The five-member Veteran Affairs Commission on Thursday voted to recommend Nick Jedlicka to replace long-time Veteran Affairs Director Darlene McMartin, who retired July 1 after 28 years with the department.
The vote to recommend Jedlicka to the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors as McMartin’s replacement was 3-1-1, with Commissioners Skyler Dooley, Jesse Shea and newly named Commissioner Holly Collins voting to recommend Jedlicka. Commissioner Ellen Fritz voted to recommend Commission Chairman Phil Jacobs. Jacobs, who had sought the director’s position and attended Thursday’s meeting by telephone, abstained.
Commissioners also voted 4-1 to recommend that the new director’s salary be set at $70,000 to $72,000 per year. When the position was advertised, the salary range was listed as $65,000 to $75,000.
Jacobs, who cast the lone “no” vote on the salary recommendation, said the new director should start at the low end of the range and work up with experience. He also noted the salary recommendation was near what McMartin had been paid after 28 years.
Collins was the swing vote in the commission’s recommendation of Jedlicka to fill the position. She said her decision was based on the information she gathered from reading newspaper accounts of the selection process.
“I’m operating on facts and facts alone,” Collins said.
At the commission’s April meeting, with Jacobs abstaining because he was a candidate for the position, Fritz and former Commissioner Robert Jorgensen, whose term on the commission ended July 1, had supported hiring Jacobs for the position. The commission deadlocked 2-2, with Dooley and Shea supporting Jedlicka as McMartin’s replacement.
At that April meeting, Supervisor Chairman Tim Wichman said that McMartin, along with commission members Fritz, Jacobs and Jorgensen had come before the board in February to discuss how McMartin’s replacement should be selected.
It was decided that a panel including Commissioners Jorgensen, Fritz, Dooley and Shea, along with Wichman and Pottawattamie County HR Director Jana Lemrick would interview the candidates and make a recommendation as to whom the commission should hire.
“We interviewed and recommended Jedlicka,” Wichman said at the time. “We followed exactly what the commission asked us to do.”
“I don’t know why the Board of Supervisors had to be involved in this thing,” Jorgensen said at the April meeting. “The process is not the way things are supposed to be done. It was a done deal before we got to the interview process. There was no doubt Nick (Jedlicka) was going to come to the top.”
Both Shea and Wichman indicated after the April meeting that it was their understanding after the interviews on March 14 there was unanimous agreement that Jedlicka would be recommended for the position.
“There was never 100 percent agreement on anything,” Jorgensen said after the April meeting. “I was against Jedlicka after the interview.”
“They all interviewed well, but it’s not correct to say there was agreement that Jedlicka should be the recommendation,” Fritz said following the April meeting.
Fritz underscored her point about a lack of agreement at Thursday’s meeting.
“If you don’t want the most qualified person to replace Darlene, maybe there should be another interview process,” Fritz said.
An unsigned email dated April 8 read at the April meeting alleged the Board of Supervisors selected two friends of Jedlicka when they voted to expand the Veteran Affairs Commission from three to five members. The email further alleged the selection of new members should have been made by existing commissioners, not supervisors.
That same email referred to the process of selecting McMartin’s replacement as “corrupt” in that supervisors “had already chosen the person they want to replace McMartin long before the interview process began.”
Jedlicka said after the meeting that he was obviously pleased with the commission’s recommendation.
“I’ve been available since April when I won the interview process,” he said.
Asked how he will address the negativity that has surrounded the selection process, Jedlicka said, “There has been a lot of negativity and a lot of lies, but I will be there for those who opposed me as director. I hope when I start we can sit down and discuss these issues. I love to problem solve.”
An Omaha native, Jedlicka moved to Council Bluffs his senior year, graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1997. He joined the Iowa National Guard in October of 1996. He retired in May 2018, having reached the rank of sergeant major.
Deployed twice to Afghanistan, first in 2004 and again in 2010, Jedlicka was severely wounded on April 11, 2011, when a 400-pound improvised explosive device exploded beside his armored truck. The explosion killed Jedlicka’s gunner, Council Bluffs native Brent Maher.