Dallas County Supervisors, Mayors meet in joint session

Clint ColeEditor

In a letter dated April 5, 2016, eight of the 16 mayors of Dallas County signed and sent a letter to the Dallas County Board of Supervisors asking them to consider increasing their membership from three members to five members. The mayors who signed the letter were: Jim Peters of Adel, Scott Cirksena of Clive, Michael Kidd of Dallas Center, Jay Pattee of Perry, Robert Andeweg of Urbandale, Allan Adams of Van Meter, Bill Peard of Waukee and Steven Gaer of West Des Moines.

The Board of Supervisors, mayors and and city representatives met in a joint, open session on Wednesday, June 29 and the mayors were met with opposition not only from the public, but also from the County Supervisors.

One reason for requesting an increase in membership that was cited in the letter from the mayors to the Board of Supervisors was that it would be “easier for the Board to comply with Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code (the Open Meetings law).

With only three members on the Board right now, any time that two of them meet together to discuss County business, they have to publish an agenda and hold the meeting in public because 2-out-of-3 members together is a quorum. If there were five members, two of them would be able to discuss County business outside of public meetings.

“It’s not always necessary, I don’t think, for the public to have to be involved in the nitty-gritty detail of having to work some things out,” said Mayor Adams of Van Meter.

Being able to discuss County business behind closed doors is something that a few of the Dallas County residents in attendance were skeptical of. The “convenience and efficiency” that Mayor Cirksena of Clive said the increase in membership would create would lead to “no accountability with voters” according to two residents who attended the meeting.

Adams of Van Meter countered that argument.

“There’s still accountability because anything that’s passed still has to be discussed in open session,” said Adams.

Dallas County is the 10th-largest county in the State of Iowa and out of the top-10 counties, seven of them have a Board of five supervisors. Only Dubuque County (population of 96,370), Story County (population of 94,073) and Dallas County (population of 77,400) have 3-member boards out of the top 10.

Out of the top 25 counties, 12 have 5-member boards and 13 have 3-member boards. The smallest county in the state, Adams County (population 3,875) has a 5-member board.

The supervisors were directly asked if they were overwhelmed with the workload they have as a Board of just three members instead of five. Supervisors Brad Golightly and Kim Chapman said that they are not overwhelmed.

“I don’t think at this time we are overwhelmed,” said Golightly. “We’ve been able to take care of things.”

Chapman directly said that he does not think there needs to be full-time supervisors and that there does not need to be five of them.

“I don’t like the idea, personally, of the ‘walking quorum concept,’” said Chapman. “I like the idea that there’s three board members and we can’t get together and discuss things outside of the open meeting. I think that environment creates trust with you (the voters) and if there is any inefficiency (by having three members instead of five), and I don’t think there is personally… I think the value of the trust that’s generated certainly outweighs any of those inefficiencies.”

Some people in audience at the June 29 meeting were also wondering why the city governments need the county government. Adams said that the small towns like Van Meter especially need the County government’s help when taking on big projects in economic development.

He said that with the idea of attracting a data center to the City of Van Meter, it could cost eight or nine million dollars for infrastructure and that they wouldn’t be able to pay for it and would therefore need to borrow the money with the County’s bonding capacity. Then through the process with a TIFF agreement, taxes from Van Meter can flow back into the County to pay off the debt load.

“From our perspective, we have to have the County government to be able to pull that off,” said Adams.

Whether or not the Board of Supervisors will increase its membership will ultimately be left up to the voters in Dallas County as it would need to be voted on in the November General Election anyways. It can be put on the ballot by the County Supervisors or by a petition that receives whichever is fewer, either 10,000 signatures or 10 percent of the number of ballots cast in the last election that included the race for President or Governor.

The last eligible election was for Governor in 2014. According to the Secretary of State website at sos.iowa.gov, there were 28,983 eligible ballots in Dallas County that did not over vote or under vote, so such a petition would need 2,899 signatures for the issue to be put on the ballot.

The letter from the mayors to the Board of Supervisors said that they are prepared to get those signatures.