County office space for rent


INTRODUCTION

A citizen came along one day and made an inquiry to the county auditor. He asked: How much is the County charging that non-profit for office space in the County Engineer’s building? And so it began like any other inquiry – Chapter 1.

Along the way, a county supervisor said a lease existed – Chapter 2. The auditor requested an investigation by the county attorney since the tenant has been in a county owned building since March 2014 – Chapter 3. The auditor confirmed no lease existed and the tenant has not provided a certificate of insurance to the county – Chapters 4, 5, and 6.

The attorney asks the auditor to cite which law(s) were broken – Chapter 7. The auditor declines to cite a specific law – he’s not an attorney – Chapter 8. The attorney belittles the auditor and dismisses the auditor’s request for an investigation – Chapter 9.

The auditor suggests to the attorney that perhaps the tenant is trespassing – Chapter 10. The auditor finds another law violation that may be more appropriate and asks the county sheriff to investigate – Chapter 11.

The attorney tells the auditor that the board of supervisors can, basically, do anything they want to do – Chapter 12. And the sheriff agrees with the attorney – Chapter 13.

I, your County Auditor, have experienced the power of the Board of Supervisors. On 2/20/2007, when I became your auditor, I had over 50 employees. Today, I have sixteen (16). The “Board” has tremendous power.

Code of Iowa Chapter 331.301(2) reads, “A power of a county is vested in the board….”

Chapter 331.302(1) reads, “The board shall exercise a power or perform a duty only by passage of a motion, a resolution, an amendment, or an ordinance.”

Chapter 331.212 reads, “A majority of the members of the board constitutes a quorum to transact the official business of the county”.

Chapter 331.322(5) reads the board shall: “Furnish offices within the county for the sheriff … recorder, treasurer, auditor ….”

My contention is that while the “Board” has power when meeting as a board to transact the official business of the County, individual members of the board of supervisors have no legal power outside of those meetings. And if they use “the color of their office” to direct an employee do something the employee is not authorized to do, e.g., rent out office space within a county owned building to an non-county organization, give tenants access to that building, and collect rents on the space, then some law has likely been violated and/or someone has exceeded their power.

Do I want someone to be charged with a crime over this situation? No. Do I want the appropriate parties’ hands publicly slapped? Yes. And do I want a signed lease filed in my office. Yes.

But as of 4pm today (4-16-2015), I don’t have a signed lease in my office for a non-profit occupying office space in a county building that was never approved by the only entity that could approve a lease – the Linn County Board of Supervisors.

Here’s the story:

COUNTY OFFICE SPACE FOR RENT

 

CHAPTER ONE – THE CITIZEN INQUIRY

On Apr 10, 2015, at 7:19 PM,

From:  “John Q Public” wrote:

To: Ms. Hoy,

I was at the new location for the Secondary Roads office last week, on County Home Road. I was collecting supplies for a volunteer Roadway Clean-up event. The helpful secretary took me through the structure to get the supplies and noted that Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC) folks were occupying the suites of offices in a particular section of the building.

How much office space rent does that group have to pay the county in compensation for use?

-John Q Public

To: Supervisor Oleson,

It dawned on me that it would have been more efficient to contact the Auditor’s office first, I apologize for any distraction my message yesterday may have caused you.

-John Q Public

CHAPTER TWO – SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

From: Oleson, Brent Sent: ‎Saturday‎, ‎April‎ ‎11‎, ‎2015 ‎10‎:‎36‎ ‎AM

To: John Q Public

I’ll have to review the fine terms of the lease arrangement.  I believe they paid $2400 for the first 6 mos along with the electric.  That space was not in use, so anything is more money than we were getting.  What is your concern? Sent from my iPhone

CHAPTER THREE – REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION 

From: Miller, Joel Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 3:20 PM To: Vander Sanden, Jerry Cc: Gardner, Brian Subject: Complaint – Misuse of County property

Dear Mr. Vander Sanden,

On April 10th, I received an inquiry from John Q Public – see below email – re his discovery that Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC) is occupying office space in the County Engineer’s building.

Neither I nor my staff recalled that SFC was approved to occupy the space and a search of our records along with  questions to Mr. Gage concluded that no lease was ever signed and no approval given by the Board.

Recently, the Board denied giving me after-hours access to the Community Services building for the purpose of giving after-hours tours. I am astonished that an outside organization can occupy office space in a County building without the Board recording its approval in its official minutes let alone not signing a written lease.

SFC has been occupying the office space since March 2014.  They have given a check to Engineering, but no terms and conditions have been written down and approved, so no one knows if the check is for the correct amount. And no one knows how long SFC intends to occupy the space.

At the very least, this situation looks like a blatant case of cronyism, but it appears to be a use of public property for private purposes, which was not authorized by the appropriate government body … and a violation of our laws.

Please investigate this complaint. I have cc’d Sheriff Gardner in the event you ask him to gather any evidence or to make a recommendation.

Regards,

Joel D. Miller  – Linn County Auditor

CHAPTER FOUR – REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

From: Shoop, Becky Sent: Monday, April 13, 2015 10:45 AM To: Gage, Darrin Cc: Brown, Nichole; Hoy, Amanda; Miller, Joel

Subject: FW: I was at the new location for the Secondary Roads office last week, on County Home Road

Darrin – Do you have the signed lease?  I don’t see where it was ever approved by the Board. Thanks!

 

CHAPTER FIVE – THE EXCUSE 

From: Gage, Darrin Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 11:26 AM To: Shoop, Becky

Subject: RE: I was at the new location for the Secondary Roads office last week, on County Home Road

There does not appear to be a written lease – although they have paid – I think this was a casualty of Jeff Clark leaving.

 

CHAPTER SIX – WHO IS LIABLE? 

From: Shoop, Becky Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 3:55 PM To: Miller, Joel

Subject: I heard from Estenson

He has nothing.  The only thing he ever got from them was a hold harmless when they wanted the land to be surveyed back in 2011.

Rebecca Shoop. First Deputy Auditor

CHAPTER SEVEN – WHAT LAW?

From: Vander Sanden, Jerry Sent: ‎Tuesday‎, ‎April‎ ‎14‎, ‎2015 ‎4‎:‎07‎ ‎PM

To: Joel D. Miller Cc: Brian Gardner, Oleson, Brent, Steve Tucker

Mr. Miller:

Could you enlighten me as to what law you believe is being violated or where the cronyism comes into play for this non-profit organization?  That is, who in the county is deriving a direct financial benefit from this arrangement?

Jerry A. Vander Sanden – Linn County Attorney

 

CHAPTER EIGHT – ISN’T THAT YOUR JOB?

From: Miller, Joel Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 4:19 PM To: Vander Sanden, Jerry Cc: Gardner, Brian; Oleson, Brent; Tucker, Steve

Subject: Re: Complaint – Misuse of County property

Mr. Vander Sanden,

I’m told over and over again that I’m not an attorney. How about you do your job and determine which laws, if any, have been violated?

I’m certain if I did what’s been done, you’d find some law I broke. So pretend it’s me.

Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

CHAPTER NINE – YOU’RE DISMISSED!

From: Vander Sanden, Jerry Sent: ‎Tuesday‎, ‎April‎ ‎14‎, ‎2015 ‎4‎:‎36‎ ‎PM To: Joel D. Miller Cc: Brian Gardner, Oleson, Brent, Steve Tucker

Mr. Miller:

I am not going to argue with you.  You leveled allegations that “a violation of our laws” occurred or, at the very least, “a blatant case of cronyism” existed.  These are serious allegations; where is your proof?  By your past actions, you have demonstrated a propensity to abuse the judicial process by pursuing frivolous claims and allegations against others.  I’m simply asking whether you have something of substance to back up your claims.

Jerry A. Vander Sanden – Linn County Attorney

 

CHAPTER TEN – HOW ABOUT TRESPASSING? 

From: Miller, Joel Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 4:58 PM To: Vander Sanden, Jerry Cc: Gardner, Brian; Oleson, Brent; Tucker, Steve

Subject: Re: Complaint – Misuse of County property

How about starting with trespassing? No one with the proper authority gave permission for SFC to be in the building.

If you really want me to find the applicable laws, pleases waive your rights as my legal counsel. Otherwise, you have an inquiry from John Q Public which I have formalized into a complaint.

Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN – REQUEST FOR INVESTIGATION CONTINUED 

From: Miller, Joel Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 2:14 PM To: Gardner, Brian Cc: Vander Sanden, Jerry

Subject: RE: Complaint – Misuse of County property

Sheriff Gardner,

Now that I’ve had a chance to review various legal sources and since Mr. Vander Sanden asked me for a Code reference, I have found one in addition to Trespassing (Code of Iowa Chapter 716.7[2a2] et al).

Based upon my assumption that the Board of Supervisors is the only official who can approve of any person or entity occupying County owned or leased property; and whereas, the Board did not give Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC) approval to occupy County owned office space in the building known as the County Engineer’s building …

MY COMPLAINT IS that  someone “by the color of the person’s office and in excess of the authority conferred on the person” required the County Engineer and/or the County Facility Manager and/or other County employees to provide access to and allow for continued access of County owned office space by the organization known as Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC).

If someone used the color of their office to require someone else to do something which was not lawful, then the person using the color of their office could be in violation of Code of Iowa Chapter 721.2(4) et al, which is classified as a serious misdemeanor.

Sheriff Gardner, I am asking you to investigate this complaint as it appears to be criminal in nature and because you may retain some objectivity that doesn’t seem to be present with Mr. Vander Sanden or me, since I’m the one making the complaint.

Please provide me with your case number.

Regards,

Joel D Miller – Auditor

CHAPTER TWELVE – THE BOARD CAN DO ANYTHING IT WANTS TO DO 

From: Vander Sanden, Jerry Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 3:41 PM To: Miller, Joel; Gardner, Brian Cc: Board of Supervisors; Tucker, Steve

Subject: RE: Complaint – Misuse of County property

Mr. Miller:

The Board of Supervisors is vested with great discretion and vast legal authority to act as they deem appropriate to serve the best interests of their constituents. This grant of legal authority comes from Iowa Code section 331.301.   You may be letting your animus toward the Board cloud your judgment but it is not a proper or prudent use of county resources and taxpayer money to insist that a criminal investigation be conducted into a set of circumstances just because you don’t understand them. You have not cited any scintilla of evidence to suggest that a crime has occurred. In addition, you have not even backed up the fanciful assumptions you are making about these set of circumstances with any shred of evidence.   Do you really care to know about the actual circumstances of this arrangement? Do you have any support for your claim that Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC) had no permission to occupy the office space they are in? How do you know? Have you talked to the parties involved…the BOS, the County Engineer, County Facility Manager, or someone in a position of authority with Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC)?   Your zeal to charge someone with a crime without any supporting facts is nothing but an abuse of process that I will not be drawn into.  I would suspect the sheriff would have the same response since you have not described anything that even remotely resembles criminal activity.

Jerry A. Vander Sanden – Linn County Attorney

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN – NOT A SURPRISE

 

From: Gardner, Brian Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2015 3:56 PM To: Miller, Joel Cc: Board of Supervisors; Tucker, Steve; Vander Sanden, Jerry

Subject: RE: Complaint – Misuse of County property

Joel:

I would concur with the County Attorney’s response.

Brian D. Gardner – Sheriff

EPILOGUE 

Thanks for reading this post! Its chronology is similar to the chronology of other complaints and inquiries that I have received over my eight and one-half years as your County Auditor.

The reactions I have received over the years from the Board of Supervisors and County Attorney are typical of the ones you read above: no one knows anything, somebody blames the guy who was terminated, I quote the law, I’m reminded I’m not an attorney, I’m reminded I’ve never won a legal argument, I’m reminded that the Board can do anything they want to do, I endure another character assassination, and my efforts are totally dismissed.

All I wanted was a lease for the office space after being asked by John Q Public about a non-profit organization having an office in a County owned building. 

My staff and I interacted with several county officials and county employees. Not one of them took the initiative to say, “Hey Mr. Auditor, we screwed up. We’ll get a lease drawn up and on the Board’s agenda next week. Thanks for catching this! And Thank the citizen who brought it to your attention”.

That would be too easy, wouldn’t it? 

By Joel D. Miller 

CAST 

John Q. Public – I don’t have permission to release his name on this post

Supervisors Favorite Charity (SFC) – a local non-profit. The name is not the issue as this could have been any for-profit or non-profit with connections to the County.

Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Ms. Hoy – Executive Assistant to the Auditor

Becky Shoop – First Deputy Auditor

Estenson (Steve) – County Risk Manager – reports to the Board

Steve Tucker – County Finance Director & County Compliance Officer – reports to the Board

Brent Oleson, Ben Rogers, John Harris, Linda Langston, and Jim Houser – Linn County Supervisors comprising the Linn County Board of Supervisors – the “Board”

Jerry Vander Sanden – Linn County Attorney

Brian Gardner – Linn County Sheriff

Nicole Brown – Financial Analyst reporting to County Engineer, who reports to the Board

Darrin Gage – Director of Policy and Administration – reports to the Board

Jeff Clark – former assistant county attorney in the Civil Division, who reported to the County Attorney

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