The Hot Beat


The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him:

Escape from Comp Board Island

The job is thankless, unpaid, and requires members to subject themselves to a brutal political firestorm each year. The real news may be that anyone wants to do it.

Two members of the Linn County Compensation Board, which decides how much elected Linn County officials are paid, are giving up their posts. They are Mary Quass, a business owner who lives in Mount Vernon, and Allen Merta, vice president for economic development at Priority One.

The two — both of them were appointed by the supervisors — have asked not to be reappointed to the board, Brent Oleson said at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. Their terms ended June 30.

Don Gray, the mayor of Central City who Oleson defeated in the District 4 supervisor race, has agreed to fill one of the empty spots, Oleson said. Amy Reasoner’s name came up as a possibility for the other opening.

Merta was chairman of the board. He and Quass both voted in February to freeze supervisor pay at $87,622, and both voted in 2008 to raise supervisor pay by 6 percent, a move that set off a controversy over supervisor pay that lasted more than a year.

At this year’s meeting, Quass attempted to strike a compromise between the Larry Wear/Dave O’Brien position (major pay cut) and the Ray Stefani/Phil Klinger position (no pay cut). Quass moved to cut supervisor salaries by 10 percent, to roughly $79,000 per year. That motion failed 4-2. Quass and Cedar Rapids attorney Steve Jackson Sr., who was appointed by County Attorney Harold Denton, were the only ones in favor. Quass eventually voted for the pay freeze.

The other two Comp Board members whose terms are up are Klinger, a treasurer appointment, and Wear, an auditor appointment. Klinger will be reappointed. Miller doesn’t know yet if Wear wants to stay on board.


Filed under: County Government, , , , , , , , ,

Taking a break

I’m off Thursday through Sunday, and won’t be posting much, if anything, in that time.

I do want to point out a few things:

Todd Dorman’s column on the Compensation Board meeting is worth reading.

The story about Kraig Paulsen’s recall bill is also good reading, though people tell me the bill doesn’t stand much of a chance.

The supervisors OK’d staff getting a lease for the old Steve & Barry’s. Dorman’s heart-rending column about the falling out between the supervisors and Westdale’s owners is also worth reading.

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Who is on this Compensation Board?

Following are the members of the Compensation Board that meets at 4 p.m. today at Westdale Mall to recommend the salaries for the Linn County supervisors and all the other elected officials in the county. Four attorneys, two businesspeople and a farmer serve on the board.

Their recommendation is effective July 1, and I’ve included in parentheses who appointed each member of the panel:

Steve Jackson Sr. (county attorney) — Jackson is a lawyer at Jackson & Jackson, P.L.C., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in family law. He lives in Cedar Rapids.

Phil Klinger (county treasurer) — Klinger is a lawyer at Klinger, Robinson & Ford, L.L.P., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in real estate and estate planning. He lives in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Allen Merta (supervisors) — Merta is vice president for economic development at Priority One, the economic development arm of the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce. He lives in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Mary Quass (supervisors) — Quass is president and CEO of NRG Media, a group of radio stations in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois. She lives in Mount Vernon.

David O’Brien (county recorder) –O’Brien is a lawyer at Willey, O’Brien L.C., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in representing plaintiffs who claim they’ve been injured by the acts of others. He lives in northeast Cedar Rapids.

Raymond Stefani II (sheriff) — Stefani is a lawyer at Gray, Stefani & Mitvalsky, P.L.C., a Cedar Rapids law firm. He specializes in malpractice and liability law. He lives north of Cedar Rapids.

Larry Wear (county auditor) — Wear is a farmer north of Center Point. He ran for supervisor as a Democrat and lost in the primary to Jim Houser.

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Big day for the big five

I’m liveblogging it all here.

At 9 a.m., the supervisors settled on ballot language for the local-option sales tax vote, but couldn’t settle on the sunset for the tax. They want it to be five years, and by law they set it for all the jurisdictions in the county, but they don’t want to take responsibility for the sunset for all the other jurisdictions without them taking ownership of it.

At 11:30 a.m., the supervisors will meet with the Farm Bureau in Hiawatha. They’ll discuss salaries and the local-option sales tax, among other things. Should be some good questions.

At 4 p.m., the county’s Compensation Board will meet, and recommend the salaries for the supervisors and other elected officials for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It will be the latest installment in the supervisor salary controversy that began last January and simply has not gone away.

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Assessor salary talks foreshadow supervisor discussion

The Linn County Compensation Board meets Tuesday, a mere five days from now, and they will determine the county supervisors’ likely salary.

Linda Langston assured me yesterday that the board will meet Monday to come up with its recommendation for the comp board, which will be an opportune way for the supervisors to express their consent for a pay cut, if they in fact consent to that.

Judging by discussion at the Conference Board meeting Wednesday, this is far from certain.

The Conference Board oversees the county Assessor’s Office and is made of representatives from the three taxing entities in Linn County — the cities, the schools and the county. They took up the assessor’s budgets, and disagreement sprung up over the salaries of assessor’s office employees.

Representatives from the schools pushed for Assessor’s Office salaries to be frozen, and the cities and the county pushed for a 3.5 percent increase.

“It’s not that I don’t believe everybody’s worth it, I just think it sends a negative message to the public,” said Mary Ames, a board member for the Marion Independent School District. “We’re in an economic depression, and people are losing jobs.”

But she and fellow school representatives couldn’t persuade the county’s mayors or the Board of Supervisors.

Those two groups refused to second any motion for a budget amendment to freeze Assessor’s Office salaries.

Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston argued that in order to attract qualified talent, the salaries need to be competitive. Kester pointed out that just because the Conference Board approves a 3.5 percent raise, doesn’t mean everyone in the office gets it.

But Ames persisted through the meeting, and moved for amendments on two separate Assessor’s Office budgets, just to
freeze staff salaries.

“From the president on down, they’re freezing wages,” she said.

Tom Wieseler, a board member in the Mount Vernon School District, agreed.

“We’re not living in la-la land,” he said. “We need to be realistic.”

Langston told Ames she understood her point, but they would simply have to agree to disagree.

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Where does each supervisor stand on salaries?

Revised 5:15 p.m. to add comment from Langston below:

The Compensation Board will meet Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. at Westdale Mall, and the supervisors have said they will meet shortly before then to come up with a recommendation.

Again, whether the Comp Board accepts the supervisors’ recommendation is an open question, but it’s fair to assume the supervisors will have some influence on the outcome.

Some of those who defend the supervisors foresee a bidding war auctioneered by a merciless public. Such a war would have been won by defeated supervisor candidate Dave Machacek, who proposed $50,000 per year per supervisor. But he’s returned quietly to Alburnett since the election, and the board will come up with a recommendation without him.

The new goalposts have been set by District 3 Supervisor Ben Rogers and District 5 Supervisor Jim Houser. Rogers is sticking to his guns on $70,000 per year. Houser favors keeping the salary at its current level — about $87,000.

The other three have yet to decide.

“I haven’t made up my mind,” District 1 Supervisor Lu Barron says. “For certain, there should not be a raise.”

District 4 Supervisor Brent Oleson hasn’t decided either, but is leaning toward making an individual presentation to the Comp Board. He said he’s been looking at supervisor salaries in other counties and minutes from past Comp Board meetings, and talking to Comp Board members.

“There is no circumstance under which I would recommend any kind of a pay increase,” District 2 Supervisor Langston said. “If we were to cut, I’m guessing that it would be between a five and ten percent cut.”

When salaries go on the supervisors’ agenda, I will blog about it. Both that meeting and the Comp Board meeting will be open to the public.

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Supervisors: Merry Christmas to us!

The Supervisors will on Tuesday decide whether to repeal a March resolution that turned them into part-time employees of Linn County, effective Jan. 1.

If they repeal it, the new Board of Supervisors will start Jan. 2 with salaries of $89,522 each.

The part-time resolution was the only way for the supervisors to reduce their own salaries after a heated, tangled controversy in which the county “Compensation Board” gave them a 6 percent raise even though the board of supervisors is expanding from three to five members.

Public outcry was significant. The Comp Board (it’s a 7-member board appointed by the elected officials whose salaries it decides) decision was particularly frustrating to those who’d pushed for a five-member board thinking it would mean the salaries of the three supervisors would be split among the five.

The supervisors (who made no argument to the Comp Board for their salaries to be cut) at first pinned responsibility on the Comp Board, then tried to get the Comp Board to reconvene and cut their salaries. When the Comp Board refused, the supervisors passed a resolution making themselves part-time, a move they said would reduce their salaries to about $70,000, but not until the five-member board took office Jan. 2.

It was a jerry-rigged solution, but it put the controversy to rest, or at least on simmer, through the primary and general elections.

Now, two days before Christmas and 11 days before the new five-member board takes office, the supervisors might repeal the resolution.

If they do in fact repeal it, their salaries will be restored to $89,522 per year unless the Comp Board decides to cut their wages. This has never happened before, but Linda Langston said the new board will meet early next month to forge a recommendation for the Comp Board.

Unless they recommend a cut, and the Comp Board accepts the recommendation (those are both pretty big ifs), the supervisors will have received not a single paycheck under the reduced salary.

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