County Attorney Survey Responses
(For supervisor candidate responses, click "Supervisor Survey" link above)
1. In your opinion, on which issues does Iowa "Home Rule" require a public vote? Does it disallow votes on all other issues?
BROCK: Under Iowa Code § 331.306, voters can petition for a public vote only if another section of Chapter 331 authorizes a public vote. It is difficult to list all of the possible issues on which a public vote is authorized under Chapter 331 but some issues which may be decided by a public vote include: 1) Increasing or reducing the number of supervisors [331.203, 331.204]; 2) Selecting a supervisor representation plan [331.207]; 3) Changing the form of county government [331.232]; 4) An amendment to a county government organization [331.244]; 5) Whether the county should enter into certain leases or lease-purchase contracts [331.301(10)(e)]; 6. Dividing, dissolving or changing the name of a township under Chapter 359 [331.303(7)]; 7. Combining duties of certain county offices [331.323]; 8. Establishing a memorial hall or monument under Chapter 37 [331.361(5)(a)]; 9. Establishing a county hospital [331.361(5)(c)]; 10. Establishing a unified law enforcement district [331.381(1)]; 11. Establishing a county conservation board [331.381(3)]; 12. Establishing or ending an airport commission [331.381(11)]; 13. Establish a county library district [331.381(14)]; 14. Entering into certain loan agreements for real property payable from the general fund if the principal amount exceeds certain limitations based on the size of the county [331.402(3)(d)]; 15. Certain essential county purpose general obligation bonds [331.441(2)(b)(7),(12)(14)]; 16. Certain general county purpose general obligation bonds [331.441(2)(c)(3)]; 17. General county purpose bonds [331.442]; 18. Certain essential county purpose bonds [331.442]; 19. Revenue bonds to equip, enlarge or improve an already established county hospital [331.461]; and 20. Establishment or discontinuance of a county enterprise commission [331.471].
Section 331.306 limits the power of a public vote to those authorized by Chapter 331. Therefore, if a section of Chapter 331 does not authorize a public vote on a particular issue, the voters of a county have no right under Iowa law to vote on that issue.
EDMONDSON: In answering this question, I am presuming that "public vote" refers to a vote by the people. Chapter 331, the County Home Rule chapter of the Iowa code, requires a vote by the people on the following:
1. Establishing, or changing, the form of government for the county
2. Increasing or decreasing the number of county supervisors
3. Establishing supervisor districts or changing the number or type of supervisor districts.
4. Lease-purchase agreements that total more than $400,000, upon the filing of a petition with the county auditor.
5. Issuance of general purpose bonds in excess of $100,000.
6 Upon petition, the issuance of general county purpose bonds in the amount of $100,000 or less.
7. There are several other provisions where a vote is required, or can be held upon the filing of a petition by the eligible electors, such as the establishment or expansion of a county hospital and services related to the storage, transportation or utilization of water.
A vote by the public must be authorized either by the Code of Iowa or the Iowa Constitution. If a vote by the public is not expressly authorized or required, then a valid and binding election cannot be held.
SHOWERS: The Iowa Constitution grants cities and counties the right to determine their local affairs which are not inconsistent or preempted by state statute. One key exception is that the Iowa General Assembly must authorize any tax levy. That issue would disallow a public vote.
In City of Clinton v Sheridan, 530 N.W.2d 690 (Iowa 1995) the Iowa Supreme Court addressed the home rule power of a municipality directly and counties indirectly , but conclusion is that both counties and cities have broad referendum and initiative power. The court stated, ""If the general assembly intended to preempt municipal initiative and referendum powers, it could have done so by express and unambiguous statutory language." City of Clinton at 695. Therefore, short of tax and budget issues, citizens have broad referendum and initiative powers.
2. In your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing the county today?
BROCK: For the county attorney’s office, the biggest problem facing Washington County is alcohol and substance abuse. An overwhelming majority of the criminal cases in my office involve either alcohol or substance abuse ranging from drunken bar fights, drunk driving, drug possession, drug making, drug dealing and drug usage. This problem is not unique to our county but is a problem nationwide. Our county law enforcement officials, including my office, have taken a strong and aggressive stance toward curbing alcohol and drug abuse. However, ultimately it comes down to an individual decision to stop abusing alcohol or taking drugs. Until a person makes that decision and commits to changing his or her life, all we can do is treat the symptoms of their abuse.
EDMONDSON: From my experience, the most serious issue for the county attorney's office is the problem of drug trafficking and drug use. Methamphetamine manufacturing remains a major drug problem, and usually involves a group of people who buy the components and make the drugs. Meth can be made anywhere, and the process creates a danger to the public and law enforcement. Houses and apartments can be contaminated from making and using methamphetamine. Children can suffer abuse and neglect from parents who are using the drugs and unable to take care of them.
SHOWERS: First, there is a methamphetamine epidemic in Washington County and all of southeast Iowa. Meth manufacturing and use threatens the public safety and health of our citizens. The City of Washington has taken very appropriate steps in condemning properties where the presence of meth and meth residue creates a danger for the public. Educating the public on this issue is key, as is holding those who manufacture and conspire to manufacture methamphetamine in our community accountable.
Another problem facing our county (is) mental health issues becoming law enforcement issues. Officers deal with many individuals routinely and repeatedly who have serious mental illness, but who end up in the criminal justice system because the mental health system in our state is not adequate.
Finally, there is a lack of communication and collaboration right now between the County Attorney and local law enforcement. This is one of the main reasons why I am running for county attorney. When I worked in Cerro Gordo County, there were regular meetings and mini-training sessions with the county attorney's office and law enforcement. That needs instituted here.
3. What is the biggest asset you would bring to the position?
BROCK: My biggest asset is my ability to work with others to make sure that the interests of justice are served through the criminal and juvenile justice system and to make sure that the interests of Washington County are protected by assisting other elected officials and department heads.
I have also used my office’s county attorney collections program to generate over $200,000 in additional revenue for Washington County as well as assisting Washington County residents in becoming valid licensed drivers with properly registered vehicles.
EDMONDSON: I am an experience county attorney who has the integrity, judgment and work ethic needed for the job. I have developed the legal knowledge and trial skills to win cases in court. I have the temperament and experience as the county's legal counsel to ensure fair and accurate legal advice for the county's boards and department heads. I also have the leadership as county attorney to work for better justice and stronger sentences for criminals for the peace and safety of Washington County citizens.
SHOWERS: Temperament, communication skills, and experience, particularly in working in other counties and understanding how a successful county attorney's office functions. I have strong relationships with law enforcement, members of the 8th judicial district, and county elected officials and county employees.
4. Please describe briefly how you understand the role of county attorney, especially in relation to other county officials:
BROCK: The role and duties of the county attorney is set forth in Chapter 331 of the Iowa Code. Section 331.756 sets forth 85 separate duties of the county attorney. The Washington County Attorney’s office is responsible for prosecuting all criminal cases, juvenile delinquency cases, child in need of assistance cases, termination of parental rights cases, mental and substance abuse commitment proceedings in Washington County as well as providing legal advice and opinions to the Washington County elected officials and departments. We also assist school districts with truancy issues.
As for the relation between my office and other county officials, I have a duty to provide advice or a written opinion to the board of supervisors and other county officers when requested to do so. During my 3 ½ years in office, I have provided opinions and advice to nearly every Washington County elected official and department head including the Board of Supervisors, the Auditor’s office, the Treasurer’s office, the Recorder’s office, the Sheriff’s office, the Engineering Department, the Planning and Zoning Department, the Washington County Conservation Board, the Assessor’s office, the Environmental Health department, the Public Health department, the Mental Health and Disability Services department, various township trustees and other departments.
EDMONDSON: The county attorney serves as the prosecutor of all crimes that occur in the county, and also serves as the county's legal counsel. As a prosecutor, the county attorney is the gatekeeper of justices and the chief law enforcement officer. The county attorney carefully reviews and screens cases for prosecution and makes appropriate sentencing recommendations in court. My goal as a prosecutor is to get serious and dangerous offenders off the streets, work to get justice for the victims of crimes, and give persons the chance to make positive changes in their lives.
As the county's chief legal counsel, the county attorney represents the county in court, and gives legal opinions to the county's boards, officials and employees. The county attorney handles many other responsibilities including reviewing contracts and agreements, drafting resolutions and ordinances.
SHOWERS: The most important role of the county attorney in my view is as the chief prosecuting attorney in the county, working to ensure the safety of the community and as a minister of justice. Iowa Code lays out many responsibilities which include, among other duties, collecting delinquent debt and advising the Board of Supervisors and other county offices on pertinent county matters. The county attorney must work diligently to ensure the rights of victims and the accused are protected. The position also involves working closely with law enforcement and DHS on legal matters.
5. If forced to make significant cuts in your department budget, how would you do so? Please be as detailed as possible.
BROCK: I am a fiscally conservative Republican and I have been reducing my office’s spending since the day I took office. In my 3 ½ years in office, I have reduced spending by eliminating an unfulfilled position for a second assistant county attorney that was not justified by the amount of work in my office. I have also reduced the number of unnecessary contested hearings to insure that efforts are not needlessly wasted while still achieving the best results possible in a case.
As a result, my office has dramatically reduced the amount of taxpayer being spent since I have been in office the last 3 ½ years. In fiscal year 2008-09, the former County Attorney spent $503,294, in fiscal year 2009-10, the former County Attorney spent $508,845 and in fiscal year 2010-11 (of which I was only in office for the last six months), my office spent $491,647. Since I came into office, my office spent only $456,435 in fiscal year 2011-12 and $476,060 in FY 2012-13. As a result, my office has spent $79,643 less over the last two full fiscal years compared to the last two full fiscal years under the former county attorney.
Therefore, I have already made significant cuts in my budget.
EDMONDSON: As a county attorney, I found many ways to save money and to reduce spending in my budget. I was appointed as county attorney in August, 1997 and for seven of the next eight years, I kept my budget and spending below that of the FY '98 budget, even though costs were increasing. I used grant funding to pay for 80% of a computerized case management program that was needed for the office. I asked that my salary be frozen in 2009 and 2010. My staff found ways to save money on office supplies and saved thousands of dollars each year. I carefully chose to use some forfeited funds available to the office for training and computer equipment upgrades so that didn't they didn't involve tax dollars. I created or expanded programs that collected old fines or collected bad checks that did not involve extra costs to the county.
However, core functions such as prosecution cannot incur major budget cuts. Prosecuting cases requires sufficient funds to do all the work needed to get a case ready for trial. Prosecutors and law enforcement are subject to high standards to make sure that the person charged gets a fair trial. Over the years, the county attorney's budget has not seen the large funding increases or large staff increases experienced by some other departments.
SHOWERS: While it is difficult to be specific on this issue with having the current budget itemized, I do believe that cost savings could start with technology. Very soon, our judicial district will be transitioning to electronic court filing (EDMS). The entire state will soon be paperless, as the federal system is already. The cost savings would be a starting point for a budget that needs trimmed.
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