Dyersville dispute over council member candidate's eligibility - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dyersville dispute over council member candidate's eligibility

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DYERSVILLE (KWWL) -

Decision 2013 coverage continues with drama in Dyersville, as the results of a city council race pose a rare question: Does the winner actually live in the city?

A contested election is a little more complicated and a lot more rare than a simple recount. A contested election is when a defeated candidate claims something more than just miscounted votes went wrong in the election process.

In the race for Dyersville's at large city council seat, Mark Wagner defeated Dan Willenborg by some 100 votes. Willenborg, however, is contesting the results, saying Wagner was never eligible because his primary residence is not in Dyersville.

According to both Wagner and official property records, Mark Wagner owns a house in Delaware County, close to the town of Earlville. He also owns a house in Dyersville.

Wagner claims his primary residence is the Dyersville house, but Willenborg disputes that.

Tom O'Neill is Dubuque County's deputy commissioner of elections.

He said when it comes to residency, "voter's intent and where you lay your head at night is what we use as a guide in Iowa."

He said Wagner registered in September to vote at his Dyersville address.

Wagner said he and his wife moved into the Dyersville house this past spring.

"Well, we're in our house right here," Wagner said Monday afternoon, standing in the Dyersville's house's dining room, "so this is pretty much our residence. It has been for a few months. I guess people can say what they want, but this is where we live."

Up until very recently, Wagner's Dyersville house was advertised as Ruthie's Guest House, which Wagner said he and his wife Mickey have since stopped operating in order to avoid any confusion in people's minds as to their residency.

Through Ruthie's Guest House, the Wagners were renting out three of the house's rooms. Wagner cited big Dyersville-area events such as the National Farm Toy Show as situations where a lot of people might flood the area and need a short-term place to stay. During those occasional periods, Wagner said, he and his wife would stay elsewhere.

Unlike a simple ballot recount, a candidate's contested residency requires a three-person panel to decide on the matter. Willenborg and Wagner each get to name a representative.

"Where we're at now is coming up with that third person, and both parties have to agree who the third person is," O'Neill said, adding if they don't, the judicial district's chief justice will appoint somebody.

Willenborg chose current Dyersville mayor Jim Heavens as his representative on the three-person panel. (Heavens lost his Nov. 5 run for re-election.) Wagner chose local attorney Dan McClean.

Willenborg, who has served as Dyersville's third ward council member for the last eight years, said on the phone Monday he has retained legal representation for this process of contesting the results.

Both men said Monday there is nothing personal about this and they maintain a respect for one another, as they know each other personally.

This is Dubuque County's second contested election in at least 28 years. O'Neill said the other one was also in Dyersville, though it involved a contested problem with absentee ballots, not residency.

O'Neill said he hopes to have the matter resolved by the end of the calendar year. Until the panel makes its decision, he said, there is no official winner in the Nov. 5 race for Dyersville's at large council member.

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