Court Rules In Favor Of City In Keltner Removal

The Oskaloosa Water Department and the City of Oskaloosa squared off in court on Tuesday over trustee Errin Keltner's removal by Mayor Dave Krutfeldt.

The Oskaloosa Water Department and the City of Oskaloosa squared off in court over trustee Errin Keltner’s removal by Mayor Dave Krutfeldt.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – A ruling has come down from District Court Judge Joel Yates in the case of Errin Keltner, Trustee of Oskaloosa Municipal Water Department, and Oskaloosa Municipal Water Department versus City of Oskaloosa, Iowa, David Krutzfeldt, in his Official Capacity as the Mayor of the City of Oskaloosa, and City Council of the City of Oskaloosa, Iowa.

Judge Yates stated that, “the Court finds there is no evidence of illegality in removal of Keltner from his appointed position on the Oskaloosa City Water Utility Board. The path chosen by the Mayor and the City Council of Oskaloosa were not illegal, and the Mayor and the City properly exercised their authority.”

With that, Yates ordered that the Writ of Certiorari is hereby Annulled.

He also said, “It is further ordered that the Stay entered May 20, 2014, is hereby Dismissed.

Those judgements effectively remove Keltner from the Oskaloosa Water Board as a Trustee, pending any further legal actions from the Plaintiff, Errin Keltner,  in this case.

In his ruling Yates pointed out that Keltner’s position was authorized by Iowa Code Chapter 388. “The legislature delegated power to him as a member of the Water Works Utility Board to operate and manage the City-owned Water Works Utility. The duties are defined by Chapter 388.”

Yates added that because there is not “legal distinction between public and city office, and because a trustee of the board meets the factors of the tests cited in Waddell, this Court concludes that Keltner’s position meets the factors set forth in Waddell, and his (position) is there for a City Officer subject to Iowa code Section 372.15.”

In the second part of his ruling, Yates stated, “Iowa Code Section 372.15 states that “except as otherwise provided by the state or city law, all persons appointed to city office may be removed by the officer or body making the appointment.” Section 388.3 states that “if a proposal to establish a utility board receives a favorable majority vote, the mayor shall appoint the board members, as provided in the proposal, subject to the approval of the council.” Therefore, unless the Iowa or Oskaloosa City Code provides otherwise, the Mayor may remove Utility Board Members with approval of the City Council.”

Yates said the Plaintiffs, Keltner and Water Department, argue that Chapter 388 of the Iowa Codes supersedes the removal provision of 372.15, because Iowa Code Section 388.4 words granting the Utility Board “all powers of the city” in relation to the utility falls within the “otherwise provided” language of Section 372.15. Plaintiffs further contend that the Mayor and the City Council do not retain any powers to remove members of the Water Board because no such power is provided by Chapter 388. They argue that Chapter 388 provides different removal standards for trustees of municipal utility boards. They contend that provisions of Chapter 388, taken as a whole, and understood in light of the history of municipal water utilities in Iowa, make the Board an independent body, insulated from direct City control. They assert that the Board is not part of the City, and is not subservient to the City, and is not subject to the direct control and governance by the Mayor or the City Council. Plaintiffs maintain that there is no power to remove Water Board Members without cause because such power would be repugnant to the statutory scheme and public policy under which the Water Department and Water Board have been constituted.

“Plaintiffs’ argument, though creative, must fail. Nothing in Chapter 388 alters the removal requirements of Iowa code Section 372.15. The plain language of Section 388.4 indicates that a public utility board may exercise all the powers of the city in relation to the utility it administers. “All” does not mean “sole.” The statute does not limit exercise of control to the utility boards alone. The statute does not support the contention that the statute is supported to give the Board complete and absolute independence from the City. In fact, nothing within the Iowa Code, as it is currently constituted, suggests that the Water Board has the type of independence Plaintiffs assert it has. The Court finds that the statutes in question unambiguously allow the Mayor to remove members of the Board. Delving into the legislative history is unnecessary. The removal of Mr. Keltner was therefore legal and valid.

¬†Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Schrock emailed the following comment about the Courts decision today. “When the city is named in any lawsuit it is a relief to have the court rule in support of the city and the taxpayers.¬† It is unfortunate in this circumstance that water ratepayers as well as city taxpayers have footed the bill and paid attorneys to receive a ruling on a matter that we already knew was legally and prudently handled by the Mayor and the City Council.”

Schrock aded, “I am looking forward to moving past this situation and refocusing efforts to constructively work as a team with the Oskaloosa Municipal Water Department for the benefit of the ratepayers and the taxpayers of Oskaloosa.”

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