North Liberty pushes back decision on mayor

Council members want to focus on budget before filling vacancy

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NORTH LIBERTY — Residents of North Liberty still have yet to find out how or when their next mayor will be selected.

Council members Tuesday pushed back a decision on how to fill the vacant mayor position, agreeing they’d first focus on finishing the next fiscal year’s budget before they worry about it. While some of the members said they were prepared to move forward Tuesday — the third council meeting in which they discussed the issue — they agreed to place the vacancy on the Jan. 24 agenda instead.

“Ultimately, I feel like I’d recommend a special election but I don’t know that I’m prepared to do that now. I want to get past the budget finally,” said member Jim Sayre.

Council member and Mayor Pro Tem Terry Donahue took over the mayor’s duties after former Mayor Amy Nielsen resigned Dec. 31. Nielsen had to give up her position after she was elected as a Democrat to Iowa House District 77.

City Administrator Ryan Heiar said he anticipates much of the budget work to be finished after two work sessions, one next week and another at the end of the month. After that, he said the budget discussions would be done and only a public hearing and formal adoption would remain.

“I could see benefits to waiting,” said council member Chris Hoffman. “I’m OK if the consensus is to wait. I would also be OK with just discussing it and getting off the table right now as well.”

The council must choose between appointing a mayor or holding a special election. If by March 1 the council still has not decided, the Johnson County Auditor’s Office must call a special election.

Even if the council chose to appoint a new mayor, it would be fairly easy for residents to force an election, as only 26 signatures, or 15 percent of the voters in the last regular city election in 2013, would be needed on a petition. When it was first discussed in November, City Attorney Scott Peterson mentioned he had heard of at least one citizen working on a petition, although only signatures taken after Nielsen’s resignation date would count.

A regularly scheduled city election is planned for November. If a mayor is appointed, his or her term would last only until that election. But a mayor chosen in a special election would see a term last through the end of the year.

Should a City Council member choose to run for mayor or be appointed, the replacement process would begin again.

The auditor’s office estimated a special election would cost the city between $3,000 and $5,000, according to a memo. The office also recommended Fed. 21, Feb. 28 or March 7 as possible special election dates.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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