BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The city’s currently vacant third ward council seat may be filled by an appointment that could last until the next city election in Nov. 2019.
Travis Seidel resigned from his City Council seat on June 15 after a felony drug sentencing, triggering a 60-day window for the Fort Madison City Council to appoint his replacement. According to Dawn Williams, state election director, the city could also schedule a special election that would have to take place no sooner than 32 days from the day Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise would be notified of an intent on the city’s part to hold a special election.
However, Mayor Brad Randolph indicated that due to a poor voter turnout for the third ward election during the last regular city election for the seat, he thinks an appointment to serve out Seidel’s tenure is in the city’s best interest. Seidel was elected in November of 2015 with 110 votes.
“I would prefer to go to the ballot, but the dilemma is that the special election costs us close to $4,000,” Randolph said.
“For the 110 votes that were cast in 2015, that makes it a fairly expensive election. Financially that’s not a wise move with taxpayer dollars. If we take the other route, we would look at an appointment until the next November 2019 city election. The council would have to decide, but I’m leaning toward the appointment.”
Williams said Tuesday afternoon the city doesn’t have to look at an Aug. 1 or March 1 date for a special election unless that election would also include a public measure such as a city bond issue. After the 32 days had passed, Williams said the election would have to be held at the earliest practical date that didn’t coincide with other general elections or measures.
Fort Madison City Clerk Melinda Blind said discussion on the steps to be taken to appoint a councilman will be in front of the City Council at the July 3 regular meeting. She said since 2011 seven vacancies have been created on the council and typically a letter of intent is obtained from interested candidates along with a list of qualifications.
Randolph said that would the best course of action for the city going forward.
“Assuming the council approves that on Tuesday, we would then start preparing things people would need to send in declaring their intent to be appointed to that seat,” Randolph said.
“They need to think about the commitment involved. I know there have been people who’ve already expressed an interest and that’s promising. I hope we get a slough of people who are willing to step up.”
The one wrinkle would be if someone in the third ward were to be unhappy with the appointee and file a petition for a special election. In that case, Williams said citizens would have 14 days from the notice of the appointment, or the appointment itself, to file a petition for a special election. If that petition were validated by the Lee County Auditor’s office, Fraise would then set a special election for the seat according to the 32-day rule from the validation of the petition. Williams also said if the city were to schedule a public measure election prior to the November 2019 general election, the seat would then go on that ballot.
Randolph said he would hope the council would give residents until July 31 to submit letters and qualifications and then deliberate and hopefully have someone to fill the position on Aug. 7. The regular city council meeting following that would be on Aug. 21 which would be outside the 60-day window from Seidel’s June 15th resignation.