During their June 19 meeting, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors recognized a petition requesting that the question concerning the reduction of five county supervisors to three supervisors be placed on the ballot for the November 6 General Election.
The Supervisors had immediate reservations about the possibility of reduction.
"The biggest thing would be drainage," said Keith Wirtz, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "Just about every one of our drainage ditches is joint with other counties [that have boards of five Supervisors] and if they would go to three Supervisors Palo Alto County would never have say in drainage again. People need to know that."
"It really confuses people with the recent redistricting and then this," said Supervisor Ed Noonan.
County Attorney Lyssa Henderson was in attendance at the meeting to address the matter of the petition.
"First of all you need to make a motion and formally recognize the petition," advised Henderson. "Then we'll need another motion to direct me to draft a resolution to put the question on the ballot."
Following these actions, the board discussed the effects of reducing from five supervisors to three.
Supervisor Ed Noonan asked Henderson if she had time to explain "Plan Two" to the board.
Under the Code of Iowa's Home Rule provisions in Chapter 331, counties have three options for supervisor representation: Plan One, where supervisors are elected at large with no districts; Plan Two, where supervisors are elected at-large, but represent districts that are equal in population; and Plan Three, in which supervisors are elected by the voters of equally-populated districts elect supervisors who reside in that district.
"I think one thing that would be nice would be if the newspaper would talk about this petition and how that plan works. Even if you go to Plan Two it won't take effect until 2014," Henderson answered.
"I've got people out there who don't know which district they're in," said Noonan. "Then satellite voting opened up and they're confused. I think that's going to suppress people from voting."
Henderson responded that that specific issue could be easily remedied.
"The newspaper put out the map when we redistricted," Henderson said.
"You don't understand where I'm from most people don't get the Emmetsburg paper," Noonan noted.
"I don't think it was just in the Emmetsburg paper, but others as well," Henderson said. "You could also make it available on the website."
Noonan stated that, in the future, he would make the suggestion to change to Plan Two, and would like the board to be informed on the plan in question.
"Maybe we should have a more formal setting where that's discussed and we invite the public," said Henderson.
Noonan added that there is "a little urgency on his part" because he may not retain his Supervisor seat following the November election.
"I'd like to bring it up before that time," Noonan said. "But I don't want to bring it up until the board understands it."
Henderson stated, "You all are saying that the voters are already confused, and then we go and change something else...If the number of Supervisors is reduced to three, it will change everything again. If the number of Supervisors is reduced to three it will trigger a new redistricting and it will also trigger everybody being reinstated on the ballot the next time around."
She noted that the plan would be in effect the first business day of January 2014. In 2013 there would be an election with the three or five, depending on whether the public decides to reduce Supervisors or not in November.
"I think it would be wise for you to wait until after the November election," said Henderson. "There's still time for you to do it before your tenure is over, if that, in fact, happens."
"The thing I don't like about that time frame is it looks like sour grapes, that I got beat and now I want to change the way people are elected'."
"But I think if you put it out there now and we talk about it and have that open forum, that opinion wouldn't be there," Henderson countered.
County Auditor Carmen Moser presented the option that a special election could be held to decide the plans.
"I don't want that," said Noonan. "Just like this petition to go to three members, I guarantee that 90-percent of those who signed the petition do not have a clue what would happen if we go to three supervisors."
"You have to understand, people aren't signing this petition because they're in favor of reducing to three supervisors. They're saying--by signing this petition--that they've in favor of the public being able to vote on it. That's all this is," Henderson explained. "Just because people signed it doesn't mean they're in favor of it being reduced."
"As long as the people are well informed before they vote, I have no problem with it," said Noonan.