Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
When Mount Union dissolved as a city in March 2017, the small town of just over 100 people was left with some bitterness. Residents voted 32-31 to unincorporate the city. The tiebreaking vote was a late-arriving absentee ballot.
Harsh words were spoken on each side of the disbandment. Rumors around former and current city administration led to some legal action before Mount Union voted to become unincorporated, and the ripples of the acrimonious dispute still are playing out to this day.
Friday the Iowa Supreme Court backed the ruling of the Henry County District Court that Mount Union residents did not have to pay the judgment to the Linda and Dan Johnson, who had claimed defamation in their suit.
This original ruling was entered on April 10, 2019, but the Johnsons appealed the decision the group of more than 20 residents of Mount Union named in the suit cross-appealed.
The court dubbed the group of residents the Marek Group because the first named defendant in the suit was John C. Marek, who was mayor when the city disbanded.
Back in February 2016, Dan and Linda Johnson filed a lawsuit against the city of Mount Union for defamation. The two siblings claimed they were victims of harassment after they were accused of stealing money from the town. Dan Johnson was a former mayor of the city, and Linda Johnson worked as the city clerk.
Shortly after the lawsuit had been filed, Mount Union formally adopted a resolution to discontinue its city existence on May 30, 2016.
By the time the Johnsons won their lawsuit and an award of $105,000, the city of Mount Union no longer existed. It became an issue of who would pay the judgment to the Johnson's.
There have been lots of twists and turns in the Mount Union saga. Problems started when the Regional Utility Service Systems upgraded the city’s sewer system. Residents protested when sewer and water rates were raised to pay for the upgrades.
The agency commonly referred to as RUSS, is a seven-county entity which permits state and local governments in Iowa to make efficient use of their powers by enabling them to provide joint services and facilities with other agencies and to cooperate in other ways of mutual advantage.
Lawyer Steven Ort represented the residents who objected to paying the defamation suit award to the Johnsons.
“What they were trying to do is get the City Development Board to be held accountable,” Ort said. “Basically, the Iowa Supreme Court said that the people of Mount Union do not have to pay the judgment. If the Johnson’s want that money, they’ll have to file a lawsuit with the proper people, which is Henry County.”
“Honestly, this whole mess started with Mt. Union v. RUSS,” Ort said. “RUSS unlawfully seized the sewer funds that hadn’t been paid, and that left the city unable to pay the insurance company premiums. It’s a wound that they won’t recover from.”