The Hot Beat


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

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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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 “get-to-work gas money fund”

Jim Houser, by his own admission, has taken a beating for his comments in December about charging the public for his drive from the downtown Palmer Building to Westdale Mall.

The story has gotten a lot of mileage (pun intended), and at Monday’s supervisors meeting, Ron Stodola of Marion added to it.

Stodola is the same guy who rebuked the supervisors last March over their salaries. He told them they had better cut their own pay, or promise they will, as soon as possible.

“If you don’t, I think we’re going to look for five new supervisors,” he said.

Well, he was back on Monday, and he was not happy. After criticizing the supervisors for rescinding the March resolution that made them part-time, he walked to the front of the room at Westdale, and did the following, according to Becky Shoop, the deputy auditor who took the meeting’s minutes:

“Stodola came up and laid a bunch of change down, and said ‘I’m contributing to the Board of Supervisors get-to-work gas money fund.’”

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Salaries not on Tuesday agenda

The Linn County supervisors will not discuss their salaries at tomorrow’s meeting.

After dispensing with their part-time status and in effect giving themselves a raise over what they would have made in the next six months, Supervisors Lu Barron, Jim Houser and Linda Langston said they would come up with a salary recommendation for the Compensation Board.

They argued that they are in reality full time, not part time, and it was important to settle that before new members Ben Rogers and Brent Oleson took office. Then, they said, the five supervisors could sit down and come up with a salary for themselves, recommend it to the Comp Board and hope the Comp Board takes the recommendation.

Linda Langston said the supervisors will discuss the issue shortly before the Comp Board meets.

Compensation Board Chairman Allen Merta said he’s requested for the meeting to be Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. at Westdale Mall.

“They were very polite, but they said they disagreed with what the supervisors did, and they thought the Compensation Board should do something about it,” Merta said.

One thing the supervisors will discuss Tuesday at 9 a.m. is the results of the survey on where the public wants county offices to be. The survey will have direct bearing on the county’s decision to purchase or not purchase Westdale Mall. That decision is coming in several weeks, with supervisors saying they’ll either announce a conclusion in February or March.

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What does a supervisor do?

To those who thought I would answer the question in clear, simple terms, I apologize.

It’s not that easy. For one thing, the supervisors themselves determine what they do, and they are the ones who know how they spend their time. (Much as I’d love to, I don’t follow them around all day.)

When Salary War I broke out in January 2008 with the near-assassination of Archduke Dave Machacek at the hands of Steve Jackson Sr. and Jim Houser, I wrote a story entitled “A full-time job, full of meetings,” in which I reported that the job of a county supervisor is in a sense unlimited.

From the story, dated Jan. 13, 2008 (and edited slightly because I’m a slightly better writer now): …the supervisors say the scope of their job — as budget decision-makers, complaint takers, program administrators, mediators at the intersection of state and local government and custodians of myriad other duties — is so broad that adding two new members will not change their workload.

The upshot is they must perform a growing, scattered set of jobs, and, if they so choose, can work constantly. The new supervisors who take office next January, the incumbents say, face a steep learning curve and may be unprepared.

“The job just has grown,” said James Houser, a county supervisor since 1990. “There are so many things going on.”

And here we are, about to have the same debate, as the supervisors prepare to craft a recommendation for the Comp Board on how much they should be paid, probably at a meeting on Jan. 6.

As Solomon (that wise, weary king of Israel) said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

What we do know is Linn County’s job description for a supervisor is Iowa Code Section 331, starting with 331.301 and going forward. It’s a lot of reading.

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Supervisor expenses surprisingly low

The blog post a couple weeks ago about Jim Houser’s threat to charge mileage for his drive from the Palmer Building to Westdale elicited a little bit of a response.

So I called the Auditor’s Office to get a list of paid claims the supervisors made from Dec. 1 to today. It could have been an unusual month due to the holidays, but the expenses were not exorbitant:

– Jim Houser claimed $4.20 for stamps.
– Lu Barron claimed $16 in parking fees and $180 in mileage for four trips to Iowa City/Coralville.
– Linda Langston claimed $118 for a per diem on a trip to a National Association of Counties conference in Phoenix. (Airfare was probably claimed in a different time period.)

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The supervisors’ side of things

To be fair to Supervisors Linda Langston, Jim Houser and Lu Barron, there is a coherent argument for them to have done what they did on Tuesday.

It’s this: We don’t believe the job is or ever was part-time, we only made it part-time for political reasons, and now we’re clearing the decks for the new five-member board to start over with the Compensation Board and reset our salaries at whatever is appropriate.

Langston argues that though the move to repeal the part-time resolution looks bad, it is necessary.

This is where people disagree.

So, question number one: Is the job full time?

If the answer is no, then of course the supervisors screwed up by repealing the resolution.

But the supervisors have been fairly consistent in insisting that the job is full time.

“I don’t have any belief that this is going to be any less than a full-time job,” Langston said in March, the day she announced that they would pass the resolution to make the job part-time. She said candidly that the resolution was “the only way around the laws that exist” for them to lower the pay in response to public wishes.

If the supervisors are right, and yes, the job is full time, then, question number two: Was it necessary for the supervisors to repeal the resolution halfway through the fiscal year, thus giving themselves and the two new supervisors a $9,000 raise over what they would have made in the next six months?

This question is more difficult for the supervisors to answer.

Instead of repealing the resolution on Tuesday, and making the March charade entirely meaningless, they could have conceivably resolved to repeal the part-time resolution on June 30 (the end of the fiscal year), and allowed the Comp Board to set their full-time salaries effective July 1.

That way they wouldn’t have had to go back on their March decision and wouldn’t have given themselves a “raise” over the next six months. But they still would have made the job full-time and given the Comp Board the opportunity to decide a full-time supervisor’s salary for the fiscal year that starts July 1. (Just to be clear, what the Comp Board decides in February will have no bearing on the next six months. It will apply to fiscal 2010, which starts July 1.)

Meanwhile, the words of Dave Machacek, who lost to Houser in the Nov. 4 election, sound awfully prophetic. He was there on the day the supervisors passed the part-time resolution, March 10, 2008.

“Why do they have to be cornered before they act?” he said. “All this is a political ploy to take the heat off their backs until after the election.”

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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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