There will be a special election on Tuesday, June 8, to fill the vacancy on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors created by Janelle Rettig’s resignation. That was the decision reached at the Friday afternoon meeting of the committee of three county officials responsible for determining how to fill Rettig’s seat.
Rettig announced her retirement, effective immediately, on Sunday, and there has been a lot of interest in the open seat, Auditor Travis Weipert said during the meeting on Friday.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said. “I think I’ve had eight people now call and say they’re interested in running.”
Weipert, along with Recorder Kim Painter and Treasurer Tom Kriz, made up the committee of elected official who, under Iowa law, decide how to fill a vacancy when supervisor doesn’t complete a full-term. The committee can either appoint a replacement who serves until the next scheduled election, or schedule a special election to fill the seat.
“I just think that with a year-and-a-half left in the term, I’m just not comfortable appointing somebody,” Weipert said.
Painter agreed that the amount of time remaining on Rettig’s term — it does not expire until the end of December 2022 — made appointing a replacement, instead of giving voters a choice, an unattractive option.
Kriz disagreed, citing the structure of a special election.
Under state law, Johnson County Democrats and Republicans will reconvene their county conventions, and members of the convention will select the party’s candidate. Candidates from other parties, and anyone choosing to run without any party affiliation, will have to collect 250 signatures from eligible voters who live in Johnson County to qualify for the ballot.
This will all happen on a compressed time schedule. State law requires a special election to be held on the “soonest practicable” Tuesday after a 46-day period during which the auditor’s office prepares for the election.
Kriz said he was concerned that the speedy convention process gives an undue advantage to people who already have strong connections inside their political party, and the challenges involved in gathering enough signatures to get on the ballot without being selected by a convention was too daunting for many.
“It’s always concerning, when it does go to [a special] election, to me, that we still weed out some possibly really good candidates that may not have strong ties to either major political party in this community,” Kriz said.
All three members of the committee made basically the same arguments the last time they met to consider how to fill a vacancy on the Board of Supervisors, following the death of Kurt Friese in 2018. The votes were the same, too; Weipart and Painter voted in favor of holding the special election, Kriz voted against it.
There was one difference between the meeting in 2018 and Friday’s meeting: the shadow of COVID-19.
If the committee had decided to appoint a replacement, voters who objected to the appointment would then have 14 days to gather signatures on a petition calling for a special election. The number of signatures needed would have been based on the number of votes cast in the last presidential election, and since November’s election had a record-setting turnout, a petition would have to have more than 8,300 signatures of eligible voters who reside in the county.
Painter pointed out that COVID-19 would create a possible danger for people trying to gather that massive amount of signatures.
“Personally, I’m uncomfortable with putting people in a position, because we voted to appoint, that they then have to go out and scurry around, close quarters, and try to get 8,300-plus signatures during a pandemic, even if it’s the tail-end of the pandemic,” she said.
Candidates in the special election will have to file either their certification of nomination by a party convention and affidavit of candidacy, or a petition with 250 signatures and an affidavit of candidacy, with the auditor’s office by 5 p.m. on May 14.
Finlayson is deputy treasurer of Johnson County, and also serves as treasurer for the Johnson County Democrats. Green was mayor of Lone Tree from January 2018 through December 2019, and was a member of the Iowa Democratic Party State Central Committee from 2016 to 2018.
Following the committee’s decision to hold the special election, Coralville City Councilmember Meghann Foster declared her candidacy. Foster, who is community engagement coordinator for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program, is also a Democrat.