Pott Co residents deserve a say in spending pandemic funds

Linda Nelson is a retired school teacher of 37 years, a past president of the Iowa State Education Association, and a former member of the Iowa House.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This familiar adage - like all of the good ones - rings true far too often in everyday life. We’ve all had experiences that make us shake our heads and think, “I should have known better.” 

Luckily, in Pottawattamie County, we do know better. In fact, if we act now, we have an opportunity to learn our lesson and stop the County Board of Supervisors from fooling us twice.

As you read this column, decisions about how to spend $9 million in second round American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds may very well be happening. If they aren’t, they’ll be happening soon. And it’s up to county residents to demand a say in how these funds are spent.

Last year, when I learned how the county supervisors planned to spend the first round of ARPA funds, I was shocked. Less so by the decisions they made - though they were shocking as well - but more so because I had no idea the decisions were being made at all. And I wasn’t the only one. My friends at United Today, Stronger Tomorrow contacted nearly 10,000 county residents and discovered that many were only just learning that the ARPA funding had come, and by then, had also gone.

How is it possible that five people decided how to spend a total $18 million meant for the county’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, without asking county residents for their input?

It’s bad practice and anathema to how elected officials should operate. When I was president of the Iowa State Education Association, representing 34,000 classroom teachers and other licensed professional staff, school support staff workers, retired teachers, area education agency employees, community college faculty, and future teachers, I traveled to 400 Iowa communities over two two year terms. I met with the folks I represented, because that’s what elected leaders are supposed to do.

From labor leaders to mayors to student council presidents: how can you succeed at your job - to represent the people - if you don’t know what’s important to the people? 

You can’t. And neither can the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors.

We must demand a public input period before allocation decisions are made for the second round of ARPA funds. The County Board of Supervisors should willingly, eagerly, meet with county residents in town halls, churches, schools, and wherever there is access for folks in both rural parts of the county and Council Bluffs. 

Elected officials shouldn’t be in the business of trying to fool their constituents, but when they are, they only get to do it once.

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