The mayors of eight Dallas County cities signed a letter to the Dallas County Board of Supervisors in early April asking the three-member board to enlarge its size to five supervisors, and the supervisors briefly addressed the issue Tuesday.
Voters would need to approve any change in the arrangement of the county leadership.
In their letter, the eight mayors claimed they “represent over 76 percent of the Dallas County [populace] as well as 72 percent of the taxable base.” With a current population of about 80,000, the mayors noted, Dallas County “is the fastest growing county in the State of Iowa, the seventh fastest growing county in the United States.”
Without openly criticizing the current county leaders or questioning their competence to execute the duties of their office, the mayors urged the supervisors to enlarge their number because “local government in Iowa is increasingly complex,” the April 5 letter said.
“Two additional supervisors would provide better representation on the board to the more than 66,135 people (2010 Census) that live in Dallas County,” the mayors said. “Further, two more supervisors would make it much easier for the board to comply with Chapter 21 of the Iowa Code (the Open Meetings law). Finally, we believe that additional points of view contribute significantly to better decision making processes.”
The mayors signing the letter were James Peters of Adel, Scott Cirksena of Clive, Michael Kidd of Dallas Center, Jay Pattee of Perry, Robert Andeweg of Urbandale, Allan Adams of Van Meter, Bill Peard of Waukee and Steven K. Gaer of West Des Moines. With the exception of Pattee, all the signers represent cities in the southeast quarter of Dallas County.
Dallas County has 17 incorporated municipalities. Most of the mayors in the county’s northern and western reaches — Bouton, Dawson, De Soto, Dexter, Granger, Linden, Minburn, Redfield and Woodward — did not sign the letter.
“It’s not a referendum on the existing board of supervisors,” Waukee Mayor Peard said Wednesday. “It’s not a report card. It’s just a belief on the part of the mayors of Dallas County that this makes sense.”
Peard said the mayors, who meet monthly through the facilitation of Greater Dallas County Development Alliance Executive Director Linda Wunch, have discussed the idea of a five-member board “for quite some time” because “the demands on [the supervisors’] jobs have increased so drastically” with the rapid growth of the county.
“It’s a future thing,” the Waukee mayor said. “”It’s about investing in the future of Dallas County. We’re just simply saying that it seems logical that an expansion of the board, in the seventh-fastest-growing county in the U.S. and with the absolute explosion that’s going on in Dallas County for growth and in Polk County, that it makes sense. That’s all we’re saying: it makes sense.”
The Dallas County Board of Supervisors is currently composed of three part-time positions, each with an annually salary of about $53,000. The members are Mark Hanson of Waukee, the present board chair, Kim Chapman of Adel and Brad Golightly of Perry.
West Des Moines Mayor Gaer said he wants to see the number of supervisor positions increased to five and made full time.
“It’s time to change the corporate governance so that it meets the needs of the seventh-fastest-growing county in the nation,” Gaer said Wednesday. “The mayors got together and said, ‘You know, we really think it’s time to have full-time supervisors in Dallas County and to expand it to five, similar to Polk County, where you have actual districts that you represent.'”
Perry Mayor Pattee signed the letter although Perry is an outlier among the southeastern communities.
“I signed the petition because I feel the size of our county warrants it,” Pattee said Tuesday, “and I feel it’s a deal where if you’ve got more heads in the game, you’re apt to come out with better decisions.”
Pattee said the supervisors’ principled opposition to tax hikes “makes us really competitive for businesses that want to settle here, but what I worry about is the infrastructure.” He pointed to the board’s inaction on the city of Perry’s request for the paving of 130th Street (Park Street) as an example of potential growth being stifled by the supervisors’ devotion to a low property tax levy rate.
“I think requests like Park Street should be taken more seriously,” Pattee said, “and I feel if there were two more individuals considering it, we would be better represented. Instead of individuals who are only concerned with keeping the asking down, we would realize that some things are going to cost more down the road, and we would have more progressive planning for the future.”
The supervisors briefly discussed the mayors’ letter at their regular Tuesday meeting, and preliminary plans were laid for a workshop at which the supervisors and mayors could discuss the proposal.
Supervisor Hanson said he put the topic on Tuesday’s agenda “just to get a temperature on what the other members of this board may or may not be thinking on this issue.” As a three-member board, the supervisors cannot discuss county business outside of their regular weekly meetings without violating the Iowa Open Meetings law.
While Supervisor Chapman said he will treat the question of increasing the board’s number as a “research project” and will “evaluate the pros and cons of a petition versus the board’s putting it on the ballot,” Supervisor Golightly’s position on the question was more nearly formed.
“I’ve always felt it’s important,” Golightly said, “that a request such as this, for a change in government, should come from the people through the petition process. And I think that’s still important to me.”
Speaking after the Tuesday meeting, Golightly, whose district includes Perry, said he was puzzled by the mayors’ letter.
“I don’t know if they feel they are not being represented,” he said. “If that’s true, what do they feel they’re missing out on in that representation?” He described his general notion of the role of the county supervisors.
“Strictly speaking, our job is to be the representatives of all the people for the basic government services,” Golightly said. “Beyond that, we collect monies for the rural services and are their voice in some of these conversations because the cities all have mayors and city councils to organize their voice. So to me, to have someone else from the neighborhood representing conversations on rural questions — is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“We just want to have the conversation,” West Des Moines Mayor Gaer said Wednesday. “This is our first step, just to ask the current supervisors to voluntarily put it on the agenda for a vote by the residents of Dallas County.”
Dallas County voters would need to approve any change in the county’s form of government. The simplest way to bring the question before voters would be for the supervisors to place it on the ballot in the November general election. A second way would require a petition signed by 2,900 county voters, a number equal to 10 percent of the number voting in the 2014 general election.
Dallas County Auditor and Commissioner of Elections Gene Krumm said his office would need to receive the ballot language — whether submitted by the supervisors or by means of petition — by Aug. 31 in order to get it on the ballot in time for the November general election.
“I don’t think our supervisors are likely to put it on by themselves,” Krumm predicted Tuesday. “I’m pretty sure it’s not going to come from the board just from the way they acted today, but you never know.”