Government

New sustainability manager to focus on climate relief efforts in Linn County

Supervisors approved funding for new position under FY21 budget; interviewing candidates

People walk during a march from the New Bohemia district to city hall in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. People ma
People walk during a march from the New Bohemia district to city hall in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. People marched in support of a call by Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and U.S. Senate candidate Kimberly Graham for a climate crisis declaration. Climate “strikes” took place around the globe Friday in order to draw attention to the earth’s changing climate and its effects on humans and the environment. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County, which three months ago declared a “climate crisis,” will for the first time hire a sustainability program manager to oversee plans to address climate change, environmental sustainability and resource protection.

Linn County officials say integrating this role, which could pay a six-figure salary, into county government will signal to the rest of the state the “serious need for local government to be involved in sustainability and climate-related efforts,” and could possibly grow into its own department as the Office of Sustainability.

“This is the responsibility of government, to not just think about the here and now, but think about future generations,” said Supervisor Stacey Walker, who is on the hiring committee for the job. “We’re starting small. This person will have a very big job but will be fully supported by this county board.”

County supervisors approved funding the position for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1. However, there is some room in the fiscal 2020 budget, which ends June 30, to hire such a manager before then.

The salary range for the position is $66,551 to $103,155, with the midpoint, $79,606, considered market rate, Human Resource Director Lisa Powell said. A candidate may be hired above the minimum salary depending on education and experience.

The county received six applications for the job. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“We were successful in a very tight budget year to approve this position,” Walker said. “My hope is whoever it is we hire is enterprising enough to understand the facets of this job, diplomatic enough to build and strengthen relationships in this community and is headstrong to keep this project going.”

Supervisors declared a climate crisis in December 2019, adopting a resolution that commits the county to accelerated action to address climate change. The goal for the county is to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions in 2050.

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The role of sustainability program manager will be “a ton of work,” said Walker said, who added hie us under no illusion that change will happen over night. It will go beyond efforts to ramp up recycling, focusing on water quality, flood mitigation and air quality, Walker said.

Walker gives a lot of credit to the Sunrise Movement — an organization that advocates for political action on climate change — for getting the position approved.

Bridget Williams, co-leader of the Sunrise Movement in Cedar Rapids, said it is the organization’s goal to get cities and counties to prioritize climate change in decision making.

Williams, who noted the city of Cedar Rapids has a sustainability coordinator, said the position is not “unprecedented.” Iowa City and Johnson County also have such coordinators.

A sustainability manager should be focused on creating a greenhouse gas inventory, which shows where in the community’s greenhouse gasses are coming from and in what quantity, Williams said. Outreach is also an important part of the job, finding out how climate change might be affecting neighborhoods and coming up with solutions.

A sustainability manager should also identify what groups already are doing work to mitigate climate change and how the county can support and expand those efforts, Williams said.

“We’ve experienced flooding and we will continue to experience just as bad or worse events in the future as a result of climate change,” Williams said. “This is also an economic issue, a community issue ... the amount of infrastructure damage and the amount of loses should matter to everybody.”

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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