Special election scheduled to fill Kurt Friese’s seat on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors

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Kurt Michael Friese’s Cubs jersey draped over his seat in the Johnson County Board of Supervisor’s hearing room. Nov. 8, 2018. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

There will be a special election on Tuesday, Dec. 18, to fill the vacancy on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors created by the death of Kurt Michael Friese. Iowa Code gives the decision on how to fill an empty board seat, either through an appointment or a special election, to a committee of three county officials — the auditor, treasurer and recorder.

The committee met on Thursday morning, and voted 2-to-1 to hold an election.

“This term is substantial,” Recorder Kim Painter said. Friese’s replacement will serve out the remainder of this term, which runs through the end of December 2020.

“Having three officials who run under the same political party’s flag hand a lengthy incumbency to someone without a public vote is, in my opinion, a mistake,” she said.

Auditor Travis Weipert said via speaker phone he agreed with Painter. (Weipert was taking a sick day, but phoned into the meeting.)

“If this were five or six months remaining on the term, I would be all for appointment,” Weipert said. He added, “This is a long time. That’s going to be a lot of policy decisions that will have to be made by the individual.”

Both Painter and Weipert voted in favor of the special election.

Treasurer Tom Kriz, the lone vote for an appointment, said he could see merits in both options. He cited the cost of the election — estimated at $60,000 — and possible voter fatigue as concerns. (During the past seven months, there have been four elections in Iowa City.) But Kriz said his main concern was how a newcomer would deal with the current workload of the board.

“We’re right in the middle of budgeting right now,” he explained. “The learning curve for the Board of Supervisors is incredible. It is a learning curve that’s steep, it’s something that can’t be picked up overnight, by any means.”

The committee listened to comments from the public prior to the vote. The first speaker was Peggy Loveless, a friend and neighbor of the Friese family.

“Although [the family does] not feel able to be here because of their loss, I spoke to them about this process and would like to offer their thoughts and feelings,” Loveless said. “They support the appointment of Mike Carberry to finish Kurt’s term. Not only does he have the experience of being a current board member, they trust Mike would serve as Kurt would wish.”

Four more speakers endorsed the idea of appointing Carberry, who currently serves as chair of the Board of Supervisors. Carberry lost a bid for reelection in the June primary for the general election. His term is set to end on Dec. 31.

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In addition to the fact Carberry consistently voted with Friese, Miriam Kashia said she supported the appointment of Carberry because she’s concerned that “people are just totally burnt out on elections now.”

But six speakers, including Iowa City Councilor Mazahir Salih, advocated for a special election.

State law requires the special election at the earliest practicable date, and on a Tuesday. Weipert, whose office administers elections, added that it would be best if the vote was held before the beginning of January.

“Our only concern about January is photo ID law is in effect then, and our e-poll books won’t be updated by that time,” Weipert said. “That could be a little bit of a drag on our office, and a slower process at the voting lines, so that’s something to be considered, too.”

That left the committee with the choice of Dec. 11 or 18. To give candidates time to organize campaigns, they chose the latter date.

The auditor’s office has released the following list of dates and deadlines for the special election:

Monday, November 26: Filing deadline, 5 PM. Full status political parties will need to nominate candidates by convention. Candidates not representing the full status parties may file with 250 signatures.

Friday, December 7: 5 PM deadlines for voter pre-registration and to request a mailed absentee ballot. In person early voting still available after this date. Voter registration available with election day registration procedure (requires ID and proof of address.)

Monday, December 17: Last day to vote early at the Auditor’s Office, 7:45 to 5:30.

Tuesday, December 18: Polls open 7 AM to 9 PM.

Before the vote or any discussion of how to fill the empty seat, Painter opened the meeting with a few words about Friese, who died on Oct. 26.

“We’re here today because of a great loss for our whole community,” she said. “Kurt was a husband, a father, a businessman, an activist, a chef and mentor. He was many things to many people, all of them quite wonderful.”

The meeting took place in the Board of Supervisors’ hearing room in the Johnson County Administration Building. Friese’s seat, the chair in the room where he sat, has been draped with his Chicago Cubs jersey since his death.

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