February 28, 2024

Evelyn George’s at-large council seat up for grabs

Council has the option to hold a special election or appoint someone to fill seat

Evelyn George

When Evelyn George is sworn in as Newton mayor at the start of the year, her at-large city council seat will be open for the taking, which leaves the council with two options: Hold a special election that could cost thousands of dollars, or appoint someone to fill the seat for the next two years.

Newton Mayor Mike Hansen explained the process at the Nov. 20 city council meeting, noting he had a lengthy discussion with the city attorney and city clerk to make sure he interpreted the law correctly. The council can call for a special election by a resolution, but Hansen said a lot of costs come with that.

“The other option you have to you and the one that I recommend that you exercise is to appoint,” Hansen said. “You can issue a notice of appointment on your first meeting in January, which is Jan. 2 on a Tuesday … You can pass a resolution with the intent to appoint the vacated at-large seat.”

But if the city council receives a petition from the public within the next 14 days, and the petition has 393 valid signatures — which is 15 percent of the total voter turnout of this past election — from the Newton electorate, then that will trigger a special election. However, that does not stop council from appointing someone.

“The reason for that is because Iowa state law says you must fill that seat within 60 days,” Hansen said to council members. “So you may not get a special election for 60 days. It may go into 90 days or whatever. The person that is appointed holds that seat until the next certified election.”

Which could be either the special election triggered by the petition or the normal city election that would happen in 2025.

When the city publishes a notice of intent to appoint someone to the vacant at-large seat, the council can then entertain letters of interest from anyone wanting to be appointed to the seat until the next election. Council will then interview those candidates in a public meeting; it cannot be at a private meeting.

Then council members will vote on who they want to appoint to the seat. Council member Vicki Wade asked Hansen how much it would cost to run a special election. Hansen said it would cost more than $6,000. To clarify, individuals interested in being appointed to the seat did not have to run this past election.

In order to be appointed to the at-large seat or to even sign the petition for special election, individuals must be qualified electors of the City of Newton.

Since council member Randy Ervin chose to run for mayor rather than retain his at-large seat — there are two at-large seats and four ward seats on the city council — it is now going to be filled by Joel Mills. Ervin expressed his interest in filling the at-large seat left behind by George.

“There have been a lot of people who have reached out to me. The condolences were wonderful,” Ervin said of the mayoral race in which he lost by 13 votes. “But every one of them, including the majority of the people in this room, has asked me to put my name in the hat to replace Evelyn.”

Ervin coaches in his spare time. He teaches them to compete and to realize no matter if they win or lose, they must learn from their experience.

“You give the glory to God and then you go compete again,” Ervin said. “I will be asking the city council to appoint me to Evelyn’s position.”

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.