Iowa City will hold a special election on Oct. 2 following the resignation of at-large City Councilor Kingsley Botchway.
The City Council decided in a unanimous vote on Aug. 3 during a special formal meeting. City Councilor Mazahir Salih was not present, but she was on the line in a phone call with the councilors.
“I’m really excited about this; everybody get out their walking shoes, get out to the Farmers’ Market, discuss the issues,” City Councilor Rockne Cole said during the meeting. “Fall is campaign season, and so let’s get moving, and I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone does out there in the public.”
The council had two options: appoint a new councilor or hold a special election, said City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes in a July 19 memorandum.
The Johnson County Auditor’s Office estimates that the special election will cost $30,000, Dilkes said, more if there is a primary — which would be required if there are more than two candidates. That would be held Sept. 4.
“Although a special election can cost the city additional funds, it provides the most democratic way to ensure a council member is accountable to the larger public,” members of the Downtown District wrote in an email to the City Council.
Community members and councilors spoke out in favor of a special election, noting the importance of democratic process.
“In my opinion, if the current council appoints a new city councilor, it will be seen by many as undemocratic,” Iowa City resident Laura Routh said in an email to the City Council. “It will also saddle that incoming city official with baggage that infers they do not represent the electorate.”
City Councilor John Thomas said during the meeting that he supports the special election.
“The notion of democracy by definition is the people rule,” he said during the meeting. “[A special election] certainly reflects that value.”
Cole said the council has recently seen close votes on issues and that there would be a perception of the councilor’s legitimacy in a tiebreaking vote, despite following the law.
A recent issue on contention in the council has been the proposed rezoning of the Pentacrest Gardens Apartments site, 12 E. Court St., into the Riverfront Crossings subdistrict. Plans for the redevelopment of the location include a 15-story building that will be geared toward University of Iowa students. The proposed height of the building has sparked debate among councilors.
Botchway previously said he believed the location was right for development, while other councilors said they believed 15 stories was too many for Iowa City.
Botchway announced his resignation from the council as well as his position with the Iowa City School District as director of equity and engagement in July to take a position with the Waterloo School District as chief officer of human resources and equity. He was elected for a second term in November 2-17 after capturing 78 percent of the vote alongside Salih, who was elected for her first term with 77 percent of the vote. The winner of the special election will serve for the remainder of Botchway’s term.