A costly push for change in Linn County

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Last fall, we opposed shrinking the Linn County Board of Supervisors from three to five members less than a decade after the board was expanded. Just more than 51 percent of county voters, however, saw things differently and voted for the reduction.

In the wake of that decision, we’ve seen inevitable political jockeying among current supervisors facing a high-stakes game of musical chairs. It’s like “survivor island” as one supervisor put it.

At issue is how the next, smaller board will be configured. Will it be elected by district, as the current board is picked, or will it be elected at-large by all county voters? And would supervisors elected at-large still be required to live in separate districts?

Auditor Joel Miller, who is exploring a run for the county board, urged supervisors earlier this year to adopt an at-large plan. The auditor, elected at-large, is routinely the county’s largest vote-getter.

Supervisors like the current district system, and recently moved to appoint a five-member commission to draw new boundaries. But they left out representatives nominated by District 1 Supervisor Jim Houser.

Houser, in turn, helped Keven Kula of Coggon’s effort to gather signatures to force an Aug. 1 referendum on how board representation will be configured. It was Kula who backed the original ballot issue shrinking the board. Houser denies the snub of his nominees prompted this move, insisting he’s hearing from constituents who want at-large voting.

It’s disappointing a straightforward effort to simply draw new districts is being derailed by political intrigue. It’s also costly, with a countywide vote costing $250,000, plus expenses tied to the state’s new voter ID law. Or maybe it’s the cost of giving voters what they want.

Last fall’s referendum was billed by its supporters as a vote of no confidence in the current Board of Supervisors, due to salaries and other issues. More than 50,000 residents backed the change. Now, by Kula’s count, nearly 13,000 people have signed petitions seeking a vote on how the next board will be elected.

So there appears to be a fairly clear desire for change, whatever the cost.

We think it would be a big mistake to scrap election by district, which provides better representation and may keep the board from being Cedar Rapids dominated. We hope, this time, voters see it our way.

• Comments: (319) 398-8452; editorial@thegazette.com

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