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State Law Leaves Vacancies On County Boards

A state law signed in June created some vacancies on county boards in Iowa and some counties are still trying to fill them.

To serve on a county zoning commission or board of adjustment, a person has to live in the area that a county zoning ordinance regulates, according to the law. That means only people who live in unincorporated areas can now serve on these boards.

Lucas Beenken, a public policy specialist with the Iowa State Association of Counties, said counties will have a tough time trying to fill these vacancies. These appointed positions are unpaid, “pretty thankless jobs” and their boards need to have a gender balance.

“Then to take legislative action that would reduce the pool of eligible candidates to serve on those really makes it difficult to fill those,” Beenken said.

ISAC surveyed counties around Iowa in June to see how many board members they lost. More than 40 responded. Most said they lost between one and three members per board. According to state law, county boards of adjustment must have five appointed members. The law does not dictate the number of members on a zoning commission.

Woodbury County is still trying to fill the seats that were vacated. The county lost two members on the board of adjustment and two on the planning and zoning commission. Community and Economic Development Director David Gleiser said these boards lose the perspectives of residents from a city.

“The city and county really do need to be communicating and working together on land use, land preservation and economic development,” Gleiser said, “especially on the outside perimeter of the city where they’re growing and annexing out to the country.”

Gleiser said board members would typically have to drive to the Woodbury County Courthouse in Sioux City for these meetings, but meetings have been done by Zoom or conference call because of the coronavirus pandemic.

One person submitted their application on Friday for the planning and zoning commission, Gleiser said. County supervisors need to appoint new members by June 1, 2021.

Sioux County lost a quorum for its board of adjustment because three board members had to vacate their positions in June. Two members left their seats on the zoning commission. Sioux County Planning and Zoning Director Shane Walter said since the planning and zoning commission forwards recommendations to the board of adjustment, it "would've been pointless" to hold a meeting. Neither board could meet until the board of adjustment had a quorum again.

“We went all of June, July and August without having filled those roles and towards the end of August we were able to get that done,” Walter said.

Walter continued, "I honestly felt like it could be months and months before before we could hold a meeting. And we can't do that because we have folks out there that need to do their projects."

The two Sioux County boards met Sept. 3, for the first time since June.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.