Daily Archives: February 4, 2009

Thursday Column — Supervisor Pay

So the Linn County Board of Supervisors, all but one, proved me wrong. They didn’t understand what’s at stake.

But I was hardly surprised as I watched the County Compensation Board vote to freeze supervisor pay at $87,622. That’s what four out of five supervisors wanted. And it proved once again that in Iowa, when elected officials say “jump,” most county compensation board members ask only “how high?”

Oh, some tried. Board member David O’Brien tried to force the supervisors to live up to last year’s broken pre-election promise to cut their salary to $70,000. New Supervisor Ben Rogers argued in favor of the cut, insisting that to do otherwise would be breaking faith with hoodwinked voters. But O’Brien was the only one who voted for his motion.

Business owner Mary Quass argued for a reasonable 10 percent cut. But she was also outvoted.

So the freeze prevailed, as expected. But there was still some drama.

It’s too bad Oscar nominations are already settled, because the academy should have seen Supervisor Linda Langston’s heartfelt but tardy mea culpa. She stood up to take responsibility for last year’s cynical salary bait and switch. “I will personally take the hit,” Langston told the board. How courageous, was the reply.

I like her, I really like her, but the apologetic performance would have been more believable in, say, October. I give it two thumbs down.

We heard a lot about how the supervisors deserve their paycheck. There were reams of figures and comparisons to other counties and talk of how you can’t shortchange the captains of a $100 million enterprise.

And a freeze truly represents sacrifice in tough times. That must sound pretty funny to people without jobs or homes.

But some calculations were missing. How about this: supervisors made $61,872 in Fiscal 2000, according to the Iowa State Association of Counties. So between 2000 and 2009, supervisor pay rose about 41 percent.

Between 2000 and 2007, the latest number available, median household income in Linn County grew from $48,597 to $53,076, or just more than 9 percent. Supervisor pay grew 4 times faster.

Walking away from the poker table with the jackpot is a pretty sweet brand of sacrifice. Deal me in.

Also missing was the value of public good will. Every elected official carries an invisible bag of good will, or what President Bush famously called “political capital.”

Expanding the bag is important. That’s because, someday, you’ll have to spend some of that capital doing something tough that people don’t like. The majority of our supervisors just sold a big chunk of good will for $17,000bucks.

That’s hardly the kind of shrewd deal making you’d expect from the captains of a $100 million enterprise.

And, boy, do the supervisors need political capital.

They’re asking voters next month for a sales tax increase. If a new county office building is needed, they’ll probably have to ask voters someday to issue bonds. But how damaged, now, is the county’s brand? They may get left holding their empty bags.

Sure, the supervisors got $87,622. Now they have to start paying for it.

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Access Denied

I thought I was going to get a look around the flood-damaged Paramount Theater today for an upcoming column. I was wrong.

Three Gazette colleagues and I showed for the tour along with several community leader/interested citizen types. But Scott Schoenike, who manges the theater for VenuWorks, said the media would not be allowed on the tour.

Apparently we can’t tour the place unless someone from Adjusters International, a city contractor, is there to escort us. Schoenike said the A.I. escort would make sure that we got the right “message.” I guess that must be  a different “message” than he was going to deliver on this tour.

Huh.

If only we’d followed proper channels. I emailed Schoenike last week, but he ignored my request for a tour. Then I heard about today’s tour through other channels. I had this odd notion that a public building being repaired with taxpayer dollars might be accessible.

I really should have known that it’s another fiefdom protected by a nice thick blanket of bureaucratic efficiency.

So, what I can report today is that although the Paramount suffered heavy flood damage, its  message control system is fully functional. Thank goodness.

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Tomorrow’s Column Today — Supervisor Pay

I’m writing my Thursday Gazette column on the latest lowlights in the Linn County Board of Supervisors pay saga.

I’m still crafting it from the choicest ingredients at this hour, including all natural snark. But here’s some of what to expect:

Not surprisingly, I think the Linn County Compensation Board’s decision to freeze supervisor pay at $87,622 is a bad, bad call. And it shows, yet again, what a screwed up system we have in this state for setting the salaries of county elected officials.

The supervisors deserved a salary cut in this time of economic hardship, and especially after three incumbent supervisors promised last year to take a pay cut  to $70,000. They promised, crossed their fingers, got re-elected and promptly scrapped the promise.

Shameless, with a side of cynical.

Supervisor Ben Rogers is the only one who seemed to get it.  He asked for a cut to $70,000.

I’ll tell you which other supervisor deserves Academy Award consideration after Tuesday’s comp board meeting.

Do you know how fast supervisor pay has grown since 2000 compared to household incomes earned by county residents? You might be surprised, although, unfortunately, you won’t be.

I’ll try to explain how much voter anger $17,000 might buy. It may be a whole lot.

And I’ll share my recipe for tar and feathers. Just kidding.

The column will be posted here, later on.

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Wednesday Reads — The Twinkie Defense

This morning’s Sioux City Journal fronts Charlotte Eby’s account of a public hearing yesterday where school officials from around Iowa assailed proposed nutritional requirements that would soak up the financial gravy train from selling junk food. The rules, created through a bill signed by Gov. Culver, would restrict fat, sugar calories and sodium, with the goal of getting kids to eat better. Full-strength soda, for instance, is out.

The schools say healthy stuff won’t sell as well and the rules will drive kids to spend their money elsewhere. There are also those who contend the rules are so strict that lowfat yogurt and other healthy foods wouldn’t make the cut. The bill also requires schools to incorporate more physical activity into kids’ schedules.

The voting roles got fatter on election day, according to Mike Glover’s AP story. Nearly 46,000 Iowans used same-day registration to register at the polls. Things went smoothly, with a few problems, according to our secretary of state.

Glover apparently is losing his “Iowa Press” hosting partner. The Des Moines Register reports that longtime political columnist David Yepsen is leaving to take over the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He apparently got the job after the other two finalists withdrew.

Meanwhile, lawmakers can’t quit the idea of raising the gas tax, according to James Q. Lynch in The Gazette. Gov. Culver has said repeatedly that he doesn’t favor a tax increase, but Democratic legislative leaders point out that he’s never used the word “veto.”

He did use these words, however: “I don’t know how much more clear I could be,” Culver said about his repeated opposition to a gas tax increase. “I do not believe raising the gas tax during a recession is a prudent thing to do.”

 I’m thinking the surest way to hear the V word is to go ahead and pass a gas tax hike.

Lots of school districts across Iowa were voting last night on bonds, support levy plans, sales tax spending proposals etc. Voters overwhelmingly approved a new middle school in Marion and several eastern Iowa communities approved “revenue purpose statements” on how they’ll spend the now statewide penny school sales tax.

But Mason City voters shot down an instructional support levy.

In other voting Tuesday, the Linn County Compensation board voted to freeze paychecks for the Board of Supervisors at $87,622. The comp board declined to hold the supervisors to last year’s pre-election pay cut promise.

More on that later today.

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