered with Attorney Patrick O’Connell of Cedar Rapids. O’Connell called witnesses City Housing and Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer, Chief of Police Mike Tupper, and Deputy Fire Chief Chris Cross to deny the request.


Central to the severance argument were statements made by Eaton and Gruening they are paying city taxes but do not receive city services, such as water from Marshalltown Water Works, storm sewer, sanitary sewer, streets or street lights and fire hydrant in the distance specified by city code.

The properties are serviced by the Rural Water District, they have septic tanks, and College View Lane, where they reside, is a private lane maintained by the Gruenings and eight nearby property owners.

Additionally, they claimed their properties would sell for less if they remained in city limits.

Both attorneys had the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, and both looked to exploit incorrect facts or opinions made by the other side.

Attorney O’Connell used testimony from witnesses Tupper and Cross to argue Eaton and Gruening families and property would be safer, because the Marshalltown Police Department and Fire Department could respond faster than the Marshall County Sherif’s Office or Haverhill Fire Department. Both Tupper and Cross said they had great respect for the MCSO and HFD. The speed of fire service and EMS service by the MFD was repeatedly stressed by O’Connell.

Written comments accepted

Written briefs in favor of or against severance will be accepted by the CBD for 10 days, said Plautz. Briefs should be postmarked no later than Oct. 14, and mailed to the Iowa Economic Development Authority, attention Betty Hessing, City Development Board, 200 East Grand Ave., Des Moines 50309. Copies of briefs will be given to the committee.

CBD members

Including Plautz, members are Barbara Brown, Cedar Falls; Jay Howe, Greenfield; Sarah Beatty, Sigourney; Richard Hierstein, Marshalltown City Appointee; Robert Duke, Marshall County Appointee; and Committee Vice Chair James Halvorson, Cedar Rapids.

How it started

The issue started in December last year, when three property owners (Eaton, Gruenings, Jacobs, 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 strongly denied.

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


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or