BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
As an elected official, you have an inherent responsibility to keep the trust of the electorate and to do your best to represent those that cast a ballot in your favor.
When you put your name on a ballot you also open yourself up to public scrutiny of your actions and sometimes those actions include what you do in your own home.
Talk about dicey.
Third ward councilman Travis Seidel, was sentenced on June 1 as part of a plea deal for selling opiods, four pills, to a contractor who was doing work on his property. Fort Madison City Manager David Varley announced Seidel’s resignation on Friday afternoon.
Seidel has said publicly that he doesn’t deny taking money from the contractor, but his most recent statements seem to indicate that he thought the money may have been for past loans he made to the contractor. Seidel said he received money from the contractor on the day that he gave him the pills, but said the amount wasn’t reflective of the value of the pills so he thought the contractor was paying him money back. He has not made any statements with regard to whether or not he clarified that with the contractor. That’s a big deal.
Seidel’s attendance at city council meetings, although improved, is still less than stellar.
Even giving him the benefit of the doubt on the exchange of money, which he was entitled to as part of the court proceedings, giving opioids to another person isn’t conduct becoming of a councilman. However, it’s not conduct that most average people have not done in their lifetimes. And it doesn’t fall thin that this instance was made bigger than it probably would have been in someone in not such a position.
Seidel claims outright that he was set up. That this was somehow revved by his political stances and he was “enticed” into selling the pills. It’s hard to say in this country and this day and age, that that’s unheard of, because it’s not.
But we’re talking about a person selected by voters to represent them in an upstanding fashion with the city’s best interests at heart. Poor attendance made us question commitment, but giving opioids away to a handyman makes us question decision making. Irregardless of what Seidel feels is at work behind the scenes, it’s a bad decision that can’t be explained away when you admit to that distribution.
When Seidel reached a plea deal there wasn’t a single offiical in the state that was willing to comment on whether that plea deal amounted to a conviction. If Seidel had been removed, instead of resigning, he may have had a lawsuit because Lee County Attorney Ross Braden said Iowa code in some cases says a deferred judgment constitutes a conviction and in others it doesn’t, and he wasn’t aware of any case law that gave proper direction. If Seidel’s not convicted of a felony, there would no grounds to remove him, other than City Code which allows the removal by 2/3 of the council vote, after a hearing “for willful misconduct or maladministration of his office”.
The city would have a pretty good argument that agreeing to a plea deal on a felony drug charge would constitute willful misconduct because of the admission of the crime, but not for agreeing to the plea deal.
But considering all the pieces of the story, putting someone else in place in Ward 3 is ultimately the best resolution for the city. As it stands the city can appoint someone to fill the position, but that seat should appear on the ballot in November. Let’s see who steps up.