(Today's print column)
Linn County supervisors’ paychecks are back in the news. It’s got me feeling nostalgic.
I had just arrived in 2007 when the county board was expanded from three members to five, effective after the 2008 election. Backers of the move hoped to improve representation for county residents.
Some folks also figured that five supervisors should receive a lower salary than three. But in 2008, the county compensation board recommended a 6 percent pay raise. That angered a lot of taxpayers.
Thanks to Iowa’s archaic laws governing compensation boards, supervisors couldn’t slice their pay without slicing pay for every elected official. Our unaccountable compensation board system in Iowa should have been scrapped years ago. But I digress.
So, the three supervisors at the time, Lu Barron, Jim Houser and Linda Langston, came up with the novel idea of cutting their pay status to “part-time,” or 80 percent of other officials. That still added up to more than $70,000. And tamed public anger.
After the 2008 election, figuring the coast was clear, supervisors tried to go back to 100 percent. The coast was not clear, all heck broke loose, and the issue was swiftly dropped.
Four years later, supervisors are poised to try again. They’ve smartly put board chair John Harris out front. He’s a Republican who wasn’t around for the 2008-09 drama.
As of now, the supervisors’ “part-time” pay is $74,362 annually. Going to “full-time” would earn them $92,953. That’s a 25 percent raise.
“It’s not a part-time job,” Harris says, arguing that supervisors should be paid as much as other officials. Langston says the job has become more complicated over the years.
I think a lot of workers could say that about their jobs. But for many of them, more complicated hasn't meant more lucrative.
Harris is right. And $74,362 is not part-time pay. The median household income in Linn County is $55,666, according to the census bureau.
The part-time vs. full-time argument is a red herring. This is a full-time board making full-time pay. The only real question here is should the supervisors get a 25 percent raise?
Harris said the board will take up the issue March 13. Between now and then, the supervisors should prepare a compelling, detailed case on why this is needed. Even if the votes are there, as we’re told, the public deserves an explanation.And if approved, I think the new salary level should take effect in 2015, giving voters a chance to weigh in on the move in 2014. Three board seats are on the ballot.