The filing period to run for a county school board in Iowa will begin later this month, and it will be interesting to see if there is a surge of interest in the four seats up for grabs in Maquoketa’s district.

Less than a year ago, the district put itself into its biggest controversy in recent memory when it mishandled the employment and departure of Christine Snell, who had worked as principal of the Maquoketa Middle School for the prior 10 years.

The district’s leadership ended up paying Snell $122,500 in exchange for her signature on a separation agreement preventing any future lawsuits. The district’s superintendent, Chris Hoover, and board members never explained why it feared a lawsuit or why Snell was paid more than a year’s salary, at taxpayers’ expense, to simply disappear.

It was one of those stories that captured the public’s attention, and not in a way that was flattering to the district.

Up to that point in time, no governmental news story in the past five years had generated as much interest here at your hometown newspaper. Our staff heard from all kinds of people about the story, almost all of them upset not only about Snell getting paid off to go away, but because the district refused to explain why the payoff was necessary or if it learned any lessons from its undisclosed mistakes.

We heard a lot of unsubstantiated speculation about why district leadership handled the situation as it did, but the details, to this day, remain publicly unexplained. Some reasoned the administration so poorly handled its personnel work that Snell gained a legal tactical advantage that translated into a big win for Snell and a big loss for taxpayers. 

Whatever the case may be, there was a lot of complaining from a lot of people, and it was justified, but now, the onus of responsibility is shifting.

With the filing period about to open to run for a school board seat, it will be interesting to see how many step forward to put their names on the ballot. Then, if there is competition for the four open spots, will the complaints turn into votes?

The real questions are: How much transparency does the community expect from the district, and will enough qualified people step forward to give voters a choice?

The filing period opens Aug. 26 and closes Sept. 19.

Time will tell.


Did trust play role in jail referendum?

Jackson County voters had their say – again – on a proposal to build a new Jackson County jail on Tuesday, and for the second time, more than 50 percent of voters supported the plan.

Of course, that’s not enough for the county to borrow the money it needs to get the project started. With 57.5 percent of voters in favor of the project, the measure just missed the required 60 percent. The total also topped the first vote, which garnered 52 percent support last August.

The fact that support for the project apparently grew between the first and second referendum might suggest that a new jail proposal can eventually pass. 

The vote was also close enough to the 60 percent threshold that it raises the question whether recent unflattering news stories were enough to tip the scale. 

Our staff has heard from countless county residents who are extremely unhappy with the way the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department explained itself about the favorable treatment it provided to Assistant Jackson County Attorney Amanda Lassance when she was caught drinking and driving and then made a joke of the criminal justice system she is paid to uphold.

How much could a lack of trust in the sheriff’s department have mattered? We’ll never know the answer, but it is an interesting question.