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Locals petition for a special election

BY HOLLY HINES | OCTOBER 05, 2009 7:20 AM

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Petitioners are stationing themselves outside local malls, searching for support on a $75,000 special election for Johnson County residents to vote on the open Board of Supervisors seat.

A committee including the Johnson County auditor, recorder, and treasurer recently decided to forgo an election, opting to begin the process of appointing an applicant instead. The position opened when Supervisor Larry Meyers died of cancer last month.

The decision to appoint was largely based on troubling economic times, said Auditor Tom Slockett.
But Iowa law stipulates that a petition with 7,299 signatures — 10 percent of Johnson County votes in the 2008 presidential election — would overturn the committee’s decision.

Solon resident Lori Cardella helped organize the circulating petition, which she said has received more than 500 signatures.

Cardella said she is confident her group will gather enough signatures by Nov. 11, the likely deadline for submission.

“Those that sign are very strong-willed that people should be able to vote,” she said.

County Recorder Kim Painter said she was hesitant to decide to spend the money without public input.

“If people think that’s what they want to spend $75,000 on, then they will tell us,” she said.
Cardella said she thinks the price tag is worth an election.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan noted the system is set up to exclude the supervisors’ opinions. Instead, he said he’ll leave the decision to “the people whose job it is to decide.”

County officials will accept petitions up to 14 days after the committee makes an appointment. The meeting to appoint is set for Oct. 28, but that could change if the process takes longer or shorter than predicted, Slockett said.

If officials receive a petition after their decision, the appointee will run in a special election against other potential nominees.

A similar situation occurred in 1998 when Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, resigned from his position on the Board of Supervisors to take up his new role.

In 1994, residents successfully filed a petition to fill Betty Ockenfels’ seat on the Board of Supervisors. Voter turnout for the special election was 12.5 percent with no other issue on the ballot.

If the county holds a special election this year, turnout would likely be around 10 to 15 percent, Slockett said.

Without a petition officials will start screening applicants and developing interview questions at several meetings, the first of which would be held on Oct. 22, Slockett said.

The meetings will be open to the public, but locals won’t be allowed to ask questions, he said, and applications will be posted online.


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