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Tensions escalate during council meeting, mayor has to tell council they are out of order

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 9:44 a.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 10:05 a.m. CST

Election season can be tense, but, sometimes, tensions spill over into post-election season. That happened during a Nov. 19 Osceola City Council meeting.

During an interview with the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune, Ty Wheeler, city administrator/clerk, said there was concern with low-voter turnout in the Nov. 5 Osceola City Council and mayoral elections.

Only 16 percent of the registered Osceola population voted in the election.

Wheeler said he receives inquiries as to whether having two at-large and three ward seats on the city council is hindering voter turnout, and would it be better to have all at-large seats for the entire city to vote on?

“I deal with questions all the time ... I have heard this after every election since I’ve been back,” Wheeler said.

Answering the question

Since the inquiries directly related to city affairs, Wheeler said he looked up the rules in the Iowa Code and found council members can’t take it upon themselves to change at-large and ward seats. It has to be done by a petition and voted on by the public in a special or general election.

Wheeler said an example of a petition and special election is Clarke County’s May special election held in Osceola, Woodburn and Murray about whether to repeal the local option sales tax, which helps fund Clarke County Reservoir Commission’s lake project.

Once Wheeler found the information, he sent out a follow-up to council members to brief them on his findings and how to answer the question in case any of their constituents ask.

“It was more of a FYI,” Wheeler said.

What happened next

However, tensions escalated over the issue during the council meeting.

During council reports, Councilman Glenn Schaff questioned Wheeler about who asked him to look into the issue.

Wheeler said he had several inquiries, and has gotten many inquiries throughout the years with different elections, even dating back to when former Councilwoman Peggy Mateer was holding office.

“Our last meeting, we had a concern that we only had 16 percent of our people who voted,” said Councilman Dave Walkup. “I guess, we could look at different ways to get them out to vote.”

Again, Schaff asked Wheeler who authorized him to look the information up.

Mayor Fred Diehl said he didn’t think it was an appropriate question to ask. Schaff replied that it was an appropriate question.

“He (Wheeler) brought up a subject that should be discussed,” Diehl said. “It doesn’t mean he took any action. It doesn’t mean you took any action, and, so, therefore, if you discuss it, it doesn’t have any kind of authority one way or the other.”

“Apparently, I don’t have any time, folks, to speak, so I’ll just shut up,” Schaff said.

Diehl said Schaff could speak, but not dictate what could be discussed.

“You already said it,” Schaff said.

Councilwoman Sarah Truitt said 84 percent of the population didn’t vote in the election, and she would like to think at least part of the 84 percent would have voted for her if she had been at-large.

“If there is a petition in the future to have that changed, you will see me again, and I will be the one asking for it,” Truitt said. “So, I asked for him to get the information, along with other council people.”

Schaff turned in his seat and addressed Truitt, “Are you the majority of this council?”

Truitt, who sits directly next to Schaff, responded, “Oh no, I’m not Glenn, but it doesn’t take the majority to ask a question. Nothing is changing.”

Out of order

Throughout the discussion, the voices of council members were escalating, and Diehl had to step in and tell the council members they were out of order.

Discussion on the issue ended there.

However, as the meeting adjourned, Schaff said, “Thank you all for coming, next time I will have my piece to say.”

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