ONAWA, Iowa — Nearly 150 people have signed petitions in Monona County asking for the county auditor, Brooke Kuhlmann, to resign.
Kuhlmann, 28, was arrested on methamphetamine-related charges July 29. Her job attendance has been spotty since; she generally shows up only on Tuesdays, when the County Board of Supervisors normally meets, according to county officials.
Kuhlmann has told The World-Herald she is working from home. State law does not dictate how often a county auditor should be at work. Her salary is $47,970 per year.
On Friday, during the board's weekly meeting, Kuhlmann was not present. The board members voted to accept the petitions and said they would turn them over to County Attorney Mike Jensen.
Jensen was not at the meeting but was aware of the petitions and was going to formulate a response, said Tim Jessen, president of the three-member board. The board asked Jensen do so by its Sept. 24 meeting.
The petitions may have no bearing on whether Kuhlmann can keep her job as county auditor. She is charged with methamphetamine possession, a serious misdemeanor, and possessing drug paraphernalia, a simple misdemeanor. Conviction would not automatically mean removal from office.
During the Friday meeting, the board members briefly discussed how Kuhlmann might leave office if she does not resign. If she were not in the county for 60 consecutive days, the board could declare the position vacant and begin the replacement process.
Iowa law, unlike that of Nebraska and some other states, does not allow for recalls.
Said board member Brady Hanson: “It's a great, big, gray area.”
State code does allow an elected official to be removed from office for such reasons as willful misconduct and maladministration. The county attorney would have to file a petition; a hearing would be held in district court; and ultimately a judge would decide. But Jensen has said it's too early to tell whether he would pursue that option. Both the audit and the criminal case against Kuhlmann could be months away from concluding.
Board of Supervisors meetings are normally held Tuesdays, but this week's meeting took place on Friday in order to canvass recent school board elections.
Kuhlmann is the county's chief election officer. As county auditor, she is also responsible for tax collections, preparing the county budget and other matters.
The board also voted to send Kuhlmann a letter asking her to complete several reports she is responsible for that have deadlines looming.
Also, Kuhlmann's absence caused the board members to not vote on an item requesting her help with the online setup of administrator rights for the county's credit card system.
Currently, Kuhlmann is the only official with administrator rights. The board was going to ask her to complete the process of adding Sheriff Jeff Pratt and First Deputy Auditor Marilyn Kelley as administrators.
The petition signers calling for Kuhlmann's resignation come mainly from towns on the east side of the county. They constitute only a fraction of voters in the 2012 election. In November, voters gave Kuhlmann a second term in office; she netted 2,950 votes compared to the 1,708 earned by her opponent.
Not everybody in the county is opposed to Kuhlmann. Someone scrawled in big letters on the bottom of one of the petitions: “She needs a 2nd chance. Everybody needs one.”
Attempts by The World-Herald to reach Kuhlmann and her attorney, Jack Faith of Sioux City, were unsuccessful Friday.
Kuhlmann was arrested in July after she contacted a drug dealer's cellphone in an attempt to make a buy, the Iowa Department of Public Safety has said.
She didn't realize the person with whom she was communicating was a state trooper — the phone had been seized in a traffic stop.
A quantity of methamphetamine was left for her in an arranged location. According to authorities, law enforcement officers watched her pick it up, and then Onawa police pulled her over.
Kuhlmann, a Democrat, was first elected in 2008.