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Meet the candidates: Story County Sherriff runs unopposed for 8th term

Danielle Gehr
Ames Tribune

Some candidates are running unopposed this November for top positions in Story County, including a long-time sheriff and an attorney appointed to the role this year. 

The county attorney, sheriff and auditor races are all unopposed in Story County this election year.

For one candidate, Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald, he will be making local history again as he runs for his eighth term. Story County Attorney Timothy Meals, on the other hand, was appointed this year and spent most of his tenure during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Story County Auditor Lucy Martin said she is glad she can focus on the 2020 general election and all her other responsibilities, rather than her own campaign this year. 

Do you know who is representing you? Learn more about the candidates here. 

Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald is running for his eighth term unopposed.

Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald

Sheriff Fitzgerald made Story County history in 2016 when he was elected into his 7th term, making him the longest-serving sheriff in the county. 

With 28 years as sheriff under his belt, he is looking to add four more years. Fitzgerald said he has envisioned himself being in law enforcement since he was a child.

While he worked in other parts of the state, eventually becoming Story County sheriff was always in the back of his mind, Fitzgerald said.

"There's no greater job in the world — I don't think — than being sheriff," Fitzgerald said. "One of the things that's nice about it is I answer to the people. I don't answer to another elected official."

Fitzgerald's last three races were unopposed. He said he hopes that's a sign the public is satisfied with his work.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in this role? 

"I think, first and foremost, running an open and transparent office. We have officers that are heavily engaged in community policing ... We have deputies at each of these town council meetings each month, and they are assigned to the schools within that area ... so that's one of the things, I think, the type of service that we deliver for all residents in Story County.

"We are very conscious and very aware of the taxpayer dollar, and for so many years I've given back from my budget — some years rather large amounts. I operate from the principle that at the end of the year if we have anything left over, we aren't gonna, like so many do, run out and spend it. I'm elected, so I try to be fiscally responsible."

What will be your top priorities during your next term?

"Well, this is certainly unique from any other years that I've taken over, and when I take over my next term January 1, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. We've had some very unique experiences. We're still recovering from the derecho. 

"In 2002, when the Justice Center was completed and we moved out here, my patrol division had 18 people,15 patrol deputies and three patrol sergeants. Today, I'm set with the same 18 positions, 15 patrol deputies and three patrol sergeants. We're working with the board to increase that. With everything that has been going on ... we're trying to get through the COVID thing right now, so as soon as we get through that we'll be able to hopefully start increasing. 

Story County Attorney Timothy Meals is running unopposed after he was appointed to the position in January. His predecessor, Jessica Reynolds, left the county attorney's office to accept a position at Iowa Attorney General's Office.

Story County Attorney Timothy Meals 

Story County Attorney Timothy Meals took over in January after his predecessor, Jessica Reynolds, accepted a job at the Iowa Attorney General's Office. He worked in the office for 20 years before that. 

Meals did not take the traditional career path, working in manufacturing 11 years after high school. He went back to school at 31 years old with a goal of becoming a prosecutor at the Story County Attorney's Office. 

"I think my background as a blue-collar worker gives me a better understanding of how people on the outside of the (attorney's) office view our work," Meals said. 

For most of Meals' tenure, he has had to run the office through the COVID-19 pandemic. For part the year, the court system shut down and did not do in-person hearings. 

What accomplishments are you most proud of in this role? 

"Well, managing a law office, a county attorney's office through a pandemic ... Figuring out how to keep the office running and keep my attorneys and my staff safe at the same time ... making accommodations for them to work from home working with our IT department ... Working with the court system and getting set up to prepare to reopen the courts and do in-person hearings ... Working with the sheriff and law enforcement to help manage the pull of inmates coming into the county jail to avoid having a COVID outbreak in our county jail.

What will be your top priorities during your next term?

"I want to build on the good work that was done by my predecessor and maintain good relationships with the community and law enforcement. Also, I want to build on a program that we've been working on for some time called alternatives. It's a program where we received close to a half-a-million-dollar grant from the federal government to implement a diversion program to help divert some of the people that come into contact with law enforcement and the judicial system because of substance abuse issues."

Story County Auditor Lucy Martin is running for her third term unopposed.

Story County Auditor Lucy Martin

Auditor Lucy Martin is running for her third term after she was appointed to the position in 2011 and elected in 2012, after serving as deputy auditor before. 

Even when she was up for appointment, Martin was opposed by other candidates, so running unopposed is "a new sensation" for her. 

"If you're an elected official, you just assume you're going to have opposition because that's how this whole thing works," Martin said. "I think it was a great relief for both my staff and my family, probably more so than for me. For me, I'm happy to have the extra time to work." 

Martin said unlike Sheriff Fitzgerald she did not have childhood dreams of becoming a county auditor, but she enjoys that every day is different and brings new challenges.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in this role? 

"Going to an electronic poll book which we did in 2012. We've since upgraded to a different vendor, but that has made all the difference in helping us

navigate the almost continual onslaught of changes to election legislation. I think prior to me being an auditor, the changes in the election law, they happened, but it didn't happen with such regularity. So, it's just been really constant every session, there's something new to implement. 

"We digitized a lot of our property records recently which looks even better after like COVID-19 and the derecho, that this is something that people can access 24/7. That was not done contemplating that we would be closed to the public for six months, but I'm really glad we did that."

What will be your top priorities during your next term?

"I want to be sure that we're prepared for retirements in the near future. I have quite a number of new staff members. So training is going to be a big part of 2021."

"We also are going to have to start thinking about replacing this current crop of election machines because it's about a seven-to-10-year lifespan on those ... You can't just do that overnight, so that's usually more than one budget cycle."

Danielle Gehr is a politics and government reporter for the Ames Tribune. She can be reached by email at dgehr@gannett.com, phone at (515) 663-6925 or on Twitter at @Dani_Gehr.