The River Cities’ Reader asked the four candidates vying for two of the available County Supervisor seats to answer six questions in advance of the November 3 election. The background information, questions, and answers for incumbent Republicans Tony Knobbe and Ken Beck and challenger Democrats Jazmin Newton and Rogers Kirk are printed below. Responses are presented in full but have been lightly edited for spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Please see these additional introductory remarks on Why Local County Elections Matter.
Background: In 2019, incumbent Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken authored a guest editorial in the Quad-City Times titled “The case for consolidated government.” Here's a link to the article: RCReader.com/y/croken.
One of the concerns raised is rural towns in Scott County have aging populations and don't have the resources, including volunteers, to keep up with the requirements for services such as EMT, ambulances and dispatching. Another example is four unique library systems inside Scott County.
Mr. Croken's appeal is to at least commit to evaluating the pros and cons of integrating governments inside Scott County versus maintaining current jurisdictional integrity levels.
Question 1: Do you agree that Scott County should pursue consolidating governmental units and duplicative services with cities like Davenport and Bettendorf and towns such as Donahue and Eldridge? If yes, how would you go about it? If no, why not?
Rogers Kirk: Yes, I feel as a Board we should always look at way to make our county a better place to live. Where there are opportunities for consolidation it should be done slowly with 28E agreements.
Jazmin Newton: The joint exercising of governmental powers which would allow Scott County and local governments to enter into shared service agreements is governed by Iowa Code 28E. When governing, there should be a case by case analysis of each situation and or scenario that is being entertained. There is no easy answer or one size fits all approach to this very complex issues that is presented. I support shared service agreements where they make sense. I understand that such agreements allow for more efficient and effective use of taxpayer resources. After all, the Scott County Board is responsible to the taxpayers in ensuring each dollar is spent wisely. Duplicative services, such as the ones mentioned in the question, are examples of where it could be beneficial to have shared service agreements. As a county, we should work closely with all municipalities and ensure we are collaborating and partnering where it is prudent. However, the board has a responsibility to ensure that such does not come at the expense of the residents of Scott County. Every service must be examined case by case and thoroughly discussed with all those involved. It is vital we make sure no part of Scott County becomes underserved. Collaboration is about maximizing benefit and services for all of Scott County. It is about being smart.
Ken Beck: Iowa is a “Home Rule” state which means each level of government has the right to govern their jurisdiction as they wish provided it is not inconsistent with state statue. Based on comments from constituents, council members, and mayors, there is no desire at this time to give up their local control and consolidate services. As one of your examples, even though the county fire districts have challenges raising money (their tax levy is fixed by the state and has been maxed out for years), recruiting volunteers, and buying equipment, they too do not want to give up their local control. For consolidation to be successful, it must be a win-win to all parties involved, enhance efficiency, be worthwhile to the stake holders and reduce costs to the taxpayer.
Tony Knobbe: Pursue might be a strong word, but I have considered several possibilities. As Thomas Sowell aptly observes, “There are no solutions, only tradeoffs.” Whatever changes might be considered, response times and public safety must be paramount in that discussion. I know that it is very difficult to staff a volunteer fire crew in bedroom communities, and that they frequently rely upon the help of neighboring towns for fire and emergency calls. To my knowledge, no arrangements for measurement, nor financial compensation exist, but I agree that they should, at least when the differential is substantial. I also know that our own sheriff department answers numerous calls in Davenport, but no formal agreement exists between the two entities. On the other hand, sheriff staff enjoy the use of Davenport’s gun range, and rely heavily upon the forensics capabilities of the DPD. I would support some formal, publicly shared agreement between municipal government entities when unequal cost/benefit situations exist.
Question 2: If you support consolidated government in Scott County and law enforcement is a unit to be consolidated, which do you support for the chief law enforcement position: an appointed chief of police, or an elected county sheriff?
Kirk: I support an elected County Sheriff.
Newton: There is already a lot of collaboration between the Scott County Sheriff’s office and city police departments. I am very supportive of that collaboration and applaud our public safety for their continued efforts to work together to serve and protect our communities. I am supportive of a continued effort to explore additional opportunities for collaboration and partnering to find more efficiency. A great example is the joint dispatch center because taxpayers save money and are afforded improved services.
Beck: Changes in state legislation to remove the position of sheriff from the county would be needed and I doubt legislation could be so specific to be for just one county. At this time, there has not been any interest surfacing with the cities or Sheriff, from my sources. The real question here is, would the top position in a consolidated law enforcement unit be better filled by an elected official or hired position? There is something to say about an elected sheriff position since it has been on the books for many years. Since a decision regarding consolidation has not been brought up yet to vet through the pros and cons, let me answer this hypothetical situation this way. In general, a hired position is typically more efficient from the stand point that it eliminates politics and focuses on qualifications. In addition, the hired position's pay and/or increases are not tied to the wages of other elected officials. If required, changes in command can be made quickly with a hired position whereas the elected official is there until voted out of office or retires.
Knobbe: I could make strong arguments for both. To suggest the elimination of an elected sheriff would fly in the face of hundreds of years of history and folklore surrounding the position. A tall order. On the other hand, having an elected (fill-in-the-blank) introduces politics to any otherwise professional department, and creates an opportunity for politics to be the main focus.
Background: The Quad City International Airport, in Moline, Illinois operates without any tax base contributions from Scott County residents. Currently, only Rock Island County residents are taxed to support the airport. It is estimated that at least 60 percent of the travelers who fly from the QCIA are from Iowa. The concept of expanding the airport's transit authority taxing status to include Scott County with new Scott County representation on the airport board has been trial ballooned in various local business chamber and community development forums.
Question 3: Do you support the concept of including Scott County within the Quad City International Airport's taxation authority and subsequent representational governance? If yes, how would you go about it? If no, why not?
Kirk: No. Although it is estimated that 60% of travelers are from Iowa, not all of this percentage is from Scott County. We should look at a broader region, which would include counties in Illinois, (Mercer, Henery, Whiteside and Rock Island) and Iowa (Clinton, Muscatine, Cedar and Scott).
Newton: The QC Airport is important part of driving our regional economy. We should look for ways to collaborate and support it on a regional level. I believe that there are many ways we can do that. We need to have a boarder discussion with both the private and public sector about addressing future funding of regional amenities and services. It’s important for Scott County to be a part of that discussion and take an active role in ensuring we are working together as a region so that together we win.
Beck: Having an airport facility is a vital part of attracting new businesses and supporting overall economic growth for the Quad Cities. However, a bi-state taxation authority requires federal and state legislation in both states, which has not yet occurred. Should legislation be passed at both state and federal levels, then creating a taxing authority would need to be approved (supermajority) by the residents on both sides of the river. If approved, it is my opinion that each project proposed by the bi-state taxation authority be put to the voters for approval.
Knobbe: No. The Metropolitan Airport Authority of Rock Island County was formed after seven townships voted to establish it in 1947. If the taxing geography of the airport were to be expanded, I would suggest the remaining townships of Rock Island County be approached first. The authority enjoys the benefits of rental car, hotel, airline and parking revenue. Are those being offered to be shared with Iowa? Quad Citizens from both sides of the river frequent airports in Cedar Rapids, Peoria, and Chicago. Running an airport is a tough business, I get it. Expanding tax authority is not my preference for addressing budget shortfalls.
Background: Due to COVID-19 and the Auditor's office requiring the Board Room where Supervisors conduct their public meetings, the Committee of the Whole and Board Meetings have been moved to being held virtually.
As such, the meetings are now being recorded by the Board staff with a CISCO WebEx license costing $11,000 annually. The Auditor has been recording previous meetings to enable more accurate minutes, and has stated she is being disallowed by the Board to post said recordings at the County website. Staff has provided the Board proposals to make future Board meeting recordings publicly available that would cost tax payers over $100,000 plus ongoing expenses for complicated software and additional staffing.
Meanwhile, due to COVID-19, the ease of recording and posting to the internet virtual meetings with resources already paid for, has been made very apparent, as evidenced by the County Health Department's posting of its media briefings. (RCReader.com/y/COVID1920)
Question 4: Do you support directing staff to immediately post the Board of Supervisors' virtual meetings' audio and/or video recording(s) to the Scott County website? If not, why not? Do you support directing staff to continue this practice with the current technology and comparatively inexpensive resources, or are you in support of the proposal to invest over $100,000 and additional ongoing licensing fees and staff resources with new more complicated software?
Kirk: I am in support of the proposal to invest in the licensing fees and staff resources needed. We must do all we can as a Board of Supervisors to have an informed community.
Newton: Yes, I strongly support meetings being posted online. I think it is sad that it took a national pandemic for Scott County to finally make meetings available online (in real time only). Many counties in Iowa were already doing this long before the pandemic took place it and it was a topic of discussion among the board. Scott County should broadcast meetings online to make sure that it is accessible and accountable to the people of Scott County. As a county, we should be doing everything we can to make sure we are engaging the community and being accessible and accountable are certainly two ways that can be done. Once elected, I would evaluate all options that may be available and look to see what other local governments are using. I would make sure that we continue the use of technology to make our meetings available online and also ensure that such is compliant with ADA requirements.
Beck: COVID 19 brought new awareness of technology and opportunities to provide electronic access and to record our meetings. Scott County recently started using WebEx Event Solution to provide electronic access and record our meetings. We are still working through the first phase of implementing this cost effective platform, which is much less expensive than the solution previously presented to the board in 2019. Equipping the board room with audio and video equipment to improve the experience is the next phase, and the cost for those improvements will be covered by the Iowa CARES Act.
Knobbe: We are marching toward our goal of recorded, published meetings. Although we desired (in 2019) to publish audio recordings (a compromise between status quo, and the very high cost of video recording), we were told by IT director Hirst that to maintain ADA compliance, we would have to also publish a complete transcript of each meeting, also cost prohibitive. I’m confident that a Webex (or some similar alternative) solution will provide a complete, accessible record for current and future reference. What remains is the hardware and software to individually mic each of the board members, participating staff, and those from the public who wish to speak. We’ll get there soon.
Question 5: Do you support the current public meeting times of 8 a.m. on Tuesdays for Committee of the Whole and 5 p.m. on Thursdays for the regular Board meeting? If not, what times do you propose the meetings should be moved to?
Kirk: My suggestion would to have both the Committee of the Whole and the regular board meetings at 5 p.m.
Newtown: I do not support the current meeting times and strongly believe the meetings should be in evenings to accommodate more people. I also understand that even when we change meeting times to evening hours, there will be some residents that still cannot make it, that is why it is necessary that meetings be available online. A government should always be assessable and accountable. By changing the meeting times to times that more residents can attend, the board would be promoting accessibility and thus allowing for community engagement.
Beck: Scott County is one of the few counties that hold our board meeting (Thursdays 5 p.m.) late in the afternoon. The remaining counties hold their Committee of the Whole and Board meetings back to back and/are in the mornings. No matter what time we hold our meetings, the time will not be convenient for someone. When we do have an item of special interest, which is the exception more than the rule (as compared to say a city council), constituents do contact the board members via phone calls, emails, and even an occasional letter. On one recent issue, we received over 500 emails. And when there is an item of special interest such the recent revisions to the Land Use Maps/Zoning Maps and Park View Multi-Family Rental Ordinance, we take our meetings to locations across the county or at a location convenient for the affected residents. We also visit city councils at their regular meeting times, so we do conduct meetings with constituents outside of the normal COW and Board meeting times. With the addition of the WebEx Event Solution, folks can access our meetings without leaving their place of business, home or vehicle. At this time, we have not received many comments from our constituents to change the meeting times.
Knobbe: I’ve surveyed all surrounding counties, and the largest counties in Iowa. With one exception, all of those counties hold meetings in the morning. Some of our fellow board members have continually proposed holding meetings later in the evening than we already do. Judging by the fact that we frequently have meetings lasting three hours or more, I would hardly consider those to be convenient to the public if we were to run past the late news. On the contrary, Scott County has a long history of bringing popular, controversial, or broad issues to the people. Our recent special meetings to discuss Park View rental property ordinance, land use map revisions, and zoning ordinance changes are good examples where we held evening meetings, at rural sites throughout the county. To-date, I have yet to receive a single complaint or request from a citizen who is unable to come to a meeting to defend, explain, request, or express criticism of any issue. As one of your fellow journalists has aptly stated, “Unless the water runs brown, no one will attend.”
Background: Scott County Attorney Cusack recently wrote a letter to the Scott County Administrator stating that due to County General Policy 30, Auditor Moritz's recent request for Board approval to accept a $286,000 private grant funded by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg via the Chicago based NGO Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) did not require Supervisor approval.
Here is Cusack's letter: RCReader.com/y/cusack and here is Policy 30: RCReader.com/y/policy30.
Question 6: Presuming Cusack is accurate, do you support modifying General Policy 30 so that in the future grants to privately fund public elections must be approved by the Board?
Newtown: I do not support modifying Policy 30 to require future grants that aim to privately fund public elections be approved by the Board. Each office Scott County is led by an elected official. In this case, Roxanna Mortiz is the Scott County Auditor that was elected, and re-elected many times, by the people of Scoot County to run the auditor’s office. People have elected her to do her job and, in her position, if she believes a grant is for the benefit of the public, she should be the one to make that decision. The board is there to oversee the budget and how taxpayer dollars are spent, not to dictate how each elected official runs her or his office. That is why we have elections. If the people of Scott County do not agree with a certain grant that an elected official has applied for/received, then the people of Scott County have the opportunity to voice their opinion at the polls. It should be noted that such grant which our auditor applied for, was one that was shared by the current Secretary of State and one which many counties in Iowa applied for and received. Furthermore, we must also understand that we are in the middle of a national pandemic, one that was not foreseeable when the budget for this election was put in place. The current auditor obtaining a grant to help with the added costs of running a safe and fair election is only helping our democracy and also our county checkbook.
Beck: Funding to conduct elections is a primary function of government, which includes grants such as the HAVA Cares Act. Using private funding to fund election activities in an already contentious election year just adds to further distrust in the election process. The board will review Policy 30 and see if adding board approval is warranted when the grant requirements do not specify board approval. In my opinion, state legislation is needed so that any use of private funding for election activities is uniformly applied across the state level. Discussions regarding approval at the state level has already begun with our local legislators.
Knobbe: Yes, I support modifying this policy. I am not supportive of outside interests of any political (or apolitical, for that matter) persuasion involving themselves in the funding of the election process. I am disappointed that on the same day that our auditor publicly told our board that the election plans for Scott County were in great shape, she had signed the application for these outside funds. The justification offered was that COVID precautions required additional resources to provide for a safe election. Which am I to believe, that election plans were AOK, or that we needed an additional $286K to hold a safe election? I believe that it should be my fiduciary responsibility as a supervisor to be part of that discussion.