Thursday Column — Rethink the Bonds

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.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Thursday Column — Rethink the Bonds

  1. Darrell A

    Wise or not, they will use this power and soon I’m sure. To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke: “Giving money and power to legislators is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys”. Nothing good can come of either situation.

  2. John

    Mr. Dorman, Please do not let up Langston,Barron and Houser. They have shown there true colors and they need to go. So please Linda Langston run for mayor!! I beg you! If you do my main goal in life will be to put you on the unemployment line.

  3. Martha Not-Stewart

    Gotta love those politicians! They give so much to shake our heads over!

  4. Jim

    Mr, Dorman,

    I think your obsession with some of the Supervisors has reached the point where your objectivity must be questioned. The ones you dislike have served the county well for a long time and that is why they were reelected despite the salary debacle, an organized opposition, and your commentaries. You come off as an outsider who doesn’t understand how this community really works, and it damages your credibility.

  5. tdorman

    I’m not paid to be objective, Jim. I’m a columnist. I get paid to give my opinion. And with regard to the salary issue and the bonding plan, I believe the longtime supervisors are wrong. It’s not an obsession. It’s not personal. It’s simply my viewpoint.
    I’m not an insider and I never will be. I don’t get chummy with elected officials. You say that damages my credibility. I say it enhances it.

  6. Brent Oleson

    Todd,

    After the above comment I must stop the monthly deposits to your bank account. I was also going to pre-pay a years membership into the donut of the month club, but you can forget that now!

    Your “chum”

    Brent

  7. tdorman

    Dang. Screw credibility. I love donuts.

  8. Pingback: County Bonding Update « 24-Hour Dorman

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