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Would a small Linn County board be better at big calls?

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As local government decisions go, the Linn County Board of Supervisors’ first vote Wednesday in favor of raising the local minimum wage is a big deal.

When the dust settles, after a couple more votes, the board’s decision could affect thousands of workers, business owners and consumers. Some will make more, some will pay more. Sure, much still depends on whether local cities opt out or modify the county’s call for a $3 increase over three years, to $10.25 in 2019. Perhaps the next Legislature will step in to void the whole thing with its own wage bill.

And few people showed up Wednesday to weigh in.

“We’re going to see things happen we cannot envision,” said Richard Bice of Marion, who opposes the raise and was one of eight people who spoke during public comments. “McDonald’s run by robots.”

Any vote potentially leading to a robot takeover of the golden arches can’t be dismissed as routine, that’s for sure. It’s a prime example of local elected officials wielding some considerable authority.

Maybe you support it, and maybe you think it’s a really bad idea. On overreach, you might argue. Or perhaps you’d like to see them go even further. But would anyone really be happier or more satisfied if this significant call had been made by just two elected supervisors?

That could happen if a ballot measure is approved in November slicing the board from its current five members down to three. Ironically, the board also approved final ballot language for that measure on Wednesday.

Just consider the minimum wage discussion and vote. Supervisor Brent Oleson of Marion, who represents a district including Marion and Central City, successfully offered an amendment removing a provision calling for automatic wage increases starting in 2020 based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Supervisor John Harris of Palo, the board’s only Republican and who represents much of rural Linn County, was the lone vote against the ordinance. He supports a phase-one raise to $8.25, but not two subsequent steps.

“Most of my input has been from small businesses asking me to vote no,” Harris said.

Agree or disagree, it’s clear Oleson and Harris brought important perspectives to the debate. But how would these discussions play out in the future if all three seats were held by Democrats from Cedar Rapids? That’s likely to happen if the board is reduced to three seats.

I know, I know, we’ll save two fat supervisor paychecks. You don’t have to preach to me about this board’s salary misadventures. I’ve had a front-row seat.

So I understand what we save. But what’s the cost?

I once asked supervisors how getting a massive pay raise would make for a better, more effective county government? I didn’t hear a good argument.

A similar question applies now. How does a smaller board and less representation from outside of Cedar Rapids make county government better? I have yet to hear a good argument.

As the ballot language suggests, “citizens’ representation” is at stake. Which option bests represents the people of Linn County in decisions big and small? As for the robots, they’re on their own.

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

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