Iowa City is now accepting applications for the upcoming vacancy on the city council that will happen when at-large member Janice Weiner steps down at the beginning of next year. Weiner submitted her resignation after winning election to the Iowa Senate in a landslide victory in this month’s general election. The resignation takes effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
During the council’s formal meeting last week, councilmembers voted unanimously to appoint a new member, rather than hold a special election. Councilmembers pointed to low voter turnout in special elections for favoring opting to appoint an at-large member to fill out the remaining year on Weiner’s term.
“Not very many people participate, and we know a timeline for a special election would be very short,” Councilmember Laura Bergus said during the council’s discussion. “A low-barrier application that is open to everyone … is actually a better process for making it open to those who might be wanting to and capable of serving, than having a very, very low-turnout, short-timeframe special election.”
The Johnson County Auditor’s Office provided the council with an estimated cost for a special election, if there is required both a primary and a runoff, of approximately $100,000.
There is, if course, also the cost any candidate would face campaigning in a special election. That expense might discourage people interested in serving, and councilmembers said they hoped the appointment process would help encourage a more diverse range of potential councilmembers.
The same set of concerns were cited by members of the Coralville City Council in May when they decided to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Jill Dodds by appointment.
Iowa code allows citizens to override a decision to fill a vacancy in elected office with an appointment by petitioning for a special election. Such a petition must be filed with the city clerk’s office within 14 days of official publication of the intent to appoint — in this case, within 14 days of Nov. 21 — or within 14 days after a person is appointed. The petition must have “at least the number of signatures equal to ten percent of the voters who voted for candidates for the office at the preceding regular election at which the office was on the ballot.” According to the auditor’s office, in this case that would be 743 signatures for Iowa City residents eligible to vote.
The online application for the city council vacancy is now live. Applications can also be mailed to:
Ms. Kellie K. Fruehling, City Clerk
City of Iowa City, Iowa
410 East Washington St
Iowa City, Iowa 52240
Applications must be received by Tuesday, Jan. 3, in order to be considered. City councilmembers will review the applications. If more than seven people apply, the council will select seven finalists during its work session on Saturday, Jan. 7.
“Finalists in attendance may make oral presentations at the Jan. 10 special formal meeting where City Council will appoint an applicant to fill the vacancy,” according to the city’s news release on the process.
With additional reporting by Adria Carpenter