Coalition files action against Floyd County, seeking court order for special election
By Bob Steenson, email@example.com
The president of the Coalition for Better County Government has filed a motion in district court, asking a judge to force Floyd County to set a special election to determine how county supervisors are elected.
The petition for a writ of mandamus was filed last Friday in Floyd County District Court by attorney Michael Byrne on behalf of Gordon Boge as an individual and as president of the coalition.
The petition asks the court to direct the Floyd County Board of Supervisors and the Floyd County auditor to publish notice of a special election, to set the special election for Tuesday, Aug. 3, and for the county to pay legal fees and other damages.
The petition comes on the heels of a decision by the Board of Supervisors on June 8 to reject a petition filed by the coalition that called for a special election to determine how voters should elect county supervisors.
The special election would ask voters if supervisors should be elected at-large, as they are currently, or if the county should be divided into districts and supervisors elected from each district, either by all voters or by the voters of the individual districts.
The petition turned in by the coalition included many more than the number of names required to call for a special election for this matter under the Iowa Code, but the supervisors rejected the petitions because not all of the pages of signatures contained the petition language at the top, and supervisors said they were concerned that the people signing those pages may not have understood what they were signing.
At the meeting where the supervisors made their decision, Floyd County Assistant Attorney Randall Tilton had advised them that the only case law and Iowa Attorney General Office references he could find suggested that the petition language was not required on each page, and further that the county board could not set additional petition requirements beyond signature, residence and the date signed.
“Although there is not a lot of case law or legal support, what legal support I found, my interpretation would be in favor of the position of accepting the petitions provided they have a signature, an address and a date of signing,” Tilton told the supervisors.
The main controversy is whether a state law that refers to nomination petitions for elected office — which does specifically require the petition language at the top of every page — also applies to other petitions.
The county supervisors decided that it does, or that it should.
Supervisors Linda Tjaden and Doug Kamm both said people who had been asked to sign the petition told them they weren’t sure what they were being asked to sign.
Supervisor Roy Schwickerath said, “There’s rules set in place and there’s standards that auditors use for elections, and that is that it should have the heading on the top of the signature page, because otherwise somebody could be signing a page and not know really what they’re signing. And that’s the real problem with this whole thing.”
But Byrne, a Mason City attorney who has worked with the Coalition for Better Government on this and other issues, argued in his court filing that the coalition’s petition met all the requirements of the section of Iowa code dealing with special elections for supervisor representation.
“The only statutorily specified basis for rejection of the Petition for filing by the county commissioner is if the Petition on the face of the instrument appears to lack the required number of signatures,” he wrote.
Having been filed by the deadline June 1, the petition automatically became valid and was subject only to objections being filed against it, of which there have been none by the objection deadline of June 7, Byrne wrote.
“The additional requirements attempted to be imposed by the Board of Supervisors are and were invalid, without legal basis, and contrary to the statutory requirements of (Iowa Code section) 331.306(3) which requires nothing more than the Petition appear valid on its face for acceptance of filing,” Byrne wrote.
In order for a special election to be held on Aug. 3, public notices of the election would need to begin being published by Friday, June 25, so Byrne asked the court to issue a writ of mandamus to publish the legal notices and schedule the special election.
A writ of mandamus is essentially an order by the court to a public body to take an action that it is legally required to do.
The county has 20 days from June 18 when it received notice of the filing to respond. As of Monday no county response had been filed.