No vote needed to change make-up of Jeff city council

The Jefferson city council can change the method of electing city council members by ordinance, without a vote of the people, according to city attorney Bob Schwarzkopf.

Schwarzkopf shared that information at the city council’s July 12 meeting. He said he had only preliminary information and will have a full report for the July 26 meeting.

Mayor Craig Berry at the last council meeting began discussion of eliminating the current wards for representation on the city council. Currently, one council member is elected from each of three wards and the remaining two council members are elected at-large, with no requirement of where they live. All residents vote for council members from all three wards and the at-large seats.

In responding to resident Angie Pedersen’s questions at Tuesday’s meeting about the rationale for the change, Berry said it would give more people an opportunity to serve on the council; council member Gary Von Ahsen agreed. Council member Lisa Jaskey holds the Ward Two seat; she said she represents the entire town.

Council member Larry Teeples has held the Ward One seat for more than 20 years. He is the only council member to say he has hesitations about changing to an at-large council, but later in the meeting told of receiving phone calls and hearing about issues from residents in several parts of the city.

Berry said he had no information about other towns in Greene County or other towns of similar population in Iowa. City clerk Diane Kennedy offered to gather information from towns of similar size about how their city councils are elected.

Changing the method of election by ordinance would require a public hearing and three readings of the ordinance before it went into effect. Resident input in the decision would be through the oral or written comments at the hearing and/or relayed through council members.

City council members serve four-year terms and are elected in odd numbered years. The next city council election will be in November 2017. The Ward One seat of Teeples, the Ward Three seat held by Harry Ahrenholtz, and the at-large seat held by Gary Von Ahsen will be on the ballot.

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