Archive for the ‘Integrity’ Category

Top secret: How many of our deceased were cremated?

January 30, 2018

How many cremation permits were signed by the Linn County Medical Examiner (ME) from 1/1/2017 – 12/31/2017? According to not one, but two assistant county attorneys, I have no legal remedy to find out.

Forget about Iowa’s Open Records laws (Code of Iowa Chapter 22) – medical examiner records are confidential public records. And forget about my power to audit – Code of Iowa section 331.502(41) – the fees the medical examiner receives for signing cremation permits have never been deposited into a county fund or account so there is no county fund or account to audit. This reminds of that greasy pig contest my 4-H club held in the 70s.

Earlier this month, I blogged about How much do cremation permits cost 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. It seemed like a simple question. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors had little interest in knowing the answer.

I did not let it go.

Last week, I sent an open records request to our medical examiner – see attached. Today, I received a reply from an assistant county attorney – see attached. And now that I have reviewed a cremation permit form, I realize I don’t need and I don’t want all of the data on the form. But the ME could redact everything on the form except for the name of the decedent and a date, and I could count the number of signed permits to determine the fees he earned. Or at the very least, the ME could give me a notarized statement as to the number of cremation permits he signed in 2017.

Or the Board of Supervisors could order the ME to disclose the number of cremation permits he signed … or threaten to cancel his contract if he didn’t disclose the numbers. What are the odds of that happening?

So are the taxpayers of Linn County paying their ME $30K, $70K, or $100K per year for him to sign cremation permits? How many Linn County residents are being cremated per year? The answers to those questions are top secret until someone in a position of power asks them … and discloses the facts. And that’s not me. Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Response from assistant county attorney on 1-26-2018 re Public records request for copies of signed cremation permits.pdf

Public records request to Dr Linder – ME dated 1-23-2018.pdf

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

Linn County’s newly created Code of Ethics

December 13, 2017

To my knowledge, Linn County has never had a written Code of Ethics since its founding. So I was pleased today when the Board of Supervisors approved it on a 5-0 vote.

Now comes the walking-the-talk phase. Will the Supervisors honor the policy they approved? Or did they just go through the motions so that when the outside CPAs doing their annual audit ask: “Hey, do you have an ethics policy?” The Board can answer, “Why yes, we do”. Form over function? Or words to live by? Time will tell. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

20171211111250741.pdf

Where did you sleep last night?

October 25, 2017

That is the question I sometimes ask when eligible residents are wanting to know what address to use when registering to vote. For most people, the answer is simple: your home address. That answer does not work for people who sleep in cars or under a bridge.

Fortunately, our voter registration form accommodates those voters by allowing registrants to “describe where you reside”; however, if you describe a place that the Post Office does not deliver mail to, then you will not receive your voter registration card and you will not be fully (100%) registered to vote.

If the place you live/sleep does not have an address the Post Office delivers to, then you need to provide us with a mailing address when you register to vote. That may mean you rent a post office box or talk someone into receiving your mail. The only way to receive your voter registration card is via the Post Office because the law prohibits us from handing you your card over the counter. Why? Because we use the Post Office to confirm you gave us a valid address.

Although you will never find the “where did you sleep last night” question in any election administrator’s handbook or the Code of Iowa, I have found that question helps eligible residents quickly decide where they should register to vote. When a registrant signs the voter registration form, they are affirming under the penalty of perjury that they “live at the address” they indicated on the voter registration form.

This year, I have received three inquiries about elected officials and where they are “living”. One inquiry was in the news and the other two were not. One inquiry concerned a member of the Cedar Rapids City Council and another concerned a member of the Iowa Senate.

I contacted the Senator after confirming the Senator’s voter registration address had changed to an address outside of the Senator’s district. The Senator had sold one home and had been living temporarily in an apartment outside the Senate district while a new home was being built. The Senator had already moved back into his/her Senate district at the time of my inquiry. Case closed.

Why did I follow-up on those two inquiries? The Code of Iowa (Chapter 69.5) states that county auditors have a duty to inform the Governor of vacancies in the Legislature, and vacancies occur when elected legislators no longer reside in their districts (Chapter 69.2).

I have no such duty to follow-up on inquiries about members of city councils. The city council is responsible for determining if a council position is vacant and twenty-five (25) registered voters of the city can petition the council and force them to determine if a vacancy exists.

I did not contact the Cedar Rapids city councilor. The councilor contacted me.

The councilor wanted me to know that s/he had always been a resident of CR even though his/her spouse owned a home outside of CR. I think the councilor even indicated s/he slept at the CR home every night. I told the councilor that the Council is responsible for determining if a vacancy has occurred on the Council, and since the Council has not notified me of a vacancy, one does not exist. Case closed.

Several years ago, I recall a former legislator boasting that he went to the residence of a legislative candidate and looked in the window of the home to see if the candidate was living in the residence. He reported he did not think the candidate was living there.

About four years ago, several people hired a private investigator to keep tabs on the living/sleeping habits of Marion’s mayor. The Marion City Council reviewed the evidence and concluded the mayor was a resident of Marion.

Every person registering to vote signs a voter registration form and attests to the accuracy of the information on the form under the penalty of perjury. Every person elected to a public office in Iowa takes an oath of office and swears to uphold the laws of Iowa and the United States (Chapter 63).

Our democracy is based upon geographic boundaries and we divide our geography into various political subdivisions. Where an elected official lives (and sleeps) matters. And the onus of whether a vacancy exists or does not exists resides with the elected official.

We can only hope that we are living among elected officials who have the integrity to resign from the office they hold if they are not “living” and sleeping (my criteria) within the political subdivision they were elected to represent. Don’t ask me to peek into a window. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Vote buying, campaigning, or official business?

September 15, 2017

At least one locally elected official has a hard time differentiating when he is performing his official duties versus campaigning. He cannot seem to keep his roles or his wardrobe straight.

I have seen a similar occurrence on Facebook, e.g., is that comment that a county supervisor just made a campaign comment or an official comment? If the comment was posted between 8am and 5pm, and they are Linn County elected officials, i.e., full-time elected officials, then the only comments they should be making are official comments.

So imagine my surprise when I received my Linn Newsletter this week and saw Supervisor Chairperson Brent Oleson on the front page presenting an oversized $20,000.oo Linn County check to the Good Ole Boys. And then realized he was wearing his Re-Elect Oleson Supervisor t-shirt. Come on Brent! Do you have any ethics?

And even if wearing campaign clothes is legal while giving away 20,000 tax dollars, why do you have to mix campaigning with official business? Don’t you remember me confronting you about wearing your campaign clothes to official Board of Supervisors meetings? Why did you think it was OK to present an oversized Linn County check wearing your campaign t-shirt?

Brent, there is something wrong with your What’s Right versus What’s Wrong meter. And you need to fix it! This photo of you presenting $20,000.oo makes it appear that you are buying votes. And that makes every elected official in Iowa look bad. -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor
20170915111348225.pdf

Code of ethics checkoff

June 23, 2017

Recently, the Finance & Budget Department proposed a Code of Ethics for Linn County’s employees. Seems like a county founded in 1839 should have already had an Code of Ethics, then again, maybe it was not needed until now because all of our moral compasses were in alignment?

In any case, the attachment contains a proposed Code of Ethics. It’s not a very strong policy, e.g., it contains only one potential penalty and that is for theft. And it lacks definitions, e.g., what is “conscientious” performance of duty; what are private interests, private gains, preferential treatment, and special privileges? And how would the Code apply to a County Supervisor’s request for a couple loads of gravel from the Secondary Roads department for a local non-profit?

Please email your company’s code of ethics to mailto:Joel.Miller@linncounty.org I think you probably have some language in your code of ethics that we could borrow to improve the County’s proposed code of ethics, i.e., unless we are just going through the motions to checkoff that box. – Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor
20170623145302401.pdf

Committee and liaison assignments by County Supervisor

June 8, 2017

According to TaxExemptWorld (4/23/2017), Linn County is home to 1,776 non-profits. The Linn County Board of Supervisors has an active role in over thirty non-profits and/or governmental organizations (see below list and attachment).

Should Supervisors be on the boards of directors (BoD) of local non-profits? Should the County be donating tax dollars to those non-profits? Does having a Supervisor on a non-profit’s BoD give that non-profit an advantage over any other non-profit?

If I was a Supervisor, I would try to avoid being on the BoD of any non-profit. That does not mean that I would not belong to any non-profit, e.g., Rotary, but I would not be on the BoD of my Rotary Club. Agree or disagree? –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

CR/Linn County Solid Waste Agency (3 yr term)
CR Metro Ec. All. Large Investor Council
Corrections – 6th Judicial (3 yr term)
Corridor Metropolitan Planning Org. (BOS term)
Early Childhood Iowa Board
ECICOG (3 yr term)
MEDCO (District IV Supervisor)
Public Art Commission
Public Health Board
Transportation Policy Committee
Area Ambulance (2 yr term)
E-911 Service Board (b)
Housing Fund for Linn County
Workforce Development CEO Board
ASAC (rotate annually)
Continuum of Care
Decategorization
Emergency Management Agency (EMA)
Heritage Agency on Aging
Legislative – State
Local Homeless Coordinating Board
MH/DS of the East Central Region Governing Brd.
Academy for Scholastic & Personal Success
The Arc of East Central Iowa
Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation
Hawkeye Downs
Highway 30 Coalition
Linn County Fair Board
Linn County Gaming Commission
New Bo City Market Board
Prospect Meadows
Safe, Equitable, Thriving Comm. Commission
Selective Service Board
Trees Forever Board of Advisors

The attachment is an Excel file with an individual page/tab of committee and liaison assignments for each individual supervisor.

After you open the attached Excel file, you will see seven separate tabs at the bottom of the page. The first five tabs are the committee and liaison assignments for each individual supervisor; the sixth tab is all five board member committee and liaison assignment lists merged into one document; and the seventh tab is the Excel spreadsheet of committee and liaison assignments created at the beginning of the year.

2017 Board and Liaison Assignments by Supervisor.xlsx

Put clients’ interests first

April 21, 2017

I clipped the except below from the Corridor Business Journal’s Morning Rush (4/20/2017).  For many years, I have used a Fee Only financial advisor to manage my personal investments and that advisor has always been required to put my interests ahead of his interests.

So I believe Attorney General Tom Miller is on the right tract to pursue getting this rule implemented and I support him in his effort.  -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Iowa attorney general signs letter to lift ‘fiduciary rule’ delay

Iowa’s attorney general wants to speed up the process of implementing a rule that would require financial advisers to put clients’ best interests ahead of their own. Tom Miller is leading a group of eight Democrat attorneys general in urging the U.S. Department of Labor to lift its delay in implementing a rule that was set to take effect April 10, reports the Des Moines Business Record. The Obama-era “fiduciary rule” was delayed for 60 days to June 9 after President Donald Trump ordered the agency to review the rule to determine whether it would adversely affect Americans’ ability to gain access to retirement information and financial advice. In the letter to Acting Secretary of Labor Edward Hugley, the attorneys general said, “to the contrary, postponement of its application is costing investors tens of millions of dollars each day as advisors continue to give conflicted advice and the rule should be implemented without further delay.”

Complaint on Oleson for practicing without a license

June 2, 2016

Today, The Gazette mentioned that I filed a complaint against Supervisor Brent Oleson for practicing law without a license. The link below contains my complaint and an acknowledgement of the complaint by the Attorney Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Iowa.

I admit that I do not have much faith in the Disciplinary Board to slap Oleson’s hands since the profession polices itself. I took an oath of office to uphold the laws of Iowa so when I see something that is a potential violation of the law, I have a duty to report it to the proper authority. In this situation, the Disciplinary Board is the proper authority.

I recall Oleson telling me during office hours that he was doing “some legal work” after October of 2006 so I am guessing some local attorneys are aware of other potential violations besides my complaint. But will they file a complaint? Or have they filed a complaint? Or self-reported? That’s contingent upon the facts and their ethics. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Complaint and receipt of complaint filed on Oleson on 5-16-2016 .pdf

Inappropriate transfers of campaign funds?

May 21, 2016

Former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston could not help herself.  She had to take one last shot at me with other people’s money when she closed her campaign account.  On 5/2/2016, she wrote check #1099 for $750 to Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 125.  Her check to Local 125 appears to be an inappropriate transfer of campaign funds.

On 5/11/2016, my opponent received check #1636 for $750 from the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 125.  Due to the timing and amount of the contribution, it appears Langston may have used Local 125 as a conduit to funnel funds to my opponent.  “Strawman” transactions are inappropriate in political campaigns.

Were these transfers illegal?  I will let the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Financial Board decide.  Paid for by Miller for Auditor

Sourc


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