Petitions are circulating in Fremont County to add two more supervisors to the County Board of Supervisors, which currently consists of three members. This move is being spearheaded by Jeff Shirley of Sidney.
Shirley said he believed having a five member board instead of three would add diversity to the board and bring in new ideas, viewpoints and plans. He said every single person he had talked to across the county had also said they thought this was a good idea.
After thinking about it for quite some time, Shirley actually began the process about two weeks ago, with calls to the Fremont County Auditor’s Office for instruction on how to proceed. Dee Owen, Fremont County Auditor, said their office was unable to provide Shirley with directions but referred him to the Iowa Secretary of State, and possibly an attorney of his own.
Shirley obtained the help he needed from the Secretary of State’s office and the first petitions were placed in several locations, including Casey’s, Penn Drug and Dollar General in Sidney on Monday, Feb. 10. So far, Shirley said there are also petitions at the bank and Casey’s store in Tabor, and he will get some out in Hamburg as soon as he can.
Shirley said there was no particular triggering event that made him decide to act, just an awareness that the configuration of three supervisors could create a two-against-one scenario, and that more supervisors could ensure more diverse views. He said he did not have any one in mind to run for the potential new supervisor seats, and had not spoken to anyone about the possibility.
Current Fremont County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Hickey said hadn’t known this effort was coming, and just heard about it the other day from someone who had seen the petition.
Hickey said he was against adding more supervisors to the board because it would cost the county more money.
“Here I am trying to keep the budgets in line and save the county all I can,” Hickey said, “and he wants to add more expense.”
Hickey said one of the people who told him about the petition also told him Shirley had told him the two additional supervisors wouldn’t cost the county any more money.
“I think he thinks the county can just pay five people the same amount they had been paying three;” Hickey added, “it’s like saying we’re going to add five people to the roads department and cut everyone else’s salary to pay theirs. It’s ridiculous.”
Hickey said he didn’t have actual totals yet, but the two extra members could potentially cost the county an extra $100,000 between salaries, benefits, training, creating a new boardroom large enough for five, and other costs.
“It’s just going to cost the county more money,” Hickey asserted, “and if anyone is saying it won’t, they haven’t done their homework.”
In response to Shirley’s suggestion that more people on the board would provide a more diverse viewpoint, and one that reflects all of the county, Hickey said, “When I’m sitting on that board I’m representing everyone in this county, and trying to make decisions to benefit the entire county.”
Supervisor Dustin Sheldon said he didn't know about the petition until yesterday, but he wasn't in favor of the idea.
“At a time when the county is already in a financial crunch, adding two more supervisors seems like a bad idea;” Sheldon said, “I just don't think it's wise right now.”
When told about the idea going around to just cut the salaries of the current supervisors to pay for the two extra supervisors, Sheldon was unenthusiastic. “When you think about the amount of time we spend on this job,” Sheldon said, “and the amount of work involved, if you cut the pay, will people even be interested in doing the job?”
Sheldon also suggested if staff were going to be added anywhere in the county, he was sure there were better departments to add them to.
“I just don't think it's in the best interests of the county,” Sheldon concluded.
Supervisor Terry Graham was in favor of adding more supervisors to the board. He said across the state some counties have three member boards and some have five members, and he had heard arguments in favor of both, but from his point of view a five member board would make it easier to attend events and meetings without worrying about having a quorum.
With only three members, two makes a majority, or quorum, and if those two members happen to be attending the same meeting or event, they always run the risk of violating “sunshine act” rules and people assuming they're meeting on the sly, discussing county business outside of the weekly meetings.
“Because we have to be so careful not to “meet” outside our regular meetings,” Graham said, “sometimes only one or none of us attends area events or meetings. A lot of the information we receive during our regular meetings we're hearing for the first time that day. We have no opportunity to compare notes or discuss how we feel about an issue.”
“I honestly think a five member board probably would better serve Fremont County in the long run,” Graham added, “and we could always go back to three members later if we didn't like it.”
As far as paying for five members, Graham suggested the current amount spent on supervisor salaries could be divided between five members instead. Graham admitted, though, that his term was up next December, and he didn't plan to run for office again, so others might see the salary issue differently. He did also point out that the three supervisors were each required to be on about 10 other boards, and two more members would lessen that extra work load.
Fremont County Auditor Dee Owen was asked to provide an estimate of what it might cost the county to add two more supervisors and provided the following numbers:
- Training, Mileage, Hotel, etc.-$7,800
- Computers and Software-$1,200
She advised this total does not include the expense of two new desks or reconfiguration of the board room.
Shirley said the public should consider whether the benefits of having more diverse views on the board of supervisors outweighs the perceived negatives of cost.
He also pointed out a larger board would make less work for all of the supervisors, and said, “if they're against it, why would they be?”
Shirley will need to get 302 signatures on his petition to move forward, and must do so by no later than 82 days before the general election on November 3, 2020, if the proposal is to be voted on on that date.