OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa school board decided Monday to allow the seven candidates whose nominations were challenged to remain on the ballot.
Ryan Mitchell filed objections against the nominations of Aaron Luke, Sarah Sels, Robert Wormhoudt, Krista Tedrow, Kent Walker, board member Jon Bunt, and Board President Leisa Walker. He said because the affected candidates’ petitions were missing required signatures they were invalid and should be disqualified.
An objections committee, consisting of two board members and the board secretary recommended last week that the board allow the affected candidates to remain on the ballot.
The board convened Monday to vote on the committee’s recommendation. Walker opened the meeting before passing control over to Mike Dalbey.
Dalbey began with the nomination papers of Aaron Luke. Board member Nancy Manson moved the board vote on Luke’s papers, which Granneman quickly seconded. Dalbey then began the vote.
“Is there gonna be no discussion?” asked board member Michael Carpenter, throwing up his hands.
Carpenter directed most of his questions to the district’s attorney, Andrew Bracken, who advised the objections committee. Bracken said since the affected candidates had been acting in good faith, and there was no evidence of fraud, the nominations should stand. He cited a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court on a similar case as precedent.
“A decision two weeks older than I am,” Carpenter said. “Having to search for case law from 1977, and maybe your request log is different than mine, I was shocked to find this case has not been cited once by any court of this state or another state in 42 years.”
“As far as I know,” Bracken agreed. “But frankly, the other thing, as far as I know, it’s the only case on point in Iowa as well. It’s just the only example we have giving us guidance from the court system.”
Carpenter pointed out that the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling was a 4-3 decision. He said it was not the objection committee’s place to make rulings regarding the law.
“Objections committees don’t consist of legal professionals,” Carpenter said. “In our case it’s Mike Dalbey, Gary Granneman, and John Berg, and none of them are legal professionals. The intent is that the objections committee serve as a fact finder, not as a court.”
“They were finding facts, in this particular case,” Bracken said. “And that was that ‘good faith’ compliance. They all determined that each of the candidates were in good faith compliance. And the other fact that we don’t wanna miss here is there’s no evidence of any actual fraud. No evidence of any actual election misconduct.”
Bracken said the candidates were not only acting in good faith, but the forms provided by the Iowa Secretary of State weren’t up to code, a point he had made at the objections committee hearing. He said while the petition collector’s signature was supposed to be at the top of the page, the forms provided had the space for the signature at the bottom of the page.
“But it’s accurate to say not a single candidate stepped forward and said that they missed the signature because they were looking for it at the top, not the bottom,” Carpenter said. He held up the committee’s report. “It bothered me a bit to read that in here because now it sounds like we’re just inventing excuses as to why this didn’t get done.”
Carpenter said the school board was to follow the letter of the law, whether the outcome was justified or not. He agreed that while reinstating the candidates would be the right thing to do, it wouldn’t be in accordance with the law.
“I would like to put every one of you on the ballot,” Carpenter said, addressing the candidates in the audience. “As a board, we’ve done a good job of following the law even when it hurts. I would point out the Evans Travel Program. We all wanted to preserve it as it was. We wouldn’t have touched that thing in a million years if we didn’t think the Department of Education rules prevented us from continuing to do it. But we had to do it, because we’re going to follow the law. And this is in that same boat.”
When Carpenter concluded his statements the board voted on each of the candidates individually. Leisa Walker abstained from voting in the decisions regarding her or her husband, Kent Walker, and Jon Bunt abstained from the decision regarding his own nomination.
Each motion carried 5-1 or 4-1, depending on abstentions. Carpenter voted in opposition each time.
“The board seems to be continuing down a very slippery slope of choosing which laws to follow and which to ignore,” said school board candidate Morgan Brown after the meeting concluded.
School board elections will be Tuesday, Nov. 5.