Home Rule
4:43 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

Attorney : Board Could Choose County Seat

It appears the Lee County Board of Supervisors has the authority to end the decades-long debate over one county seat versus two.

Lee County Attorney Mike Short says the five-member Board of Supervisors has the power to move to one county seat.
Lee County Attorney Mike Short says the five-member Board of Supervisors has the power to move to one county seat.

Lee County is the only county in Iowa with two county seats (Keokuk & Fort Madison).

County Attorney Mike Short says Iowa had specific guidelines for selecting a county seat until the early 1980's, when home rule was adopted.

Home rule prevents the state from telling counties how to conduct their business, so Short says a simple resolution is all it takes to change the county seat.

“The Board of Supervisors could do it any way they chose to do it," says Short.  "It was a local issue where you locate the county seat (so it) is about as local an issue as local can get.”

Short says Home Rule also negates past lawsuits or legislation requiring Keokuk and/or Fort Madison to be a county seat.

It is unclear why past Boards of Supervisors have not utilized it. 

Short previously offered an opinion to the board about home rule in 2011.

Current Chairman Ernie Schiller says it offers an interesting possibility, but he is more interested in finding out the cost of a new county office building.

He says a feasibility study could cost about $50,000.

"$50,000 is a lot of money," says Schiller, "but in the scheme of things... when you could be saving the price of a new building over a period of years, we need to be taking a look at that."

A majority of those at this week’s taxpayer forum indicated they would support the county spending money on a study.