CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County supervisors appear ready to consider shifting management of county buildings from County Auditor Joel Miller’s office to the recent unsuccessful challenger for his job.
“I think it is retribution against me and also against the employees who supported me,” Miller said Wednesday. “If they follow through on this, I think the attorney general ought to look into it.”
Miller said he expects the supervisors to consider a move next week to transfer facilities management from his office to a separate one managed by Garth Fagerbakke. Miller, a Democrat, won re-election with 62.5 percent of the vote over Republican Fagerbakke, the facilities manager from 1999 until 2008.
Supervisor Ben Rogers, D-Cedar Rapids, said supervisors have discussed changes informally.
“It looks like it’s something we’re going to talk about” officially, said Rogers, although maybe not as soon as Miller expects. He said supervisors have managed maintenance of county buildings other than the courthouse in the past.
“It’s very, very poor timing at the very least by the Board of Supervisors,” said Supervisor Brent Oleson, R-Marion. “It kind of smacks to me of overreaching. I think the time right now should be to try to work together and bury the hatchet.”
Fagerbakke said he’d take the job if it’s offered.
“I have managed the construction and rebuilding of our new county buildings,” he said, noting supervisors manage maintenance in larger Iowa counties.
“From a long-term stability standpoint it’s probably better,” he said. “If you looked at past history I think I’ve demonstrated I would manage the county facilities efficiently.”
Two county workers asked supervisors Wednesday not to make the change.
“We don’t see the economic (or) logical approach of doing that,” Joyce Sramek told supervisors during their meeting’s comment period. “You’re going to be spending money to create a management position that’s not needed.”
Sramek, of Cedar Rapids, is chief steward of the maintenance workers’ union local.
“If the board were to take over facilities as we used to have it, we would make a business case for it,” Rogers said.
Rogers said supervisors may debate changes as they write a budget for the next fiscal year, a process that’s just starting. But Miller said he’d want to know before writing his next budget whether to include maintenance costs.
The county’s building maintenance budget runs about $2.7 million a year and employs about 30, according to Miller.
Supervisor John Harris, R-Palo, said he doesn’t want supervisors to rush a decision. He said he’s researching how other counties manage their maintenance.
“I’d have to make sure it doesn’t cost the taxpayers a whole lot of extra money,” Harris said. “I’d have to make sure that if it were to happen it wouldn’t negatively affect the employees.”
“I’d be willing to look at things in a more orderly way, absolutely,” said Oleson. But “for all of our problems with Auditor Miller it hasn’t been in the facilities area. This just looks like trying to punish him.”
Fagerbakke was hired as facilities manager in 1999 by Miller’s predecessor Linda Langenberg. Supervisors named him construction manager after the June 2008 flood.
Miller said he’s managed building maintenance himself since Fagerbakke left.
“As near as I can tell everything’s been running pretty well,” Miller said.
Miller sued supervisors in February 2010 after they blocked his appointment of a deputy auditor whose duties would have included closer oversight, including audits, of accounts maintained by other county departments. Supervisors argued the annual audit conducted by an accounting firm is sufficient oversight of the county’s accounts.
Judge Paul Miller ruled last week the county auditor “does not have explicit authority or implicit authority to conduct audits of other county departments, absent a request by the board of supervisors.”