It’s perhaps the greatest open — and long-running — question about local government in the Carroll area.
Are members of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors paid too much? Do they earn that $26,000 in annual pay, plus health insurance and a robust retirement plan.
Supervisor Dan Nieland Monday was remarkably open in his acknowledgement of the perceptions much of the public has about the five-member panel, their roles, hours worked and their general release of sweat for the people.
After news broke last week of the Carroll County Compensation Board’s recommendation of a $750 increase in salary for supervisors, Nieland said, he was quickly hit with reaction from the public.
“I don’t think you guys are worth that,” one constituent told Nieland.
According to Nieland, others have added, in some form, “I feel that the supervisors are the most overpaid people in the county.”
Some members of the board spent a good deal of time Monday justifying themselves, what they do and what they earn, before they increased their own salaries.
I don’t have enough information to defend the supervisors or join in the chorus of detractors on this.
To be fair, I have an instinct, which is what all of us have, really, if we’re honest. We aren’t fully informed when it comes to this question about the supervisors’ worth.
“I think there’s a big misconception by the public about what we do,” said Supervisor Gene Meiners.
But there is a remedy.
And the supervisors owe it to us to act on it.
Each Carroll County supervisor should begin keeping daily work logs, diaries accounting for all the time and expenses they incur doing county business — and then post these logs weekly or monthly or even quarterly on the county’s website and in reports to the public.
They would list the Monday meetings, of course, and then post the time they spend in committee meetings.
What’s more, they would log the time they spend in conversations with constituents or doing research for them, or engaging in advocacy with state and federal entities on behalf of Carroll Countians. Even time spent reading materials from the Iowa Association of Counties or reports on agriculture and commercial activity or anything related to the health and well-being of the county would be logged.
The supervisors could do this each night before going to bed, an accounting of time that could take on something of a diary form.
Of course, the board would be very much on the honor system with much of this, as reports on constituent contacts should not list the names of the people. We wouldn’t want, for example, Meiners, who serves on the Carroll Area Development Corp., releasing information on businesses being recruited to the area.
As it stands, we in the public have something of an outline of what our supervisors do, in bits here and pieces there. But nothing comprehensive.
This should change.
“It’s certainly a reasonable suggestion,” said County Auditor Joan Schettler.
Right now, the board does give weekly updates on committee meetings. Nieland, for instance, serves on the Board of Health, Conservation Board and one that deals with the Cherokee Detention Center, among others.
But he does more than that.
In recent years, Nieland said Monday, he’s spent time with constituents dealing with a variety of issues related to the wind-energy turbines that fence the city of Carroll.
Supervisor chairman Marty Danzer said he uses a personal copy machine for paperwork at home and doesn’t get compensated for it. He brought this up Monday. Danzer can tell us more about these sorts of nagging expenses in his regular logs.
At a Carroll Rotary Club forum I moderated before the November elections Supervisor Neil Bock made it clear he wants to see more private business practices used in county government.
Accountability is a great place for Bock to start.
The supervisors’ time is literally our time. We own it. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “We paid for those seats.”
No doubt many citizens of the county use a punch-in, punch-out factory floor mentality to assess what the supervisors do. They often only give the board credit for what they see at the courthouse.
“They look in this room, all they see is the lights off,” Nieland said.
So tell us more clearly and completely what you do, on a systematic basis. We understand some weeks are busy and some aren’t so much. We’ll judge you over a full year.
Put the work diaries, the time-accounting logs, out there for the full public to see, because at the end of the day, we just don’t know all that you do. That’s not fair to us. And that’s not fair to you.
“You’re correct,” Schettler said. “The public isn’t aware of the time they spend. I think the public would be surprised.”