LOGAN, Iowa — Samantha Johnson and her husband, Skip, bought their three-story house on the north side of town in 2007, because they wanted a quiet place for their autistic daughter.
The home seemed ideal because its backyard opened onto a little-used 5-acre city park, giving their daughter, Savannah, now 21, the environment she needed.
But in 2012, after a proposal was made to clean up and improve Milliman Park, Samantha Johnson raised some objections, and the city turned against her, she said.
Skip Johnson, a Logan City Council member, was a key supporter of the July 2012 firing of City Administrator Angela Winther and City Attorney Joe Lauterbach. Winther's husband, Jack, led the local Boy Scout troop that was seeking to make some of the park improvements.
The firings proved unpopular in this city of 1,500 about 30 miles northeast of Omaha, leading to contentious council meetings and a new council being elected this month.
But Samantha Johnson said in a recent interview that she has been mischaracterized as being against the cleanup of the park when she only wanted her concerns to be addressed.
“I just wanted some consideration,” she said.
Current Mayor Jim Ettleman said the city tried to accommodate the Johnsons.
“This town does not agree with her perception of what happened here,” he said. “We are just ready to move past this.”
According to written minutes from the 2012 council meetings, Samantha Johnson said she did not want a trail near her property and also asked for a berm or a hedge to separate her land from city property. She also suggested that the park be kept as a natural green space.
Bill DeWitt, who was elected to the City Council this month, sees it differently.
“She can say anything she wants to now, but she said in open meetings there would never be a park there,” said DeWitt, who opposed Winther's firing. “At the time they never said anything about their daughter. They kept that quiet.”
Samantha Johnson said the family did not initially bring up Savannah's autism because their daughter didn't want them to.
Skip Johnson, who leaves the council at the end of the year, declined to be interviewed, citing a lawsuit filed by Winther against him and other city officials.
Logan residents voted in August to reduce the size of the council from five members to three, to force a change in the council makeup. Johnson did not seek re-election in November.
Although the controversy initially centered on the park, the Johnsons also were at odds with the city over chickens they kept at their house.
Soon after moving to Logan, the family acquired a handful of chickens and placed them in a coop in a shed on their property. Samantha Johnson saw them as educational for her six children, and Savannah, especially, who spent hours with them.
Chickens are not allowed in town under city ordinances, but for years no one complained, Samantha Johnson said.
“We never hid it,” she said. “We gave eggs to all of our neighbors. ... We didn't think anything of it.”
But as controversy over the park grew, she said, “I found myself caught in this small-town environment where we weren't in the right circles.”
In July 2012, DeWitt, who had sold the Johnsons chicken feed at the downtown hardware store, filed a complaint with the Police Department about the chickens, and Skip Johnson was ticketed for violating the city ordinance.
DeWitt said he was unaware that the chickens were important to Savannah and would not have complained had he known.
The birds were moved for a time to a friend's home outside the city limits. Savannah's autism symptoms worsened, Samantha Johnson said, causing her daughter's medication to be doubled.
After learning that Savannah benefited from caring for the chickens, the city looked for a way for the animals to be kept at the Johnson home, said council member Dennis Crum, who opposed Winther's firing. The council initially considered revoking the ordinance.
In late May, Samantha Johnson said she gave up on trying to work with the city and returned the chickens to Logan. Another citation was issued, this time to Savannah.
The Johnsons threatened to sue the city, alleging a violation of their daughter's rights. Samantha Johnson said the family has filed complaints with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and the Federal Housing Administration.
On Sept. 9 the council voted to make an exception so the family could keep the chickens. The citations against the Johnsons were dismissed.
“She is the only one allowed to have them, because of her condition,” Crum said.
Meanwhile, Milliman Park has been cleaned up, and new dirt trails have been put in.
Despite the controversy, Samantha said she has no intention of moving.
“This is our home. This is our house we bought for our children,” she said. “It's a lovely place.”