Twenty-three Scott County residents at a special county hearing Monday defended John Maxwell’s service as Scott County supervisor and North Scott school board member, most sharing personal experiences of his service to the community.
Five others commended his service, but said the roles – not the man – create a conflict that should convince a three-member panel to end Maxwell’s supervisor service.
Maxwell’s attorney, Alan Ostergren, urged the panel to ignore politics. “Once elected and you take office, we shed partisan labels. That ethic is at issue by what you do tonight,” he said.
County treasurer Mike Fennelly, auditor Roxanna Moritz and recorder Rita Vargas listened for 90 minutes as the residents spoke, and attorneys examined legal opinions and case law dating back 150 years that address conflicts of Iowa’s elected officials.
Democrats Moritz and Vargas supported Fennelly, a Republican, as chairman of the ad hoc panel that promised a decision at 1 p.m. March 17.
The concern involves Iowa law that makes all supervisors and all school board officers mandatory members of assessor conference boards. Those boards meet once or twice a year to oversee appointed assessors who set property values for government taxation.
Maxwell attended a Feb. 8 Davenport conference board teleconference meeting as a supervisor. When the meeting lacked a quorum of school board members, Maxwell offered to serve in that role.
The episode prompted Davenport city assessor Nick Van Camp to seek a legal opinion. County attorney Mike Walton’s opinion said it appeared to be a conflict. But he noted the state senate had addressed it in legislation approved after the complaint.
Attorney Jim Larew, of Iowa City, spoke for three residents who collected 95 signatures challenging Maxwell’s service as supervisor.
“That this gentleman is such a good man is not the issue. Even good men should not be put in this position,” Larew said.
Although the conflict may seem esoteric, he said conference committees need independent representatives for school districts, town councils and supervisors because assessing work affects those governments differently. “Two of those three units must agree to pass any vote,” he said. “This is unique because of the conduct of Mr. Maxwell and what he chose to do.”
Maxwell’s attorney, Alan Ostergren, said voters, not this panel, should determine Maxwell’s fate. He noted Maxwell’s strong support in both elections and said voters can weigh in when and if Maxwell runs again.
He also said prior legislation allows Iowans to hold two offices.
“He is 100 percent wrong,” Ostergren said of Larew. “The legislature has specifically said you can do the thing that he says you can’t.”
Larew said legislation resolving this conflict was included in Sen. Roby Smith’s voter bill earlier this month with little disclosure and/or notification.
“It was not debated. It was snuck in at the end,” he said. Larew also noted the legislation omitted an effective date, which he said is routinely specified in other legislation. Without it, the panel should rule Maxwell was ineligible to run for supervisor.
Most witnesses thought otherwise.
“I don’t think this is a very complex issue,” said Jonathan Jones, of Eldridge. “This attempt to manufacture a vacancy undermines our democratic process and voter selection of the boards he sits on. I believe Mr. Maxwell represents his constituencies fairly and should continue to do so.”
“It brings me great sorrow to see this county that has such a good reputation reduced to partisan bickering, because that’s what it looks like to an average guy like myself,” Jeff Havenner, of Bettendorf, said.
“I’ve got to tell you I feel ashamed we’re doing this. What is the real hidden agenda?” Joni Dittmer said. The North Scott School Board chairman said Maxwell served admirably with her 11 years on the school board. “John is highly thought of in the North Scott district. I’m afraid there would be irreparable damage going forward with this. I don’t see one bit of conflict. If there was, obviously, he could abstain.”
Her husband, Tom, agreed. “The last thing John Maxwell is, is incompatible. He’s compatible with everyone.”
“I’m here to support John,” said Ray Harre, of rural Davenport. “I don’t want him to get a big head and say things everyone has already said, but they’re all true. It’s not like he’s a power hungry maniac.”
Five other witnesses lauded Maxwell’s service, but said the conflict must be addressed.
“For good governance, we need some separation. You need to find a replacement,” said Jerry Mohr, of Eldridge.
Scott County Democratic Party chairman Elesha Gayman said she welcomed Maxwell’s friendship and counsel when she was in the legislature. “I’m not passing judgment on Mr. Maxwell’s character. He did nothing with malice, but this was wrong. A mistake happened,” she said.