Supervisor Oleson obsessed with union money


Supervisor Brent Oleson must be worried. This morning, he invited every manager and department head in the County, and their employees to show up for the Linn County Board of Supervisor’s 1/3/2018 public hearing on the Harris Building (HB). He wants an audience to put me in my place. I have news for him. That hasn’t worked in almost eleven years.

Earlier this week – see previous post – I emailed a set of questions to the Board’s point person on the HB. Oleson told that person not to answer my questions.

Here are the questions. Oleson won’t allow them to be answered so I have taken the liberty to answer them. Caveat: I may be wrong.

Who is issuing the notice to bidders? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who approves the design and the contract documents? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who oversees the bid letting? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who is the authority that will be exercising the contracts / signing the contracts for construction? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who issues / issued the Request for Qualifications and the Request for Proposals? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who determines the RFQ and RFP criteria?  The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who will be in the room during the contractors’ presentations? Contractors selected by the Linn County Board of Supervisors

Who ultimately has the authority to determine the winner / entity with whom the contract will be awarded? The Linn County Board of Supervisors

Is the project bonded? Maybe/probably

Does the contract elude to Iowa Code Chapter 73A (Bonding)? Maybe/probably

What protections are provided in the event of a contractor default (and who is left holding the bag)? The taxpayers of Linn County

Is Linn County afforded the protections of Chapter 73A if we are not building the public improvement? Maybe, but probably not

So what is the difference between the method we have used to select a bidder in the past and the method we are using to fund, build, and furnish the HB now?

Supervisor John Harris says this new method is going to take longer and cost more. He has already been proven right. Originally, the HB groundbreaking was to occur in October 2017. Now, it’s occurring in the Spring of 2018. The HB project is already six months behind schedule.

As for cost, the projected cost was $10M in January 2016. Now, the Board of Supervisors is committing the County for up to $31.5M. And the Board is not giving the voting public a chance to express their opinion on the HB via an election. If the HB has community-wide support, then why not ensure you have that support by holding an election. I know. Elections cost a lot of money and since we, the Board, are not required to ask the voters for their approval, we are not going to ask … because what if they said NO.

The fact is, the Board could put this question on the November 2018 ballot. Or better yet, they could take a look at the Community Services Building (CSB) and determine if it could be re-purposed for Public Health (PH). We already have PH employees working in the CSB.

But the HB project must continue as-is planned because it’s important that those shoddy contractors don’t get the low bid and build us something we will be stuck with for the next 50 years.

I have an idea: why not hire someone to ensure the building is built to the specifications the County agreed to. Someone who is working for the taxpayers’ interests without any conflicts of interest and knows how to hold people accountable?

Under the new method Oleson has proposed, the winning contractor/proposal will be selected in a backroom and not in view of the public, e.g., Tricon can forget even participating because Oleson made it clear that he did not want them involved in this project.

As for cost overruns and schedule delays? Well, everyone will know the County has $31.5M to burn through so guess what? The HB will cost at least $31.5M.

Linn County is a rich county. Lease purchase agreements are for poor governments with low tax revenue or poor cash flow. Why are we leasing something when we can go through the normal process of selling bonds? We have a AAA bond rating. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Supervisors.

Our tax base continues to grow each year, which gives the Board of Supervisors lots of opportunities to splurge. For example, we cannot seem to throw enough money at our County parks. We spent $15K per acre for farmland and took on about $7M in bond debt to pay for it. We are going to build a shelter in a park which will compete with private sector banquet operators. We have accumulated $24M in debt since 2009 and Conservation can bond up to $40M more, and with this $31.5M obligation, we will have about $100M in potential obligations.

So why is Oleson so adamant about the bypassing a competitive bidding process on the HB? Well, as a former DCI agent pointed out to me: follow the money.

Money. That necessary evil of running for political office.

I closed my campaign account in early 2013. It’s still closed today. But the County Supervisors’ campaign accounts are open for business. And Oleson, as a former Republican supervisor, has done a remarkable job of raising funds from the unions even before he switched to the Democratic Party.

Oleson has collected at least $47K from unions since he filed his first campaign report. And since 11/18/2010, Oleson has received $77,513.08 in contributions and $45,750 came from unions.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with unions. I was a member of an IBEW local for about three years.

What I am saying is: unions are one of your constituents – not your sole constituent. Our duty as elected officials is to represent every resident of this County – every taxpayer – every voter. And when one constituent is giving you outsized campaign contributions, and others are not contributing to you, then you are doomed to pay homage to that constituent.

Quid pro quo – a favor for a favor.

When 59% of your campaign contributions come from one constituent, you tend to listen to that constituent when you have an upcoming election. Especially, when you lost the vote on your last election day and won the election only via early voters. Especially, when straight party voting is no longer a factor in the 2018 election. And especially, when you’re facing “nice-guy” opponent Supervisor John Harris in 2018 when you are not a very nice guy.

In Oleson’s State of the County speech on 4/19/2017, Oleson said of the Harris Building, “This is a $20 million-plus project that will be built by local labor, I promise you that, despite what the legislature thinks it has done to us with their anti-PLA and anti-build local legislation.  I’ve got a work-around to this legislation and my professional bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, and other craftsman can have faith that I will always go to bat for them when we do infrastructure projects.

Oleson’s HB remarks are at 8:10

About 50% of the households in Linn County earn $60K or less per year. Maybe some of those bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, and other craftsmen are in those households?

Those households are never going to know what the cost of the Harris Building should have been because it was not competitively bid. And to top it off, no one gave those voters an opportunity to express their opinion on the Harris Building via the ballot box because the Board of Supervisors does not trust them to make the right decision. Yet, those households are going to pay the taxes that pay for the HB.

Oleson’s rhetoric is pointed at me because he is obsessed with union money to fund his campaign to get re-elected and I am asking questions about the HB. He likes working 20 hour weeks and getting paid $103K per year. He spends most of his time posting on Facebook, then deleting his posts, then banning other users whose posts he does not like, then re-posting. Facebook is his other huge obsession.

The Harris Building is a worthy cause for a great public purpose. I want it competitively bid. I want the bid awarded to the lowest bidder. I want the County to hire a project manager to hold every contractor, sub-contractor, vendor, and architect accountable to the specifications and schedule … so it ends up being something the County can be proud of at its completion. I expect no more and no less. -Joel D. Miller (NP) – Linn County Auditor

P.S. The attachment contains a brief summary of various union political action committees’ contributions to our five current Supervisors and me, your County Auditor. My findings are based upon the reports filed with http://www.iowa.gov/ethics/

Union support of Linn County Supervisors 12-22-2017.pdf

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