September 22, 2023

Special election for auditor vacancy depends who is appointed, party chairs say

Local Democratic, Republican leaders could organize petition depending on who fills seat

The board of supervisors want to fill the county auditor vacancy by appointment, but the chairpersons from both major parties lean toward a special election.

Of course they say that all depends on who is eventually appointed to head the office for the two years left in Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott’s term — which ends in 2024 — and whether enough signatures are acquired to call a special election. A successful petition would need about 1,500-1,600 signatures.

Michelle Smith, chair of the Jasper County Democratic Party, said it is ultimately up to the citizens to decide whether they agree with the supervisors’ choice. Smith is not opposed to a special election. She knows it will cost money to hold a special election, but the people do have a say in who fills an elected position.

“Dennis was elected and now he’s retiring, so people should also have the option to elect if that’s what they want,” Smith said.

Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma said it would cost upwards of $25,000 for special election, and with only a few years left of the term he felt it does not justify spending that kind of money. Smith very much disagreed, claiming the county “wasted several millions” on the administration building.

“I don’t care about $25,000,” Smith said. “It really isn’t anything to the budget.”

Thad Nearmyer, chair of the Jasper County Republican Party, is also not opposed to a special election and feels like you “can’t put a price on citizens’ freedom to vote.” He also pointed out the county having to spend extra money to mail out postcards correcting an error made by the auditor’s office regarding a tax levy.

But, like Smith, Nearmyer argued it all depends on the person the board of supervisors appoints to the office sometime after Jan. 1.

If it is a person the Republican Party doesn’t necessarily approve of, they may petition.

“Either party would probably go out and try to get signatures for an election,” he said. “I think a special election is better. It lets the people decide. I think it should be up to the people to decide. But the supervisors have the option to appoint, and they chose that option. So I guess we’ll see who they appoint and go from there.”

At the Nov. 15 meeting, the board of supervisors voted 3-0 to fill the vacancy by appointment. Appointing an individual as county auditor must be done within 40 days after the vacancy occurs. Supervisors have until mid-February. Voters canpetition for a special election within the first 14 days an appointment is made.

If a petition gets enough signatures for a special election to be scheduled, Smith said nominating conventions would have to be organized, too. Nearmyer said the nominating convention would be similar to what the parties did for the Iowa House District 29 vacancy last year between Jon Dunwell and Steve Mullan.

Whether it is by appointment or by special election, Smith hopes the process is treated like a job interview and that the right person is chosen for the job. With the board consisting of all Republicans, Smith questioned if they will appoint an individual of their own party or “take a more neutral tone” to the selection.

“Like look at the individual rather than the party,” Smith said.

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.