Archive for the ‘Campaign finance’ Category

Top secret: How many of our deceased were cremated?

January 30, 2018

How many cremation permits were signed by the Linn County Medical Examiner (ME) from 1/1/2017 – 12/31/2017? According to not one, but two assistant county attorneys, I have no legal remedy to find out.

Forget about Iowa’s Open Records laws (Code of Iowa Chapter 22) – medical examiner records are confidential public records. And forget about my power to audit – Code of Iowa section 331.502(41) – the fees the medical examiner receives for signing cremation permits have never been deposited into a county fund or account so there is no county fund or account to audit. This reminds of that greasy pig contest my 4-H club held in the 70s.

Earlier this month, I blogged about How much do cremation permits cost taxpayers? I wanted to know how much revenue is generated by the ME for signing cremation permits since the County’s taxpayers are ultimately paying this death tax. It seemed like a simple question. Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors had little interest in knowing the answer.

I did not let it go.

Last week, I sent an open records request to our medical examiner – see attached. Today, I received a reply from an assistant county attorney – see attached. And now that I have reviewed a cremation permit form, I realize I don’t need and I don’t want all of the data on the form. But the ME could redact everything on the form except for the name of the decedent and a date, and I could count the number of signed permits to determine the fees he earned. Or at the very least, the ME could give me a notarized statement as to the number of cremation permits he signed in 2017.

Or the Board of Supervisors could order the ME to disclose the number of cremation permits he signed … or threaten to cancel his contract if he didn’t disclose the numbers. What are the odds of that happening?

So are the taxpayers of Linn County paying their ME $30K, $70K, or $100K per year for him to sign cremation permits? How many Linn County residents are being cremated per year? The answers to those questions are top secret until someone in a position of power asks them … and discloses the facts. And that’s not me. Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Response from assistant county attorney on 1-26-2018 re Public records request for copies of signed cremation permits.pdf

Public records request to Dr Linder – ME dated 1-23-2018.pdf

How much do cremation permits cost taxpayers?

January 8, 2018

Who signs an agreement without knowing the cost to the taxpayers? Answer: The Linn County Board of Supervisors (BOS). In fact, this is the second time in less than a week that the BOS has signed an agreement without knowing the cost of the agreement.

Today (1/8/2018), the BOS approved/signed the Linn County Medical Examiners (ME) Agreement. Among various fees the ME receives, the ME also charges up to $75 for signing cremation permits. If your family is going to cremate your body in Linn County, they have to obtain a permit signed by the ME before your body can be cremated.

In my role as advocate for the taxpayers, I wanted to know how much revenue is generated by the ME for signing cremation permits since the County’s taxpayers are ultimately paying this death tax.

Response from the BOS? Praise for the ME and criticism of the County Auditor, but no answer to the question: How much do cremation permits cost the County’s taxpayers?

I estimate that cremation permits cost the County’s taxpayers $70K or more per year.

How did I come up with $70K? According to the Gazette, there were 163 obituaries in Linn County in December of 2017. Multiply 163 by 12 (months) by 50% (percentage of final arrangements ending in cremation) by $75 (cost per cremation permit) equals $73,350. Or take the number of deaths in Iowa in 2015 and multiply it (29,600) by 7% (Linn County’s population as a percentage of Iowa’s population) by 50% (see preceding) by $75 (see preceding) equals $77,700.

In my role as County Auditor, I am questioning why the revenue generated by the ME’s signing of cremation permits is not flowing into the County’s general fund in the same manner as the revenues generated by the County’s other departments?

The BOS should have been able to answer my questions. Or did campaign contributions once again influence their behavior? -Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

Inappropriate transfers of campaign funds?

May 21, 2016

Former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston could not help herself.  She had to take one last shot at me with other people’s money when she closed her campaign account.  On 5/2/2016, she wrote check #1099 for $750 to Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 125.  Her check to Local 125 appears to be an inappropriate transfer of campaign funds.

On 5/11/2016, my opponent received check #1636 for $750 from the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 125.  Due to the timing and amount of the contribution, it appears Langston may have used Local 125 as a conduit to funnel funds to my opponent.  “Strawman” transactions are inappropriate in political campaigns.

Were these transfers illegal?  I will let the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Financial Board decide.  Paid for by Miller for Auditor


County candidate PACs

March 2, 2016

On 1/19/2011, I reported the cash on hand for Linn County’s ten (10) elected officeholders.  Five years have passed – Houser left and came back – Barron retired – Langston is retiring from the County – others have ran for office – and one, Walker, is a newly announced candidate.

The dollar amounts below reflect many different campaign finance philosophies. Vander Sanden never opened a PAC (political action committee) and my PAC is currently closed.  Harris, Houser, and Rosenthal’s PACs appear to be in debt.  And Oleson has $50K to spend and recently told an audience he needs $75K to execute his campaign plan.

I know of at least one person who plans to run for office in the 2016 primary election, but until that person files an affidavit of candidacy, s/he is not an official candidate.

The time period for candidates to file to run for county office in Iowa is from March 7th – 30th.  Every Linn County elected official earns over $100K per year so you would think that fact would generate some interest in the offices up for election.

1/19/2011 – Active County Candidate PAC – Seeking Election in 2016 – 1/19/2016

$50,106.67 – Supervisor Brent Oleson – Yes – $50,592.11

$16,925.42 – Supervisor Lu Barron – retired – $0.00

$10,478.91 – Sheriff Brian Gardner – Yes – $9,581.46

$8,806.73 – Supervisor Linda Langston – retiring – $9,727.90

$3,603.43 – Supervisor John Harris – not up – (-$274.10)

$2,870.44 – Supervisor Ben Rogers – Yes – $16,454.81

$1,599.66 – Recorder Joan McCalmant – not up – $1,599.66

$1,380.59 – Treasurer Sharon Gonzalez – not up – $1,380.59

$343.69 – Auditor Joel Miller – Yes – No PAC

No PAC – Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden – not up – No PAC

$8,356.34 – Supervisor James Houser – not up – (-$2,470.78)

No PAC – Mr. Stacey Walker – Yes – opened PAC on 2/9/2016

$484.19 – Mr. Tomas Podzimek – unknown – $182.77

(-$10,394.11) – Mr. Eric Rosenthal – unknown – (-$11,450.99)

No PAC – Ms. Becky Shoop – no – $1,408.96

No PAC – Ms. Kim Taylor – unknown – $2,431.89

Key:  1/19/2011 = Cash on hand by candidate; not up = incumbent not up for re-election in 2016; 1/19/2016 = Cash on hand minus outstanding loans and/or unpaid bills.  –Joel D. Miller – Linn County Auditor

County elected officials’ cash on hand

May 18, 2011

Most elected officials will tell you they hate asking for money for their election or re-election campaigns.  Based on reports filed with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board some of my peers have overcome their hate of “the ask”.

Cash on hand according to the 1-19-2011 reports:

$50,106.67 – Supervisor Oleson

$16,925.42 – Supervisor Barron

$10,478.91 – Sheriff Gardner

$8,806.73 – Supervisor Langston

$3,603.43 – Supervisor Harris

$2,870.44 – Supervisor Rogers

$1,599.66 – Recorder McCalmant

$1,380.59 – Treasurer Gonzalez

$343.69 – Auditor Miller

$0.00 – Attorney Vander Sanden

Mr. Vander Sanden avoided “the ask” by doing the unthinkable – he didn’t form a campaign committee (or if he did, it didn’t need to file a report).  Not too many candidates try that strategy … even if they don’t have opponents.  Hats off to Jerry!

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