NEWS RELEASE: Most Linn County Offices Closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

January 12, 2018

For more information, contact:

Britt Nielsen

Communications Specialist

(319) 892-5126

britt.nielsen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 3, 2018

Most Linn County Offices Closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

LINN COUNTY, IA – January 3, 2018 – Most Linn County governmental offices will be closed Monday, January 15 in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Normal business hours will resume Tuesday, January 16.

The following services will continue to operate:

· Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services

· Linn County LIFTS will be running abbreviated routes with no rural service.

· The Sheriff’s Office will be closed; however, continuous operations will be available for routine and emergency responses. This includes the Patrol Division, Communications Division and the Correctional Center. In an emergency, always dial 911.

Vehicle registrations can be renewed online at any time at www.iowataxandtags.org.

###

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How much do cremation permits cost taxpayers?

January 8, 2018

Who signs an agreement without knowing the cost to the taxpayers? Answer: The Linn County Board of Supervisors (BOS). In fact, this is the second time in less than a week that the BOS has signed an agreement without knowing the cost of the agreement.

Today (1/8/2018), the BOS approved/signed the Linn County Medical Examiners (ME) Agreement. Among various fees the ME receives, the ME also charges up to $75 for signing cremation permits. If your family is going to cremate your body in Linn County, they have to obtain a permit signed by the ME before your body can be cremated.

In my role as advocate for the taxpayers, I wanted to know how much revenue is generated by the ME for signing cremation permits since the County’s taxpayers are ultimately paying this death tax.

Response from the BOS? Praise for the ME and criticism of the County Auditor, but no answer to the question: How much do cremation permits cost the County’s taxpayers?

I estimate that cremation permits cost the County’s taxpayers $70K or more per year.

How did I come up with $70K? According to the Gazette, there were 163 obituaries in Linn County in December of 2017. Multiply 163 by 12 (months) by 50% (percentage of final arrangements ending in cremation) by $75 (cost per cremation permit) equals $73,350. Or take the number of deaths in Iowa in 2015 and multiply it (29,600) by 7% (Linn County’s population as a percentage of Iowa’s population) by 50% (see preceding) by $75 (see preceding) equals $77,700.

In my role as County Auditor, I am questioning why the revenue generated by the ME’s signing of cremation permits is not flowing into the County’s general fund in the same manner as the revenues generated by the County’s other departments?

The BOS should have been able to answer my questions. Or did campaign contributions once again influence their behavior? -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Who will build the Harris Building?

January 4, 2018

At least thirty commercial general contractors have a presence in the Corridor; yet, the Linn County Board of Supervisors will select one contractor from a pool of six local contractors to build the proposed Harris Building. The pool of six includes: Miron Construction, Ryan Companies, Unzeitig Construction, Tricon Construction Group, Kleiman Construction, and Rinderknecht Associates.

The Corridor Business Journal indicates the three largest commercial general contractors in the Corridor are McComas-Lacina Construction with 150 local employees, The Weitz Company, LLC, with 145 local employees, and Calacci Construction Company, Inc., with 160 local employees. Why didn’t the Board send an RFP to them or the other commercial general contractors in the Corridor?

I don’t have any insider information. I don’t know who the Board is going to pick to build the Harris Building. But I bet you – the collective – the community – already have an idea who will build the Harris Building – or who won’t be building it –  via your social media and social contacts. So let the polling begin.  We will find out if you were correct in February.  -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Harris Building update: The fix was in

January 3, 2018

So the Linn County Board of Supervisors did what they planned to do all along, i.e., proceed with a lease-purchase agreement for the Harris Building. It was no surprise. The “fix” was in months ago! I just didn’t know it. Watch KCRG and KGAN tonight for their reports; read The Gazette online tonight and/or tomorrow for their report/opinion.

How much will the Harris Building cost? If it’s under $31.5M, the Board can brag it came under budget. Unfortunately, we won’t know the final costs under sometime in 2019 – after the November 2018 election.

Was this a good deal for the taxpayers? I don’t think so and I don’t think the Board’s staff thought so either. I requested that the Finance, Budget, and Purchasing Directors give their opinion during the public hearing and none of them came forward. Funny. If my spending had been on the agenda, all three would have been asked to comment about it. I’m guessing the Board put a gag order on them. Too bad because even though I disagree with them from time to time, I do respect their opinions. And they should have been allowed to tell the public their opinions.

Am I disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No. Will I take the time to take on another issue when I’m sure to lose? Yes, if it’s the right thing to do. And today I did the right thing. No regrets. And when the Board gets the video of today’s meeting posted online at http://linncounty.org/AgendaCenter/Board-of-Supervisors-1 you can judge for yourself. Happy New Year! -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

The attachment contains my comments and questions to the Board re the Harris Building.  Supervisor Oleson’s responses to my 12/20/2017 questions were provided at the end of the second public hearing today and they are also included in the attachment.
20180103154209520.pdf

NEWS RELEASE: Auditor facilitating online petition drive for special election on spending up to $31.5M for Harris Building

December 28, 2017

From: Miller, Joel
Sent: Thursday, December 28, 2017 1:31 PM

NEWS RELEASE: Auditor facilitating online petition drive for special election on spending up to $31.5M for Harris Building

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 28, 2017

CONTACT:

Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor – 319-892-5333

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA – December 28, 2017 – Today, Linn County Auditor Joel D. Miller acknowledged he has gathered signatures and is facilitating an online petition drive (sign the petition at https://pdf.ac/atjO6o ) to call for a special election on the lease-purchase agreement to construct and furnish the proposed Harris Building. On 1/3/2018, the Linn County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve a lease-purchase agreement on the Harris Building unless a public hearing convinces them to change their minds or the Board decides to call a special election to let the voters decide on spending up to $31.5M.

Miller indicated, “The Board is required to call an election or abandon the lease-purchase agreement if presented with petitions containing 11,710 or more signatures; however, the Board also has the discretion to hold an election with a lesser number of signed petitions”. Miller went on to say, “I am not opposed to the stated public purposes for the proposed Harris Building. I am opposed to the Board violating its recently passed Ethics Policy by giving preferential treatment to one group of citizens over all other citizens via the manner the Harris Building is being financed and built. And I am opposed to one Supervisor publicly stating he wanted to exclude a local contractor with local employees from the process. And I am opposed due to the Board’s lack of transparency in answering basic questions related to the financing and construction of the Harris Building”.

Citizens can sign a petition at https://pdf.ac/atjO6o to call for a special election to determine if Linn County should enter into a lease-purchase agreement for up to $31.5M to build and furnish the Harris Building. If citizens do not have online access to the petition, they can stop by the Accounting Services counter in the Linn County Auditor’s Office on Friday, December 29th, from 8am-5pm to sign the petition in-person. Citizens can also sign the petition in-person at the Auditor’s Office on Wednesday, January 3rd, from 8am-8:45am. ###

Stop the Board of Supervisors from spending $31.5M without getting your approval first

December 26, 2017

Sign the petition here!

Stop the Linn County Board of Supervisors from spending up to $31.5M on the Harris Building WITHOUT GETTING YOUR APPROVAL FIRST!

Why isn’t the Board asking for your approval to spend $31.5M like they did on the County’s Conversation bond? Why are they skipping the competitive bid process? Why won’t they answer basic questions? Why did the Harris Building’s cost go from $10M to $31.5M in less than two years?

Something is wrong with the bidding and financing of the Harris Building, and the Board is rushing it through over the holidays when you are distracted. Show the Board you are paying attention.

Request an election on the Board spending up to $31.5M without getting your approval first!

Sign the petition today – here and now or print it out and get more signatures … because 12,000 signatures are required to force the Board to call an election.

Deliver your printed petitions (your e-signed signature has already been delivered) with additional signatures to the Linn County Auditor’s Office by 8:30am on 1/3/2018 if you want to weigh in on a $31.5M decision. Time is of the essence! -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Supervisor Oleson obsessed with union money

December 23, 2017

Supervisor Brent Oleson must be worried. This morning, he invited every manager and department head in the County, and their employees to show up for the Linn County Board of Supervisor’s 1/3/2018 public hearing on the Harris Building (HB). He wants an audience to put me in my place. I have news for him. That hasn’t worked in almost eleven years.

Earlier this week – see previous post – I emailed a set of questions to the Board’s point person on the HB. Oleson told that person not to answer my questions.

Here are the questions. Oleson won’t allow them to be answered so I have taken the liberty to answer them. Caveat: I may be wrong.

Who is issuing the notice to bidders? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who approves the design and the contract documents? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who oversees the bid letting? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who is the authority that will be exercising the contracts / signing the contracts for construction? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who issues / issued the Request for Qualifications and the Request for Proposals? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who determines the RFQ and RFP criteria?  The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who will be in the room during the contractors’ presentations? Contractors selected by the Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who ultimately has the authority to determine the winner / entity with whom the contract will be awarded? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Is the project bonded? Maybe/probably

Does the contract elude to Iowa Code Chapter 73A (Bonding)? Maybe/probably

What protections are provided in the event of a contractor default (and who is left holding the bag)? The taxpayers of Linn County

Is Linn County afforded the protections of Chapter 73A if we are not building the public improvement? Maybe, but probably not

So what is the difference between the method we have used to select a bidder in the past and the method we are using to fund, build, and furnish the HB now?

Supervisor John Harris says this new method is going to take longer and cost more. He has already been proven right. Originally, the HB groundbreaking was to occur in October 2017. Now, it’s occurring in the Spring of 2018. The HB project is already six months behind schedule.

As for cost, the projected cost was $10M in January 2016. Now, the Board of Supervisors is committing the County for up to $31.5M. And the Board is not giving the voting public a chance to express their opinion on the HB via an election. If the HB has community-wide support, then why not ensure you have that support by holding an election. I know. Elections cost a lot of money and since we, the Board, are not required to ask the voters for their approval, we are not going to ask … because what if they said NO.

The fact is, the Board could put this question on the November 2018 ballot. Or better yet, they could take a look at the Community Services Building (CSB) and determine if it could be re-purposed for Public Health (PH). We already have PH employees working in the CSB.

But the HB project must continue as-is planned because it’s important that those shoddy contractors don’t get the low bid and build us something we will be stuck with for the next 50 years.

I have an idea: why not hire someone to ensure the building is built to the specifications the County agreed to. Someone who is working for the taxpayers’ interests without any conflicts of interest and knows how to hold people accountable?

Under the new method Oleson has proposed, the winning contractor/proposal will be selected in a backroom and not in view of the public, e.g., Tricon can forget even participating because Oleson made it clear that he did not want them involved in this project.

As for cost overruns and schedule delays? Well, everyone will know the County has $31.5M to burn through so guess what? The HB will cost at least $31.5M.

Linn County is a rich county. Lease purchase agreements are for poor governments with low tax revenue or poor cash flow. Why are we leasing something when we can go through the normal process of selling bonds? We have a AAA bond rating. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Supervisors.

Our tax base continues to grow each year, which gives the Board of Supervisors lots of opportunities to splurge. For example, we cannot seem to throw enough money at our County parks. We spent $15K per acre for farmland and took on about $7M in bond debt to pay for it. We are going to build a shelter in a park which will compete with private sector banquet operators. We have accumulated $24M in debt since 2009 and Conservation can bond up to $40M more, and with this $31.5M obligation, we will have about $100M in potential obligations.

So why is Oleson so adamant about the bypassing a competitive bidding process on the HB? Well, as a former DCI agent pointed out to me: follow the money.

Money. That necessary evil of running for political office.

I closed my campaign account in early 2013. It’s still closed today. But the County Supervisors’ campaign accounts are open for business. And Oleson, as a former Republican supervisor, has done a remarkable job of raising funds from the unions even before he switched to the Democratic Party.

Oleson has collected at least $47K from unions since he filed his first campaign report. And since 11/18/2010, Oleson has received $77,513.08 in contributions and $45,750 came from unions.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with unions. I was a member of an IBEW local for about three years.

What I am saying is: unions are one of your constituents – not your sole constituent. Our duty as elected officials is to represent every resident of this County – every taxpayer – every voter. And when one constituent is giving you outsized campaign contributions, and others are not contributing to you, then you are doomed to pay homage to that constituent.

Quid pro quo – a favor for a favor.

When 59% of your campaign contributions come from one constituent, you tend to listen to that constituent when you have an upcoming election. Especially, when you lost the vote on your last election day and won the election only via early voters. Especially, when straight party voting is no longer a factor in the 2018 election. And especially, when you’re facing “nice-guy” opponent Supervisor John Harris in 2018 when you are not a very nice guy.

In Oleson’s State of the County speech on 4/19/2017, Oleson said of the Harris Building, “This is a $20 million-plus project that will be built by local labor, I promise you that, despite what the legislature thinks it has done to us with their anti-PLA and anti-build local legislation.  I’ve got a work-around to this legislation and my professional bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, and other craftsman can have faith that I will always go to bat for them when we do infrastructure projects.

Oleson’s HB remarks are at 8:10

About 50% of the households in Linn County earn $60K or less per year. Maybe some of those bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, and other craftsmen are in those households?

Those households are never going to know what the cost of the Harris Building should have been because it was not competitively bid. And to top it off, no one gave those voters an opportunity to express their opinion on the Harris Building via the ballot box because the Board of Supervisors does not trust them to make the right decision. Yet, those households are going to pay the taxes that pay for the HB.

Oleson’s rhetoric is pointed at me because he is obsessed with union money to fund his campaign to get re-elected and I am asking questions about the HB. He likes working 20 hour weeks and getting paid $103K per year. He spends most of his time posting on Facebook, then deleting his posts, then banning other users whose posts he does not like, then re-posting. Facebook is his other huge obsession.

The Harris Building is a worthy cause for a great public purpose. I want it competitively bid. I want the bid awarded to the lowest bidder. I want the County to hire a project manager to hold every contractor, sub-contractor, vendor, and architect accountable to the specifications and schedule … so it ends up being something the County can be proud of at its completion. I expect no more and no less. -Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor

P.S. The attachment contains a brief summary of various union political action committees’ contributions to our five current Supervisors and me, your County Auditor. My findings are based upon the reports filed with http://www.iowa.gov/ethics/

Union support of Linn County Supervisors 12-22-2017.pdf

Linn County offices closed for holidays – Petition drive may kickoff on 12/27/2017 to force Board to call election for $31.5M debt obligation

December 22, 2017

On 12/27/2017, I may kickoff a petition drive to force the Linn County Board of Supervisors to call an election so the voters/taxpayers of Linn County have the option to decide if the County should take on a $31.5M debt obligation to build and furnish the Harris Building. You can read my posts on the Harris Building here. -Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor

***************************************************************************************************************

Contact:

Britt Nielsen

Communications Specialist

(319) 892-5126

britt.nielsen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 14, 2017

Linn County Offices Closed for Christmas and New Year’s Holidays

LINN COUNTY, IA – December 14, 2017 – Linn County governmental offices will be closed Monday, Dec. 25; Tuesday, Dec. 26; Monday, Jan. 1; and Tuesday, Jan. 2. for the Christmas and New Year’s holiday.

The following services will continue to operate:

· Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services

· Linn County LIFTS will be running reduced routes on Dec. 26 and Jan. 2.

· The Sheriff’s Office will be closed; however, continuous operations will be available for routine and emergency responses. This includes the Patrol Division, Communications Division and the Correctional Center. In an emergency, always dial 911.

Vehicle registrations can be renewed online at any time at www.iowataxandtags.org ###

How to screw voters/taxpayers out of their right to vote on $31.5M in County debt

December 22, 2017

How to screw voters/taxpayers out of their right to vote on $31.5M in County debt

Step 1 – Publish a legal notice in the Gazette on 12/21/2017 announcing the Linn County Board of Supervisors is going to hold a public hearing at its Board meeting on 1/3/2018 to approve a resolution authorizing the County to take on a $31.5M (million) obligation via a lease purchase agreement to build and furnish the Harris Building.

Step 2 – Do not hold any Board of Supervisors meetings after 12/20/2017 or before 1/3/2018 so the public cannot officially comment on what the Board is planning to do prior to the 1/3/2018 Board meeting. And time all of the legal notices over the end of year holidays when the public is distracted.

Step 3 – Advise the public via the 12/21/2017 legal notice that they can petition the Board to hold a referendum on the $31.5M obligation. But neglect to inform the public that they need to gather a minimum of 11,710 signatures from the eligible voters of Linn County and present them to the County Auditor PRIOR TO the Board’s 1/3/2018 public hearing in order to call for a referendum to vote on the $31.5M County obligation.

Step 4 – Instruct all Board employees not to answer the following questions:

Who is issuing the notice to bidders?

Who approves the design and the contract documents?

Who oversees the bid letting?

Who is the authority that will be exercising the contracts / signing the contracts for construction?

Who issues / issued the Request for Qualifications and the Request for Proposals?

Who determines the RFQ and RFP criteria?

Who will be in the room during the contractors’ presentations?

Who ultimately has the authority to determine the winner / entity with whom the contract will be awarded?

Is the project bonded?

Does the contract elude to Iowa Code Chapter 73A (Bonding)?

What protections are provided in the event of a contractor default (and who is left holding the bag)?

Is Linn County afforded the protections of Chapter 73A if we are not building the public improvement?

Step 5 – Ridicule the County Auditor and anyone else who might think to question the Board of Supervisors and/or Supervisor Oleson – see below email from Oleson to Miller.

Step 6 – Approve the resolution on 1/3/2018 and thumb your noses at any naysayers/questioners who dare to speak at the Board’s public hearing, and assassinate their character in public if the opportunity arises … because Supervisors always have the last word in Board of Supervisors meetings.

As I indicated in a previous post, I am not questioning the public purpose for the Harris Building. I am questioning the effort by Oleson and others to bypass the public bidding process that was used on everything the County has built or remodeled since its founding. The public will never know the true cost to build and furnish the Harris Building; therefore, they will never know if they, the taxpayers, paid $10M too much or $5M too much or $1M too much for it.

The taxpayers are paying an unknown, but likely heavy premium so Oleson can thumb his nose at the Iowa Legislature and take care of his union contributors at the expense of the 50% of the households in Linn County that earn $60K or less per household per year.

On 11/8/2016, the Board of Supervisors allowed the County’s voters to vote on a $40M Conservation Bond which passed with overwhelming support. The Board trusted the voters then, but they don’t trust the voters to make the right decision on the Harris Building. Why? –Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor

*******************************************************************

From: Oleson, Brent
Sent: Friday, December 22, 2017 1:17 PM
To: Miller, Joel <Joel.Miller@linncounty.org>
Cc: Board of Supervisors <BOARDDL@linncounty.org>; Gage, Darrin <Darrin.Gage@linncounty.org>; Jarvis, Gary <Gary.Jarvis@linncounty.org>; Tucker, Steve <Steve.Tucker@linncounty.org>; Jindrich, Dawn <Dawn.Jindrich@linncounty.org>; !!Elected Officials and Dept Heads <EOADHDL@linncounty.org>
Subject: Public Hearing

Joel: If you want to comment on the Harris Bldg. project that we’ve been working on for the last few years, you will have the same opportunity as any member of the public on January 3, 2018. No more and no less. Your reverse referendum signatures (10% of last General vote) will be due then as well if you choose that route. Please consult legal counsel, as having a Westlaw account and a Black’s Law Dictionary are no substitute for sound legal advice. Finally, you will be given no special comment spot as your duties as Auditor (secretary to Board of Supervisors; payroll clerk; etc.) have no nexus to issue at hand. We all see this for what it is, a political stunt, and I won’t have you use the apparatus of county government and public service for your latest quixotic tilting at windmills adventure. Merry Christmas!

Bait & switch on the Harris Building?

December 21, 2017

I do not have a problem with the public purpose for building the Harris Building, i.e., for Linn County Public Health, Linn County Daycare, and other community uses.

I wonder why the Community Services Building (CSB) was not considered for those public purposes since it is new, modern, and contains about 85,000 square feet of floor space with only about 200 employees. And that 200 employee number will likely shrink in 2018.

I am concerned that:

1> Linn County Board of Supervisors Chairman Brent Oleson indicated the Harris Building would cost $20 million plus in April 2017.

2> On 22 May 2017, OPN Architects said the cost of the Harris Building will be approximately $24 million.

3> In today’s (12/21/2017) Legal Notices in the Gazette, the County is going to take on an obligation of up to $31.5 million for the Harris Building. I suspect if the County asks for up to $31.5M in authority, it will likely become obligated for $31.5M and then some.

4>  On 1/11/2016, the Gazette carried a story indicating the projected cost for the Harris Building was $10 million.  [added at 2:30pm, 12/22/2017]

Is the Board doing a bait & switch on the taxpayers?

On 12 July 2017, after Supervisor John Harris had met with Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn about lease purchase options for the Building, Supervisor Harris said, “The lease purchase option will cost the county more money as compared to the competitive bid process”. Harris voted Nay; Oleson, Rogers, Walker, and Houser voted Aye.

In a short eight months, the cost of the Harris Building has increased from $20 million to $31.5 million. Add $31.5M to our current County bond debt of $24.470M and then add the $40M Conservation bond authority, and the County’s taxpayers could quickly be in obligated to pay back $95.97 million. So we went from zero dollars in obligations on 6/30/2009 to potentially $100 million in obligations in less than ten years. And that’s not including the million plus dollar debt we are going to take on for Prospect Meadows.

It’s a good thing we got that tax cut yesterday. Looks like we will need it in 2018 to pay for the obligations the County is going to incur in the future. Remember these words: Bait & Switch. –Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor


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