The Washington County Board of Supervisors is trying to figure out how to proceed with a county attorney that says he can no longer represent them.
“We don’t really know for sure what we’re doing right now,” said board chair Ron Bennett. “We’re figuring out what we are doing, and if he can be doing what he did. We’ve also been looking for outside counsel.”
Bennett said Washington County Attorney Larry Brock emailed the board on July 17 and informed them that neither he – nor any member of his staff – would be able to work with the supervisors or any department that answers to the board. Brock said he would still be able to work with other elected county officials, such as the auditor, recorder, treasurer and sheriff.
Brock told the board the conflict of interest in serving them stems from a complaint two supervisors – Bob Yoder and Jack Seward, Jr. – filed with the state Attorney Disciplinary Board concerning campaign finance violations Brock charged Yoder and Seward with last summer while the two men were running for board seats.
Yoder was charged with one count of unlawful transfer of campaign funds and Seward was charged with one count of unlawful receipt of a monetary or in-kind campaign contribution from a corporation. Both men went to trial and were found not guilty.
"I’m not going to comment at this point," Brock said Thursday. "I’m just going to let the process do what it’s going to do."
Seward could not be reached for comment and Yoder declined to comment.
“I was asked to keep it in confidence,” Yoder said Thursday. “I fully intend to do that. I can’t comment on it, I’ve been asked not to comment…You’re just going down a dead end road. I’m not breaking the confidentiality.”
Yoder referred questions to Brock or Barb Edmondson, a private practice attorney in Washington. Edmondson was Washington County Attorney for 13 years. She was unseated by Brock in 2010.
Edmondson said Thursday she “can’t make any public statement about the matter.” She would not confirm she is representing Yoder and Seward.
The exact nature of Yoder and Seward’s complaint against Brock is unknown.
“I’m not sure what the contents of those letters were,” Bennett said. “Those supervisors aren’t saying anything.”
Supervisor Stan Stoops – who was elected in 2012 with Yoder and Seward - said the incident caught him by surprise.
“This thing dropped in our lap, boom,” Stoops said. “It’s going to get interesting.”
The apparent bad blood between Yoder, Seward and Brock goes back to an ongoing countywide debate about instituting zoning regulations within the county, Stoops said. While the cities of Washington and Kalona have zoning regulations, the county did not prior to the previous board voting in those regulations.
Yoder, Seward and Stoops all ran on an anti-zoning platform, Stoops said.
“It was a very hot topic during the campaign,” he said.
Stoops suggested the campaign finance violations filed against the other two candidates were a way to prevent them from being elected.
“We were going to vote zoning out, and they knew that and they didn’t want us in there,” he said.
Stoops, former Washington County Chief jailer, said he knows Seward from Seward’s days as an investigator with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Stoops said Seward wouldn’t file an ethics complaint simply to retaliate against Brock’s allegations.
“I know whatever it is (Seward) has done, it’s because some wrong has occurred,” Stoops said. “He would not be out there filing these things if it was not wrong.”
Stoops said he didn’t want to go into any further detail on the ongoing “shenanigans” concerning the board, Brock and the zoning debate.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a blessing,” Stoops said of Brock's decision not to represent the board. “Now we don’t have to go to him for legal counsel anymore.”
But, Bennett said there are county departments with questions that only the county attorney’s office can answer.
“We weren’t exactly sure how much work the county attorney does for the departments until they tell us,” Bennett said. “Now that it’s not running smoothly…we’re finding out about it.”
Bennett said the board has reached out to the state Association of Counties and the state Auditor’s Office for advice on how to proceed. He said they’ll speak with the state Attorney General’s Office on Friday.“We hope this thing gets resolved,” he said.