A judge has dismissed two court cases brought by Appanoose County against former Appanoose County Conservation Director Mark Hoffman and his daughter Amber Hoffman.
The county sued both in October 2018 as part of three lawsuits filed in relation to a state auditor’s special investigation that criticized the relationship between the Appanoose County Conservation Board and a non-profit foundation that fundraised for local conservation efforts. The other action was a civil lawsuit against the Appanoose Conservation Foundation, which has not yet been decided.
The county sought for Mark Hoffman to pay back $2,666.28 they paid to him for compensation time following his termination in February 2016. The Iowa State Auditor’s Office criticized the payment, saying Mark Hoffman was not owed the payment because he was an exempt employee.
When he was terminated, then-Appanoose County Auditor Linda Demry at the time determined he was a non-exempt employee and paid out the unused compensatory time. The amount was approved by the Appanoose County Board of Supervisors then, Magistrate Judge Kevin S. Maughan wrote in his ruling filed Aug. 11.
Appanoose County’s employee handbook states that exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act do not receive overtime or compensatory time. Mark Hoffman, the court ruled, was a non-exempt employee because no evidence was submitted to show that Mark Hoffman could hire and fire employees.
The county also sued Mark Hoffman’s daughter, Amber Hoffman, saying the rent payments made to the foundation for her residing at the Sharon Bluffs house should have been paid to the county.
Each month Amber Hoffman paid $500 rent to the Appanoose Conservation Foundation, which owned the property for much of the period in which Amber Hoffman lived there, the court determined. The county sought, but was denied, a decision ordering Amber Hoffman pay the county for five years of rent, from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2017.
The issue was raised initially by a state audit, which questioned the practice of the foundation collecting rent on the property when it was owned by the county. The audit also raised questions with Appanoose County's transfer of the property to the foundation in July 2013, saying it was prohibited by the Iowa Constitution.
The judge did not make a ruling on whether the Iowa Constitution does or does not prohibit that transfer, a central point in the lawsuit that Appanoose County brought against the foundation directly, which is still pending.
Maughan did write in his ruling, however, that Tammy Hollingsworth, an auditor who helped write the audit, believed the transfer to be prohibited but “could not state any grounds for the prohibition.”
For a short period of time, the court found, Amber Hoffman may have been staying at the home while the county still owned it. However, it would be the foundation that owed the county rent payments, not Amber Hoffman.
“To now order [Amber Hoffman] to pay rent to the county … would be requiring [Amber Hoffman] to pay rent twice,” Maughan wrote.
His order continued, “It is clear that the county, for whatever reason, transferred the property in question to the Appanoose Conservation Foundation in 2013 and there is no evidence that the county questioned that transaction until the State Audit in 2018. The county now seeks to go back to July of 2013, as if it had no part in the conveyance and the conveyance did not occur.”
Stating that Appanoose County failed to show proof of their claims, the cases were both dismissed with costs assessed to the plaintiff. It’s unclear what those costs will total.
Appanoose County Attorney Susan Scieszinski or Appanoose County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Waits did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
One case is still pending in the spat between the county and the conservation foundation. In that case, the county is seeking $72,000 and land from the foundation. A bench trial has been set for October 1.
Kyle Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the newsroom at 641-856-6336. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.