BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Any shot at moving the minimum wage in Lee County was pushed back to May 1, but was approved on first reading by supervisors.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, an ordinance pushing the minimum wage to $8.20 in Lee County was amended and then approved after Supervisor Don Hunold requested the effective date be changed from April 1 to May 1. The vote passed 3-1 with Ron Fedler voting against the measure. Supervisor Matt Pflug was absent.
Hunold said his amendment was based on the trajectory of a bill in front of the Iowa Senate that has already been passed in the State House.
The bill currently in front of the Iowa Senate, House File 295, as of Monday was in front of the Senate’s State Government committee which has nine Republicans and six Democrats, none of whom are locally elected.
“I see the house passed the bill up to the senate. I don’t know if I want to inject the county into this. If they are going to tell us what to do we don’t have a choice do we?,” Hunold asked the board. “If that’s the case why don’t we move the date to May 1, let them settle it one way or the other and be done. I don’t think I want to be in a legal battle with them. I don’t think that’s the road to take.”
Hunold said passing the bill before April 1 and then potentially having to pull it back off the books two weeks later would be a waste of time on the part of the county and businesses.
“Isn’t that a bookkeeping nightmare, I don’t know. I would prefer to say May 1 because if they haven’t decided by then they’re probably not going to decide and they can leave us alone and we can go on with the minimum wage.”
Fedler reminded the board that city’s will have an option to participate or not.
“From what I’ve heard since our last meeting, is that some of the city’s will not support this. Since last meeting, the people that have either called me or talked to me in my area, not one of them was in favor of doing this,” he said.
Kathy Gabel of Keokuk who sits on the Raise the Wage committee was present along with Mike Bennett and Robert Cale, said if people have an issue and they know this effort is underway why aren’t they coming forward.
“Today is one of three open meetings and if there are people who are opposed to this, we need to encourage them to come here,” she said.
Fedler said none of the people he spoke with would agree to come to the meeting and speak in opposition because they were afraid of retribution.
Cale said he felt the decision to push the deadline to May 1 was a political one and was unfortunate for the people of Lee County.
“They may be able to tell people, ‘Hey we tried’, and it may be protection for them politically to not make a decision,” Cale said after the meeting. “Our group discussion was to get it done before the state moved on it to give us some legal footing. It doesn’t seem to be a battle (the supervisors) want to fight and they don’t think it’s important. I think it is important to get it passed before the (state passes the bill) so we can tell our residents it was Des Moines that took it away. We voted to value the workers in Lee County and they took that away from us.”
During the open session, Cale questioned why Fedler in particular was fighting the issue.
“Why are we governing like this? Johnson County knew there was some risk, Polk County and Wapello have that, but if you have your values you can’t govern like that.”
Fedler said he had to cast a vote that was in line with the majority of his constituency. And he personally felt the issue was a federal and state issue, not a local issue.
“I represent everyone in my district and I try to vote based on what the majority of them tell me. So again, all of them that have talked to me said they felt the same way I did that this should be a state and federal issue not a county issue.”
Cale said he agreed that the state should set a reasonable minimum wage, but they haven’t done that so the county should.
“I feel fair minimum wage should be set by the state, but when the state fails to do so for nine years it becomes our responsibility. And your responsibility as a supervisor on this board,” Cale said.
Supervisor Gary Folluo said he has also spoken with many people on the issue and the one person who was against it was fairly well versed in the opposition, but most people were in favor of moving the wage. He also said the county needed to take action because this just wasn’t an issue of minimum wage.
“I did receive one negative correspondence right from the Chamber Alliance playbook on why it shouldn’t be raised, but also have had other contacts with people at stores or at a meeting, that they felt it was healthy to raise the minimum wage. In addition, it sends a message to the state that something needs to be done. We are the poorest county in the state,” Folluo said.
“A rising tide floats all boats. I think it would serve our county very well to let our people know we care about them and we want good employees. And you have to pay for good employees. We need to do all we can for the people of Lee County to raise their standards and send a message to the State of Iowa because this is bigger than minimum wage. The state of Iowa is looking at taking away local control and we have to send them a message.”