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Lee County Proposes Committee to Avoid Court

Jun 13, 2016

Lee County hopes the formation of a special committee will help resolve the ongoing dispute over the future of the county's centralized emergency dispatch center (LeeComm). The idea is for the most active users of the dispatch center to try reaching a compromise before the courts get involved.

The agreement that created LeeComm expires June 30, 2016.  But the city of Keokuk has refused to sign a multi-year extension because of concerns about its duration, its creation of a new sub-committee, the voting process it spells out, and the exit clause.

The city does not know if it will continue to receive dispatch services without signing the agreement, so it filed the lawsuit & injunction against LeeComm, Lee County, and three other defendants this past week to ensure that the city continues to receive emergency dispatch services after the end of the month.

It was that lawsuit that led the Lee County Board of Supervisors to meet behind closed doors for about an hour Friday morning. Joining the board was County Attorney Mike Short, County Sheriff Jim Sholl, and County Auditor Denise Fraise.

Following the private discussion, the board appointed supervisors Matt Pflug (D-Keokuk) and Rick Larkin (D-Fort Madison) to serve on a special committee to try reaching a solution to the LeeComm issue.

Lee County Attorney Mike Short is charged with organizing the committee, which will also include representatives of the cities of Keokuk and Fort Madison.

Short will also mediate.

"To see if they can iron out what differences remain and come to a functional agreement as an alternative to spending money to litigate," said Short.

Short said he would call Keokuk Mayor Tom Marion and Fort Madison Mayor Brad Randolph for suggestions on people to serve if the cities are interested in participating. He said time is of the essence to get the committee up and running because the current LeeComm deal is about to expire and the deadline will have passed for the defendants to answer Keokuk's lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Lee County Board also authorized Chairman Ron Fedler to contact attorneys to represent the county and County Auditor Denise Fraise if the case goes to court.

That was a much smoother process than the attempt by the LeeComm board to obtain legal counsel fewer than 24 hours earlier.

Sheriff Sholl chairs the LeeComm Board. He provided members the names of four potential attorneys to represent LeeComm per County Attorney Short.

Instead of authorizing Sholl to contact attorneys, the LeeComm board held individual votes on three of the four and each vote failed 4-1 with two members abstaining (Keokuk Police Chief Dave Hinton and Keokuk City Administrator Aaron Burnett) and two members absent. 

The votes failed because the LeeComm board has nine members and state laws requires a majority of all members -- not just members present -- to pass a simple resolution. Thus the need for 5 votes. After the failed votes, the board chose to delay any future votes until Friday, June 17, so members had time to research legal counsel.

The lawsuit was only mentioned a few times during the LeeComm Board meeting. It appeared Fort Madison City Manager David Varley was trying to begin a discussion when he asked who on the LeeComm Board suggested that Keokuk might be shut out if it did not sign the agreement.

Keokuk City Administrator Aaron Burnett responded, stating that he could not discuss the lawsuit because it is currently in litigation. That prompted Varley to say, "I know what kind of people I'm dealing with" in reference to the lack of a response.