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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Road foreman pushes back on criticism of crew's production

Updated: 8 minutes ago

Flash floods caused an estimated $4 million in damage to county roads in April. They also added more work to a road department that has been the focus county commissioners. (Linn County Public Works Department)

By Charlene Sims,

MOUND CITY – For much of the past three months, two members of the Linn County Commission have been vocal in their criticism of the way the county crews have been addressing road issues. Commissioners Danny McCullough and Jim Johnson have been particularly critical of the road crews’ productivity since flash floods did major damage to roads in April.

That dissatisfaction spilled over into discussion of the Road and Bridge Department budget on Monday, July 8. Commissioners heard Public Works Administrator Shaun West give his presentation for the 2025 budget.

With Commissioner Jason Hightower absent from Monday’s meeting, the commissioners launched again into criticism of the road crews.

But this time, north shop foreman Jesse Walton pushed back.

Walton told the two commissioners that he had hired four mowers and now has one. He said that they have hired every applicant, but when they show up to work they don’t want to mow.

“I can’t build somebody’s work ethic. I can’t force people to apply,” said Walton. “So then, I’m stuck with mowing that needs to be done. I don’t have seasonal mowers, I’ve got a truck driver in a mower right now.”

McCullough told Walton that he did have control because he could come in a talk to the commissioners about it.

“We can say, ‘Hey, if we raise this $2 hour this is what it is going to do to the budget,’” said McCullough. “That’s what I am trying to get at. It’s not you guys responsibility just to sit and be frustrated over it. I don’t want you guys to feel like we’re against you or that we’re against Shaun. I’m not, I want to hear what you guys have to say.”

“I don’t care if you come in here and say we need a $7 million budget, but I’d like to hear (reasons) behind why you need it,” said McCullough. “I mean, wouldn’t you want to know all the little details of what’s happening?”

“My job description doesn’t say figure out your budget,” said Walton. “It’s run the barn. If you want me to sit down and figure up a budget, you’re going to pay me more money.”

“Whenever I do try to figure it out the tension that comes to me is not worth the money that I make,” McCullough said, showing his frustration.

In 2023, commissioners made nearly $26,600 year plus benefits. And while some commissioners go beyond their requirement to attend weekly meetings that generally last three to five hours, others don’t. They also take phone calls and emails from constituents outside of those meetings.

“How about the tension that comes our way at the money we’re making?” asked Walton.  

McCullough said that he was afraid that the next issue the county was going to have to deal with is the turnover rate because of the tension.

Walton said that the county already had people who do budgets for the department,  and if the commissioners wanted him and others to sit in or do budgets, they needed to make it worth their while. (McCullough had requested that the road foreman come to the road and bridge budget presentation.)

Walton said that he had been in charge of budgets before and it wasn’t that hard. 

“Breaking out your rock budget, fuel budget, employee budget – it’s not that hard,” said Walton. “You want a cost break down? The clerk’s office has cost breakdowns that they send out. Do you get them? Do you look at them?” 

“Are you all doing the same exact thing that we ask?” asked Danny. 

“I’m trying to do everything that you guys ask,” Walton replied.

Johnson said, “Why is our roads . . . and I can take you to roads . . . “

“I can drive around and show you roads, too, Jim,” Walton said, cutting off Johnson. “I drive roads everyday just like you. I put 10,000 miles on my truck in two months chasing roads. Hey, we got to fix this, we got to fix that.”

Johnson said that work had not been done and he could show Walton the roads. 

Walton said he agreed but asked Johnson if he wanted to come to his roads and look. 

 And drive around. I get on a blade. I get on a skid steer. I get on a track hoe. I go do whatever it takes to get it done for the day,” said Walton.

McCullough said, “We’re not saying that we don’t believe you.”

“Well, that’s the way it comes off. You need to understand that,” said Walton.

“We’re done, we’re done, we’re done,” said McCullough. “This is what I didn’t want to happen. That’s what you guys don’t understand. We’re not trying to create tension here,”

“What do you want to change?” asked Walton.

“I don’t know. I guess we can go back and review the damn YouTube video,” said McCullough. “I make a motion that we adjourn. I’m done for the day.”

Johnson seconded the motion, and it was unanimously approved with no action taken to preliminarily approve or disapprove the road and bridge budget.

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