Linn voters shrink the county board, but drama grows

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So let’s check in on “Survivor Island,” also known as Linn County government.

It was county Supervisor Brent Oleson who recently coined that clever name for a five-member Board of Supervisors now facing the prospect of shrinking to three seats in 2018’s election. Last fall, county voters approved a ballot measure shrinking the board roughly a decade after voting to expanded it.

Backers of the move cited the board’s decision in 2013 to dramatically boost its own pay, among other assorted issues. So it’s little wonder supervisors asked the county compensation board this past week to freeze their pay. So did Auditor Joel Miller, who has formed a committee to explore a possible run for supervisor. The plot thickens.

Petitioners who sought shrinkage have gathered most of the signatures they need to trigger a second vote on how the new, smaller board will be elected. Should we stick with supervisors elected in districts, the voter preference years ago? Maybe they should be elected at-large by all county voters. Or, perhaps a hybrid, with supervisors serving in districts but elected at-large.

Miller says petitioners might be willing to skip an election if the supervisors made the decision instead, preferably picking an at-large voting scheme. Miller says his main motive is saving $250,000, the cost of a countywide vote in August.

Could it also be that Miller, a proven countywide vote-getter, would benefit from at-large voting if he runs for supervisor? He says that’s not the case, insisting he can win under any system. Most of the voters he’s talked with, Miller said, want a board elected at-large.

The supervisors appear to be in no mood to follow Miller’s advice. Shocking. They prefer district representation and are wary of the auditor’s motives. Maybe if they hadn’t stripped his office of so many of its duties, he would have had less time to concoct grand schemes.

In any event, it’s looking like we’ll be voting in August.

And that’s a good thing. Yeah, it’s expensive, but a system put in place by voters should be changed only by voters. Backers of a smaller board billed the November election as a vote of no confidence in the board. Now they want that board to make this important decision? Doesn’t make sense.

I’d like to keep districts. It’s the only way to head off an all-Cedar Rapids board because the city can’t be split into three districts. So there would have to be one non-Cedar Rapids district. Better than none.

With an at-large vote, all three could be from Cedar Rapids, Miller’s inevitability notwithstanding.

As for the hybrid, Marion just jettisoned a similar scheme in favor of electing four of its seven city council members by district. Residents didn’t like the curious fact a “district” council member could win at-large even if they lost within the district. Districts can offer better representation.

If you yearned for a day when peace, comity and tranquillity would rule the Jean Oxley County Service Center, I’ve got some unwelcome news. But if you hoped for more intrigue, jockeying and drama, welcome to Survivor Island.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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