No one was in court Tuesday on behalf of the city of Mount Union.
MOUNT PLEASANT — Two former Mount Union city employees are seeking a combined $250,000 in damages for harassment they've experienced over the last six years when they were accused of stealing money from the now-defunct town in Henry County.
Dan Johnson, a former Mount Union mayor, and Linda Johnson, the former city clerk, appeared Tuesday morning in Henry County District Court to testify in their defamation of character lawsuit before District Associate Judge Mark Kruse.
The suit was filed by Keokuk attorney Curtis Dial in February 2016 against the city of Mount Union.
Dan Johnson, 70, requested $200,000 in damages Tuesday and Linda Johnson, 68, asked for $50,000.
No one was in court to represent the city of Mount Union, so Dial waived his clients' right to a jury trial and instead called them as witnesses to testify before the judge.
The Johnsons are brother and sister and have lived in Mount Union, a town of less than 100 people, almost all of their lives.
They allege the verbal harassment and accusations of criminal activity began in January 2010 when John Marek was elected mayor.
Marek succeeded Dan Johnson, who served as mayor from 2001 to 2009.
Johnson currently works part-time as a United States Postal Service postmaster in Olds.
He told Kruse that once Marek was elected mayor he started accusing the Johnsons of stealing $105,000 from the city, mismanaging public funds and forging checks.
Dan and Linda Johnson testified they suspected Marek made up the accusations because he did not like them, and was upset that Dan Johnson asked for Marek's resignation when he served as city clerk during Johnson's tenure.
Audit reports conducted by the state auditor's office in 2006, 2013 and 2016 show no evidence of embezzled funds, intentional mismanagement or forgery in Mount Union.
Iowa law states that cities with a population under 2,000 people do not have to undergo an annual audit unless they spend more than $750,000 in a year.
The Johnsons have no criminal records and both denied all accusations of wrongdoing in their jobs with the city.
Dan Johnson, who testified first, said he was once yelled at by a fellow Mount Union resident during a parade in Morning Sun, which he attended with his young grandchildren, because of Marek's allegations.
Johnson also described multiple instances where people made comments to him at his workplace in Olds, recalling more than one time people said he should be arrested for his alleged crimes.
When Johnson and his wife built a home in Mount Union, residents questioned whether he built the house with money stolen from the city.
"I sometimes feel like an outcast in the community," said Johnson, whose family history dates back five generations there.
Ever since Marek accused the Johnsons in 2010 of stealing from the city, Dan and Linda both testified they have been more hesitant to attend public events and have seen their reputations tarnished.
Johnson said he feared for his job.
"I chose $200,000 because I thought it was a number that shows that I was done wrong, but it's not out of line," Johnson said of the damages he requested. "That it is significant enough for those who supported the allegations, spread the allegations and the one who made the allegations, that they did something wrong."
Linda Johnson, a retired teacher, told the judge she asked for a smaller amount in damages because her brother experienced the brunt of the harassment in his capacity as a former mayor.
"To see my name, my family name being defamed, it hurts me," said Linda Johnson. "It hurts me to see what my brother is going through, as well. He's gone through a lot more than I have. It's hurtful."
The Johnsons' lawsuit is complicated by the fact Mount Union is no longer legally a city.
The decision to dissolve the city and its assets was made last March in Des Moines by the state City Development Board.
In the wake of the ruling, city assets were turned over to the state, municipal funds were transferred to one bank account and submitted to the board, which was tasked with settling remaining debts.
If Judge Kruse awards damages to the Johnsons, the City Development Board must decide how the damages will be paid.