Government

Linn County Supervisors face new year with smaller board

Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers addresses a mock Board of Supervisors meeting during the Future Leaders of Linn County event at Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids in April. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers addresses a mock Board of Supervisors meeting during the Future Leaders of Linn County event at Jean Oxley Linn County Public Service Center in Cedar Rapids in April. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Members of the Linn County Board of Supervisors say they will push forward with ambitious county initiatives in 2019, despite having to do so with two fewer county leaders at the helm.

The Linn County board officially shrinks from five members to three on Wednesday with the swearing-in of the three incumbent supervisors — Brent Oleson, Ben Rogers and Stacey Walker — who won in the Nov. 6 election.

Those supervisors say they remain committed to serving all of Linn County’s more than 200,000 residents, but added that doing so will be more challenging with a smaller board.

“We’re still the second-largest county in Iowa and now we’re going to have two fewer people to run a $120 million organization,” Supervisor Ben Rogers said.

Supervisors also have said they will need to be more cognizant of what they can and cannot discuss when not in a public meeting, as to avoid a quorum. Supervisors still can converse, but not about official county business.

In 2016, residents voted to reduce the size of the board following concerns that supervisor salaries had exceeded the six-figure threshold. Supervisors now earn about $104,000 a year, comparable to the county auditor, recorder and treasurer.

Last November, all five supervisors at the time — Oleson, Rogers, Walker, John Harris and James Houser — and Auditor Joel Miller ran for a seat on the board. Harris, Houser and Miller failed to secure seats.

Miller will be county auditor for the remainder of his two-year term.

Rogers said the loss of two supervisors, who had decades of combined experience in county leadership, will be felt on the smaller board.

“I think when we actually become a three-member board and we don’t have the experience and insight of two different people, I think we’re going to start figuring out pretty quickly those new dynamics of a three-member board,” Rogers said. “I think the public and the board are going to go through this and figure it out together.”

To adjust to three supervisors, a special committee remapped the county into three districts, with Cedar Rapids making up two of the three districts and Marion and the surrounding rural Linn County and smaller communities making up the third district, which is held by Oleson.

Oleson said larger districts will make it difficult to attend every local meeting or event. Rural representation also could suffer, he said.

“I literally have precincts in all four corners of Linn County,” Oleson said. “It’s geographically bigger than most urban state senate districts.”

All told, a supervisors have a seat on 33 different committees and represent a liaison for 21 departments.

To accommodate the new, smaller board, Walker has proposed a few efficiencies, including the elimination of 21 department liaison positions. While he admitted it’s not a universally supported idea, he argued that staff and department heads still could reach out to the board, without having a specific liaison.

Walker also said he has proposed ways to make board members more accessible and transparent.

Walker said while 2019 will include some transition for the board, he is excited for the New Year.

“With our personalities, with (Oleson and Walker) and myself, we push big policy,” he said. “We’ve got big ideas, and I really think 2019 is going to be a big year for Linn County because of that alone.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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