ONAWA, Iowa — Monona County Auditor Brooke Kuhlmann remains in her position, one month after being arrested on methamphetamine-related charges.
Kuhlmann, 27, has come in to the office about once a week, on Tuesdays, the day of County Board meetings, since her arrest on July 29, according to county officials. She said this week she is otherwise working from home. She referred further questions to her attorney, Jack Faith of Sioux City, who did not return calls seeking comment.
In the meantime, the Iowa State Auditor’s Office is reviewing the county’s books. Monona County requested the state review in light of Kuhlmann’s arrest, but was told a routine annual audit of the county was already scheduled for late August, said County Attorney Mike Jensen.
Kuhlmann is charged with methamphetamine possession, a serious misdemeanor, and possessing drug paraphernalia, a simple misdemeanor. She pleaded not guilty in her initial appearance earlier this month.
Conviction on the misdemeanor charges would not automatically disqualify her from holding public office. Iowa law also does not dictate how often a county auditor should be at work, though if an auditor was not in the county for 60 consecutive days, the County Board could declare the position vacant and begin the replacement process.
Iowa code, however, does allow an elected official to be removed from office for such reasons as willful misconduct and maladministration. The county attorney would have to file a petition, a hearing would be held in district court and ultimately a judge would make the decision.
Jensen said it’s too early to tell whether he would pursue that option. Both the audit and the criminal case against Kuhlmann could be months away from concluding.
Kuhlmann’s next court appearance has not been scheduled.
Kuhlmann’s salary is $47,970 per year. As county auditor, she is responsible for the county’s elections, tax collections, preparing the county budget and other matters.
Asked about Kuhlmann’s infrequent presence at the courthouse since her arrest, members of the three-member County Board said there was not much they could do. Because she is an elected official, their options are limited.
“She is innocent until proven guilty, therefore we can’t sanction her,” said board member Jim Jensen. “We are basically in a holding pattern.”
The office is functioning well during her absences, he said.
Kuhlmann has been at the County Board meetings, acting as the board secretary and preparing the minutes, Jensen said.
Board member Brady Hanson of Castana said he’s concerned Kuhlmann is not in the office as much as she was before her arrest, when he said she was “very seldom” absent.
Kuhlmann was arrested last month after she contacted a drug dealer’s cellphone in an attempt to make a buy, the Iowa Department of Public Safety has said.
She didn’t realize the person with whom she was communicating was a state trooper — the phone had been seized in a traffic stop.
A quantity of methamphetamine was left for her in an arranged location. According to authorities, law enforcement officers watched her pick it up, and then Onawa police pulled her over.
Kuhlmann, a Democrat, was first elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012.
Board President Tim Jessen said board members have fielded many inquiries from the public about Kuhlmann.
“They don’t know what’s going on,” he said.
Some in Onawa said this week that Kuhlmann should be at work regularly.
“I think she should do it full time,” said Billy Parker, 55, of Onawa. “I think she should do it professionally.”