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Taopi's unusual election

Taopi's unusual election
Jim Kiefer, a life-long resident of Taopi, was elected to the position of City Clerk on a write-in.

At first glance, Taopi has little in common with medieval times. The tiny town southeast of Austin has paved roads, electricity and a $500,000 sewer system that was completed just a few years ago. Castles, armor and serfs are clearly missing from the rural countryside.

But Taopi's power structure offers comparisons to feudal Europe — though city clerk Jim Kiefer enjoyed a hearty laugh at that notion.

Kiefer served as Taopi's mayor from 1984 until 2008. Mary Huntley, Kiefer's sister, was city clerk from 1976 through 2008. Four years ago, they wanted to switch roles — and the town, with just 40 registered voters, granted that wish in the polls.

This November, citizens were presented with another opportunity to make a change. The ballot was totally devoid of local candidates, meaning write-in votes were required for the positions of mayor, clerk and council member. Huntley and Kiefer declined to put their names on the ballot in order to serve as the community's only two election judges after no one else stepped forward to do so. State law says it's illegal to formally run for office while also serving as an election judge.

Despite the unusual circumstances, Huntley and Kiefer were overwhelmingly re-elected with write-in votes. Kiefer actually received votes for all three openings. Eric Boe, a political newcomer, was also added to the Taopi City Council as a write-in candidate.


"If somebody else wanted the job, it would be theirs," Kiefer said. "My sister would be very happy, too, if someone else wanted to (be mayor)."

"Between him and I, we've been the clerk and the mayor for a long time," said Huntley, who works as an attorney in Austin. "If there was anybody else interested, we were willing to step aside. We didn't file for it thinking that someone else would step in and take it. But they didn't. They just wrote our names back in."

Thus, Taopi's ruling family — so to speak — grudgingly continues its role in the low-paying positions.

For years, the city clerk has received an annual salary of $100. Kiefer says that equates to roughly $1 per hour. As of Jan. 1, that figure will be increased to $600 a year.

The mayor and council members currently receive $25 per quarterly meeting. For a 12-year stretch during Kiefer's reign as mayor, the positions were unpaid. He said compensation was added about eight years ago to help drum up interest in the small community.

While the status quo remains in Taopi politics, Mower County auditor-treasurer Doug Groh said he's never seen anything quite like what happened earlier this month.

"We have had a number of write-ins for different positions, but we've never had one where the entire leadership is all write-ins," said Groh, who has worked for the county for more than 20 years. "I think this is a first for me."

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