116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A Linn County supervisor’s trip to Antarctica nearly froze the county’s budget last week.
Supervisor Stacey Walker was on his way back from a personal trip to Antarctica when he tried to join the Board of Supervisors’ meeting by phone. At issue was a vote on Linn County’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
Walker and Supervisor Ben Rogers supported the budget. Supervisor Louie Zumbach opposed it, due to salary increases for county staff he saw as excessive. But before the final vote could be taken, Walker’s phone connection dropped. Flight delays prevented him from calling in from Orlando, as planned.
Facing a budget deadline, had the board locked up 1-1, the county’s budget would have reverted to current 2022 spending levels. But presented with a bad situation, Zumbach voted yes. The budget passed and a stalemate was avoided. We appreciate Zumbach’s willingness to be flexible and regret that Walker put his colleague in that position.
We think this unusual situation raises a couple of issues.
We're not advocating that elected officials be banned from going on a trip of a lifetime. But that said, the budgeting process is the most important responsibility county supervisors have. A stalemate in this case would have wasted months of work by county officials and staff. It’s fair and reasonable for constituents to expect supervisors to be on the job at critical moments in that process, such as the final vote approving a budget. We understand Walker made a plan to participate, but anyone who has flown knows how delays and other problems can ruin the best-laid plans.
Second, this underscores the need for a five-member Board of Supervisors. Had the Linn County board still consisted of five members, as it did until before a vote to shrink the board in 2016, the problem likely could have been avoided. And the next time a supervisor can’t make a meeting or a crucial vote, it might not be due to personal travel. An emergency, a health issue or any number of scenarios could leave the board with a bare two-member quorum.
Fortunately, in this case, all’s well that ends well. But in the future, supervisors should consider their responsibilities to constituents and voters should be given a chance to rethink the board’s size.
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