Ten years ago this weekend, we weighed in on a special election to determine a representation plan for the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Voters were set to choose whether supervisors would be elected at-large by all county voters, by districts or through a blending of the two. Remarkably, we find ourselves in the same position now, under far different circumstances.
In 2007, the special election came in the wake of a November vote to expand the board from three to five members. Backers of the change from rural areas argued the current three-member Cedar Rapids-dominated board failed to adequately address their concerns.
Now, an Aug. 1 special election comes in the wake of a November vote to shrink the board from five back to three members. Backers of the change from rural areas argued the five-member board approved ill-advised salary increases and failed to adequately address their concerns.
On Aug. 1, as in 2007, voters have three choices: Plan 1, electing supervisors at large; Plan 2, electing supervisors at-large while requiring them to live in separate districts; and Plan 3, with supervisors elected by and representing voters in separate districts.
Back then, this editorial board backed Plan 2, the same pick endorsed by the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce and other Cedar Rapids interests. We argued it would give voters a chance to elect all supervisors, who, after all, make decisions for the entire county. Districts would yield parochialism, we worried. And with a five-member board, rural representation would no longer be a concern.
But it is a major concern in 2017, with November’s vote to shrink the board raising the prospect of a return to a Cedar Rapids-dominated panel. This time, we’re backing Plan 3, which we believe offers some hope for the next board to include representation from outside the county’s largest city.
We opposed shrinking the board last fall. We saw it as a shortsighted move by angry constituents that would, ironically, lead to a less responsive, less representative Board of Supervisors. We believe a district representation structure is the lone option left for mitigating that damage.
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On a basic level, we think districts offer better constituent representation. We backed Marion’s decision last fall to elect its City Council by districts. Officials elected by residents of a district will be more responsive to the concerns of district residents. It also makes it easier for would-be candidates to seek public office. Running for election in a district, asking for the votes of your neighbors, is a less daunting prospect than running countywide.
We have not seen evidence the current district system has spawned parochialism. Instead, we believe the board has benefited from varied perspectives.
We can’t help but wonder whether an urban-dominated board would have backed passage of the Linn County Water and Land Legacy bond issue that passed overwhelmingly last fall, or the other conservation initiatives pursued in recent years.
We understand Cedar Rapids is home to 60 percent of the county’s voters. In most cases, we’re supportive of Cedar Rapids initiatives on multiple fronts. We’ve called for more city-county cooperation. But on a board representing other residents in other cities, towns and unincorporated areas, there needs to be a counterbalance to Cedar Rapids’ considerable influence.
Thanks to the decision to shrink the board, that balance will be elusive. But we believe Plan 3 offers at least a chance for rural representation.
In 2007, more than 56 percent of county voters picked Plan 3, including 90 percent-plus support in Central City, Prairieburg, Troy Mills and Coggon. There were five more precincts where support topped 80 percent. That’s one rerun we’d welcome in 2017.
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