Every blue moon the stars align to produce a candidate for public office who is the real deal. Taxpayers are fortunate enough to have just such a candidate for the Scott County Board of Supervisors in Diane Holst.
I have marveled at Diane's tenacity in staying engaged as a concerned citizen. Over the past four years, she has attended more than 100 meetings where Scott County business has been discussed, heard, and voted on. (Some meetings were held in private for more than four years before she proved that the state's open-meetings law was being violated.) She is eminently qualified to serve on the Board of Supervisors.
Holst struggled with the decision to run because she is not a politician. She has a career in the private sector and a full family life, with three grandchildren on the way. However, she recognizes the importance of having informed county supervision as taxpayers are faced with programs and policies from the federal and state governments - from mental health to emergency management to air quality to homeland security.
Make no mistake: The burden for sustaining these massive programs will fall to Scott County taxpayers. And the lack of transparency that characterizes county business to date must change if residents are to have any voice in these matters. Unless you are willing to attend the meetings, do the research, and ask the smart questions - as Holst does - your only hope for meaningful civic participation is to elect her.
Holst's interest in county business was piqued when the Scott Emergency Communications Center (SECC911) project was being sold to the public. The more she learned while attending the meetings, the more she realized she needed to research and understand. Her interest turned into a regular presence at various county meetings for more than four years. Often she was the only member of the public in attendance, consistently asking the questions of supervisors that the supervisors were not asking of the staff. (See RCReader.com/y/holst1 for an example.)
Determined to understand the program and the processes involved with SECC911, Holst was troubled that the county split the cost of the $28-million facility with the City of Davenport, with each letting a $10-million bond to avoid the mandatory referendum required for any capital projects exceeding $10 million.
This back-door maneuver worked beautifully because the vast majority of those living in Scott County have no clue the facility even exists - let alone that it has its own no-cap taxing authority. This means the county can raise taxes any time it needs more money to sustain the consolidated dispatch center, which technically is still not consolidated. And since emergency management is fast becoming the primary programming mechanism by which the federal government is exerting control over our local communities, it is increasingly important that we be more vigilant on a local level by electing representatives who will closely examine county budgets, expenditures, revenue streams, and grant applications.
It is an uncommon sense of responsibility that drives Holst, coupled with her willingness to share information by routinely video-recording meetings and posting them online (RCReader.com/y/holst2). One of her goals is to make county government more accessible to the public. The county records all its executive sessions - which are closed to the public - but does not oblige us when the meetings are open. This is absurdly unresponsive, and Holst agrees. There is no excuse for the lack of transparency, especially when taxpayers paid for the technology that would accommodate more public access.
There is a body of Holst's research available to anyone interested. Honestly, she is already doing the lion's share of the work, so by electing her as a supervisor, she can influence the direction of county policy in favor of taxpayers first and foremost.
We have to be done with politics as usual if we are going to create any kind of change. Holst is not a politician, a career bureaucrat, or a lawyer. She is Mrs. Citizen and is not an obstructionist or a contrarian. She is common sense personified, not a go-along-to-get-along recruit of political-party leadership. Holst is humble in her sense of obligation and civic duty, and has the political courage to share what she has learned, articulate the issues, and provide specific solutions for voters' consideration (RCReader.com/y/holst3). Only one other candidate even has a Web site for sharing information about his candidacy: Jarod Powell (PowellForIowa.com).
I urge you to visit DianeHolst.com and learn things about Scott County you probably did not know before. For example, the public claim by incumbent supervisors William P. Cusack and Carol T. Earnhardt that our property-tax rates have been lowered for the past two years might cause taxpayers to think their taxes will be lower. While the levy rate has been lowered, the taxable percentage on the assessed value of our properties has been increased at the state level. This misnomer, known as a "rollback," means that unless the levy rate is lowered enough to offset the increased taxable percentage - or unless assessed values don't rise - taxes will go up. And for many in Scott County, they did.
Meanwhile, when property-tax relief could occur, it hasn't - even when, as incumbent Supervisor Earnhardt revealed, the county has enough surplus cash on hand to fund a new patrol headquarters, new maintenance building, and courthouse improvements without bonding. Bonding capacity is for capital improvements. Big cash surpluses are for property-tax relief. Lowering levy rates that do not offset taxable-assessed-value increases is not property-tax relief, no matter how you sell it.
All the candidates claim to support economic development. Who does not support economic development? It is how you provide for and measure economic development that matters. And only one candidate, Diane Holst, is offering specifics for this "tool" of government that all candidates of all stripes bandy about.
She advocates establishing non-negotiable criteria up-front designed to attract development with specific compliance rules and incentives (if appropriate) that apply to all comers, so that both developers and taxpayers always know the cost/risk attributes. All contracts that include incentives must be accompanied by strong accountability measures that trigger strict enforcement of penalties, including claw-backs if companies renege on any of the deliverables. These include utilizing up to three state laws already on the books to ensure performance in exchange for incentives and breaks. She is able to see the entire field, rather than knee-jerk hindsight policy shifting, after mega-developments such as Orascom fail to actualize.
In conclusion, the current Board of Supervisors protects the needs of the bureaucracy more often than the needs of residents. This is seen with such cavalier mid-year budget increases over $700,000. There was no discussion, just perfunctory approval as usual. The Scott County budget has doubled over the past 14 years, while population growth has been only 5 percent. So where is all this money going, but to enlarge government programming?
Electing Diane Holst will give Scott County residents a new confidence that at least one supervisor is actually supervising. Vote the person, not the party, and elect a non-politician to this critical seat on the Scott County Board of Supervisors in the primary election on June 3. It could very well be one of the most important votes you ever cast. The role county governments play in implementing massive new federal programming is enormous.