Two Columbus Junction residents who were removed earlier this year from their Louisa County Board of Health (BOH) positions by the Louisa County Board of Supervisors had their day in court Wednesday.
Craig Helmick and Rita Adam were dismissed from the BOH by the supervisors in January after the supervisors claimed the two had failed to meet or communicate with the supervisors.
The terms of both BOH members was not set to expire until Dec. 31, 2018.
The two appealed that decision, arguing during a Feb. 27 hearing before the supervisors that the decision to fire them had been because the two had supported pay raises for some members of the Louisa County Public Health Service (LCPHS), which the supervisors had opposed.
A lawsuit seeking a writ of certiorari, which would repeal the supervisors’ decision and award attorney fees to Helmick and Adam, was also filed over the case. However, that suit was later suspended until after the Feb. 27 appeal hearing before the supervisors. When the supervisors reaffirmed the dismissals following that hearing, Wednesday’s district court hearing was eventually scheduled.
Attorney Steven Ort, New London, told Judicial 8 District Court Judge Shawn Showers that Helmick and Adam had not done anything to justify their removal.
He cited a section of Iowa Code Chapter 66 as the underlying legislation that could be used to remove a county officer from an office with a term fixed by the Iowa Legislature.
“The bottom line is the board of supervisors did not like the pay raises and in retaliation they removed (Helmick and Adam),” Ort claimed, adding legislation establishing boards of health gave those bodies the authority to set pay and other issues and not the supervisors.
“(Boards of supervisors) can only remove (board of health members) for cause,” he said, outlining several cases he felt confirmed that.
However, attorneys Courtney Wilson and Michael Walker, Davenport, who represented the board of supervisors through the county’s insurance coverage, disagreed.
Wilson said the correct legal basis for the dismissal could be found under Chapter 331.321, which allows boards of supervisors to remove a wide variety of appointed county officials for any reason.
“A person not performing their job function can be removed by the person appointing them,” Wilson insisted.
She cited as a precedent a case in which a person had been removed from a municipal board of adjustment before that person’s term had expired.
After being questioned by the judge about that case, Ort acknowledged he did not have a solid response to that decision, but suggested that case had involved a city ordinance and not a state statute.
Showers said he would consider both sides’ arguments and render a decision soon.
Both Adam and Helmick declined to comment after the hearing.