Oskaloosa Water And City Of Oskaloosa Square Off In Court
Oskaloosa, Iowa – The dispute is ongoing between the Oskaloosa Water Department, which includes one of its trustees Errin Keltner, and the City of Oskaloosa and Mayor David Krutzfeldt. The dispute is over Keltner’s removal from the Board.
On Tuesday, the parties involved met in open court, to brief Judge Joel Yates on the specifics to which each party bases their argument, before the final submitting of all written arguments by Friday.
Richard Malm, who is representing Keltner and the Water Department, addressed Judge Yates during the open comments section on Tuesday. Malm said that the case is an action questioning the legality of the order for removal of Errin Keltner as a Trustee of the Oskaloosa Water Department.
Judge Yates took an active part on Tuesday, as he questioned both parties in the action. Yates asked Malm, “I guess the real question is this, ‘If the mayor can’t remove a trustee, who can?'”
Malm responded to Yates by saying, “Well, the citizens can petition for removal for cause. The county attorney can petition for removal for cause.” Malm also explained that there is provision within Iowa Code for judicial removal as well “for a specified cause.”
“Doesn’t it seem odd that the county attorney, under that theory, would have more authority and ability to remove a trustee than a mayor would?” asked Yates.
“I don’t think so,” said Malm. “Because the whole purpose of the independence of a utility was, from the outset, to insulate the water board and the water utility,” said Malm.
“Isn’t there a political remedy here though? Basically, if you don’t like what the Mayor did, you can vote him out of office?” asked Yates. “Isn’t that the real remedy?”
“I don’t think so,” said Malm. Malm said that if the mayor was to do anything illegal, “in addition to being voted out of office, his illegal actions are subject to court challenge.”
“Who do you believe can be removed under 372.15 (Iowa Code)?” asked Yates.
Malm explained that he parts company with the defendant (city), on the position of that code, when it characterizes the water utility as a part of the city.
Yates then turned toward the defense team, lead by Amy Beattie, for further clarification on the issue.
“Let me again tell you (Beattie) what I’m troubled with from your standpoint as a public policy rationale,” said Yates to Beattie. “If I were to adopt your position, then the mayor could not only remove Mr. Keltner, he could remove all three trustees, essentially, any time the mayor wanted,” said Yates, who said he could see “the potential for a lot of havoc.”
Beattie responded that, with the statute and case law, the mayor can’t do away with the board itself. Beattie says that the board has been given some city functions, but is not a separate entity .
The closing argument for the City of Oskaloosa came from Maria Brownlee.
In the case of an Oskaloosa Water Board Trustee, the member is appointed by the Mayor, and then voted on by the City Council. Brownlee argued that the appointment ability is also the removal ability under Iowa Code, unless otherwise directed by the Iowa Legislature or the Iowa Constitution.
“The Utility is owned by the City,” said Brownlee.
A search of public records show that the lands where the Oskaloosa Water Department office and the water plant are located are owned by the City of Oskaloosa.
Brownlee argued that the vote of 1922, which established the Oskaloosa Water Department, was done to allow a board to operate and manage the department on behalf of the City.
The parties agree to have all final paperwork to Judge Yates by Friday. Yates stated he will have his ruling presented in writing as quickly as possible.
This case is gaining considerable interest from various city and municipal boards statewide, who have not had clear direction in the matter for nearly a century. After a ruling is reached by Judge Yates, it is entirely possible that it will yet be heard by the Iowa Supreme Court for a final say on the matter.