Empires are continuing to collide — the Linn County Board of Supervisors’ and Linn County Auditor Joel Miller’s.
The current flashpoint between supervisors and auditor is the ongoing dispute over who is going to manage the county’s 15 or so facilities.
Miller is auditor and also the county’s facilities manager, but it looks like the supervisors are going to snatch the oversight of facilities from him.
At the end of an extended and contentious back-and-forth at the supervisors’ Wednesday meeting, John Harris, the board’s chairman, told Miller that the supervisors needed to have a good working relationship with the director of the county’s facilities, and they don’t.
"You’re doing everything you can to make it antagonistic," Harris told Miller.
In response, Miller seemed to see the writing on the wall when he told the supervisors that they already had decided to take over the facilities operation and it was just a matter of time. He said it also was clear that the supervisors intended to create a job for Garth Fagerbakke, who is currently in a temporary assignment as the county’s construction manager at a time when most of the flood-recovery construction is coming to an end.
Fagerbakke reported to Auditor Miller from February 2007 to the fall of 2008, at which time Miller "loaned" Fagerbakke to the supervisors for flood-recovery work for what Miller said on Wednesday was for two years. After the third year, Miller eliminated Fagerbakke’s former post in the auditor’s office.
Fagerbakke tried to unseat Miller in last fall’s auditor’s race, but Miller defeated him by a 63-37 percent margin.
Among the heated topics in the facilities discussion on Wednesday was an internal memo that Miller had circulated to his facilities staff, asking them to watch spending as it was running ahead of schedule for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Someone who works for Miller sent the internal memo to other county employees, and it eventually ended up with the supervisors. The supervisors then asked Miller to come in and explain. In turn, Miller said everything was under control. And it went back and forth like that on Wednesday.
After Wednesday’s meeting, Supervisor Lu Barron said she and Harris have been conducting a survey of the county’s facilities and will have a report ready in the weeks ahead.
Miller’s auditor budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $2.38 million, and his facilities budget is an additional $2.1 million. He is slated to have 19.1 full-time equivalent employees in his auditor’s office and 31.25 in the facilities operation.
In 2007, the supervisors first made a play to take over the facilities operation after longtime Auditor Linda Langenberg left to take a job with the Iowa Secretary of State.Back then, a legal opinion from the Iowa Attorney General suggested that the responsibility for the county’s facilities was murky territory and, in the end, concluded that the supervisors and auditor try to get along.