Council to consider special election for vacancies Tuesday

City also to discuss doing away with parking on the south side of Avenue E from 2nd to 26th streets

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – Fort Madison city officials will discuss the possibility of putting two vacant council seats up for election later this year.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, council members will vote on a resolution to fill the vacancies by special election. Two weeks ago Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said it was his intention to fill the vacancy by appointment on Nov. 17.

Jerry Hamelton, one of the candidates for the 2nd Ward spot vacated by the death of Bob Morawitz, said he intended to file a petition to force a special election.

According to a resolution in Tuesday’s council packet, a petition was presented to City Clerk Melinda Blind, demanding a special election.

However, that petition doesn’t have the required amount of signatures and has been submitted prematurely according to Iowa Code 327.13 which indicates the petition must be submitted within 14 days after publication of the city’s intent to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

Lee County Auditor Denise Fraise said Hamelton would need at least 46 signatures from eligible voters in the 2nd Ward. She also said she sent an email to Blind earlier this week indicating that Dec. 15 would be the soonest an election could take place.

The state has a four-week blackout in place for any special elections before and after general elections.

Hamelton said Friday that Mohrfeld called him this week to confirm that it was his intention to run for office.

“I explained to him that it was very clear that I was going to run,” Hamelton said.

Others that have informed the Pen City Current of their intention to run include Donna Amandus, Mike Chapman, and Brian Peterschmidt for 3rd Ward, and Tom Schulz for 2nd Ward. Amandus is on record as saying voters should decide who fills the vacancies. The 3rd Ward seat was vacated by Tyler Miller who resigned Oct. 6.

Mohrfeld said Friday that he wanted to put the agenda item in front of the council to help clean up the process.

“That’s not up to me. It’s up to the council. And that conversation will be had in the meeting (Tuesday).

Mohrfeld said he did call Hamelton who told him he was going to do everything he could to get the seats in front of voters. But Mohrfeld said the current petition Hamelton turned in was insufficient.

“Two things – it wasn’t the required amount of signatures and he didn’t turn it in at the right time,” Mohrfeld said.

“But that’s semantics. He made his intentions clear, and putting it on the agenda gives us a chance to accelerate that process.”

State code would also allow the council to appoint someone to fill the positions until the special election results had been certified. Mohrfeld said the decision to either make those appointments or just continue with a five-person council, is also part of the discussion Tuesday.

The Council, when full, is comprised of seven members, so five would still give the council a quorum and majority vote on issues if four of the five are present in the interim.

Possible runoff(s)?

The other wrinkle is Fort Madison City Code at Title 1, Section 17-4 (A) requires a run-off if none of the candidates for the office obtain 50% plus 1 of all votes cast for the seat.

As an example, if 400 people vote in the special election in the 2nd Ward, at least one candidate would have to get a minimum of 201 votes, otherwise a run-off would take place for the two candidates with the most votes. That run-off would be set four weeks following the special election.

That happened in 2013 when Rusty Andrews beat Neal Boeding in a run-off election, despite Boeding beating Andrews by 142 votes in the general election. Boedings 786 votes in the general election fell 22 votes shy of the majority threshold of 50%+1, so the race went to a run-off and Andrews won.

In other action:

Also on Tuesday’s agenda are three change orders to current projects underway including the Hwy. 61 restoration project, the Santa Fe Depot Passenger Platform, and the new parking lot behind City Hall.

Change orders on the parking lot have increased the price of the project from $429,533 to $520,672. The work on the rail passenger platform was originally awarded to Iowa Bridge and Culvert for $2,704,811 and the change order, combined with previous change orders, will raise that price to $2,721,749.

The Hwy. 61 change order increases the cost of the 2nd to 6th street portion $89,951, creating a new total contract of $2,665,206 when combined with other previous change orders. The original bid approved with Jones Construction was for $2,388,777.

In other action, the council will also hold a discussion about possibly prohibiting parking on the south side of Avenue E from 2nd to 26th Street.

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