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Split Vote On Engineer’s Contract

By Staff | Dec 28, 2010

A compromise six-month employment contract was the result of a discussion between the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors and Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz following a meeting of the board on Tuesday, Dec. 21. The contract was offered on a 3-2 split vote of the supervisors after a lengthy discussion on the question.

The Iowa Code requires a county to employ a registered civil engineer for a term not to exceed three years, and tenure of the engineer may be terminated at any time by the county’s supervisors. In the course of its discussion on the engineer on Dec. 21, the employment contract and terms of the contract were among the items of contention by board members.

County Engineer Joel Fantz had brought up the issue a couple of weeks earlier in a reminder to the supervisors that his current contract of employment was expiring. On Tuesday, the issue came to the forefront. Fantz along with his wife, Mina, were on hand for the session, along with Palo Alto County Attorney Peter C. Hart.

Board Chair Jerry Hofstad opened the discussion. “What I would like you to do is work one year without a contract, and at the end of that time, we will discuss it some more. That’s my thinking.”

“I don’t agree with that. I’m not going to agree with that.” Supervisor Leo Goeders spoke up. “I don’t think that’s fair at all. You’re being treated unfairly, I think.”

Supervisor Ron Graettinger offered his opinion. “This is the way I feel. With Joel’s education and his military background, he has a great deal of self-discipline, excellence and pride in himself. You recognize that what one calls arrogance, another calls pride. Joel takes a lot of pride in his work. He sets himself to high standards and demands a lot of himself to be and do the best that he can, trying to excel at his job.”

Graettinger reminded the board members that Fantz’ leadership has brought the Secondary Road Department back into the black, budget-wise.

“There is no shame in him saying he is very good at his job, because he’s shown that he is,” Graettinger continued. “Joel has done a lot for the people by being fiscally conservative, keeping informed and aware of savings. He has done an excellent job on his construction of roads and meeting the challenges that come up. The people of the county are his primary concern. I think the people and the supervisors have benefitted from his expertise.

“I know that when you are in the military, you are taught that you are the best,” Goeders told Fantz. “You have the right traits and that is why you were hired here in the first place.”

“As far as personality clashes, everybody has those,” Graettinger added. “Everybody on this board clashes at times.”

“You’re certainly welcome to stay and work,” noted Supervisor Ed Noonan, “But I’m not willing to renew the contract in its current form.”

Hofstad noted that some things needed to be worked out, in his opinion.

“Yes, things need to be put on the table,” agreed Goeders.

“I did not put this contract together,” Fantz said. “There are two and a half, three pages out of four that protect the county, and only a small area of protections for me.”

“For the record, it is my recommendation, to protect the county, and I’m sure you’ve checked with your insurance carrier, to have a contract in place for the county’s protection,” Fantz continued. “But, I want it stated for the record that you have a contract for an engineer. It’s just good business practice. Personally, I would like to know just what provisions of this contract you object to.”

Hofstad offered the idea of a six-month contract, which Graettinger stated he could support. “I’d go along with that, but would Joel?”

“Well, I think he does a hell of a job, and that’s on the record,” Hofstad said. “But, I think the contract should be able to be terminated on a vote of three supervisors, instead of four.”

“I won’t go along with that,” Goeders said.

“I’ll support the same contract with no changes,” Graettinger said.

“Would you agree with a six month contract?” Supervisor Keith Wirtz asked Fantz.

“I’d have to think about it and talk it over with my family,” Fantz answered.

As the discussion continued, County Attorney Peter Hart produced a copy of the contract dated in 2008, which contained a provision requiring a unanimous vote of the supervisors to terminate the contract without just cause, rather than a provision allowing four out of five votes, as some members of the board had been thinking was in effect.

“You can fire me for cause at any time,” Fantz said.

“We don’t want to fire you, we want you to stay,” Hofstad said. “Don’t even say that word.”

“Would everyone be willing to go six months, and then come back and talk?” Goeders asked.

Hofstad indicated he’d like to see the provision changed to four votes, while Wirtz stated his preference to three votes.

“If I were to agree to the six month contract and to change the language to allow for removal on four votes, and knowing that there is no disability clause in my contract, would you agree to provisions allowing for two months salary as severance pay and payment for accumulated sick leave time on the books if I were to be terminated without cause?” Fantz asked. “I’m only looking out for my family with this.”

“I’m surprised you’d go along with that,” Goeders said, but I’d support that.

“I’d go along with it too,” Graettinger said.

“Is that a motion and second?” Hofstad asked, and when receiving affirmative nods from both men, Hofstad called for a vote. Goeders and Graettinger both voted aye, while Wirtz and Noonan voted nay. Hofstad broke the tie by voting aye. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote and Hofstad announced the motion carried.

“I appreciate the offer, and I promise I will do the best job for Palo Alto County that I am capable of for the next six months,” Fantz said.

“I don’t think the board will regret what we’ve done.”

Hofstad asked Mina Fantz if she wished to speak.

“I’m disappointed that this came down to a week before the end of the contract, and right before Christmas,” Mina Fantz said. “Six months go by awfully fast. I really think that this should have been done a lot sooner than it was. But, I would like to say that I do appreciate the immediate support of Ron and Leo in this.”