IOWA CITY – Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett circulated at work Monday the petition for his re-election effort with a check list for employees to mark after they had seen it.
After being contacted by The Gazette, Megan Tooker, executive director and legal counsel for the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board, said she would look into the matter but declined to comment on the legality of Slockett’s action until after she had gathered more information.
She did note, however, that Iowa code prohibits the use of public resources for political purposes. That includes using public time, property or facilities for campaign work.
Slockett acknowledged that he passed around his nomination petition at the Auditor’s Office. He denied doing so was inappropriate despite it putting his employees in the position of deciding whether to sign a document that would help their boss try to keep his job.
The petition is necessary to get Slockett’s name on the ballot for the June primary election.
“I think this sort of thing is certainly acceptable,” said Slockett, a Democrat and the Johnson County auditor and elections commissioner since 1977. “I won’t do it again now that I know it’s worthy of being a news story. I certainly had no intention of doing anything controversial.”
An official with the union representing employees in the Auditor’s Office and a fellow elected official criticized Slockett.
Joe Rasmussen, business representative for Public Professional and Maintenance Employees Local 2003, said he wasn’t sure if what Slockett did was illegal, but he found in inappropriate.
“That’s putting employees on the spot, and there’s a variety of political affiliations and everything else among bargaining unit members,” he said. “It just doesn’t seem correct.”
Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig, a Democrat, said it’s important to follow state ethics laws.
“Employees shouldn’t be put in a position to take political sides at work,” she said.
The Gazette reviewed a copy of the petition Slockett had in the office Monday. It addition to signatures, it had a small box with the names of 19 Auditor’s Office employees with a line next to each name. Some of the names had been checked. At the bottom was a note saying the sheet was to be returned to “Tom” when finished.
Slockett said the check list was meant to ensure everyone saw the petition, not to keep track of who did and who did not sign it. He said the office has a similar process for things like birthday cards.
He also said there would be no retribution for anyone who did not sign and argued the petition was not a political document.
“There was no request to vote for me. There was no envelopment suggesting that a contribution to the campaign be made, or anything of that nature,” he said.
In 2008, Slockett faced election challenges from two former employees who claimed he created a hostile work environment.
A person must collect 100 signatures to be on the ballot in the June primary. Slockett said he had had far exceeded that number, which he cited as another example of why he did nothing wrong in bringing the petition to the office.
He said he planned to file his nomination petition later Monday and wanted to give his staff an opportunity to sign it should they wish.
Slockett said he had passed his petition around the office in past election years too, but not every time.
Tooker, with the state ethics board, said she’s seen similar instances of this happening but couldn’t say what the typical resolution was. Each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis by the board, she said.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office does not have jurisdiction over the matter, a spokeswoman said.
Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness did not immediately return phone and email messages Monday.There are no other declared candidates, Democrat or Republican, for the auditor's race at this time.