A settlement agreement was filed Monday afternoon, ending the legal battle between Appanoose County and the Appanoose Conservation Foundation.
The two sides were scheduled for a bench trial beginning Oct. 1.
Appanoose County had sued the Appanoose Conservation Foundation, a local non-profit, in response to several audits that questioned co-mingling between the foundation and the tax-payer funded conservation board.
On Monday afternoon, a settlement agreement sets forth five mutually-agreed-upon terms that will end the court spat.
The settlement agreement was presented to the Appanoose County Board of Supervisors in a special meeting on Monday. After two closed sessions lasting approximately 40 minutes, supervisors unanimously approved the agreement.
The first point in the agreement is that the foundation will transfer what is known as the Sharon Bluff’s Ranger’s house back to the county by Jan. 3, 2020. By that same date, the foundation will ensure the current tenant is no longer occupying the property.
Additionally, a 28E agreement between the county, foundation and city of Centerville will be dissolved.
The parties also agreed to prepare a joint statement to reflect that the county “did not allege purposeful misaction by the [foundation] in furtherance of transactions involving transfer of real estate” and “to clarify a statement previously made by the County Attorney.”
The fourth item declared that the agreement resolves all issues raised in the county’s lawsuit. The fifth states the county will pay the court costs. The costs of the action were not immediately clear.
In August, the county lost its two small claims lawsuits that were also related to previous audit reports. A judge ordered the dismissal of cases the county brought against former conservation director Mark Hoffman and his daughter Amber Hoffman.
The county alleged Mark Hoffman would have to pay back over $2,500 in compensation time paid to him after he was fired in February 2016. The county continued it was not owed to him, per the county employee handbook, because he was an exempt employee.
The court said the county failed to show evidence that Mark Hoffman was an exempt employee, therefore Magistrate Judge Kevin S. Maughan ruled Mark Hoffman was entitled to receive the payment for compensation time.
The county sued his daughter, Amber Hoffman, who was living at the Sharon Bluffs Ranger’s House. While the home was owned by the foundation for much of that time, the county sought rent payments from 2012-2017.
The county claimed that when the county transferred the home to the foundation in 2013 it was prohibited by the Iowa Constitution. They cited a special investigation by the Iowa Auditor’s Office, released in 2018, as the basis.
Maughan ruled that if the county was owed the rent payments on the house, it would be more appropriate for the county to seek payment from the foundation instead of Amber Hoffman.
In the now-settled civil lawsuit against the foundation, the county initially requested the Sharon Bluff’s residence be transferred to them, that the foundation pay them fair market value for the Fuller Wildlife Area and an additional $71,805.50 for various items.
The special audit that spurred the county’s lawsuits against the foundation came after a 2018 special audit investigation. The allegations first surfaced in 2015 after a regular county audit questioned what it called improper commingling of the county board and the nonprofit foundation.