I just left the Linn County Board of Supervisors Meeting, where I watched members vote 5-0 to slice their annual pay back to $70,097.96.
Earlier this week the County Compensation Board voted to “freeze” supervisor pay at $87,622, with the backing of four supervisors.
But $70,000 is what the three original supervisors – Lu Barron, Jim Houser and Linda Langston - pledged to accept last year before they won re-election. They abandoned that promise, and supervisors have been catching plenty of hell over the $17,000 difference for the last two days.
New Supervisor Brent Oleson, who favored the freeze earlier this week, changed his mind. He offered a resolution cutting the supervisors’ pay back to 80 percent of full-time. It’s roughly the same resolution Barron, Houser and Langston passed during Salary War I last March, but then jettisoned in December, sparking Salary War II.
Oleson negotiated the latest armistice.
“It’s about trust and keeping your word,” Oleson said. “There is a time to lead and a time to be responsive to public sentiment.”
“I’m just glad we’re getting an opportunity to correct a wrong,” said Supervisor Ben Rogers, who favored $70,000 all along.
So this was, at long last, the right call.
Of course, this awkward, Friday afternoon reversal wouldn’t have been necessary if Langston, Houser and Barron hadn’t made such a boneheaded call in December. But it’s still the right call.
Two things still trouble me.
For one thing, even after last year’s salary debacle, most of the supervisors still didn’t understand how strongly the public would react on this issue. That’s astounding.
The economy sucks, political shenanigans are in the headlines very day and public trust in government is in the sub-basement. And yet, they tried to pull this bumbling salary switcheroo. Not smart.
They need to take their political barometers to the shop for significant recalibration.
Second, the ridiculous county compensation board system in Iowa has to go. Langston said today that supervisors and other elected officials should have the sole power to set their pay and be accountable to voters. I agree with her 100 percent.
“I think it’s a faulty system,” Langston said. She wants the Legislature to do something to change it.
In the end, it’s welcome news that the board will live up to last year’s promise. I give them credit for listening to the people, although I gave them similar credit last year and it didn’t work out so well.
I hope they bought back some squandered public good will today, because there are some very big jobs and tough decisions ahead.
Voters will be watching them closely.
UPDATE — Here’s the county’s news release:
Linn County Board of Supervisors Reduces Salary by Twenty Percent
Decision retroactive to January 2, 2009
(CEDAR RAPIDS, IA – February 6, 2009)-The Linn County Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved a resolution reducing their salaries by 20 percent. This resolution is retroactive to January 2, 2009, and results in a salary of $70,097.96 for each of the five members of the Board of Supervisors. Due to the retroactive nature of the resolution, the members of the Board of Supervisors will return any monies paid in excess of the newly established salary by March 15, 2009.
“This is the only mechanism we have to take care of the salary issue in a swift and decisive manner,” said Lu Barron, Chair of the Linn County Board of Supervisors.
“I’m glad we have this opportunity to correct a wrong and move forward with other substantive issues,” said Supervisor Ben Rogers in reference to flood recovery as well as issues that were important to Linn County well before the flood. “Our focus is on the future and rebuilding our community.”