Council Votes To Remove Water Board Trustee

Oskaloosa City Council heard from the Oskaloosa Water Board attorney Richard Malm in regards to Water Board Trustee Errin Keltners removal from the board.

Oskaloosa City Council heard from the Oskaloosa Water Board attorney Richard Malm in regards to Water Board Trustee Errin Keltners removal from the board.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The Oskaloosa City Council voted Monday night to remove an Oskaloosa Water Board Trustee.

The Oskaloosa Water Department was put into place in 1922 by a vote, with the management of the department falling under the control of a board of trustees who were appointed by the mayor. All property is owned by the City of Oskaloosa.

In a work session back in April of 2012 was maybe the first public spark of the coming storm between the Oskaloosa Water Department and the Oskaloosa City Council. At that work session, the Oskaloosa Water Department stated they intended to look at billing certain city properties such as Edmundson Golf and the swimming pool.

The board said they were looking for ways to help make up a deficit in their budget in the next two years, and believed that city facilities that charge a fee, for their use, should be paying the department for water used.

That change in policy may have been a driving force behind the city looking for ways to save money. The PFM Group study on ways the City of Oskaloosa and the Oskaloosa Water Department could potentially share costs was then approved and the final report came out March 18th, 2013.

The building that housed the Oskaloosa Water Department and Oskaloosa Fire Department equipment became unsafe, causing the water department to begin a search for a new office. During the search for office space, the PFM cost saving study was being evaluated to see how the City of Oskaloosa and the Oskaloosa Municipal Water Department could be more efficient and then, in turn, possibly save the people of Oskaloosa money.

At that time, the City of Oskaloosa offered free office space to the Oskaloosa Water Department until the cost savings suggestions could be evaluated. The Oskaloosa Water Board decided it was in the best interest of the water department to move into a different location, and authorized the move into the old Wander’s Automotive building facility. This move, according to the water board, was needed in order to have office staff and field staff under one roof.

The PFM Group study suggested nine recommendations that could potentially save about $400,000. The study itself cost the City of Oskaloosa approximately $20,000. However, since that shared services meeting back in April 2013, there has not been a lot of work done towards achieving these recommendations. At least that’s what the City Council believes, which is why the council sent a letter to the board in late October, asking to meet quarterly to discuss how to share services.

Eight recommendations were discussed initially in the joint sessions between the city council and the water board. (savings are in parenthesis):

  • Enhancing communication between the City and the OWD
  • Formalize and standardize joint budgeting, reporting and planning efforts
  • Enhance the convenience of paying water bills and other city fees and permits
  • Explore joint purchasing opportunities
  • Explore opportunities for sharing software licensing, servers and other technology (Using the City’s software saves $12,000 for the OWD.)
  • Explore opportunities for equipment sharing and joint contracting ventures (Not duplicating equipment purchases collectively saves $75,000 over the next five years for both entities.)
  • Look for opportunities to centralize back office functions (Eliminating the OWD’s office manager and utility clerk saves $150,000 for the OWD.)
  • Look for opportunities to cross-train water and waste water operator (Eliminating the City’s waste water operator saves $62,000 for the City, eliminating the OWD’s plant operator saves $80,000 for the OWD.)

The board of the Oskaloosa Water Department voted in early December to increase its general manager’s salary to $81,000 per year. The increase in salary came on the heel of months of discussion and discovery. Coon’s previous salary was $64,800.

In a letter to Trustee Errin Keltner dated March 5th of 2014, Oskaloosa Mayor Krutzfeldt states his basis for the removal, “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.”

Keltner had been appointed to the position by Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt on July 2nd, 2012. Even then, interest from the Oskaloosa City Council in regards to the water board was apparent when Council member Jason Van Zetten brought up a concern about the length of term for trustees that currently stands at 6 years. He wanted to look at reducing that time to 2 years.

In a previous discussion before Keltner’s appointment to the Oskaloosa Water Board, the possibility of moving to a 5 member board from the current 3 member board had been discussed by the Oskaloosa City Council.

The Oskaloosa Water Board rejected the Krutzfeldt letter in a meeting on March 27. “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.”

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.”

In the week before Keltners hearing before the Oskaloosa City Council, the Oskaloosa Water Board of Trustees passed a resolution in support of Keltner.

As the hearing was to begin, Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt stated, “The action that I took [removal letter] is not related in any way to say I thought Errin was doing anything illegal or immoral.”

The hearing was in place for the public to speak on behalf of Errin Keltner. Richard Malm of Dickinson Law who had been hired by the Oskaloosa Water Board to represent them spoke to the council.

Malm took the opportunity to ask Errin Keltner specific questions related to his time while on the Oskaloosa Water Board, similar to that seen in any courtroom across the country. The hearing was not a court proceeding, but instead gave the opportunity for others to provide their opinion on the subject to the council.

In a brief to the Oskaloosa City Council, Malm outlines why it’s believed that Keltner could not be removed by the Mayor. “By law, Mr. Keltner serves not at the pleasure of the Mayor and Council, but for a defined term not yet expired, and so is not subject to removal in this manner. The Board of Trustees (the “Board”) is vested with the exclusive authority to manage and control the Water Department. The provisions of Chapter 388, taken as a whole, and understood in light of the history of municipal water utilities Iowa, make the Board and independent body, insulated from direct City control. Thus, the Board is not subservient to the City, nor is the Board subject to the direct control and governance by the Mayor, with or without consent of the Council. This being so, there can be no power to remove Trustees at will because such a power would truly be impermissible control, and repugnant to the statutory scheme under which the Water Department has been constituted.

Former Oskaloosa City Council member Jimmy Carter also spoke on behalf of Keltner. He said that in over 30 years of developing properties in Oskaloosa, “not once did we ever have one problem with the water department.”

“So I say that your looking at the wrong direction, I’ve heard and read, I’ve not been to any of your meetings, about it’s going to save the city taxpayers, which I’m one, and have been for my whole life. Four-hundred-thousand dollars. That $400,000 to me is a spot on a speck to your overall budget, especially disrupting the water department board that we presently have. It is run effectively for a long period of time. It has done its job you have asked it to do.”

Keltners removal was passed by the Oskaloosa City Council, with Scottie Moore being the only dissenting vote.

Oskaloosa Water Seeks Philosophical Change To Billing – April 10, 2012
Oskaloosa City Council For July 2 – July 3, 2012
Oskaloosa Water Department Prepares Move to New Location – January 1, 2013
Report Oulines Possible $350,000 In Savings To City And Oskaloosa Water – April 12, 2013
City Council Discusses Possible Water Department Merger – October 23, 2013
City Council And Water Board Hold Shared Services Meeting – November 13, 2013
Oskaloosa Water GM Granted Pay Increase – December 2, 2013
Oskaloosa Water Protests Removal Order – March 28, 2014
Osky Water Backs Board Member – April 21, 2014

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