BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
DONNELLSON – The two candidates for county struck a chord of harmony in the final debate prior to Tuesday’s election.
Current Assistant Lee County Attorney Clinton Boddicker and County Attorney Ross Braden met one last time Thursday night at the Pilot Grove Community Center in Donnellson for a debate that was cordial for the most part, with the exception of an exchange about the appointment of Braden in March as County Attorney.
A question arose about the recent conflicts of interest that have arisen since Braden was appointed as County Attorney in March. Boddicker said the number of cases is around 40, which Braden didn’t dispute.
“I don’t know if this was something the Board of Supervisors was thinking about when they made the appointment,” Boddicker said.
He said most special prosecutors hired to cover the conflicts were charging the county upwards of $200 budget and one from the Keokuk City Attorney Doug Dorando for more than $1,800. Braden said that he never said the county wouldn’t spend money on covering the conflicts, but said the costs were in his budget and Des Moines and Henry County have helped pick up some of the cases for free.
“I would just say that if we’re going to be speculating as to what the board of supervisors were thinking when they made the appointment, maybe they were thinking about a small investment looking to the long term in the county,” Braden said. “If were going to speculate about what they were thinking, maybe that’s what they were thinking.”
In a rebuttal, Boddicker said that, although Des Moines County and Henry County have taken some of the cases for free, costs were starting to pile up.
“I’m not speculating about what the Board of Supervisors was thinking at the time they made their appointment, I’m saying they weren’t thinking about that, and if they had, they would have done something better,” Boddicker said.
” ‘Something better’, I wonder what that means and what that means to the people that do support the decision of the board and the people that support me. So, again, I guess I question the use of the word ‘better’,” Braden said before moving into a question of how they would handle vicious dog complaints in Powdertown.
Both candidates said they would favor increasing the full time attorneys in the department to three and one part-time. The staff now is two full time and two part-time attorneys. They would also like to see the secretarial staff enhanced to ease the burden, especially with all the pending retirements in the next few years, including Bruce McDonald. Boddicker also suggested adding a victims/witness coordinator.
Anther question focused on courthouse security and conceal carry permits in public buildings. Boddicker said our courthouses are not very secure and it was unfortunate the state was moving toward a concealed carry mentality. Boddicker said that move interferes with Home Rule law and that the county should be the one to determine the security of their courthouses. He said Lynn County, where he practiced for a short time, had full detectors on the only entrance and exit to the building and, unfortunately, the county may need to move in that direction to keep someone from getting hurt or killed.
Braden said that conceal carry permits have been in place for awhile and he is unaware of any issues. He said when violent offenders are in court, either the sheriff’s department is monitoring the courthouse, or if it’s a violent offender from Iowa State Penitentiary, the prison’s emergency response team escorts the offenders.
The Lee County Narcotics Task Force and Lee County Drug Court were also brought up. Boddicker had been appointed to the Drug Court Prosecutor in early 2010 until just a few months ago.
“It’s a very important program where we take people with serious drug problems, and if it wasn’t for that program, they would be going to prison,” Boddicker said of the drug court.
He said he’s been working very closely with the task force to get warrants at all different times of the day and week and said he hopes the task force continues to be fully funded. He said drugs in Lee County are the single biggest problem facing our local criminal justice system.
Braden said, as the county attorney, he’s on the board that controls the task force and he’s already met with the board once since taking office. He said grant writing is critical to the program and he said he wants to make sure those grants are done correctly to ensure the funding as well.
“They do a great job in Lee County addressing the drug problem, in particular the methamphetamine that has been such a blight on our community. Things have changed from the shake and bake labs to the ice methamphetamine that’s being imported.”
Braden said he would do anything in his power as the county attorney to keep the Drug Court program viable.
A question from the audience focused on the dismissal of charges against protestors during the Dakota Pipeline construction.
Boddicker said he had 24 to 25 simple misdemeanor jury trials and Lee County isn’t prepared to get all those done prior to October. He said he met with former County attorney Mike Short and Braden and offered a dismissal to the trespass charges if they agreed to pay court costs. Protestors charged with resisting arrest had to plead guilty to the charge.
Braden said when Boddicker approached him, it was right after he was appointed, and admittedly, he was overwhelmed.
“When Clinton approached me, he said this was what he was going to do and I said, “You know what, go ahead and do what you were going to do.”
He said his biggest regret on that was not getting Sheriff Stacy Weber’s opinion due to the amount of time and money spent by the county to deal with those issues.
The American Association of University Women sponsored all three of the debates.