City council vacancies can occur in a number of ways, including a council member resigning, moving out of the city or ward in which they were elected, dying or being removed from office. Councils have several options in filling a vacant seat and must follow proper procedures when doing so.
Filling Vacancy by Appointment
One of the options a city council has in filling a vacancy is to appoint an individual to the seat. To do so, a notice of intent is required to be published not less than four and not more than 20 days before the date the council considers the appointment in accordance with Section 362.3 of the Code of Iowa. The notice must identify the vacancy, state the intention of the council to fill the vacancy by appointment and indicate the date, time and place of the meeting at which the appointment will be made. The notice must also state that the public has a right to petition for a special election.
The appointment to fill a vacancy must be made within 60 days of the date the vacancy occurred. The council may publish notice in advance if a resignation is to take effect at a future date. The council may make the appointment after the notice is published or after the vacancy occurs, whichever is later.
Anyone who the council considers for appointment is required to meet the same qualifications as a candidate seeking to run for the office. Code of Iowa Section 39.27 requires the candidate be an eligible elector and a resident of the city or ward for which the person seeks to represent. There is no required procedure for identifying candidates for appointment, other than ensuring any interested individuals are eligible for office. The city council can determine its own process for identifying potential candidates.
Filling Vacancy by Special Election
If the city council chooses to fill the vacancy by special election or must have a special election due to a petition, it may be held concurrently with any pending election (as provided by Code of Iowa Section 69.12). If it is held concurrently with a pending election, the vacancy must be filled within 90 days after the vacancy occurs. If not, the election shall be called at the earliest practical date. If the city has a primary election provision, notice to the auditor must be given at least 60 days before the special election date. For all other cities, notice to the auditor must be given at least 32 days before the special election date. If the remaining members do not constitute a quorum, the election shall be called at the earliest practical date.
Petition for Special Election After Appointment
If the city council chooses to fill a vacancy by appointment, the public can petition for a special election to fill the vacancy. The petition must be filed within 14 days after the appointment is made or the notice is published, whichever is later, and contain a sufficient number of signatures of eligible electors of the city. Below are the required number of signatures by city population:
- Less than 10,000 – At least 200 or at least the number of signatures equal to 15 percent of voters who voted for candidates for office on the ballot at the preceding regular election, whichever is fewer.
- 10,000-50,000 – At least 1,000 or at least the number of signatures equal to 15 percent of voters who voted for candidates for office on the ballot at the preceding regular election, whichever is fewer.
- More than 50,000 – At least 2,000 or at least the number of signatures equal to 10 percent of voters who voted for candidates for office on the ballot at the preceding regular election, whichever is fewer.
- In all cases, the minimum number of signatures cannot be less than 10.
If more than one vacant position was to be filled for the office in which the vacancy exists at the preceding election, the number is computed by dividing the total number of votes cast for the office by the number of seats to be filled.
Tenure of Filled Vacancy
A person appointed to fill a council vacancy serves until the next city election, unless there is an intervening special election for that city (this was changed during the 2014 legislative session; the previous law stated appointees served until the next election, whether that election was the regular city election or state election). If a valid petition for a special election is filed, the appointment is temporary and the council shall call a special election to fill the vacancy permanently. A person elected to fill a vacancy serves the remaining balance of the term.
Lack of Quorum due to Vacancies
If there are concurrent vacancies on the council and the remaining council members do not constitute a quorum of the full membership, a special election shall be called by the county at the earliest practicable date. The remaining council members shall give notice to the county of the absence of a quorum. If there are no remaining council members, the city clerk shall give notice to the county of the absence of a council. If the office of city clerk is vacant, the city attorney shall give notice to the county of the absence of a clerk and a council.
The city clerk is authorized to make the following payments without prior approval of the council:
- For fixed charges including but not limited to freight, express, postage, water, light, telephone service or contractual services, after a bill is filed with the clerk.
- For salaries and payrolls if the compensation has been fixed or approved by the council. The salary or payroll shall be certified by the officer or supervisor under whose direction or supervision the compensation is earned.
If concurrent vacancies exist and the remaining council members do not constitute a quorum of the full membership and the office of city clerk is vacant, the county auditor of the county where the city is located shall make the payments described without prior approval of the council. The bills paid during this time shall be submitted to the city council for review and approval at the next regular meeting following payment in which a quorum of the council is present.