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Scott County supervisors meet Tuesday to appoint new county auditor. Will not say who
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SCOTT COUNTY

Scott County supervisors meet Tuesday to appoint new county auditor. Will not say who

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The Scott County Board of Supervisors will be asked Tuesday to appoint someone to fill the vacancy left by former Scott County Auditor Roxanna Moritz, who resigned April 23.

Who that person is, however, remains a mystery — both to public as well as to a majority of supervisors.

Two of three Republican supervisors on the five-member county board have refused to disclose who they intend to appoint to the position.

Neither the meeting agenda nor an accompanying resolution state who supervisors will consider to fill the county auditor position that comes with a taxpayer-funded salary set at $90,949 for the current fiscal year.

The county auditor, among other duties, oversees and runs elections within the county.

The resolution included on Tuesday's agenda contains a blank space for supervisors to fill in the name of the person they intend to appoint.

Board Chairman Ken Beck and Supervisor Tony Knobbe, both Republicans, said they have both discussed an individual they believe is well-suited for the role, and whose name they will put forward Tuesday, but have not shared that individual's name with other supervisors at the person's request.

Both Beck and Knobbe said the individual requested their name not be made public for fear it would jeopardize their current employment if not appointed.

"Tony and I have vetted out this candidate and are comfortable with their background," Beck said, adding other supervisors will be familiar with the individual. "This is a qualified candidate, and once the candidate is brought forth, they can vote 'yay' or 'nay' based on the qualifications or knowledge of the person."

The level of secrecy has raised questions as to whether Beck and Knobbe violated Iowa's open meetings law.

Supervisor Ken Croken, a Democrat, enlisted an attorney, who sent a letter Friday to Scott County Attorney Michael Walton requesting his office look into the matter.

The letter refers to a Quad-City Times article in which Knobbe told the newspaper supervisors know "who we’re going to appoint."

Croken and his attorney interpreted "we" to mean Beck, Knobbe and fellow Republican Supervisor John Maxwell had reached a consensus in private, in violation of state law, on extending an offer to their preferred appointee.

Both Beck and Knobbe said they have not discussed the appointment with Maxwell, who said he has been "left in the dark," and that "we" only refers to Beck and Knobbe.

"They have not told me, and I will find out when everybody else does on Tuesday morning," Maxwell. "And I don't know (how) I'm voting for sure."

Walton, in an email, said had there been a meeting of three supervisors — constituting a majority of the board — either in private, by phone, text message or other electronic means, to discuss the appointment, it would have violated the state's open meetings law. However, because discussions occurred between Beck and Knobbe, "that would not be a majority of the board, and therefore not a violation of the open meetings law."

Croken and his attorney, Jim Larew of Iowa City, contend the private discussions constitute a "walking quorum" — serial communication among individual members of a government body, either in person or electronically, with the intent to skirt the open meetings law.

"Without additional information, it is unclear how the Board Members reached this decision," Larew wrote. "However, Iowa law is clear that such deliberation and decision should be done in public, not behind closed doors. The purpose of Iowa's open meetings law is to assure 'that the basis and rationale of government decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people.'"

Larew earlier this spring represented Scott County residents in a failed effort to declare Maxwell had vacated his county board position over questions of whether his dual roles on the Board of Supervisors and North Scott school board constituted a conflict of interest.

Maxwell on Friday said he was "kept out of the loop" regarding the auditor appointment, suggesting an intent by Beck and Knobbe to skirt Iowa's public disclosure requirements.

Asked how he and other supervisors can be expected to make a well-informed decision on Tuesday, Maxwell responded: "I think that's a very valid question.

"That's something I will tell you that I am really wrestling with," he said. "You have to ask yourself, 'Why have we not talked about this?'"

Asked if he will object on Tuesday to the process being used to appoint a new county auditor, Maxwell said he was "not going to promise anything, but I certainly have my eyebrows raised."

He added, "I need to see how things play out," adding that it is unfortunate that the secrecy behind the appointment has led to overriding suspicion, skepticism and distrust of the person chosen by Knobbe and Beck to serve as auditor.

Beck argues supervisors are following the same process used in March by the Polk County Board of Supervisors to fill a vacancy left by the unexpected death of the Polk County Treasurer, and is permissible under Iowa law.

Knobbe, as well, said he was confused by "the basis for the concern" for not disclosing the individual's name.

"The public will certainly have a chance to weigh in" on Tuesday, Knobbe asserted.

Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said Iowa's open meetings law does not provide much guidance on the level of specificity required in government meeting agendas.

The Iowa Public Information Board, the state board tasked with addressing concerns related to Iowa's open meetings and public records, has issued past decisions stating meeting agendas do not have to list the names of those recommended to be hired or appointed to a government position.

However, as a matter of good governance, Evans said withholding the name "is doing a huge disservice to both the citizens of Scott County, as well as to the other members of the board of supervisors."

"The public deserves to know before the decision is made who is going to get this appointment," Evans said. "The other supervisors, certainly, deserve to know who is up for appointment. ... They deserve to have time to do the proper amount of research into the person's background and credentials to make sure this is an appropriate choice for this important position. And I don't think that that is asking too much."

Especially, Evans said, "because, this is a decisions that under normal circumstances would be made by the voters."

"I see little reason to keep the public and the other supervisors in the dark," he said. "If somebody is going to lose their job because they're under consideration for this, it may be a signal that the supervisors and the county ought to look longer at who they're looking to appoint to this, if this is a deal breaker."

Knobbe, though, questioned why there hasn't been similar scrutiny over who Croken and fellow Democratic Supervisor Brinson Kinzer will propose be appointed.

Both Croken and Kinzer voted against making an appointment to fill the vacancy, instead calling for a special election.

Kinzer did not return a message seeking comment Friday. Croken said he does not plan to put forward an appointee. He said Scott County Treasurer Mike Fennelly, a Republican, should continue to oversee the auditor's office until a special election can be scheduled and voters can decide "who will be their chief elections officer going forward."

Scott County Democrats announced earlier this week they will launch a petition to force a special election to fill the vacant Scott County Auditor position.

"We believe strongly in a Democratic voice to this process and an open conversation about who is going to be leading our elections," Scott County Democratic Party Chairwoman Elesha Gayman said.

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