January 27, 2014

The Ross woman whom Audubon City Council members appointed this month to replace the town's longtime city clerk declined the job on Friday amid community backlash over the illegal appointment vote, she confirmed today.

"I'm out. I withdrew," Janet Nelson said this morning when reached by telephone. "Never in a million years did I expect this to be this big of a deal. I would just prefer to go back to my anonymous life."

Newly elected Councilman Jason Hocker made the motion at the council's Jan. 13 meeting to replace City Clerk Lora Hansen, who has had the job for 26 years.

Councilman John Whetzal seconded the motion to replace Hansen, and the resolution passed by a 4-1 vote.

But the vote was not on the council's agenda 24 hours beforehand, which is required by state law unless it's an emergency in which there is a danger to life, property or health. And cities must give 10 days notice of a job opening as part of a state law that says military veterans are "entitled to preference in appointment."

Alan Kemp, the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, said last week that the council must take another appointment vote for it to be effective.

The issue is expected to be discussed at-length at the council's meeting today at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 410 N. Park Place.

Nelson said Whetzal asked if she had interest in the job in November, she revealed today, which appears to dispute statements Hocker made to the Times Herald last week.

"There's been no coordinated effort" to replace city clerk Hansen, Hocker responded when the Times Herald asked whether Whetzal was involved in the replacement appointment.

Former Councilman Andy Griffith alleged last week that the appointment vote was meant to settle a dispute between Whetzal and Hansen. He said Hansen had been slow to adopt a new system in which city council documents were distributed electronically, which Whetzal, a first-term councilman, pushed after he was elected.

Whetzal did not return a telephone call to comment on the situation.

Also on tonight's agenda is the possible appointment of a new city attorney.

Former City Attorney Lance Levis - who was absent from the Jan. 13 meeting because he was on vacation - abruptly resigned on Thursday. He told the Times Herald earlier that week that he had not been consulted about the impromptu clerk appointment.

Hocker did not return a telephone call on Friday to comment about the attorney's resignation, nor did he forward a copy of the attorney's resignation letter - which is a public record - as requested.

Nelson, the woman who was appointed city clerk, said she works for New Opportunities as a community liaison and helps to reduce underage and binge drinking. Her job is grant-funded, and with the grant set to expire in June, she said the city-clerk job was a welcome prospect.

"But I'm satisfied with staying at New (Opportunities)," she said. "Hopefully we can find another grant."