Special election for Swisher
By Chris Umscheid
SWISHER– The bomb was dropped Monday, Nov. 11, but the shock waves continued to tremble in this northwest Johnson County community a week later.
Mayor Tim Mason, and city clerk Connie Meier both resigned suddenly during the Nov. 11 meeting, making council member Mary Gudenkauf the mayor pro tem and leaving the city of just under 900 without a city clerk.
The council held a special meeting Monday, Nov. 18, to determine whether to appoint a new mayor, or hold a special election while also addressing the clerk vacancy. A standing room-only crowd packed the small town hall while a sheriff’s deputy stood in the corner by the door. The council formally and unanimously accepted the resignations of Mason and Meier on roll call votes. Mason had sent a resignation letter in the form of an email, which said, “this correspondence is to confirm to the city council of Swisher my vocal resignation as mayor given on Monday Nov. 11, 2013. Sincerely, Tim Mason.”
No written resignation was received from Meier.
The council also unanimously approved to enter into a contract with HR Green of Cedar Rapids to provide city clerk services on an interim basis. Jim Halverson, vice president and senior project manager for HR Green, was at the meeting and gave a brief overview of what services would be provided.
“It’s literally just an interim services agreement where we provide administrative functions that are pretty common to a clerk’s position,” Halverson said. “There are some things and reports they have to have filed; other duties would just really be making sure that operation activities continue on as they have before for payroll and utilities.” Halverson said the length of the agreement is indefinite at this time. “Ultimately the goal is to find a permanent replacement,” he added.
The council agreed to have council member Sandy Fults and Gudenkauf work out a job description, post the vacancy, interview applicants and make a recommendation to the council for a permanent replacement. HR Green was also approved to function as the city engineer.
Next the council turned to appointing a mayor. Public comments were sought, but the room remained silent save for the beeping of the phone in the vacant clerk’s office, signaling unanswered voice mail messages.
Finally, Gene Beard, deputy assistant fire chief for the Jefferson-Monroe Fire Department, presented a petition requesting a special election. Gudenkauf said it was her understanding that signatures equalling15 percent of the eligible voters from the most recent election were needed, and Beard said the required signatures were secured.
“Per the Johnson County auditor, you need 13, I got 37. And I didn’t even try hard,” Beard said.
Swisher City Attorney Bob Michael reviewed the legal requirements for holding such an election, adding he’d spoken with Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert about a potential election in January 2014. If, at its next meeting of Dec. 9 the council were to pass a resolution authorizing a special election, the city would be able to hold the election on January 14, 21 or 28, 2014. Doing so would keep the city within the requirement for an election within 90 days of the vacancy, Michael added. Anybody interested in running to contact the auditor’s office.
For Gudenkauf, the election can’t come soon enough.
“I had said Wednesday that I was hoping that by December 1st, we would have somebody else appointed as mayor,” Gudenkauf said. “And I will ask again at the table if anyone is interested in assuming those duties.”
“I’ve considered it,” Fults said, “but you know, I want to do what’s best for the city. But I don’t think I’d be doing what’s best for the city at this time. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I feel I have a lot more to learn.”
“I’m in that boat too,” said councilor Mike Stagg, who was appointed to the council in May. “I’m not ready to handle something like that.” Council member Larry Svec said he owns four different businesses. “There’s no way I’m going to take on anything more,” Svec said.
Gudenkauf asked the attorney what would happen if no one accepts the temporary appointment as mayor.
“Then you don’t have a motion and you move on to the next item on the agenda,” Michael advised. Following a brief discussion about how long the appointed mayor would serve, Gudenkauf accepted the position.
“I will remain as mayor pro tem, with the understanding that we will be setting a special election next month, which will take place as early as possible in January,” Gudenkauf said.
Gudenkauf and other council members would not comment on why the resignations occurred, and Mason, through his wife, declined the opportunity to comment as well.