Oskaloosa Water Protests Removal Order

Oskaloosa Water Board Trustees listen to Richard Malm about the options the board can take in regards to a letter removing a member of their board.

Oskaloosa Water Board Trustees listen to Richard Malm about the options the board can take in regards to a letter removing a member of their board.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Oskaloosa Water Department Board of Trustees met Thursday night to discuss what steps they wanted to take in response to a letter received by the City of Oskaloosa.

Recently, Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt sent Oskaloosa Water Board of Trustee Errin Keltner a notice informing him that under provision 372.15 of the Iowa Code, “this correspondence shall serve as written order to remove you from the service as a Water Board of Trustee for the Oskaloosa Municipal Water Department.”

The letter went on to describe Krutzfeldt’s decision. “My decision to order your removal from service is based upon the lack of communication and cooperation we had in trying to make our operations more efficient and effective. This, coupled with the budgeted multi-year water rate increases, leads me to believe a change in the Water Board is necessary.”

According to the letter, Keltner may request a public hearing before the City Council if he files such a request within thirty days of the mailing of the letter. The letter is dated March 5, 2014.

“In an effort to be independent and to continue doing the job we’re doing, I think it’s important, number one, to consider retention of legal counsel,” said board trustee Chairman Pete Settimi, in regards to the letter received by fellow trustee Keltner. “We as a board are standing without legal counsel right now.”

In most cases, the City of Oskaloosa and The Oskaloosa Water Board shared the service of the city attorney.

Settimi said that there are several Iowa Code issues that “are pretty in-depth.” “In an effort to become or stay apart from the city to do the job we’re doing, probably need to consider legal counsel.”

Richard Malm of Dickinson Law was introduced to the board. “I’ve been asked to join your meeting today by Errin Keltner. He engaged us to give him some advice about the situation,” said Malm.

“On behalf of Errin, we wanted to request the board’s support of Errin’s effort to contest the effort to remove him from the board,” said Malm. “There are two primary reasons we think that needs to be contested. The first is, we think the mayor lacks the power to do what he’s attempting to do.” Malm explained that the independence of the board is another reason to resist the removal of Keltner.

“We’re asking, on behalf of Errin, today that the board support the contesting of the removal effort,” Malm said. “It’s been suggest that the board should have counsel independent of the city attorney. We certainly urge that as well.”

Settimi asked Malm if he has worked on similar cases. “I haven’t had a case like this,” said Malm.

The board approved hiring Malm and Dickinson Law to represent them as legal counsel.

Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt said that the process of removing Keltner started with the joint services study that eventually outlined several steps the City of Oskaloosa and the Oskaloosa Water Department could do to save the tax payers and rate payers, which are mostly the same group of people, money.

“We already know they turn out an excellent product with water, but are we doing a good enough job as far as being efficient and effective in the way we serve our customers,” said Krutzfeldt of the current water board. “The Oskaloosa Council has taxpayers. The Water Board has rate payers and they’re the same people, the same face. So wouldn’t it make sense for the two boards to work together.”

Krutzfeldt pointed towards the PFM study that outlined several steps the two boards could explore to potentially save up to $400,000.

“So we got together as boards and went through them one by one and the experience from my perspective, and I think if you were to ask the council members they would tell you the same, it was disappointing. We ran in to more resistance and just a general unwillingness to work together. Even if an idea brought out by the consultant wasn’t exactly what they thought it should be, they [Water Board] would just dismiss it as opposed to… well, that isn’t right, but maybe this would work or some other thing,” Krutzfeldt said. “That spirit of cooperation wasn’t there.”

Krutzfeldt explained that after nearly a year and a half “of trying to see what we could,” the board and council had a meeting, but eventually walked out empty handed from the discussion. In that meeting Oskaloosa Council member Doug Yates expressed himself by saying he felt bad for the taxpayers of Oskaloosa who had payed for the study, but no success had been made in saving money.

“With that in mind, I thought the citizens of Oskaloosa expect a change. They would expect it of me, after all, I’m the person who’s suppose to make these appointments in the first place, with the confirmation of the council,” explained Krutzfeldt, who had made the motion for Keltner’s appointment back on July 2nd of 2012. The Oskaloosa City Council then approved Keltner’s nomination for the 6 year term.

“We appoint them, we are also able to take them off,” said Krutzfeldt. “The responsibility for an appointment doesn’t end as soon as you make that appointment. So one of my responsibilities, I take seriously, is to watch how the appointments are doing their job on the various boards and commissions.”

The Water Board asserts that once appointed, the board is then independent from the city council.

Current Water Board Trustee Chair Pete Sittimi will soon be before the Mayor and Council to seek his nomination and reappointment to the board for another 6 year term.

 

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