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Promoting Open Government through Lee County Forums

Jason Parrott
Vice Chairman Matt Pflug address the crowd in Keokuk during the Sept. 2 taxpayer forum.

Mary Van Pelt of Montrose and Al Nelson of Keokuk are regulars at the weekly Lee County Board of Supervisors meetings. They were on opposite sides of the debate over the idea of having a single county seat, but that appears to be behind them as they came together to host a pair of "taxpayer forums" that they both are calling a success.
Lee County's elected leaders and department heads handled most of the heavy lifting during the forums in Keokuk and Fort Madison. They spoke about their job duties, their departments and their budgets. They also took questions from the crowd on everything from drivers licenses and road conditions to tax dollars and building security.

There were concerns the Keokuk forum might get heated because there was a time when it looked like the city would lose its designation as a county seat. Nelson credits the county employees and elected leaders from preventing things from getting out of control. He said they presented facts and information instead of emotions and rhetoric.

“It maybe took some of the wind out of some people’s sails that may have came in here ready to fight," said Nelson. "They saw there was nobody to fight.”

The Keokuk event drew nearly 40 people, making it more than twice as large as the Fort Madison forum. The Keokuk crowd was particularly supportive of Lee County Treasurer Chris Spann because of her decision to return the drivers license bureau to their city. They gave her the first round of applause of the night. She told the audience that vehicle registration will soon be available in Keokuk as well.

Van Pelt said she expected the forums to remain civil and not get out of hand. She said she was a little disappointed, though, that there was not more discussion about the future of the county courthouses, saying the county must address the issue soon.

"It's going to cost me more," said Van Pelt. "But what's it going to do for my grand-kids and my great-grand-kids down the road. That’s what I’m looking at. I want to be able to say Grandma helped me save money.”

After the Keokuk forum, Van Pelt and Nelson both said, they would continue to attend county board meetings and look for ways to keep the public informed.

Nelson said he might even be interested in participating in another forum -- in a few years. Van Pelt said she wants to keep people thinking about the condition of the county buildings and the possibility of a new, centralized location for Lee County government.

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