Ombudsman says council appointment didn’t follow law

The City of Buffalo Center did not comply with state law when making a City Council appointment in 2017, according to an investigation by the State of Iowa Office of Ombudsman.

Assistant Ombudsman Jason Pulliam sent a letter to the City this January, concluding the City failed to meet its own ordinance as well as the Iowa Code when it took more than 120 days to fill a Council seat following the death of City Councilman Les Wubben on April 5, 2017. City Code requires the Council to fill a vacancy by appointment within 40 days or to call for a special election, while the deadline in the Iowa Code is 60 days.

Pulliam initially contacted the City about the matter on August 9, 2017, and the Council filled the vacancy by appointment later that day during its monthly meeting. Pulliam advised the City to table the appointment, due to procedural errors that had occurred.

He also noted that because of time constraints, it was not advisable to hold a special election prior to that year’s Election Day on November 7. However, City Attorney Don Hemphill had previously advised the Council to proceed with the appointment, which it did that evening when it appointed Nicholas Holland to fill the vacant seat.

Pulliam notes the City Council first discussed the appointment during its July 12, 2017 meeting, which was nearly 100 days after the seat became vacant. Councilman Don West pointed out during that meeting that the City had already missed its deadline to make an appointment, and the issue was tabled so Troy Armstrong, who was then the mayor, could consult with City Attorney Don Hemphill. Hemphill encouraged the Council to proceed with an appointment, as he said it was not practical at that point to hold a special election before November.

He also noted there is no penalty under the law for failing to meet the deadline for an appointment.

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