IOWA CITY – A slam of the gavel abruptly ended a combative meeting of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors Thursday.
The supervisors, or at least some of them, quarreled with County Auditor Tom Slockett over Slockett’s recent purchase of $62,580 worth of voting-related equipment, which was about $58,000 more than the supervisors had put in the budget.
The meeting consisted mostly of contentious exchanges between Slockett and supervisors Janelle Rettig and board Chairman Rod Sullivan.
After about 30 minutes of back and forth, Sullivan, who had earlier characterized Slockett’s responses as “diatribes,” adjourned the meeting with a slam of his gavel and left the boardroom. Some of the other supervisors were interested in continuing, but the board chair has the power to end meetings.
Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said the sudden ending was unprecedented in his 12 years in office and he hopes to resume the discussion next week.
“I’ve never seen that one before,” he said.
Slockett, who like the supervisors is elected by voters, called Sullivan’s action a “tantrum.”
The purpose of the meeting was to get to the bottom of Slockett’s purchase last month of 70 laptops, 70 identification scanners and 70 printers at a total cost of $62,580 for use at voting precincts.
Last December, Slockett asked for 70 computers to be included in the budget for this fiscal year. All five supervisors denied that and allowed for the purchase of five computers for $4,310.
Slockett said Thursday the equipment was needed to help speed up the voting process after people waited in long lines at the polls during the 2010 election. The scanners are increasingly being used in Iowa counties as an optional way for voters to check in at the polls.
“It never occurred to me not to purchase them because we need them to keep lines from forming and to keep wait times down for the public on Election Day,” Slockett said.
Slockett paid for the equipment out of a different fund than what the five budgeted computers were in.
Also, Jean Schultz, director of the county’s Information Technology Department, said her staff is usually involved in technology purchases and then installs the equipment. She said that did not happen and she has yet to see the 210 items Slockett bought.
Slockett said the equipment is not hooked up to the county network and uses special voting-related software.
The meeting took on the atmosphere of a courtroom or congressional hearing, with Slockett answering questions from a table facing the raised platform of the five supervisors. The auditor even compared the event to a “kangaroo court,” using the term given to sham legal proceedings.
“You will not allow any answer or information that you don’t want to receive,” Slockett said.
Slockett was defeated in the June Democratic primary and will be leaving office at the end of this year after serving as county auditor and elections commissioner since 1977.
Sullivan said that while Slockett may not technically be over budget because more than half the fiscal year is left and cuts could be made elsewhere, “you’re well on your way and you’re going to dump it on the new person.”
Neuzil said after the meeting that while the supervisors do not have authority over each line item in another elected official’s budget, the supervisors are responsible for the county’s bottom line. He’s concerned that another elected official could go outside the budget process as that person wishes.
“We need to close that loophole,” Neuzil said.
Sullivan said after the meeting he’d like the county attorney to weigh in on what sort of protection the supervisors have when an official goes against the budget.
He also expressed no regret for ending the meeting, saying it was noon and he and other supervisors had early afternoon commitments and he “couldn’t listen to any more long-winded non-answers.” He said if other supervisors want Slockett on the agenda at a future meeting, he’ll accommodate that.