Government

Would a facilitator reduce Linn County-Cedar Rapids friction?

Elected officials from each body have discussed bringing in outside help

Linn County’s Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW, in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 3, 2018. (The Gazette)
Linn County’s Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 Second St. SW, in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 3, 2018. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Representatives from the Linn County Board of Supervisors and the Cedar Rapids City Council are considering hiring a facilitator to help improve relationships and understanding of the roles performed by the two elected bodies, which clash at times.

Supervisor Ben Rogers and City Council member Scott Olson had discussed the possibility with each other and broached the matter with their respective attorneys and a few others.

Such a meeting involving potential quorums of each panel and potentially occurring in private would be unusual but legal, Rogers said.

“We are allowed to do so under state code as long as we don’t deliberate,” Rogers said. “We have gotten the OKs from our county attorney civil division as well as their city attorneys.”

While some downplay sour relationships, others acknowledge city and county officials have had rifts or struggled to communicate. At times it has been when one body feels left out until after the fact when money is needed — such as when the county sought money from the city for a youth violence initiative or when city officials have sought money from the county for flood control.

Council members also bristled at supervisors’ open support for Sofia Mehaffey’s challenge of incumbent Scott Overland, who prevailed in last week’s elections.

The concept of a facilitator came to light Tuesday during a meeting of the Linn County Board of Supervisors and The Gazette Editorial Board to discuss Linn County participation in flood protection in Cedar Rapids.

Meeting with Gazette Editorial Board at 1:40:14

The meeting with the supervisors present was held in public under Iowa’s open meetings law.

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City officials have said on several occasions in recent years they would like county contribution to the 20-year, $750 million flood control project, which still has a funding gap of over $85 million.

Rogers and Supervisors Brent Oleson and Stacey Walker have said they are receptive to an ask — although it would likely need to go before voters. But they have never received a formal request of what the city is seeking. Plus, Oleson noted, the county has been working to reduce flooding in other ways, like creating wetlands.

“We are doing all kinds of flood mitigation practices that are in our wheelhouse, so that’s been our contribution — upstream,” Oleson said. “I think $1 million spent there goes a lot farther in our organization than $1 million in writing a check to Cedar Rapids, to what end?”

Rogers said he and Olson last spoke about the facilitator in August or September, but hit pause for the elections. They had identified a possible facilitator — a staff member at Amperage in Cedar Falls — but had not decided on a framework including a budget, whether meetings would be private or public and how many times they’d meet, Rogers said.

Olson said he had apprised Mayor Brad Hart but had not broached the topic with the council.

“If we each understand how we work, can we have better communication in such a way that better serves the citizens of Cedar Rapids and Linn County?” Olson asked.

The county’s Oleson questioned the effectiveness of a facilitated training session. He didn’t believe it was legal to hold such a meeting with two jurisdictions in private, but it would be unproductive if held in public.

“In an open public meeting, is somebody who’s got a problem with something I’ve done before going to let that all out in the open?” asked Oleson, adding he does not see a communication issue. “I don’t think that’s practical.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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