CEDAR RAPIDS — Voters in Linn County’s Democratic primary will be asked to choose between incumbent Auditor Joel Miller and former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston, but behind that simple question lies nearly a decade of drama.
Miller has served three full terms as county auditor after initially being elected to finish the term of his predecessor in 2007.
Langston, who announced her campaign for auditor in January, served as a county supervisor from 2003 to 2016. She left the board in 2016 to join the National Association of Counties in Washington, D.C.
The history of tension between Miller and the Board of Supervisors is rich, and like usual Miller does not mince words about his rival.
“She was the biggest detriment to the office since I’ve been in office,” he said. “She opposed almost everything I wanted to do.”
Langston said running against Miller isn’t personal — that it’s a decision she made before she knew Miller was running for reelection.
“I thought he was not going to run,” she said. “It was something I was interested in doing and it really didn’t have anything to do with Joel.”
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Langston said if elected as auditor, she plans to finish the four-year term. But she does not know if she would run for a second term.
“My intention is to serve a four-year term. I won’t make a decision as to whether I will run again closer to the end of that four-year term, but I’m not going anywhere,” she said.
Langston has cited her service on the Board of Supervisors of evidence of her leadership and collaboration skills, as well her work ethic.
Miller, who noted he had made public comments as early as July 2019 that he intended to seek reelection, acknowledged there has “obviously” been tension between him and Langston throughout the years.
In 2010, Miller filed a lawsuit against the supervisors accusing them of interfering with his office’s powers and asking the court to order them to approve his appointment of a deputy who would conduct internal audits of county spending. Supervisors thought an internal auditor should serve under them — not Miller.
A judge ruled in 2012 that only the board has the power to audit county finances.
“From the perspective of Iowa Code, this job is of management, and that was affirmed when Joel sued the Board of Supervisors,” Langston said.
The key functions of the auditor’s office are to provide accounting services to the county, oversee all elections in the county, provide county clerk services and maintain real estate records and provide property tax services.
“She was behind splitting up my office, cutting my budget, not allowing me to have another deputy in elections,” Miller said of Langston. “Frankly, I was glad to see her leave (the Board of Supervisors) because she obviously doesn’t like me for whatever reasons, and now she’s running against me.”
Miller and Langston were also at odds again in 2013 when the board had three Auditor’s Office employees, who worked with Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, as part of their duties, moved to the Information Technology Department.
At the time, Miller said the supervisors’ decision would force him to hire a temporary employee to ensure his office could complete work on real estate transactions in a timely manner.
Langston and another supervisor at the time said the county’s conservation, engineering and sheriff’s departments needed the GIS services.
“I’m not in favor of moving those back to the Auditor’s Office. I think the system really works,” Langston said.
In 2006 when the Linn County Board of Supervisors was expanded from three members to five, Langston said she was initially not in favor.
“Once we got to five, I thought it was extremely helpful and perhaps a better solution for a county this size,” she said.
In 2016, however, residents voted to return to a three-member board — a move Miller championed when supervisors’ salaries topped six figures.
“Three is what we have now,” Langston said.
Miller’s salary in fiscal 2020, which ends June 30, also tops six figures — $115,726.
From his observation, Miller said, there has been no reduced services since the board decreased in number.
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“I think it’s been more efficient,” he said. “The three incumbents seem to have divvied up their duties appropriately and are all pulling their own weight.”
One of Miller’s goals if he is elected to a fourth term in office is to automatically send out ballots to every eligible voter in Linn County.
Sending absentee ballots might not be less costly but could mean more election participation, Miller said.
“It would eliminate people having to apply for a ballot every time they want to participate absentee,” Miller said.
“The next thing to complement that would be to do automatic voter registration,” he said. Under that, when a Linn County resident turns 18, he or she would be automatically registered to vote. This would result in a savings, Miller said.
Langston said in previous years, the highest voter turnout in a primary election in Linn County was 18,000 voters. The fact that over 36,000 absentee ballots were sent out this year proves that “anything we can do that makes it easy for people, engages them,” to vote will be worthwhile, Langston said.
Both Miller and Langston would like to see felon’s voting rights restored after they have served their sentence. That issue remains undecided in the Legislature.
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