There are two schools of thought about how county governments should operate.
One says officials should concentrate on what historically has been the narrow role of county government, essentially serving as an administrative arm of the state. The other is a nod to County Home Rule, added to the Iowa Constitution by voters in 1978 to allow county governments to tackle areas of concern not specifically or implicitly prohibited by the state.
In Linn County, the District 1 race for supervisor, a primary rematch between existing supervisors Jim Houser and Stacey Walker, embodies this debate.
Houser has made state statutes the foundation of his ideas on governance. For instance, when questioned about his assertion that people from outside Linn County were responsible for most incidents of local violence, Houser’s reply highlighted arbitrary residency requirements assigned to traditional county services. On issue after issue, Houser asks where in existing state law the county has the authority to act.
Walker’s approach, in contrast, isn’t to ask for permission, but for local action unless otherwise prohibited.
Two different ways of thinking about county governance, each with its own implications that must be weighed on behalf of District 1 residents. We began by considering the newly drawn district — the only one within the reduced model of supervisors consisting solely of Cedar Rapids residents.
Like all portions of the county, District 1 relies on traditional administrative services such as paying property taxes and accessing records. Both candidates are committed to ongoing efficiency studies and changes allowing residents to interact as quickly and conveniently as possible.
District 1 also is the portion of Linn County that has largely shouldered the burden of poverty with its systemic issues of lowered academic achievement, limited affordable housing, incidents of violence and lackluster public investment. It is within these areas that Houser’s view of county government limited by perceived state authority falls short.
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According to the Iowa Code, a county can “exercise any power and perform any function it deems appropriate … to preserve and improve the peace, safety, health, welfare, comfort and convenience of its residents.”
We believe, as did primary election voters, that Walker’s vision of responsive government acting with constitutionally mandated flexibility is the best path forward.
Walker, a relative newcomer to politics, has vision and passion for persistent county problems. Such gusto is admirable. But, for others who either never had or no longer possess a similar drive, passion can be misperceived as abrasiveness, vision as arrogance and focus as inflexibility. In a town where “Chicago” has sadly and inappropriately become a code word for “black, poor and violent,” such misperceptions take an added and aggravating toll.
Nonetheless, Walker has chosen this challenge and, in doing so, has defined himself as a consensus builder, connecting county government, municipal leaders and the nonprofit sectors for the betterment of all.
His first partial term in office has been one of leadership and promise, as well as a few notable missteps. Understandable but, if he is re-elected, voters will rightfully expect an official who has grown with experience. To put it another way, Walker must live up to his own definition of leadership by shaking off the limitations of political immaturity. It is, in our estimation, the only thing within his own control that is holding him back.
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