Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s football coach since 1999, and the Hawkeyes have been steady, unspectacular, and occasionally very good during his tenure. During pretty much that entire tenure, Ferentz and his wife Mary have been engaged in a very silly dispute with their neighbors. Those neighbors filed a lawsuit against the Ferentzes in 2016 and the Ferentzes promptly fired back with a countersuit, which means the case, which has been brewing since 2001, will finally go to trial on Feb. 6. The Associated Press first reported on the lawsuit.
The issue at hand? Road maintenance.
The Ferentzes bought land on a small street north of Iowa City shortly after moving to town, and throughout their time there, they’ve preferred to keep the road gravel, so as to preserve a sense of suburban privacy. The neighbors weren’t as charmed, as one testified that, “The gravel was horrible. It was constantly washing out. It was enormously dusty. It was messy and would blow across fields. It was frankly hazardous to your car.” Neighbors testified that the Ferentzes planted a row of trees that began to grow out of control and encroach upon the road, impinging access and making it difficult to drive on the road. A neighbor’s sideview mirror was knocked off by some deer fencing on the Ferentz property, and that same neighbor also said that Kirk would have a large coaches meeting at his house after gamedays, and that all the cars would leave him blocked in and unable to go to church.
So, in 2003, one neighbor paid a contractor to replace the gravel with a chip and seal surface, which the Ferentzes were vehemently opposed to. A neighbor said he tried to discuss the matter with Mary Ferentz, but she wouldn’t talk about it, once even saying, “No, you don’t understand who I am,” in an attempt to big-time the neighbor. The Ferentzes wrote in a letter that the new road brought more “stalkers and gawkers” to their small neighborhood.
In 2001, the neighbors and Ferentzes all agreed that if the road surface were to be changed, then the cost would not have to be shared collectively. Eventually, a homeowner’s association was formed to deal with road maintenance, which the Ferentezes declined to join. The Ferentzes even set a June 2015 date for the first HOA meeting, which they then failed to show up to. The lawsuit against them claimed that the Ferentz family didn’t pay for repairs as they should have and that their trees were an impediment on the road. The legal root of the disagreement comes down to a complicated procedural reading of the 2001 and 2015 agreements and who should or should not be liable for fixing the road. It’s all very intricate and, as noted earlier, very silly.
The Ferentzes argued in a countersuit that they didn’t have to abide by HOA rules if they didn’t want to, and a judge ruled last year that were under no obligation to join the existing HOA, though they did need to join some sort of group to pay for improvements collectively. At issue is an annual maintenance budget and a $37,000 tab for much-needed road improvement projects. By getting the judge to agree that the Ferentzes were not required to join the HOA, they saved $9,400 and got a lien on their house (obtained by the HOA) dissolved. Ferentz is Iowa’s highest-paid public employee, bringing home $5.2 million last year.
The initial lawsuit and the Ferentz countersuit can be found below.