The Linn County Board of Supervisors on Monday said they would approve a significant nine-county cooperation agreement that is part of the state’s new redesign of how it delivers mental health and disability services.
Is that why two news reporters attended the meeting? Supervisor Brent Oleson asked afterward.
The mental health issue was lost in the next installment in the ongoing dispute between the supervisors and Linn County Auditor Joel Miller.
The dispute now touches, in part, on Miller’s insistence that supervisor Ben Rogers reimburse the county $10 for alcoholic beverages he may or may not have drunk at the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s opening gala on Friday evening, Aug. 23.
Rogers billed Linn County for the $100 ticket to the event, which is permitted under county policy, using his county credit card.
After the event, Miller noticed that the bill receipt stated that the event included food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and so he flagged Rogers’ bill and questioned it at a recent supervisor meeting.
One Linn County policy, Miller said, does not permit payment for alcoholic beverages and a second does not allow a county employee to use a county credit card for alcoholic beverages.
In the end, Rogers checked with the library event coordinator, found that the event expected the cost to be $10 per attendee for beverages, and reimbursed the county $10 of the $100 cost of the ticket.
“I’m enforcing their policy, and they don’t like it,” Miller said after the supervisor’s Monday meeting where he sat in the last row of chairs in the board’s meeting room. “And because they don’t like it, let’s change the policy.”
Rogers on Monday said he bought a ticket for the event as allowed under county policy to support the library, not to pay for food or drink. In the end, to satisfy Miller, he agreed to reimburse the county $10.
“I didn’t want to make it an issue,” Rogers said. “I’ve got bigger fish to fry.” He pointed to the state redesign of mental health and disability services for which he is the county’s representative on the nine-county MHDS East Central Region board.
A second point of dispute that surfaced Monday centers on Miller’s decision to bill the county $2,500 to retain an outside accounting firm to examine the county’s spending on a specific county contract. Miller ended up not spending the $2,500, the supervisors told him to void the check, and he said he wouldn’t.
The supervisors also continue to object to Miller’s decision months ago to provide one of his deputies with a bonus without first asking the supervisors about it.
The upshot of all this is that the supervisors said on Monday they will ask Steve Tucker, the county’s finance director, to conduct an audit of transactions in the auditor’s office to see if the county needs to set new policies there in the processing of claims and in the establishment of internal controls.
“We got to be vigilant when requests come in for payment …,” John Harris, the board chairman, said after Monday’s meeting. “I think Joel does that to a certain extent.”
Harris said the review is not a personality dispute between the supervisors and Miller.
“I want to keep personalities out of this,” he said. “To me, it’s a question, does board policy conflict with the auditor’s processes? It appears to me that sometimes they do. … I’m not saying Joel has done terribly wrong things. If it wasn’t’ Joel in the office, I would be doing the same thing.”
Monday’s back-and-forth also comes after Miller filed complaint against the supervisors this month with the Iowa Public Information Board. Miller accused the board of making a decision related to a resident’s property before they held an open public meeting on the matter.
Miller also is appealing a Linn County District Court decision in a fight with the supervisors over the authority he and other elected county auditors have.
The Linn supervisors see Miller’s role as limited while Miller believes he should be able to serve as something of an in-house watchdog of county government. Miller has said he’s an elected official just like the supervisors and so has some measure of autonomy.
Miller’s court appeal has been assigned to the Iowa Court of Appeals.
Earlier this year, the supervisors reorganized the county’s facilities maintenance operation and its Geographic Information System or GIS, stripping Miller of more than half of the 50 employees previously under his supervision.
Miller is helping two other Linn County residents with a petition drive to change the county’s form of government. He favors turning the full-time supervisor jobs into part-time ones.