Staff Editorial

Cedar Rapids, Linn County must work together on flood protection

Put aside their personal grievances and do your jobs

The Cedar River continues to rise around City Hall and May's Island Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2008.  The river rose above record levels Thursday, and is expected to crest Friday morning.



(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Cedar River continues to rise around City Hall and May's Island Thursday afternoon, June 12, 2008. The river rose above record levels Thursday, and is expected to crest Friday morning. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Since 2008, Linn County and the city of Cedar Rapids have worked together on flood protection efforts. But this year, city-county cooperation on flood protection has stalled as a result of conflicts and bickering.

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson told The Gazette Editorial Board this week he recalled joint entities meetings shortly after the flood which brought together representatives from multiple city, county and state groups to work to establish legislative priorities to further flood protection efforts. In 2010, former Mayor Ron Corbett, City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and County Supervisor Lu Barron testified in front of the Civil Works Review Board to help secure federal funding for flood efforts. In 2014, a joint committee that included city representatives and Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers authorized the use of contractors to design the flood control system. The county also has made progress on its own efforts — including mitigation funding for county buildings and wetlands projects.

The city repeatedly has said it would like help from the county on the 20-year, $750 million flood protection effort, which has a funding gap of more than $85 million. And acting now to ensure timely action on the issue is key.

But this year, as the city works to push forward that plan, county cooperation on flood protection has stalled out, in part because of disagreements regarding how county support and cooperation are defined. In an open meeting with the Editorial Board, the county supervisors said they were willing to discuss any formal ask the city made for funding. But coming up with a number to fill the gap is difficult when cooperative efforts on behalf of the city have completely stalled.

Response to our questions on the county’s role in flood protection reveals obvious internal conflicts. Three supervisors, three different perspectives on the dynamic with the city on this issue. While we could spend time detailing the back and forth of the petty disagreements and snubs, it’s a distraction from the more important issue: It is essential our elected representatives work together to fund this important project that is essential to the county’s economy. Overcome the fights. Work together. Be adults.

In an open meeting with the Board of Supervisors, Rogers told the Editorial Board that the city and the county were looking into hiring a facilitator to mediate the relationship.

The idea of a facilitator doesn’t seem to have much backing from the city, and with such an important issue at stake transparency is imperative. The meeting should be public and the open meetings law is not designed to protect politicians’ petty grievances. Residents should also be alarmed that it might take a mediator to bring our elected representatives together to do their jobs to protect our county.

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The re-establishment of joint entities meetings seems like a promising way forward to solving the problem. These joint entities meetings ought to be regular and ongoing so we can avoid squabbles such as this in the future. Neighboring Johnson County has done this for more than a decade, periodically assembling officials from the county and each city and school district to share updates on important projects.

All supervisors said they’d be open to joint meetings. But the establishment of joint entities meetings is something the county is uniquely positioned to do. That said, it’s also important that city commit to joint entities meetings. Additionally, both the city and the county can be less combative and more creative on solutions, exploring a range of options such as land swaps and wetland mitigations.

But while they sort that out, Cedar Rapids, where 60 percent of the county’s residents live, are left in the middle, facing another spring of flooding. Democracy already is a slow process, residents of the county don’t have time to wait for our elected officials put aside their personal grievances and do their jobs.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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