Two bills moving through the Legislature would change how Scott County residents elect their supervisors.
A bill passed by the Iowa Senate earlier this month would require Iowa's five counties with 125,000-plus residents to elect their supervisors by equal-population districts, rather than being elected countywide.
Three counties would have to make the change — Scott, Johnson and Black Hawk. Iowa's two largest counties — Polk and Linn — already elect by districts.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dawn Driscoll, R-Williamsburg, said the change would give "adequate representation for our citizens."
The bill, Senate File 443, passed 34-13 with two Democrats supporting the bill. It hasn't been taken up in the House.
Detractors opposing the bill say the bill erodes more local control from county voters and supervisors, who already can change how supervisors are elected via a ballot referendum.
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The bill would also require counties to fill a supervisor vacancy by special election, according to a fiscal note filed by the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency.
In Scott County, Rita Rawson was appointed by a three-member committee from 27 applicants to fill a two-year vacancy on the board. If the Senate bill is signed into law, Scott County would have to call a special election instead if similar circumstances arise again.
Sen. Scott Webster, R-Bettendorf, supports the effort and authored a similar bill that would've put in place more requirements for special elections.
He pointed to the recent appointment process in Scott County and said Board Chair Ken Beck said that the county was looking for someone from Davenport. Beck wasn't on the three-member panel that selected Rawson, but county officials got the word out to recruit applicants to apply.
"The way I look at that, and I believe the way a lot of my colleagues in Des Moines look at that, is that's a person saying they want districts," Webster said. "They're advocating that a person needed to come from a certain area because they weren't represented."
Beck opposes the bill, calling it "short-sighted" and said Webster's comments paint only half of the story.
"I wanted to try to avoid the cost for a special election and felt that if we had someone from Davenport, that that would help alleviate people's feelings of having to have a special election and the county taking on the expense," Beck said.
According to the fiscal note for the bill, the cost to configure districts would be between $40,000 and $80,000 per county to cover training, additional precincts, ballots and mailing of new voter registration cards to eligible voters. The costs of special elections for a vacancy, according to the fiscal note, varies widely based on the size of the county — from $1,000 to $185,000.
Currently, the five supervisors in Scott County are elected at-large in staggered terms. Unlike in Johnson and Black Hawk counties, Scott County's board members are all Republican this go-around. And, save for Rawson, all supervisors live outside of Davenport, Scott County's largest city.
With districts, Beck said, he thinks contrary to the intent of the bill, the board in Scott County could actually end up with less rural representation.
"What may fix the problem there (in Johnson County), creates the same problem here that they're trying to fix there," Beck said.
"The system works the way it is, and it really takes away from local control from the constituents and local control from local government," Beck said.
A similar bill, House File 281, has been introduced in the House that would lower the threshold to make the change to district supervisor elections to counties with 60,000 residents or more. That would add three more counties — Dubuque, Story and Pottawattamie.
That bill was placed on the "unfinished business" calendar, which essentially allows House leadership to put a pin in the bill and keep it alive until it's ready for debate.
Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, supports the bill. He said this way, his constituents in Bettendorf and LeClaire would always have someone on the board that represented them.
"I think it's important that everyone know that everyone has a seat at the table," Mohr said.
Rep. Ken Croken, D-Davenport, who was a county supervisor until his election to the Iowa House said he supported the effort, noting that Davenport makes up most of Scott County and a large portion of the county's tax base and the bill would guarantee representation from the city.
Sen. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, voted "no" on the Senate bill because she felt the bill further eroded local control from the county boards. She said she supported election by district, but that it should be a decision by county residents, not Iowa lawmakers.