Guest Columnist

In Linn County government, a mishandled episode with a positive outcome

Linn County's Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 2nd St. SW, in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 3, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The G
Linn County’s Jean Oxley Public Service Center, 935 2nd St. SW, in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 3, 2018. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)

On April 8, The Gazette ran an article (“Supervisors under fire for ‘mishandling’ virus alert”) about the way in which employees of the Linn County Attorney’s Office learned of possible COVID-19 exposure in their workplace. The article accurately expressed dissatisfaction on behalf of the Linn County Attorney’s Office. I am writing this letter to update Gazette readers about the story.

I first want to acknowledge the person who experienced COVID-19 symptoms and reported it. You did not have to say anything, but you did so out of concern for others. Thank you for your selflessness, and my warmest wishes go out to you.

On April 10, the Linn County Board of Supervisors hosted a meeting via video conference and invited all employees of the Linn County Attorney’s Office to join so that our questions and concerns could be addressed. All three supervisors were present, as well as representatives from Linn County Human Resources, Facilities, and Public Health, in order to have an open and wide-ranging discussion.

I want to extend my gratitude to our Linn County supervisors. You three are a class act. You volunteered to host a meeting with a group of frustrated people — including a bunch of lawyers — knowing it could be confrontational. You did not hide behind a scripted statement. You chose to have a candid and transparent conversation to explain what/when/why things happened, and outline the policies and procedures that will help things go more smoothly in the future.

Most importantly, you heard us. There aren’t many elected officials who are willing to enter into an unrehearsed, untimed, short-notice conversation with their constituents, knowing they will be scrutinized. You three were accessible and accountable. Oftentimes, politicians are too busy trying to protect their jobs that they forget to do their jobs for the people they serve. The other day, Ben Rogers, Brent Oleson, and Stacey Walker did their jobs with a lot of character and integrity.

I don’t want this latest incident to overshadow the wonderful things our board has done in the past few weeks to help protect the safety of Linn County citizens and employees. Our board has allowed county employees to work from home when possible, and to retain pay and benefits that might otherwise have been lost due to this pandemic. Linn County’s protections exceed the federal mandates, and for that we are grateful.

I want to move forward from recent events in a productive way. This pandemic is a case of first impression for us all, and we are all learning from it, and getting better at managing it.

Linn County is stronger than this pandemic. We will persevere.

Monica Slaughter is assistant Linn County attorney.

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