Government

Iowa City calls for October special election to fill vacant council seat

Candidates have one week to file

IOWA CITY — Residents will have the opportunity to vote for a new Iowa City Council member during a special election Oct. 2.

The Iowa City Council on Friday approved calling the election in a 6-0 vote.

The election is prompted by the resignation in July of Kingsley Botchway II, who resigned after accepting a job with the Waterloo school district. Botchway was elected to his second at-large council term last year, with a term that lasts through 2021.

The council, in its special meeting Friday, had to decide whether to appoint someone to the at-large seat or schedule a special election.

“I think even though we have the option to appoint under the law, I view our role as working for the people of the city of Iowa City, not to tell them who their leader should be,” council member Rockne Cole said. “And so I think this is something that gives them the opportunity to elect their leaders.”

Appointing someone to fill the council seat, he said, “is not as legitimate in the minds of a lot of community members as an election, which I think is the hallmark of legitimacy in terms of any political process.”

But because the state and federal midterm election is Nov. 6, scheduling a special city election poses a tight time line. Special elections cannot be held during the “blackout” period — the four Tuesdays before and after a general election.

The city also is required to give the Johnson County Auditor’s Office a 60-day notice of a special election, which made Friday the last day council members could order a special election before the midterm election, and also meaning the only Tuesday available for a special election was Oct. 2.

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“Holding a special election early in October ... would give candidates very little time to decide whether they want to seek election, very little time to organize or fund a campaign,” Mayor Jim Throgmorton said when discussing the negatives of the Oct. 2 date. “Ideally, people would have a little more time to think about whether they want to be candidates.”

Council member John Thomas said, “I appreciate and agree that it’s not the best of circumstances that we’re working with. There are people who are engaged in local politics, and others who aren’t. And I think those who, in terms of putting their name in for running for office, I think those people have been thinking about the opportunity whether it was through appointment or through special election.”

The filing deadline for council candidates will be Friday. If more than two candidates file, that will trigger a Sept. 4 primary election.

The special election will likely cost the city $30,000 and double that if a primary is needed.

The council had an opportunity to reduce the cost, likely by half, if they chose to open only eight or 10 voting centers instead of all the traditional polling places.

“Obviously, the definite downside of that is people know where their polling places are,” City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes told the council. “That’s going to be a whole information campaign, it seems to me, to try to get the word out on where people are supposed to be voting.”

The council opted to have all the polling places open. Because the vacant council seat is at-large, voters throughout the city can cast a ballot.

Iowa City Council members are paid $7,259.20 a year.

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

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