Gazette Editorial Board
Joel Miller’s time in office since first being elected Linn County auditor in a special election in
February 2007 certainly can’t be described as dutiful wallflower. Instead, Miller, a Democrat, has challenged the status quo on a number of issues over the years.
While the county board of supervisors hasn’t always disagreed with his challenges, the tension between the board and Miller has escalated over the past year or so. His still-pending lawsuit against the supervisors argues that he has the power to audit and maintain a close watch on all county budgets and department spending.
And more recently, his decision to hire a friend through a temp agency to troubleshoot a county computer program prompted an ethics investigation by the county’s finance director, and then a follow-up review by the county attorney. Both reports alleged mismanagement and cronyism, and the county attorney asserted that the taxpayers had been “ripped off.” Supervisors expressed outrage. But no evidence of criminal wrongdoing was found.
We are somewhat troubled by the continuing saga between Miller and other county officials. It sometimes distracts from other, more important issues.
Yet we continue to find value in Miller’s independence and willingness to challenge some county processes and practices. Asking questions related to the public interest is a good thing for any elected official to do, as long as the motive is not vindictive or self-serving.
Republican opponent Garth Fagerbakke, a longtime county employee who has served as the construction services manager in the post-flood era, previously worked in the auditor’s office as facilities manager. He’s been sharply critical of Miller, listing several instances where he says Miller could have better spent or managed the facilities maintenance budget, as well as noting the county’s growing costs related to Miller’s lawsuit. He says the incumbent has “created and fostered bad relationships with all of the elected officials, department heads and managers.”
The latter is quite a sweeping condemnation. One which Miller disputes, while specifically contesting Fagerbakke’s management accusations.
Bottom line, much of this squabble is inside baseball — internal stuff that is difficult to prove at best. We also haven’t detected any public outcry that Miller isn’t running his office effectively or that services have been diminished or aren’t getting done.
Fagerbakke has a long background of dedicated service to the county. His focus for the auditor’s position is on being a competent manager who works seamlessly with the supervisors and others in the county. Well and good.
But is that all the auditor, a major elected official, should or could do? We don’t think so.
Miller is still our choice. We urge him to work on improving relationships with other county officials and managers, wherever possible and prudent. But that doesn’t mean he needs to wear a muzzle.
DISTRICT 3 SUPERVISOR
Ben Rogers, a Democrat, is wrapping up his first term as the youngest member on the board of supervisors. He has impressed us with his growing knowledge and leadership, especially because he came on board during the post-flood time of crisis, steepening the learning curve.
Now that most of the county’s rebuilding is finished, Rogers wants to focus meshing the county’s mental health and disabilities services with the state’s new reform legislation. He wants to expand intergovernmental cooperation with Cedar Rapids and other cities and keep working on quality of life projects.
Rogers has the right approach and deserves re-election regardless of the decision of his opponent, David Zahn, former Cedar Rapids public safety commissioner, to withdraw as an active candidate after his name was already on the ballot.