Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Oct. 9, 2009
Our View - Appointment process must be transparent
We continue to think Johnson County has better things to spend $75,000 on than a special election for supervisor -- especially one that would be lucky to attract the low number of voters that turned out Tuesday for the Iowa City primary. But questions have emerged about the process by which a committee will appoint a successor to Supervisor Larry Meyers.
After requiring the three-member committee to publicize its intention to appoint, state law provides little direction for how the county auditor, treasurer and recorder should go about making the appointment. State ethics rules require committee members to recuse themselves if they are considering their spouse or one of their dependent children, but otherwise their potential biases are not "conflicts of interest."
In order to make this process as transparent as possible, we've asked Auditor Tom Slockett, Treasurer Tom Kriz and Recorder Kim Painter to explain how they will be evaluating applications they receive before the 5 p.m. deadline on Oct. 16.
(Information on how to apply is available at www.johnson-county.com/auditor/vacancy09/vacmenu.htm#How_to_apply_).
Q: What are the most important qualities you are looking for in a supervisor?
Kriz listed "an ability to listen to people," "a passion to make decisions based on facts" and "the ability to do the work while representing everyone in the county."
Painter is looking for leaders from the public or private sector who are "comfortable" discussing "how they prioritize financially for an entity, how they conduct strategic planning and how they gather input prior to making critical executive decisions."
Slockett listed leadership, "commitment to financial discipline and the ability to set priorities" as well as an "appreciation for human rights."
Q: Are you encouraging specific people to apply for the position, or are you just waiting to see who sends in an application by 5 p.m. Oct. 16?
None of the three committee members said they had sought out any individuals to encourage them to apply. Slockett, however, said he "may or may not" seek out potential applicants -- especially women and minorities -- in the "days ahead."
Painter said she thought "the self-selection aspect of the application process is actually a positive and important thing."
Kriz said that, back in 1999 when the all three officials were on a similar committee appointing a replacement for then supervisor and now state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, they had "a marvelous pool of very qualified people." He fully expects to have an equally good batch of candidates this time.
Q: To what degree does someone's suitability as a candidate in 2010 affect your decision?
Kriz said that he would gladly consider appointing someone who was only interested in filling out this term. But he also said he didn't have a "strong preference" one way or the other.
Painter said she won't be able to answer the question until she sees all the applications. She added, however, that becoming the incumbent candidate is not necessarily a campaign advantage.
"The person who gets the appointment, should they choose to run, will have that mixed blessing and curse of elected life: a track record," Painter said.
Slockett said that, because this is an elected position, it's his "duty" to make sure the appointment would be someone the voters would view as a viable candidate. He said the appointment period would give "the community a 'test drive' of the office holder until the election."
Q: Do you have a bias against appointing past supervisors who failed to win re-election?
Slockett said he does "not believe this committee should second guess the voters and overrule their decision." Kriz, however, said that he would not preclude anyone from applying.
"Circumstances can show us that, over time, we have had excellent people running against each other, and the voters had to pick one," Kriz said.
Painter said the committee's votes should not and would not overrule the voters.
"The law clearly envisions situations in which an unexpected vacancy needs to be filled," Painter said. "The people also have the option to petition for a special election instead. That is up to them. For the three of us, our job as per the statute is to select the very best person we can to fill the seat for now."