State lawmakers can hand out power, but not the instincts to use it wisely.
An example: Last month, legislators gave local governments in disaster areas the power to issue bonds without asking voters’ permission. This week, the Linn County Board of Supervisors left the impression it lacks the instincts to use this power wisely.
The board proposes floating $9.5 million in bonds to expand and remodel the county’s Administrative Office Building. That’s over and above the $2.2 million in flood damage the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay to fix it.
The $9.5 million will cover, among other things, the addition of a new top floor. This lofty perch will house offices, including new digs for each supervisor. Supervisor Brent Oleson is opposed, and Supervisor Ben Rogers says he won’t support bonds without a public vote. Supervisors Lu Barron, Jim Houser and Linda Langston appear open to this scheme.
So how about public opinion? I polled my blog readers.
“I’ve looked at the poll several times and still don’t see the HELL-no-and-these-clowns-should-be-voted-out-asap button,” Darrell wrote.
This board’s “What Is It Thinking?” file is getting thick.
Lawmakers passed bonding authority during the sleep-deprivation fest that ended the 2009 session. But I don’t think even groggy, squinting legislators saw this as a blank check.
It’s intended to help towns repair or replace damaged facilities. Cedar Rapids is a good example, with dozens of flooded buildings in limbo. It makes little sense to require a 60 percent vote every time officials need repair bucks.
City leaders promise restraint. But mayoral candidate Ron Corbett argues they want to erect a new city “Taj Mahal” with voterless bonds. And thanks to the county, Corbett has exhibit A for his case. City leaders must be so pleased with their county cousins.
Just weeks ago, supervisors were getting kudos for frugally deciding to return to their old digs.
Now, they need a $9.5 million credit card to redecorate. And Oleson keeps pointing out that it would cost just $3 million to buy the old Steve & Barry’s building where county government is temporarily housed. I smell political capital and public good will burning.
Stopping this madness would mean collecting 22,000-plus signatures for a reverse referendum.
And if supervisors think that can’t be done, they may make another miscalculation.
Or, like winter’s salary debacle, supervisors can stop, think and back up the train. If this is a great idea, put it to a public vote. My instincts tell me that’s what will happen in the end.