Fellow Democrats ask Johnson County auditor to stop re-election bid
Slockett criticized for circulating petition in office.
Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett examines a printout of election results in June 2008 at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
Longtime Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett has been asked to drop his re-election bid by some of his fellow Democrats.
Slockett, the auditor and elections commissioner since 1977, said Thursday he will stay in the race.
A major factor in the requests that he bow out has been a string of personal and professional problems in recent years, the officials said. That includes Slockettcirculating his re-election petition in his office earlier this month.
Documents given to The Gazette this week under Iowa’s open-records law show that some of Slockett’s employees were upset by what he did and some claim he harassed people into signing. One employee was harassed to the point that she defecated on herself, according an email.
State Sen. Bob Dvorsky of Coralville and Rep. Mary Mascher of Iowa City, both Democrats, said they thought Slockett had done a fine job for much of his 35 years in office, but it is time for change.
“I’m afraid there’s been a series of situations that it’d be better if we didn’t have these (things) going on,” Dvorsky said.
Mascher said support for Slockett is eroding.
“He is certainly hearing from enough people that have concerns,” she said.
The two lawmakers are supporting Travis Weipert, an accountant and Tiffin City Council member, for auditor in the June 5 Democratic primary. Dvorsky is chairing Weipert’s campaign. No other candidate filed in the race.
Slockett said he was disappointed in Dvorsky’s and Mascher’s comments and said they are being fed misinformation about him.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask someone else to retire,” said Slockett, 65. “I think it’s age discrimination.
Slockett’s difficulties include a 2007 drunken driving conviction, election challenges in 2008 by two former Auditor’s Office employees who accused him of creating a hostile work environment and the March 5 incident with the petition.
The Gazette filed an open-records request with Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness for documents related to the nomination petition.
The petition and accompanying signatures were required for Slockett to be on the election ballot. Slockett included a checklist for employees to mark after they had seen it.
One employee wrote that, after the petition had gone around, Slockett went to the people who had not signed and asked them why and would they sign now. He said he would go to their homes to have them sign and “weren’t they his friend?”
According to the same email, Slockett “tried to bully” a woman into signing and the woman became so upset she “had a bout of diarrhea, was unable to make it to the restroom on time, and had to go home and change her clothes.”
That story was corroborated in interviews with other Auditor’s Office employees who spoke only on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from Slockett, including loss of their jobs.
Slockett told The Gazette that he was not aware of a woman soiling herself and questioned how, if true, people could know she did it because of him. He said if it was true he’d feel terrible.
He also said that when he learned some people were upset he asked if it would be different if he came to their homes for signatures. He said he did not remember saying something about knowing who his friends were but said he did feel “a little bit that way.”
On the morning of the incident, Deputy Auditor Chris Edwards emailed Slockett that the nomination papers “seem to be causing a stir in the office.” He also wrote that one woman asked if she was required to sign, and he told her no. A man asked if it was appropriate for him to sign because he’s involved in the elections process, Edwards wrote.
Two days later, Slockett wrote to Auditor’s Office employees explaining his actions and saying he “was very surprised” some people were uncomfortable with what he did. That was followed by an email in which Slockett apologized for seeking signatures at work.
Slockett requested and received from Lyness the same public records given to The Gazette. He said none of the people who made critical comments would be punished.
Lyness and Lora Shramek, the county’s human resources administrator, said they heard from employees on the matter. Lyness, a Democrat, said the conversations involved personnel issues that could not be discussed.
Rod Sullivan, chairman of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and a Democrat, said he also heard from employees and encouraged them to file grievances with their union but they were all reluctant to do so.
No grievances have been filed, Shramek said.
Sullivan said he thinks there “clearly are issues” in the Auditor’s Office and wouldn’t answer when asked who he’s supporting in the primary.
“I think that that’s probably an indication that some people are upset with the way things are going there,” he said.
Slockett said he and his fellow elected officials can disagree on issues, but he thinks it’s wrong to try to silence or replace someone. He said his fate rests with the voters.
“I think the Johnson County public is very sophisticated about looking at these type of issues,” he said.