Floyd County Board of Supervisors asked to increase member number
By Bob Steenson, firstname.lastname@example.org
If, as the old saying goes, two heads are better than one, then are five heads better than three?
That’s the question the Floyd County Farm Bureau, the Coalition for Better County Government and some others would like Floyd County voters to answer.
About 15 people including people representing those two groups were at a special evening meeting of the Board of Supervisors Monday to ask that the supervisors place the issue on the November ballot whether to change from a three-person board to a five-person board.
John Pearson, Floyd County Farm Bureau president, said he was asked by the Coalition for Better County Government to attend a meeting and get behind the effort.
Pearson said he took the issue back to his county Farm Bureau board, and that group decided that it favored putting the question to a vote.
“We need to make sure a change would support or improve rural representation, and at this point in time we feel that placing it on the ballot and if it was passed it would improve and support rural representation,” he said.
Gordon Boge, representing the Coalition for Better County Government, said the initial intent had been to place the issue on the ballot through a petition.
Iowa Code allows county residents to petition to change the number of supervisors by collecting signatures representing at least 10% of the people who voted in the last general election for governor or president.
In 2018, 6,332 ballots were cast in the general election, meaning at least 634 valid signatures would be needed on a petition to force the issue onto the ballot.
“With the coronavirus … we decided that was impossible,” Boge said. “But you, as supervisors, can put this on the ballot and let the voters decide.”
None of the three current supervisors spoke in support of the idea, with each of them saying it is very difficult to get people involved from the rural parts of the county, especially the western part of the county.
Supervisor Doug Kamm said there are currently openings on the county zoning board and the board of adjustment because the Legislature changed the law to require rural representation, and they have been trying for weeks to fill those positions but they can’t find people interested.
Supervisor Linda Tjaden asked what issues the people didn’t feel they were being represented on.
“Our meetings are open and nobody comes,” she said. “Even through the budget process. … We’re like, come, participate, because even sitting in and understanding the budget process helps a lot.
“We would welcome people to come and tell us they want to participate on a board or commission,” she added.
Roy Schwickerath, the current chairperson of the board, said that simply switching from three members to five might not change representation of rural areas unless the county also switches to district elections where people have to be from a certain part of the county to run for that seat.
He said he knew of some political boards that had gone from district representation to at-large seats because they couldn’t find anybody to run for all the districts, and even if the county is divided into districts there will still be cities in each of those districts that probably make up a greater population than the rural residents.
Also, he said, sometimes in a board where members are selected by district the members think more of their own districts than the county as a whole.
Schwickerath said it comes down to getting people to run, regardless of the size of the board. One of the current members (Tjaden) is up for election this year, and no one filed to run against her, he said.
“It really is hard to say people feel like they’re not represented when they don’t run for the office or find someone to run for the office,” he said. “Find somebody who can run that you’ll back and support.”
Schwickerath said he wondered what board decisions in the last 10 years would have been different with five members instead of three, and Tjaden asked the people at the meeting which decisions they disagreed with.
That prompted a long discussion about county taxes, the cost of the current law enforcement center and courthouse update project, county salaries, county road and bridge projects and even property valuations, which legally the board has no control over.
One person pointed out that the supervisors had voted to increase the size of the Floyd County Medical Center Board of Trustees from five members to seven when the organization of the Medical Center changed to allow that board to assess property taxes.
Schwickerath said part of the reason for that is there were two people who wanted to be on the board that the supervisors thought would have a lot to contribute.
Also, he said, the hospital board members are not paid, so there was no additional cost.
Even if you say you’re going to take the three supervisors’ current salaries and divide that by five for a larger board, experience has shown the cost of a five-person board is higher than for a three-person board, he said.
When asked to state how they felt about the request to place the question on the ballot, Schwickerath said as board chairman he wasn’t going to place the topic on a meeting agenda unless one of the other supervisors asked for it. He said he wasn’t convinced that it would improve the way the board governed and he thought it would increase costs.
Neither Kamm nor Tjaden said they favored the measure.
As they were leaving, one of the people at the meeting said, in effect, that they’d be back in two years with a petition after the coronavirus pandemic was over and they could more easily collect signatures.