The number of public meetings of one type or another I’ve covered over the years is countless. A guy gets the feeling that he’s seen just about everything.
Then I spent nearly four hours at Tuesday night’s quasi-judicial hearing before the Marion City Council, petitioned for by Citizens for a Better Marion. And I realized I was wrong. I hadn't seen everything, yet.
The group was challenging Mayor Allen “Snooks” Bouska’s residency, charging that he actually lives in Hiawatha, not Marion, creating a mayoral vacancy. In the end, the City Council deliberated for a short time behind closed doors and emerged to vote 5-0 in favor of keeping the mayor in office.
But not before we took a long, strange free-form jazz odyssey. It began with Bouska’s attorney, Bill Roemerman, insisting that Citizens for a Better Marion is a fictitious group. He then demanded that his side be called “Citizens for Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
“And you can call me ‘Captain America,’ Roemerman said. And we’re off.
Soon, we were hearing Citizens’ attorney Landon Dufoe ask Bouska’s wife, Vickie, where her husband spends his nights. In Marion, “all the time and for a long time,” she said.
Then came testimony from private investigator Jeff Marlin, who monitored Bouska’s comings and going from Hiawatha for 12 days, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Did he know when Snooks was sleeping, and when he was awake? Actually, much of his report involved cars coming and going. Snow fell. Driveways were shoveled and shoveled again.
Bouska spent a lot of time in Hiawatha, proof, Citizens insisted, that he lives there. But also he was gone much of the time. Was he in Marion? We don’t know because the investigator didn’t watch his Marion home at 2040 Agate St.
That’s the address on Bouska’s voter registration, driver’s license, W2, city ID card, paycheck and even the notice the mayor received informing him of Tuesday’s hearing. Under oath, Bouska declared 2040 Agate to be his home address.
Two of Bouska’s Agate Street neighbors also testified that he’s there frequently. That includes James Kotrba, who said he tried to buy Bouska's house but was out-bid by the mayor. He then bought a home across the street and a couple houses down for $20,000 more. Ouch. Kotrba joked that if his snow-blower could shoot that far, he'd try to bury Bouska.
But does the mayor live there? "Absolutely," Kotrba said.
“I don’t think that the fact that someone sees someone frequently makes them a resident,” Dufoe said in rebuttal, accidentally blowing up and burying the entire point of his side’s surveillance.
“You don’t have a single scrap of evidence,” Roemerman said.
Scraps or no scraps, strong case or weak, there’s a huge barrier Citizens were not going to overcome: the law. It doesn’t care where the mayor sleeps, or how often, or whether he’s with his wife or not. It doesn’t care how many homes he owns, which driveways he’s shoveling or where he spends the holidays. It doesn't care that he spent 41 minutes at Hennessey's Irish Sports Pub on the night of Nov. 27.
It cares that he’s a registered voter in Marion who owns a home, declares it as his residence and spends time there. That’s about it. It’s a low threshold, admittedly. But if the law cared about the things I mentioned above, no one in their right mind ever would run for a part-time city office.
Voters can care about that stuff. Bouska’s critics certainly do. That's their right. And that’s why we have elections.
"This is America. We fight elections hard," Roemerman said. "And when your guy loses, you respect the result until the next election."
So this was an odd chapter. But cheer up, Marion. There is some good news. This saga happened in no small part because Marion is growing, fast. Bouska is the champion of longtime residents who are wary of all the tumult that growth brings. On the other side are folks pushing for big changes in town, insisting that development will follow. The friction is inevitable. It can work in strange ways. It's not going away, so buckle up.
And it's healthy. Better to fight over growth than to live in a city where the battle is for scarce morsels of shrinking pie.And, please, call me “Captain Columnist.”