Judge: Iowa City school board illegally dismissed Hoover petition

Tuesday school election will proceed as planned

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IOWA CITY — A district court judge ruled this week the Iowa City school board acted outside its legal authority when it dismissed a petition asking for a public vote on the demolition of Hoover Elementary.

Judge Sean McPartland ordered the district to put the question about the school on the “next regular election” ballot.

However, he denied the temporary injunction’s request that he order a special election on the demolition question.

He also refused to order the district from beginning demolition of the school — at 2200 E. Court St., adjacent to City High School — until after an election on the demolition.

McPartland also denied the petitioners’ request to invalidate early ballots in Tuesday’s school election.

Overall, the ruling means Tuesday’s school election — which contains a $191.5 million bond issue — can proceed as planned.

The request for a temporary injunction was filed July 17 in Johnson County District Court by Heather Young, Del Holland and Blake Hendrickson.

A petition with the required number of signatures was presented to the school board on June 29, asking that it put a question about the school’s demolition — a 2013 board decision — on the Tuesday school ballot.

At a July 11 meeting, the majority of the board declined to do that, choosing to follow district legal counsel Joe Holland’s advice that the issue “cannot lawfully be submitted to the voters.”

McPartland ruled that wasn’t the school board’s decision to make and that the board “unilaterally determined that the Demolition Petition was insufficient upon a ground it was not authorized to determine.”

School board member Chris Liebig, who was active in the Save Hoover political action committee, voted against accepting Holland’s recommendation.

In a blog post Friday, Liebig said, “If the board had forwarded the petition to the Auditor as it was legally required to do, this matter would have cost this district and the county nothing other than a bit of ink (since there was an election occurring anyway). How much has the district now spent — from the general fund, which pays for teachers in the classrooms — to defend the board’s illegal action?”

Board president Chris Lynch said the board was acting “in good faith.”

“It was the district’s legal counsel’s advice that it wasn’t authorized by law,” Lynch said. “The law is unclear ... it’s a long, complicated (legal) decision. We’ll be studying it for a while and will assess what next steps will be.”

Both parties were given 10 days, starting Sept. 6, to submit briefs on the amount of an injunction bond the court will require to move forward.

“There are things that need to happen in the next 10 days that the district’s legal counsel and administration will handle, but the next board will really decide next steps,” said Lynch, whose school board term ends this year. He is not running for re-election.

Four new board members — to be elected Tuesday — will likely navigate the issue.

The district is building a new Hoover Elementary at American Legion and Barrington roads, which is expected to open in 2019.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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