Not all possible combinations of public office have been tested in the courts or by the Iowa Attorney General’s office; however, the following offices, specifically applying to libraries, are considered incompatible, meaning that one person should not hold both offices at the same time.
- council member and library board member
- mayor and library board member
A person may seek an office position currently incompatible with the office now held if the person gives up the current office upon taking over the new office.
The 1912 Iowa Supreme Court decision, “State v. Anderson” (136 N.W. 128) addresses compatibility of office. In that decision, the justices stated:
“…the consensus of judicial opinion seems to be that the question must be determined largely from a consideration of the duties of each (office), having, in so doing, a due regard for the public interest. It is generally said that… the test of incompatibility is whether there is an inconsistency in the functions of the two, as where one is subordinate to the other ‘and subject in some degree to its revisory power’, or where the duties of the two offices’ are inherently inconsistent and repugnant.’”
And further that “it is held that incompatibility in office exists ‘where the nature and duties of the two offices are such as to render it improper, from considerations of public policy, for an incumbent to retain both.’”
During your time on the board you may also come across situations that raise questions about conflict of interest. One example is a board member who wants to work as a substitute at the library and be paid. Although it might be legal (see Iowa Code, section 362.5), it is not recommended. Even if the board member abstains from voting on his or her pay, this practice still puts the library director in the position of supervising someone who is actually his or her employer. This could be a very difficult position for the library director if the board member's performance as a substitute is unsatisfactory.
Another example of potential conflict of interest is a board member whose relative is a library staff member. The employee may go around the director to take concerns to the board member when the issue should be resolved by the library director and the employee. Allowing this type of situation to continue undermines the authority of the library director and may result in the library director resigning.
If you, as a board, are sincerely concerned about a potential conflict of interest, consider discussing it with the city manager, city attorney, mayor and/or city council. To allow a potential conflict of interest to go unresolved could damage the library’s credibility in the community for years to come. If you are unable to decide whether or not there is a conflict of interest, unresolved questions can be formally addressed to the Iowa Attorney General's Office by an elected official.