116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After a year that included not one, but two, life-changing disasters — a pandemic and a derecho — the annual State of the County address focused on what people have been through and what they accomplished in the past 12 months.
“It is hard to articulate just how challenging this past year has been,” Board of Supervisors Chair Stacey Walker said in a videotaped speech. “The global pandemic has fundamentally changed our way of life. Extreme weather events and a shuttered economy has brought enormous pain and suffering.”
Walker gave the recorded address Thursday from the county’s Jean Oxley Building. The speech was followed by a live question-and-answer session moderated by the League of Women Voters of Linn County.
Walker said one of the greatest challenges to the county budget, the community, country and world is the ongoing pandemic.
In the past year, Iowa had the seventh-highest number of reported COVID-19 cases per capita in the country and the second-highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the nation, Walker said.
“Best practices were established in every developed country,” Walker said. “Here in America, each state pursued its own strategy with differing measures of success. The states that acted swiftly undoubtedly saved lives. The states that doubted the science or played politics with the disease suffered the most.”
In Linn County, around half of the county buildings are still closed to the public. Buildings like the courthouse, child development center and Fillmore Buildings are open again with public health restrictions.
The Aug. 10, 2020, derecho produced winds over 140 mph in some areas of Linn County.
“We were hit by a Category 4 hurricane, and Linn County caught the worst of it,” Walker said.
The total cost of the storm across the land it touched was $7.5 billion, the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The derecho destroyed homes, displacing many residents and leaving almost all county residents without power or other resources for more than a week. The storm also devastated tree canopies, leaving some communities with around half of the trees they had Aug. 9.
Walker said while some aspects of the state and local response to the derecho emergency were laudable, there were systemic failures from government across the board.
“Government, and the officials who run it, should take responsibility for these failures,” Walker said. “Those who don’t are not fit to serve.”
Walker said taking the time to learn to do better in the future is a big part of taking that responsibility.
Last week, the county and the city of Cedar Rapids announced a countywide Community Resilience Project to “build on expertise and success in times of disaster” and integrate “new learning” in disaster exercises and planning.
Walker said the two crises brought systemic inequities to light.
“For generations, these inequities have been ignored and deprioritized,” Walker said. “When the larger community suffers even in the slightest, our vulnerable communities are decimated.”
Walker said many local leaders during last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests “failed to meet the moment with courage.” Now is time for critical thinkers to come together, he said.
“Surely, we can hold two truths in our mind at once,” Walker said. “We can acknowledge policing as a noble profession, while also acknowledging the need for reform. We can criticize our leaders without casting aspersions on their character. We can love our community, while pointing out her flaws.”
Locally, the Advocates for Social Justice in Cedar Rapids and the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity in Marion have helped push new local policy. In Cedar Rapids, ASJ collaborated with city staff to create a citizens’ police-review board. In Marion, MARE and the city have established a Community Equity Task Force.
Walker also took time to highlight some of the county’s accomplishments over the past year, including:
• Opening Linn County’s Mental Health Access Center.
• Making progress on Dows Farm, set to be Linn County’s first agri-community.
• Establishing a Sustainability Department and hiring the county’s first Sustainability Manager.
• Contributing $200,000 to the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation’s Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Fund
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