By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN– In a rare display of executive authority, Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner has decided to veto a recent council decision. The action prompted criticism during public comment at last week’s council meeting.
The Tiffin City Council voted 3-1 on Sept. 25 to appoint resident Matthew Klein to the city’s planning and zoning (P&Z) commission, after discussion on two of the three applicants and some back-and-forth jockeying of motions to appoint them.
The P& Z commission currently has only four members. A notice to recruit a fifth member garnered three applications. Two of the commission’s current members expressed interest in applicant Allen Moore, and the other two had no opinion, Berner said, and therefore he also recommended Moore’s appointment.
However, council member Royce Phillips countered with an amended motion to appoint Klein, supported by councilor Peggy Upton.
“The sole basis against Matt was an opinion of a character judgment, which I don’t think is relevant to this decision,” said Upton.
Phillips motion resulted in a tie vote and therefore died.
Council member Joan Kahler said her vote fell on the side of the two P&Z members who did have a preference.
“I would like to vote with the P&Z; I feel they should have the choice,” Kahler said, and made a motion to appoint Moore. That action died for lack of a second, and the council briefly came to a stalemate.
Phillips revived his amended motion to appoint Klein, and the second vote passed 3-1, with council member Jim Bartels changing his initial negative vote.
Therefore, as of Sept. 25, Matt Klein was appointed to the open seat, but just five days later, Berner notified City Administrator Michon Jackson and all council members that he would exercise his veto power against Klein’s appointment.
In his written statement to the group, Berner cited four reasons for his veto; that Klein’s occupation as a contractor would be a potential conflict of interest in making decisions about future development; that Klein’s demeanor in previous communications between himself and Klein had been contentious; that current P&Z members had advocated for Moore; and that Klein’s 2010 arrest for solicitation of prostitution concerned him.
“I think the citizens of Tiffin and I of course expect the members of Tiffin city government to be of good character and beyond reproach,” Berner wrote in a memo submitted on Sept. 30.
Jackson called the Iowa League of Cities to determine the next steps for dealing with the veto process. Council members who voted in favor of Klein’s appointment have 28 days from the submission of the veto to write a protest of the veto and get the item back on an upcoming council agenda for a re-vote. It would take a super-majority, or four of the five council members, to overturn Berner’s veto.
At last week’s council meeting, Klein himself took the opportunity to comment on Berner’s veto.
“I think the manner in which the mayor gave his four points– I don’t what the opposite of classy is, but that was pretty much it,” said Klein. “We all know what this is about; it’s really kind of a rub between Steve [Berner] and I personally. In the end, it has nothing to do with my qualifications or not.”
Klein said he may have disrespected Berner in the past, and that Moore would probably be a fine P&Z member.
“But I think it was pretty low down, especially the specific wording in (the veto). Not real classy. And you know that, right, Steve?” Klein asked Berner pointedly.
Berner responded in kind.
“My veto was very to the point. I think I made very good valid points and it’s perfectly open to the public,” Berner said. “It’s all public record.”
Klein characterized his 2010 arrest as a “scarlet letter I’ll wear for the rest of my life,” he said, and that the more unfortunate part was that his wife and children will also suffer his consequences.
“Is that fair to make them pay a fee for something they didn’t ask for?” Klein posed. “I am just trying to do something for my community,” Klein said, and later said he wished to withdraw his application to be on the P&Z commission. “I will find another way to serve my community.”
But Phillips moved to table the item, saying he thought Klein was “mistreated,” and he wanted the 28-day process of the mayor’s veto to play out. The council voted 3-2, with Kahler and Mike Ryan voting against it, to table action until that time.
“So we can’t appoint anybody to the P&Z,” Ryan concluded.