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Fort Madison Could Become Only Lee County Seat

Jason Parrott

Lee County could soon have just one county seat -- and it's safe to say that not everyone is happy about that.

Currently, Lee is the only county in Iowa with two county seats, Keokuk and Fort Madison, and it's been that way for more than 150-years.

The first sign of change came in the summer of 2011 when the Board of Supervisors voted to reorganize four departments.

Instead of maintaining offices in both cities, the county treasurer and auditor moved all operations and employees to Fort Madison while the assessor and recorder set up shop in Keokuk.

The supervisors are now ready to take that a step further, thanks to a proposal from Supervisor Ron Fedler.

His plan, which he unveiled Tuesday morning, would name Fort Madison as the lone county seat.

"I have felt this is the right thing to do since the beginning, since I was elected," Fedler said.

His proposal dictates all county services would be moved from the South Lee County Courthouse in Keokuk before the end of business on Friday, November 14.  

Most departments would move into the North Lee County Office building in Fort Madison, though the county attorney could move to the sheriff's office.

The proposal also stipulates that the supervisors work toward the construction of a new Lee County Courthouse at a location that can be easily accessible by all residents.

Fedler said the county has waited long enough on this issue, adding that he is in the best position to present a plan since his district does not include Keokuk or Fort Madison.

"We are a county divided and we have to stop that," Fedler said, "and so again, I feel I am not dividing a county.  I am uniting a county that is divided."

Opponents made their voices heard during Tuesday's meeting.  Consolidation opponents Al Nelson and Roger Bryant and Supervisors Matt Pflug and Gary Folluo, both of Keokuk, all spoke against it.

Folluo even left the meeting about one minute before adjournment and walked straight to his vehicle in the parking lot.

Pflug waited for adjournment, but did not stick around to see if there would be a workshop afterwards.

Pflug told reporters he was frustrated and extremely disappointed in his fellow board members: Fedler, Rick Larkin and Chairman Ernie Schiller.

"What you saw today was something done in the 11th hour, something that was railroaded through," said Pflug.  "I am just totally, totally disappointed in this board."

Fedler said he has been working on the ordinance with County Attorney Mike Short for about two weeks, but Pflug said he thinks the majority on the board has planned all along to move the county seat to Fort Madison.

"Oh, I think it is a done deal," said Pflug.  "It's a 3-2 vote and they get what they want.  So yeah, it's totally wrong."

Schiller said many times during the meeting that this is not a done deal, even though almost every vote regarding one county seat has had a result of 3-2.  He said he sees this as the first step in a two step process, with the second step being the construction of a new courthouse.

Some concerns have been raised about Fedler's proposal.  The biggest revolve around how to fit several additional departments in the North Lee County office building and how the judicial system will respond to the consolidation.

Fedler said he is confident he will have answers to both in time for a special meeting scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 4, 6:00 pm at the Central Lee School District.

The supervisors must vote in favor of the measure three times before it becomes law, with the first vote likely to occur during Thursday's special meeting.

Schiller said he has tentatively scheduled special meetings for Mon., Sept. 8 and Thurs., Sept 11 to complete the process. 

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.