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Vote Leads to Heated Exchange, Legal Question for Keokuk City Council

Jason Parrott
Fire destroyed Keokuk's previous redemption center. The city council denied a request Thursday night to open a new one a few blocks away.

A single vote during last night’s Keokuk City Council meeting prompted a heated exchange between aldermen that continued after the meeting.  The vote was on a proposed business and its connection to someone who has a history with the city council.

James Breuer with Iowa Recycling Services, Inc. wants to open a bottle and can redemption center at 30 S. 12th Street. The city’s previous redemption center was destroyed by a fire in May 2015.

Breuer said he’s already collecting more than one-million items a month from supermarkets and other facilities through private contracts, but he has no drop-off site that is acceptable to the public. He said there is a need now that Keokuk does not have an active redemption center.

“When the redemption center ended originally last year, it was abrupt and people had already saved up a bag or two of cans,” said Breuer. “Well they don’t want to dig through that bag to bring it to whatever grocery stores' limit is, so it just sits there and they collect more.”

Breuer told aldermen during their informal workshop that he has no big investors. He said he’s using his own money to get this business off the ground.

“I’m running a multi-million dollar business on the money I came to it with,” said Breuer. “I don’t have investors. I don’t have rich guys coming to me. I’m in a penny business and I did it with two good people helping me and we built this from the ground up.”

The property targeted by Breuer is a former pawn shop that city staff said is owned by Brian Boyd. Boyd owns several businesses along Main Street as well as the previously-mentioned redemption center in the 700-block of Main Street.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Keokuk installed a large mural to block the pile of debris that remains from the redemption center fire in May 2015

All that remains of Boyd’s redemption center is a pile of charred debris, prompting the city to install a mural to cut down on its public visibility. Breuer told aldermen that while he is related to Boyd, Boyd is not part of his business.

That was not enough, though, for At-Large Alderman Dan Winn. He quizzed Breuer during the workshop on Boyd’s involvement and questioned whether aldermen wanted to be connected to anything involving Boyd.

Winn continued during the official meeting, which is televised on local access Channel 9 in Keokuk. He reminded aldermen and people watching at home of Boyd’s possible connection to the business and to the former redemption center.

  • WINN: And he has no intention of cleaning that mess up. The other two buildings beside it are owned by Mr. Boyd. It is my opinion that this building that will be the redemption center if approved at 30 S. 12th Street is also owned by Mr. Boyd and I feel that ultimately we will still be dealing with Mr. Boyd.
  • ALDERWOMAN SUSAN DUNEK: I would like to add that Mr. Boyd in this case is the landlord, not the operator of the enterprise.
  • WINN: I understand that.
  • DUNEK: We put these requirements on the individual who is operating the business.
  • WINN: But we had this discussion once before where I believe it was stated in the council at the time that we wouldn’t have any other dealings with Mr. Boyd until he could clean up some of his other messes. I feel like if he owns other properties in town, why aren’t we putting liens against those properties, why aren’t we trying to re-incur some of that money it will cost the city to clean up his mess?

Mayor Tom Marion said the only way Keokuk can take Boyd to court is if the city spends the estimated $58,000 necessary to clean up what remains of the former redemption center. Marion said the city does not have that money available, which is why it has not moved ahead with seeking a legal judgment against Boyd.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
City Attorney Douglas Dorando told aldermen prior to their vote that they could not consider Breuer's connection to Brian Boyd when voting on the permit.

  Winn returned to his concerns about the proposal.

  • WINN: We have been told by Mr. Breuer, which is a nephew of Mr. Boyd, that Mr. Boyd does not have anything to do with it and I just find that hard to believe.
  • CITY ATTORNEY DOUGLAS DORANDO: For the record, you cannot take into consideration that he is of any relationship to Mr. Boyd nor can you consider Mr. Boyd’s ownership of the building as part of Mr. Breuer’s application for the redemption center.
  • WINN: We may not be able to do that legally, but common sense tells me we should.
  • DORANDO: I have to give you the best advice I can to keep you out of a lawsuit.
  • MARION: We don’t want to be subject to that.
  • WINN: That’s my opinion.

The city  council eventually 4-to-1 in favor of granting the permit, with Winn casting the lone no vote. Marion declared the permit application failed, then after a brief discussion declared it passed.  Then Dorando stepped in to clarify.
“You have to have a majority of the whole council for a resolution or an ordinance to pass,” said Dorando.

The Keokuk City Council has 9 members, so a majority of the whole council is a minimum of five votes. Only five aldermen attended the meeting, Thursday night, which meant every vote had to be unanimous.

The fact that this was not prompted the following exchange.

  • DUNEK: So we are now in a position of doing something we cannot do.
  • MARION: Well, if you want to bring it up in the next meeting
  • DUNEK: Well, we have to
  • MARION: If you want to consider that, you can do that
  • DUNEK: Well… [Audible Sigh]

Once the meeting adjourned and the television feed was shut down, Dunek and Winn resumed their discussion, which grew more heated as it continued.

  • WINN: I just think that the city is still dealing with Boyd. I can’t believe with him being his nephew, and there’s other buildings in town that are empty that he could have used for that, so why there? That came up once before that they wanted to use that for a redemption center.
  • DUNEK: But she clearly said she was operating it on his behalf… well anyway. I would have, I would have been equally hard on somebody who interfered with your ability to do business. I would have been equally hard on somebody, so accept it for what it is. I just think you put the city in an untenable situation here.
  • WINN: It’s a little bit of a different situation here though. Look at what [Boyd] left us with, are we just going to forget about that.
  • DUNEK: I’m talking about the young man here who’s trying to operate a business and do things according to the requirements we have as the city of Keokuk. He’s going to be doing everything that we ask and we have not -- we have put ourselves in a situation right now where I believe we have not acted legally as a council. That’s what I am upset about. I don’t like to be party to things like that.

Dunek told Tri States Public Radio that she would make sure Breuer’s request for a permit to operate a redemption center will be back on the agenda for the April 21 meeting.
Breuer did not attend the workshop, so he did not see the vote unless watching from home. City staff said he would be contacted in regards to how to proceed in the future.

Aldermen voting for the permit:

  • Ron Payne (3rd Ward)
  • Sandy Pollitt (5th Ward)
  • Roger Bryant (6th Ward)
  • Susan Dunek (7th Ward)

Aldermen voting against the permit:

  • Dan Winn (At-Large)

Aldermen not in attendance:

  • Mike O'Connor (1st Ward)
  • Mike Moore (2nd Ward)
  • Larry Mortimer (4th Ward)
  • John Helenthal (At-Large)
Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.