Archive for the ‘Power’ 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

$15K per acre and other tidbits from the CAFR

December 18, 2017

On 12/15/2017, Linn County’s Director of Finance published the County’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ending 6/30/2017 – see attachment. As expected, it’s all good news and our AAA bond rating is intact.

I am not an accountant so when I look at this report, I look at it as your Auditor and as a taxpayer. Here are some tidbits I found:

1> Page 3 – The terms of eight of our ten county officers will expire at the end of 2018. Starting on 1/2/2019, we will only have three county supervisors.

2> Page 4 – Three of the departments in the County are governed by autonomous, independent commissions or boards (appointed by the Supervisors).

3> Page 5 – Our outside auditor only audited what we, the County, gave them to audit and their report is based on what we gave them to audit.

4> Page 19 – The Board of Supervisors purchased 485 acres of property aka the Dows property for $7.2M or $14,845 per acre. In my opinion, they entered into the business of speculating on land and paid too much for this land.

5> Page 20 – In FY2017, the County’s bond debt increased from $18.435M to $24.470M.

6> Page 20 – In FY18, the County’s revenue from property taxes will increase by $3.495M or 5.5% based upon the County’s current levy rate of $6.14 per thousand dollars of taxable value. The Board of Supervisors discussed lowering the levy rate last year, but declined to lower it. Looks like they will have an opportunity to lower the levy in an election year so I am betting they will lower it in 2018. The Board was able to maintain the $6.14 rate for several years due to three factors: an increase in property valuation (Thank You taxpayers for continuing to add value to your properties), a decrease in the rollback percentage that increases the portion of your property that is taxed (set by the State of Iowa), and increased assessments on your property (due to an increase in the market value of your properties determined by the County and Cedar Rapids assessors).

7> Page 114 – On 6/30/2008, the County’s general obligation (GO) bond debt was $1.2M; on 6/30/2009, GO debt was zero ($0.00); and on 6/30/2017, GO debt was $23.980M. Every man, woman, and child residing in the County is now responsible for $105.05 of the County’s outstanding GO bond debt.

8> Page 118 – Per person personal income is reported to be $45,483; however, the US Census Bureau indicates the County’s median household income, which includes all adults and any child 15 years of age or older, is $60,989 with 10% of our population living in poverty.

9> Page 125 – On 6/30/2008, the County employed the equivalent of 825 full-time employees (FTE). As of 6/30/2017, the County employed 739 FTEs. Over those last ten fiscal years, Linn County Community Services lost the most employees, i.e., 89 employees. The Child Support Recovery Unit was eliminated along with its 22 employees. The Sheriff added 16 employees, Public Health added 9 employees, and Conservation added 4 employees. The Auditor’s Office reduced its FTEs from 18 to 17.

The CAFR is 136 pages long. In addition to the CAFR, the 2017 Popular Annual Financial Report (PAFR) was inserted into today’s (12/18/2017) Gazette. Certainly, there are other tidbits that may peak your interest, but the preceding are some of the tidbits I found. Enjoy! – Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor

Comprehensive Annual Financial Report FY17.pdf

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

$103K per year for 3 hours per week

June 16, 2017

OK, that headline is not fair. But the purpose of a headline is to get you to read the story. And the story here is about whether the Linn County Board of Supervisors (BOS) needs to meet three times per week.

From time to time over my past ten years as Auditor, I have asked the BOS to consider scheduling less public meetings. I usually bring it up when they complain about the cost of publishing their meeting minutes in the County’s four official newspapers. Why does the BOS need to meet three times per week? Maybe they could get their public work done in two meetings per week? And in some weeks, they could get their work done in one meeting per week. In fact, in one week earlier this year, they had one meeting via telephone that lasted five (5) minutes.

If you review the attachment, you will see that the BOS met publicly an average of just over three hours per week over the first 24 weeks of 2017. That tells me that they could get their work done in one meeting per week the majority of the time. Now, I am not advocating for less meetings because I want the BOS to work less, but preparing, holding, and reporting on three meetings per week takes up more staff time per week than meeting once per week. And it would likely reduce the length of the meeting minutes published in the newspapers.

As for the individual BOS members attendance records, they range from a low of 76% attendance to a high of 89% attendance for the first 24 weeks of 2017. Seems like their attendance could be higher if the members cooperated with each other and scheduled their official meetings around vacations and other county business. The BOS’s three meetings per week ritual seems to be carved in stone … except when it’s not. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

BOS Attendance week ending 6-16-2017.xlsx

New Deputy Treasurer hired

May 26, 2017

Over the last year, Linn County’s elected officials have appointed replacement deputy elected officials in the Auditor’s Office, the Recorder’s Office, and now the Treasurer’s Office. The “new guard” is getting ready to takeover. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

From: Gonzalez, Sharon
Sent: Friday, May 26, 2017 10:36 AM
To: !!Everyone – Countywide
Subject: Deputy Treasurer position

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I have filled my vacant deputy position from within the department. The position has been offered and accepted by Rebecca McDonald. Rebecca will start her new position as Deputy Treasurer, Office Manager on June 7th.

Thank you,

Sharon Gonzalez – Linn County Treasurer / 319-892-5515 / /

NEWS RELEASE: Linn County Temporary Redistricting Commission Appointed

May 17, 2017

Linn County Temporary Redistricting Commission Appointed

LINN COUNTY, IA – May 17, 2017 – A five-member temporary redistricting commission was appointed this week by the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Iowa code instructs the Board of Supervisors to establish the Commission by May 15, 2017 following the November 2016 election where Linn County voters voted to reduce the membership of the Linn County Board of Supervisors from five to three.

According to Iowa code, the members of the Board of Supervisors in the majority party appoint the majority number of commission members, while the Board minority party member(s) appoints the minority number of commission members.

The temporary redistricting commission members are:

Ray Dochterman

Cindy Golding

Sarah Halbrook

Dave Mahachek

Nate Willems

Linn County is currently represented by Board of Supervisor districts under “Plan 3”. According to Iowa code, new supervisor districts must be designated by December 15, 2017, unless a valid petition is filed by June 1, 2017 requesting a special election on the representation plan.

All three supervisor seats will be on the ballot during the general election in November 2018. The three member Board of Supervisors will take office January 2, 2019.

For more information, contact:  Barbara Schmitz – Executive Assistant to the Board of Supervisors – 319-892-5101 –


County going from 5 to 3 supervisor districts in 2019

May 13, 2017

Looks like the Linn County Board of Supervisors is going to begin the task of dividing the County into three equally populated districts – see item in bold red below. I thought we would have a special election to pick a supervisor representation plan in August, but the June 1st deadline for the petitioners to submit a petition is fast approaching and I have not seen any signature gathering occurring.

Why appoint a Temporary County Redistricting Commission now? The June 2018 primary election is a "short" thirteen months away and the incumbent supervisors (and others including yours truly) are going to want to know who is included in the district they will potentially be representing. Which supervisors will become immediate competitors and which will enjoy no obvious competition will be decided by a few lines on a map?

I anticipate lots of competition and a vigorous public debate in the three 2018 supervisor races. After all, our county supervisors are paid over $100K per year with great benefits and a pension for a position that seems to be treated as a part-time job by one or more supervisors. And since no candidate will have the advantage of a straight party ballot, we might even see a few independents nominated by petition on the ballot. Heck, maybe an independent will get elected?

Hopefully, the public debate will focus on county policy, county operations, and county services and NOT on assassinating each other’s character. As we have seen on the national stage, character assassination is the norm when the facts are scarce.

Have you thought about running for county supervisor? Or public office? It is not too late to consider a run for school board or city office yet this year. And it is not too early to consider running for office in 2018 as I have already talked to candidates campaigning for the 2018 election.

About fifty thousand (50,000) adults in Linn County did not vote in the November 2016 general election. That fact reinforces my conclusion that the problem with our democracy is not that too many people are involved; on the contrary, not enough people are involved. -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

5-15 Board of Supervisors Agenda.pdf

Board attendance records and meetings

April 14, 2017

About once a quarter, one or more members of the public request the Supervisors’ attendance records for their public Board meetings. As the Clerk to the Board of Supervisors, it is easy for my team to provide the records because we attend every Board meeting, publish the meeting minutes for every meeting, and video record every meeting. No one seems to get too excited about Board attendance and I am not trying to stir anything up with this post.

I am trying to be transparent and educate the public on the number of meetings and time spent at the Board meetings. And I wonder: Does the Board really need to meet three times per week? Would meeting attendance by the public increase if the informal session or formal session was held at 4pm or later in the day? Would the attendance of the Supervisors improve if they held less standing meetings? Could one of the Board’s direct reports takeover the Department Head meetings and provide regular updates to the Board?

A reduction in the number of Board meetings would likely lead to a reduction in the personnel costs associated with supporting those meetings, would likely result in a reduction in the cost of publishing the Board’s meeting minutes in the four local, official newspapers, would likely increase the percentage of meetings attended by the Board, and may even increase the public’s attendance at the meetings. The Board has been having three a week meetings for maybe decades. Is there a better way to govern? -Joel D Miller – Linn County Auditor – Educator

BOS Attendance.xlsx

Linn County land purchases in 2015 and 2016

April 12, 2017

In my March 31st post, I indicated I would post Linn County’s (LC) land purchases for 2015 and 2016. Ten parcels consisting of 149.23 assessed acres can be viewed in the PDFs below.

The parcels shown in the maps along 80th Street NW and Holiday Lane are adjacent to LC’s Morgan Creek County Park.  Included in the purchases is a former quarry adjacent to Holiday Lane.

Have a question about LC owned land?  Leave a comment.  -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor









Paved roads, sealed roads, gravel roads

April 3, 2017

Tomorrow, April 4th, the Linn County Board of Supervisors will conduct their annual tour of roads in the unincorporated areas of the County. Ride along with the Board and employees of the County Engineer’s Office. For reservations, call the number below. –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

From: Hayden, Beverly
Sent: Monday, April 03, 2017 8:36 AM
Subject: Linn County Board of Supervisors Agenda 4-4



9:00 A.M.



PUBLIC COMMENT: 5 Minute Limit per Speaker

This comment period is for the public to address topics on today’s agenda.

The Board will depart from the Jean Oxley Public Service Center for the annual Linn County roads tour.




For questions about meeting accessibility or to request accommodations to attend or to participate in a meeting due to a disability, please contact the Board of Supervisors office at 319-892-5000 or at bd_supervisors.

4-4 Board of Supervisors Agenda.pdf

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