Petition pushed forward

Residents want an election to fill Second Ward council vacancy

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Marshalltown resident Monte Eaton has submitted a petition calling for a special election in Marshalltown’s second ward.

While local attorney Joel Greer currently represents that ward, Marshalltown voters elected him to mayor in the November municipal election.

He will succeed Mayor Jim Lowrance, who did not seek re-election.

Consequently, the second ward seat will be vacated Jan. 1, according to the city of Marshalltown website (Greer will be sworn in with others Jan. 2).

Eaton’s petition was signed by 47 residents, and submitted to Marshalltown City Clerk Sheri Coughenour this past Friday.

Coughenour, in return, issued Eaton a receipt.

The Marshall County Auditor’s office was closed Monday and Tuesday for the Christmas holiday, and therefore, could not comment on the petition.

Regardless, the city’s website said there was a plan to move forward.

“The city council will work with the Marshall County Recorder/Auditor of Elections to determine when the special election will be held,” said the city’s website. “The individual temporarily appointed will fill the vacancy until the Abstract of Votes are certified by the county. The individual selected by the pending special election will serve the remainder of the vacancy through Dec. 31, 2019.”

Eaton and other second ward residents said they are opposed to the appointment process, which was used earlier this year to fill a vacancy in the first ward resulting from the death of Councilor Robert Schubert. Local businessman Dan Kester received the appointment only after submitting a letter of interest and passing a public interview procedure. There, he answered a series of questions from all councilors about his skill set, the city and city government. Eight other candidates also competed for the appointment (One candidate who submitted a letter of interest did not show up for the interview).

In November, Kester was defeated in his bid to serve an additional four years by long-time first ward resident Sue Cahill.

“Although I am not a resident of the second ward, I think residents of that ward should have the opportunity to elect their representative vs. a city council appointment,” said Eaton, who, with several other property owners, petitioned the city to sever his property from the city in December of 2016.

He and others claimed they were paying taxes but not receiving services, an allegation the city contested.

The State of Iowa City Development Board upheld the city’s position last month that Eaton’s property and that of James Gruening not be severed.

Local attorney Michael Marquess, who represented Eaton and Gruening, said in an email they would not appeal the decision.

Second ward resident Leo Lounsberry, who signed Eaton’s petition, said he was opposed to the interview process for three reasons:

“First, I think an appointment to serve out the three years remaining (actually two years remain) is too long,” he said. “It is almost a full term. Second, I think there is a conflict of interest in the city administrator seeking candidates (City Administrator Jessica Kinser announced in a press release second ward residents could apply for the vacancy by submitting a letter of interest). Third, an appointee might be tempted to go along with the majority on certain issues …. I think some previous decisions by the council were not in the city’s best interest.”

Regardless, the city website said Kinser would accept letters of interest from second ward residents until 5 p.m. this Thursday.

“Residents certainly have the right to petition for a special election, but the council and I thought the interview process would work well, like it did to replace Schubert after his death,” said Greer in a text message to the Times-Republican. “Ten candidates came forward, nine interviewed, it cost (the city) nothing, and we were more quickly up to having a full council of seven. The special election will cost the city, delay getting (up to) seven councilors, and may deter good candidates who would prefer to be interviewed vs. campaigning for an election.”

Thus far, Jay Carollo, Brittany O’Shea and Bob Untiedt are three individuals who confirmed they submitted letters of interest to Kinser.

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