Despite Outcry, Zearing Won’t Fire Clerk Who Cost Town Almost $200,000

Photos from Sept. 28 Zearing City Council Meeting

Zearing City Clerk Karen Davis, who filed the city’s budget almost four months late and blamed it on Juneteenth, will not lose her job despite pressure from residents on city officials to dismiss her.

This decision was announced Wednesday during a special Zearing City Council meeting; this was the third special Zearing City Council meeting since a Sept. 14 Starting Line article chronicled the budget debacle in the Story County community of 528 residents.

In lieu of firing Davis, the council decided she would face an unspecified disciplinary action and will have to adhere to a “follow-up improvement plan.” 

All of the deliberations about how to handle Davis’ performance were made during a closed session. Zearing officials also requested a deputy from the Story County Sheriff’s Office be present at Wednesday’s meeting, which attracted about a dozen community members.

“You have to be pretty proud Karen, you’ve come a long way,” former Zearing Mayor Martin Herr told Davis after the council meeting. Herr also previously served on the Zearing City Council.

The closed session lasted about an hour and residents stood outside of Zearing City Hall talking about what should be done next in the community, catching up on local happenings, and took time to sing “Happy Birthday” to one community member.

Davis has been under scrutiny from Zearing residents because she failed to file the city’s 2022-23 fiscal year budget on time, costing the community $198,454 in property tax revenue. Of Iowa’s 940 incorporated cities, Zearing was one of two that failed to file its budget by March 31. The other city was Le Roy, a southern Iowa city with a population of 11.

Zearing has filed its last three budgets late with the state and Davis has been the city clerk for four years.

A former Zearing City Council member, who didn’t want to be named for personal reasons, told Starting Line she constantly asked Davis to present the budget last year.

“It was always me who brought it up,” the former council member said. “It was always me who was getting belittled, berated—whatever you want to call it—I was accused of harassing Karen on multiple occasions because I kept bringing it up in the meeting or I would ask for it to be on the agenda.”

While some residents are frustrated with Davis over the budget debacle, many of them expressed similar frustrations with the mayor and city council. 

A Zearing resident who got into an argument with a council member at the Sept. 12 regular meeting over the four painted signs she placed around the city that call out the budget shortfall plans to replace those signs with new ones. 

Her new signs will say “City Council Resign” and “City Council Inadequate.”

After the meeting, Zearing Mayor Tim Reed briefly answered a few questions from Starting Line.

“Us on the council are working to improve,” Reed said when asked if future city budgets will be filed late.

Starting Line also asked the mayor why this year’s budget was filed so late

“That’s a good question,” Reed said. “I’m not really going to answer because the first segment you wrote was wrong; you had a citizen that was just a citizen as city administrator.”

The word “administrator” was never used in Starting Line’s initial story; however, the mayor did continue with his answer on why the budget was filed well past the March 31 deadline.

“There’s a lot of factors in it,” Reed said. “Us—the mayor, the city council, the city clerk—we should of all been more diligent.”    

Herr, the former mayor, hopes to present a citizen petition during the next regular Zearing City Council on Oct. 17 that asks Davis to resign. He previously worked with Davis while he was in office and said this whole budget is highly irregular.

“I just want to say this—I’m not patting myself on the back—this would have never happened if I was on the council or I was mayor,” Herr said.


by Ty Rushing

To contact Senior Editor Ty Rushing for tips or story ideas, email him at or find him on Twitter @Rushthewriter 

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2 Comments on "Despite Outcry, Zearing Won’t Fire Clerk Who Cost Town Almost $200,000"

  • “unspecified disciplinary action and will have to adhere to a “follow-up improvement plan.” …”
    It seems that this would be reasonable if it were the first time that Davis had pulled sonething like this – but it’s not. IMHO, the City Council is being overy “generous”.

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