Petition circulates to expand Tama Co. supervisors from three to five

County last had five supervisors in 1934

Tama County’s three current supervisors including (l-r) Larry Vest, Bill Faircloth, and Dan Anderson pictured during a board of supervisors meeting on Monday, April 25, in Toledo. –Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Is five better than three?

It’s been almost 90 years since Tama County last had five county supervisors but if a group of citizens behind a petition currently in circulation in the county have their way, the question to move from three supervisors back to five will once again be put to the voters in the general election this November.

Tama County made the switch from five to three following a ballot proposition presented to voters on November 8, 1932. The proposition – which was added to the ballot as a result of a petition submitted to the county board of supervisors with 360 more signatures than required, according to newspaper reporting at the time – carried with 5,157 votes in favor and 3,580 votes against.

The move from five to three supervisors took place during the next general election held on November 6, 1934. The five supervisors’ terms ended and three supervisors at-large were elected in their place to serve a two, three, and four year term, respectively.

The three supervisors elected during the 1934 general election – William Lorenz (D), C.E. Lambert (R), and Charles F. Zhorne (D) – were approved during the January 2, 1935 organizational meeting of the board.

Tama County has had three supervisors – elected to represent distinct districts beginning after 1936 – ever since.

The grassroots coalition Tama County Against Turbines (TCAT) is behind the current petition in circulation to return to five supervisors.

Jon Winkelpleck, rural Dysart farmer and chairman of TCAT, explained the coalition’s reasoning for the petition in a statement to the Telegraph: “The Tama County Against Turbines coalition is circulating petitions to allow general election voters to direct the County to expand the Board of Supervisors from the current three members, instead to five. That expansion will provide greater representation for taxpayers throughout the County. The current Supervisor districts concentrate two Supervisors in the Tama/Toledo area. Adding two more Supervisors will allow for greater representation to help make informed decisions on behalf of the diverse needs and interests taxpayers throughout Tama County.”

Currently, Supervisor Larry Vest represents District 1 which is comprised of most of the eastern half of the county – a broad rural swath – including the towns of Chelsea, Vining, Elberon, Clutier, Dysart, and Traer but excluding Otter Creek Township entirely and part of Richland Township.

Supervisor Bill Faircloth represents District 2 which comprises the northwest quadrant of the county plus most of Toledo Township, including the towns of Lincoln, Gladbrook, Garwin, and Toledo.

Supervisor and board chairman Dan Anderson represents District 3 which comprises Indian Village, Tama, Otter Creek, part of Richland, Highland, and Columbia townships located in the southwest portion of the county including the towns of Tama, Montour, and a portion of LeGrand.

To place the supervisor question on the upcoming general election ballot, a petition must garner enough signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the last general election in Tama County.

According to Tama County Elections Administrator Karen Rohrs, during the last general election (2020) there were 9,098 votes cast for the office of President of the United States.

“Which means,” Rohr wrote in an email to the Telegraph, “910 signatures of eligible Tama County electors would be required to place the question on the ballot. For the question to pass, only a majority is needed which would be 50 + 1 [percent].”

Per Iowa Code, a county board of supervisors may increase board membership to five members by one of two ways – upon petition of the number of eligible electors of the county as TCAT is attempting to do, or by resolution.

If a proposition to increase membership passes, the new five-member board is elected according to one of three plans. Tama County currently has “plan three” in effect.

Plan three directs a temporary county redistricting commission to divide the county into five equal-population districts by December 15 of the year preceding the year of the next general election.

At the next general election, five board members are then elected – two for initial terms of two years and three for four-year terms. The three incumbent supervisors’ terms will expire on the date the new five-member board becomes effective.

In order to make it onto the ballot this fall, the deadline for the petition to be returned to the Tama County Auditor is August 31, 2022.

Iowa’s county boards of supervisors — past and present

From sparsely populated, pastoral rural counties to counties dominated by populous urban hubs, 38 of Iowa’s 99 counties currently have five-member county boards of supervisors including nearby Grundy and Iowa counties. Crawford County located in western Iowa – its county seat Denison – also has five supervisors.

In contrast, Benton County – Tama’s neighbor to the east – has three supervisors as does Hardin County, another county with a population similar in size to Tama County.

According to the Iowa State Association of Counties, for the fiscal year 2022, Tama County’s three supervisors were paid an annual salary of $32,682, while nearby Grundy County’s five supervisors were each paid an annual salary of $28,980 and similar-sized Crawford County’s five supervisors were paid an annual salary of $29,407.

Nearby Marshall County’s three supervisors were paid an annual salary of $39,536 and similar-sized Hardin County’s three supervisors were paid an annual salary of $38,536.

The added cost to taxpayers was the impetus back in 1932 for the proposition to decrease the number of Tama County supervisors from five to three.

In a letter to the editor printed in the Traer Star Clipper on October 25, 1932, a Montour resident detailed the reasoning behind their support for the proposition that would decrease the number of supervisors.

The letter begins by stating the question to decrease has “agitated more or less in the county for several years. … Everybody is up in arms over the high taxes.”

“Those qualified to judge were unanimous in the belief that three supervisors would cost the taxpayers not over three-fifths of what five supervisors would cost,” the letter further states.

During the 1932 general election, Tama, Benton, and Grundy counties all voted on a proposition to reduce the number of supervisors to three, according to newspaper reports at the time.

An article in the same edition of the Traer Star Clipper as the Montour resident’s letter, attempted to flesh out both sides of the proposition by stating, “Counties with five get by cheaper than some with three, while some with three spend more than others with five. It depends a good deal on the number of supervisors, the size of the county, and how much work supervisors delegate to the engineering department.”

While the letter to the editor further states, “Benton county had three supervisors a few years ago, they changed to five, now the voters are demanding the number be reduced to three again. … We take if for granted that our neighbors on the east know what they are doing. Why may we not profit by their experience?”

TCAT petition

The petition currently in circulation by members of TCAT is titled ‘Petition to Increase Number of Tama County Supervisors from Three to Five Members’ and states, “In accordance with [Iowa Code] we, the undersigned residents of Tama County, Iowa, hereby petition the Board of Supervisors of Tama County to increase the number of supervisors from three to five.”

Those signing the petition are certifying they are both a resident of Tama County and at least 18 years of age.

The deadline attached to the petition is July 22, 2022.

The coalition is also circulating a second petition calling on the board of supervisors to update the county’s commercial wind energy conversion system ordinance “to protect the quality of life for rural and town residents, livestock and wildlife within the county; and to preserve highly productive farmland.”

“Tama County’s wind ordinance is weak and that’s why wind developers are preying on Tama County,” TCAT chairman Jon Winkelpleck said in his statement to the Telegraph. “The ordinance hasn’t changed since 2010, and despite hundreds of petitioners calling for comprehensive changes, Supervisors re-approved the ordinance May 16, without holding public hearings or providing notice of public hearings as required by Iowa law.”

According to TCAT, both petitions are available for signing at Retro Rooster in Traer, Bohemian Blonde Bar and Grill in Clutier, Silver Dollar in Chelsea, at area banks, and from individual TCAT coalition members.

Petitions will also be available at public events throughout the county in July including the Toledo Farmers Market on Friday nights.

In addition, petitions may be signed at two upcoming public meetings hosted by TCAT – the first is set for Monday, July 18, at the Traer Public Library, starting at 7:00 p.m.; the second is set for Wednesday, July 27, at the Wieting Theatre in Toledo, also starting at 7:00 p.m.

The Montour writer back in 1932 perhaps said it best when summing up the task of obtaining enough qualified voters’ signatures for the petition – “The task is not an easy one.”