by Gary Taylor
City of Bettendorf v. Scott County Auditor
(Iowa Court of Appeals, April 13, 2011)
The members of the Bettendorf Park Board are elected by the voters in the City of Bettendorf. In January 2010, a vacancy on the Board occurred due to the resignation of a member whose four-year term of office was to end December 31, 2011. The City Council filled the vacancy by appointing a new member on February 11, 2010, who was to serve until the next “pending election” as defined in Iowa Code 69.12. The City and the County Auditor disagreed over whether the next pending election was the upcoming general election in November 2010 or the next municipal election in November 2011. On April 21, 2010, the City filed a petition for a declaratory judgment seeking resolution of the disagreement. On June 5, 2010, the district court found that the use of “pending election” in section 69.12 implied elections for which Bettendorf citizens are the exclusive voters for an office, and consequently the new member was not required to stand for election until the next municipal election scheduled for November 2011. The County Auditor appealed.
The Court of Appeals disagreed with the district court’s interpretation of section 69.12. The Court of Appeals focused on section 69.12(1)(a)(1), which explains that a vacancy must be filled, “at the next pending election if it occurs…seventy-four or more days before the election, if it is a general election.” The Court concluded “a plain reading of the whole statute means a vacancy that occurs the required number of days before a general election must be filled at the next general election. If, as the City argues, the next pending election did not include general elections, this phrase [in the statute] would be meaningless.”