Berent v. City of Iowa City, No. 06-1382.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtAppel
Citation738 N.W.2d 193
PartiesMichael Joseph BERENT, Michael Steven Romp, Jeff Wayne Thorne, Paul Bryson Ingram, Nichelle Aline Thompson, Rodney Edward Sullivan, Sara Lillis Epstein, Sara Crane Swisher, Bette Jayne Mayes, Caroline M. Dieterle, Matt Blizek, Mori Constantino, Amanda Coyne, Lolly Eggers, Ellen Haywood, Jon Klinkowitz, Karen Kubby, Bob Thompson, James Walters, Roberta Till Retz and Jennie Louise Embree, Appellees, v. CITY OF IOWA CITY and "Objections Committee" of Iowa City, Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 06-1382.
Decision Date31 August 2007
738 N.W.2d 193
Michael Joseph BERENT, Michael Steven Romp, Jeff Wayne Thorne, Paul Bryson Ingram, Nichelle Aline Thompson, Rodney Edward Sullivan, Sara Lillis Epstein, Sara Crane Swisher, Bette Jayne Mayes, Caroline M. Dieterle, Matt Blizek, Mori Constantino, Amanda Coyne, Lolly Eggers, Ellen Haywood, Jon Klinkowitz, Karen Kubby, Bob Thompson, James Walters, Roberta Till Retz and Jennie Louise Embree, Appellees,
v.
CITY OF IOWA CITY and "Objections Committee" of Iowa City, Appellants.
No. 06-1382.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
August 31, 2007.

[738 N.W.2d 195]

Eleanor M. Dilkes, City Attorney, and Susan M. Dulek, Assistant City Attorney, for appellants.

[738 N.W.2d 196]

Bruce D. Nestor of De Leon & Nestor, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellees.

APPEL, Justice.


In this case, we are asked to determine whether three proposed amendments to the Charter of the City of Iowa City should be placed before the voters. The three proposals called for a retention election for the city manager and the police chief, established a permanent police citizens review board with certain investigative and other powers, and sought to limit police practices with respect to nonviolent misdemeanors. After timely objections were filed, the City's objections committee determined that the proposed amendments were legally flawed and, as a result, the City did not present the amendments to the voters.

Citizens challenged the City's refusal in district court. The City, alternatively, sought a declaration that the proposed amendments were unlawful. The district court ruled that the objections committee exceeded its authority, refused to grant the City declaratory relief on the ground that the legal issues raised by the City were not ripe for judicial review, and ordered the City to present the proposed charter amendments to the voters. For the reasons expressed below, the decision of the district court is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case remanded with instructions.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

A. Home Rule Framework for Charter Government. In order to put this case, involving city governance, in proper perspective, we begin by reviewing the development of home rule in Iowa. This home rule review will provide an overview of the scope of and limitations on the power of municipalities in Iowa to structure their local governments.

In 1868, the Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, John F. Dillon, declared that municipalities were creatures of the legislature and had only those powers expressly granted by the legislature. City of Clinton v. Cedar Rapids & Missouri River R.R., 24 Iowa 455, 475 (1868). For the next hundred years, the General Assembly, through application of what became known as the Dillon Rule, maintained a tight legislative grip over municipal affairs through a combination of inaction and a jungle of code provisions. This tight legislative grip was relaxed, to some extent, in 1968, when Iowa enacted a home rule amendment to the Iowa Constitution. Iowa Const. art. III, § 38A.

The Iowa home rule amendment was a compromise between those who desired unlimited home rule and those who favored continued legislative control of municipal affairs. Bechtel v. City of Des Moines, 225 N.W.2d 326, 328-29 (Iowa 1975). While the Iowa home rule amendment reversed the Dillon Rule, the legislature retained the right to legislate even on matters involving local affairs. The constitutional amendment allocated no areas or subject matter exclusively for municipal control. The continued ability of the legislature after the enactment of the home rule amendment to trump or preempt local law has been repeatedly recognized by this court. Iowa Grocery Indus. Ass'n v. City of Des Moines, 712 N.W.2d 675, 678-79 (Iowa 2006); Bechtel, 225 N.W.2d at 332. Iowa's type of home rule, sometimes referred to as legislative home rule, has been criticized by some as not providing municipalities with sufficient local autonomy. Richard Briffault, Our Localism: Part I — The Structure of Local Government Law, 90 Colum. L.Rev. 1, 8-9 (1990).

738 N.W.2d 197

After the enactment of the home rule amendment, the legislature for several years worked on a revision of the substantial state legislative framework in which municipalities were required to operate. After a few years of study, the legislature in 1972 enacted what was known as a home rule bill. While the legislative revision reflected in the home rule bill was in many respects a nip and tuck operation, the legislature also made changes in substantive law. Among other things, the home rule bill authorized Iowa municipalities to adopt a charter form of government. Iowa Code § 372.1(5) (2001). See generally Sam F. Scheidler, Survey of Iowa Law: Implementation of Constitutional Home Rule in Iowa, 22 Drake L.Rev. 294, 316 (1973).

By allowing municipalities to adopt a charter form of government, the legislature permitted local governments to engage in some variations from the traditional structure of government. The legislature required, however, that all municipal charters include provisions for a city council of at least five members, a mayor who may be a council member, and staggered elections for the office of mayor and city council. The legislature also required that the powers and duties of the mayor and the council be established and that such provisions be consistent with the city code. Iowa Code § 372.10.

B. Method of Adopting and Amending a City Charter. Iowa City has chosen to adopt a charter form of government, which petitioners now seek to amend. The legislature has provided three methods of amending a city charter by: (1) the city council submitting the matter to voters, (2) the city council passing an ordinance with submission to the voters if so requested by petition, and (3) petitioners proposing an amendment to be submitted to voters for approval. Id. § 372.11. It is the third method that is at issue in this case.

The legislature has established a substantive and procedural framework with respect to petitions that trigger municipal elections, including elections to consider amendments to a municipal charter. In order to invoke the electoral process by petition, the legislature required the petition to "include the signatures of the petitioners, a statement of their place of residence, and the date on which they signed the petition." Id. § 362.4. The legislature has declared that a petition is "valid" if it is "signed by eligible electors of the city equal in number to ten percent of the persons who voted at the last preceding regular city election. . . ." Id.

Upon receipt of a petition, the legislature has authorized the city clerk to examine it before accepting it for filing. Id. If upon the clerk's examination the petition "appears valid on its face," the legislature has directed that the petition "shall" be accepted for filing. On the other hand, if the petition lacks the required number of signatures, the clerk is directed to return the petition to the petitioner. Id.

Once the clerk has accepted a petition for filing, the petition is deemed "valid" unless written objections are filed with the city clerk within five working days after the petition is received. Id. The receipt of a timely written objection triggers review by an objections committee, consisting of the mayor, the city clerk, and one member of the council chosen by council ballot. Id. § 44.8. The legislature has directed that the city council must present a "valid" petition to amend a city charter to the voters in a special election. Id. § 372.11(3).

C. Proposed Charter Amendments. This case involves three petitions to amend the Charter of the City of Iowa City. The first petition related to the appointment

738 N.W.2d 198

and retention of the city manager and the chief of police [hereinafter retention proposal]. As with the current charter, the retention proposal vested authority in the city council to appoint a city manager and chief of police. The retention proposal also directed the city council to conduct an annual performance review for each position. In addition, the retention proposal stated that the city manager and the police chief "shall be subject to" a retention vote every four years.

The second petition sought to create a permanent police citizens' review board [hereinafter PCRB proposal]. The PCRB proposal provided that the board would investigate citizen claims of misconduct by sworn police officers, issue reports on these complaints to the city council, hold at least one community forum per year, and make recommendations regarding police practices to the city council. The PCRB proposal clothed the board with subpoena power in order to fulfill its functions.

The third petition sought to alter police procedures regarding nonviolent misdemeanor offenses [hereinafter community policing proposal]. The community policing proposal sought to direct the police to issue citations rather than arrest perpetrators of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses, restrict the police's ability to investigate, apprehend, and arrest subjects of misdemeanor crimes, declare that arresting persons in possession of personal-use amounts of marijuana not be a priority of the Iowa City Police Department, and restrain the use of warrants for nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses.

D. Administrative and Judicial Proceedings Related to the Proposed Charter Amendments. The three petitions were submitted to the city clerk in August 2001. Each petition was signed by approximately 1600 electors. The city clerk examined the petitions, found them valid on their face, and accepted them for filing. Seven individuals and the League of Women Voters timely filed objections to each of the three petitions. As a result, an objections committee was formed consisting of the mayor, the city clerk, and a member of the city council.

The objections committee held a public hearing at which it entertained a wide range of objections to...

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20 practice notes
  • Iowa Citizens for Cmty. Improvement v. State, 19-1644
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...Citizens for Responsible Choices v. City of Shenandoah , 686 N.W.2d 470, 475 (Iowa 2004) ; see also Berent v. City of Iowa City , 738 N.W.2d 193, 202 (Iowa 2007) ("We have held that in order to have standing a party must (1) have a specific personal or legal interest in the litigation and (......
  • Iowa Citizens for Cmty. Improvement & Food & Water Watch v. State, No. 19-1644
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...affected." Citizens for Responsible Choices v. City of Shenandoah, 686 N.W.2d 470, 475 (Iowa 2004); see also Berent v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193, 202 (Iowa 2007) ("We have held that in order to have standing a party must (1) have a specific personal or legal interest in the litigati......
  • Iowa Ass'n of Bus. & Indus. v. City of Waterloo, 20-0575
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...‘to trump or preempt local law.’ " Baker v. City of Iowa City , 750 N.W.2d 93, 99 (Iowa 2008) (quoting Berent v. City of Iowa City , 738 N.W.2d 193, 196 (Iowa 2007) ). The legislature chose to do so here with respect to the regulation of the "terms or conditions of employment." Iowa Code § ......
  • Iowa Ass'n of Bus. & Indus. v. City of Waterloo, No. 20-0575
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...power 'to trump or preempt local law.' " Baker v. City of Iowa City, 750 N.W.2d 93, 99 (Iowa 2008) (quoting Berent v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193, 196 (Iowa 2007)). The legislature chose to do so here with respect to the regulation of the "terms or conditions of employment." Iowa Code......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Iowa Citizens for Cmty. Improvement v. State, 19-1644
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...Citizens for Responsible Choices v. City of Shenandoah , 686 N.W.2d 470, 475 (Iowa 2004) ; see also Berent v. City of Iowa City , 738 N.W.2d 193, 202 (Iowa 2007) ("We have held that in order to have standing a party must (1) have a specific personal or legal interest in the litigation and (......
  • Iowa Citizens for Cmty. Improvement & Food & Water Watch v. State, No. 19-1644
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...affected." Citizens for Responsible Choices v. City of Shenandoah, 686 N.W.2d 470, 475 (Iowa 2004); see also Berent v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193, 202 (Iowa 2007) ("We have held that in order to have standing a party must (1) have a specific personal or legal interest in the litigati......
  • Iowa Ass'n of Bus. & Indus. v. City of Waterloo, 20-0575
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...‘to trump or preempt local law.’ " Baker v. City of Iowa City , 750 N.W.2d 93, 99 (Iowa 2008) (quoting Berent v. City of Iowa City , 738 N.W.2d 193, 196 (Iowa 2007) ). The legislature chose to do so here with respect to the regulation of the "terms or conditions of employment." Iowa Code § ......
  • Iowa Ass'n of Bus. & Indus. v. City of Waterloo, No. 20-0575
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 18, 2021
    ...power 'to trump or preempt local law.' " Baker v. City of Iowa City, 750 N.W.2d 93, 99 (Iowa 2008) (quoting Berent v. City of Iowa City, 738 N.W.2d 193, 196 (Iowa 2007)). The legislature chose to do so here with respect to the regulation of the "terms or conditions of employment." Iowa Code......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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