Coralville City Council appoints Keith Jones to fill its vacant seat

Video still of Keith Jones at the Coralville City Council meeting, June 14, 2022.

Keith Jones was sworn in as the newest member of the Coralville City Council on Tuesday night during the council’s regular meeting. Jones fills the vacancy left by the resignation of Jill Dodds on April 26.

The retired banker was one of six candidates the city council interviewed for the opening during a special meeting on June 9. (A seventh person submitted a written application for the vacant seat, but did not show up for the scheduled interview.)

The other candidates ranged from relative newcomers to Coralville to the city’s former chief of police, Barry Bedford, who retired in 2017 and was a candidate in the 2020 special election to fill the previous vacancy on the city council. Councilmember Hai Huynh won that election to finish the term of Tom Gill, who resigned following objection to his description of Black Lives Matter protesters as a “bunch of criminals.”

The city council voted on May 24 to appoint a new member to complete the year-and-a-half left of Dodds’ term, rather than hold a special election. That decision was based on the cost of a special election — estimated between $20,000 and $25,000 — as well as the likelihood an election in August would have a low turnout. Consideration was also given to the application process attracting more diverse candidates than an election might. Also, time was a consideration. Not being able to hold a special election before August might prevent the council from taking action, because the members’ already scheduled summer plans could have prevented the quorum of three councilmembers needed to take a vote.

The quorum problem was visible at Tuesday’s council session. Councilmember Laurie Goodrich was absent and the council was only able to vote on Jones’s appointment because Mayor Pro Tem Mitch Gross took a break from a meeting in Des Moines and drove back to Coralville for the vote. Following the unanimous vote to appoint Jones, Gross returned to Des Moines.

Jones has lived in Coralville since 1975, and has been active in the community for most of that time. He has served on the Coralville Public Library Board of Trustees for more than 30 years, has been on the board of the Coralville Community Fund since it was founded in 2006, and president of the board of directors of the Coralville Community Food Pantry, among other community activities.

In his written application, Jones said he’d had “a desire to serve the citizens of Coralville as a council member for many years” but prior to his retirement had felt his job in banking “would create too many conflicts of interest and therefore would be unfair to the City and my employer.”

Asked during the June 9 interview what changes he would like to make as a councilmember, Jones said he’d like to see the city add curbside recycling for glass, but thought in general Coralville was already moving in a good direction.

“I have a lot of respect for the city council, and I’m not really critical of what’s done,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed living in this community for 47 years — raising my family, working — and I’m not sure there’s anything I would change.”

Jones said he hopes to use his limited time on the council to promote greater community involvement with the city government.

“We need to cultivate that, and we need to find a way to make that happen,” he said. “And that’s across the board, that’s every citizen, marginalized and others.”

Perhaps the most important answer Jones gave was when he was asked if he would run for the seat when it is on the ballot in 2023.

“One of the things that appeals to me about this is that it is an 18-month appointment, and I can tell you without a doubt that I would not run in ’23,” he replied.

Members of the council had said when they voted to appoint a replacement for Dodds that they wanted someone who was not interested in running in 2023, because of the advantage incumbency would give that person over any other potential candidate. Jones was the only one of the six people interviewed who said definitively he would not run for the council in the future.

After being sworn in, Jones voted on a series of issues from new equipment for the city’s wastewater treatment center to approving new lease contracts at Iowa River Landing. All the city council votes on Tuesday were unanimous.