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No confidence

Oxford firefighters and first responders call for vote of no confidence against mayor
The Oxford First Responders provide emergency medical care prior to the arrival of a Johnson County Ambulance to Oxford, Cosgrove and the surrounding area, including a portion of Interstate 80.

OXFORD– Penny Jenn, the mayor of Oxford, still has her job following a split no confidence vote by city council members during a regular meeting Tuesday, July 14, in the Oxford fire station. Two council members (David Cook and Bryan Cooling) voted against the Mayor while Vicki Kasper, Pat Lewis and Marti XXXXXX voted in support of Jenn. Jenn ran unopposed on the ballot last November in a reelection bid garnering 106 votes. There were 60 write-in votes.
The Oxford Fire Department and First Responders raised concerns about Jenn’s conduct, and expressed a loss of confidence in her and her leadership, which prompted the council’s vote.
Earlier this summer, a member of the fire department used a department vehicle, and the water it contained, for personal use and utilized a city fire hydrant to refill the truck. The mayor maintained the firefighter’s actions went against city ordinances (personal use of fire department equipment), and amounted to theft of city utilities (water). The council met in closed session on May 15, and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office was notified regarding the potential for filing charges. No charges were filed, the firefighter paid for the water used and offered (via email) to apologize to the council.
During the June 9 meeting of the council, first responders expressed displeasure with Mayor Jenn on her handling of the situation, and requested a vote of no confidence, which was placed on the agenda for the July 14 meeting.
Amanda Wallace, director for the Oxford First Responders, spoke before the vote, pointing out new information in the form of a complaint filed by Toni Cooling with the Iowa Public Information Bureau (IPIB) regarding the city’s closed session as a violation of Iowa’s open meetings law (Chapter 21, Iowa Code) on May 15. The IPIB met on Thursday, July 16, and accepted the complaint on an 8-0 vote of the IPIB Board. Wallace told council members the IPIB said the complaint was found to have merit. The. IPIB will meet again on Thursday, Aug. 20.
“These findings prove that our distrust in the mayor is founded,” Wallace said. “The sheriff’s department was contacted before the special meeting, illustrating yet again how the mayor continues to act unilaterally without the guidance of the council.” Wallace said Jenn’s decision to limit the number of people who could attend the July 14 meeting, allegedly without consulting the council first, “further illustrates her willingness to use her perceived power.”
“We do not have enough members on our department now, and too often we have no one in town to respond to emergency calls,” Wallace added. “This incident has hampered our ability to retain the members we do have as well as recruit new members.” The council’s vote, she said, would have consequences beyond the city limits, but would also affect the residents in the rural areas surrounding Oxford, Cosgrove and those traveling through the area on Highway 6, IWV Road, and Interstate 80 as well.
Jenn responded by stating, “If someone gets water, and we have a complaint, then everybody should have the same amount of water. We shouldn’t show favoritism for one person.” Jenn said it was unfair to people who pay their water bills, particularly during financial hardships brought about by the coronavirus. “We cannot just give our water away.”
The Mayor clarified “theft” meant use of utilities (water) without paying. “I told Jim (Oxford Fire Chief Jim Hennes) and he’s supposed to tell all the firemen not to open up hydrants without a fire. It says right in the ordinance. It’s been there for years. And it says you can’t use an emergency vehicle for personal use. And you cannot take water without paying for it.” She confirmed the firefighter paid “after the fact,” and, “it was dropped. The case is dropped. We didn’t go after him.”
An objection was raised to allowing Kasper, the mayor’s sister, to vote with Wallace citing the League of Cities. “You have to abstain because of the conflict of interest,” Wallace said, “You voting on a family member.” Wallace provided documentation to the council, which stated if two (or more) family members are on the council. However, Jenn argued she does not count as the Mayor has no vote (unless in the case of a tie), and therefore Kasper could indeed cast a vote.
Wallace asked Kasper if she had the integrity to recuse herself, to which an angry Kasper replied, “I have the integrity to vote the way I wanna vote, and vote the way I think is right. Don’t push me. I don’t like being pushed.”
“I don’t care,” Wallace shot back.
“I know you don’t care,” said Kasper. “That is the problem. You. Don’t. Care.”
“Twenty-two years of doing this, I don’t care,” said Wallace before Jenn stopped the fracas.
Jenn chuckled after the final vote before saying, “Three against two. You heard the vote, now we’ll have the citizen forum.”
Wallace stepped up and said “Seeing the integrity of the council, the City of Oxford may not have much EMS coverage. EMS is not an essential service and a lot of our members have said to me that they were either resigning, or taking a leave of absence because of what has happened. I personally am unable to step down because I am the service director, until I contact the State of Iowa. You might be waiting a long time for an ambulance to come without first responders.”
Iowa legislators attempted in the 2020 session to declare EMS as an essential service, which must be provided by communities, but were unsuccessful.
Firefighter-first responder Tyler Cooling informed the Council of his decision to take a leave of absence, “until we have a new Mayor in office.”
The Oxford First Responders have been attempting to recruit new members. If interested, email oxfordfirstresponders@gmail.com or message them via their Facebook page.