By Mike Whittlesey
When it comes to elections involving city government and the local school district, recent history has shown that La Porte City, like many small communities throughout the state, has had a limited number of candidates from which to choose. In the 2015 school board election, four open seats on the seven member Union Community School District Board of Directors were filled. Of those, voters had just five candidates to consider, leaving three of the four races uncontested. That same year saw just three candidates run for election on the La Porte City City Council. With three seats available, voters were again left without a choice. Each candidate ran unopposed.
Last week, announcement was made that a special election will be held in La Porte City on February 7. The election will give voters the opportunity to select the person who will complete the remainder of David Williams’ term on the City Council, which expires on December 31, 2020. You may recall that Williams resigned his seat last month prior to his move out of state.
In situations like this one, the Code of Iowa gives local government a couple of options to fill a vacant seat. The four remaining members of the LPC City Council could have filled the vacancy by way of temporary appointment, or called for a special election to let the voters make the final decision. Regardless the action taken by the Council, the matter would have eventually come before the voters anyway, as state law dictates that temporary appointments are only valid only until the next regularly scheduled municipal election, November 2017 in La Porte City’s case. Should voters not wish to wait until the next election rolls around, the law allows them to request a special election by way of petition.
At a special meeting on January 29, the LPC City Council met to address the issue of the vacant Council seat. Their task, however, was no simple one, as three candidates, Jasmine Gaston, Stuart Grote and Chad Van Dyke, submitted letters indicating their desire to serve. With one seat to fill, the Council had something not seen at the last municipal election- an abundance of candidates.
Had just a single candidate come forward, the decision to appoint would have been an easy one. Following a brief question and answer period where Council members had the opportunity to address each of the candidates, the decision to appoint Chad Van Dyke was made on a 3-1 vote. Five days later, voters filed a petition to call for a special election. As this edition of The Progress Review went to press, the names of the candidates running for election were not yet available.
The announcement of the upcoming election has portions of the community buzzing, and that’s a good thing. Nearly every decision made by a governing body opens the door for scrutiny and criticism. In this case, the City Council was faced with the unenviable task of choosing someone when, for the first time in years, there was more than one candidate to consider. Imagine how difficult it would be to choose one of your fellow citizens to represent you with little more than a letter of introduction and a 15 minute Q&A session. No small task, indeed.
Given the level of interest in serving on the City Council at this time, it is appropriate that the voters of La Porte City decide who should represent them.
The County Auditor’s estimate of $2,500 to conduct a special election is a small price to pay to ensure that every La Porte City voter has an opportunity to cast their vote. The candidates who have come forward and expressed a desire to serve the community should be commended for their efforts. They give the citizens of La Porte City a choice to make for who they believe will best represent their interests over the next three years.
In so many ways, the upcoming special election is a sign that our community is alive and well. Casting your vote on February 7 is the best way to prove it.