Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

Previous Posts



January 29, 2008

Johnson County lost another amazing individual this past week with the passing of Ruth Bonfiglio.

Lots of people talk about the world in which they want to live. Few people go out and work to make that vision a reality. Ruth was one of the few.

I could write at length about her many achievements, but I’ll try to sum it up. Ruth dedicated her life to improving the lives of poor children. I guess not much more needs to be said. She will be missed.

If an employer went to a local government and said they would bring $156,000 in new money into the local economy, virtually every penny to be spent and spent locally, what kind of reception would they get? Would they be offered tax breaks? Would the papers do front-page stories? Would someone win an economic development award? It is the economic equivalent of 70 local full-time workers getting a $1.30/hour raise!

This happened last year, and it happened in Johnson County. It happened as a result of the “You Earned It, Now Claim It!” Free Tax Help initiative. This initiative is a cooperative effort of the UI VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, Johnson County, the Iowa City Public Library, the IC Housing Authority, the ICCSD, the AARP, Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County, the United Way, and many others.

Particular credit needs to go to Johnson County Social Services Coordinator Amy Correia. Amy researched other models, gathered together the partners, led the planning, and shepherded a diverse group to an outstanding result. She even got her hands dirty doing childcare!

The Free Tax Help initiative is an important program for our community. Unfortunately, many workers do not file tax returns. Others do not get back everything they should. In other cases, workers pay exorbitant fees and interest rates under the guise of “rapid refunds.”

Through the Free Tax Help initiative, people with incomes under $39,000 can get free help electronically filing their taxes. Refunds are received in just a few days. There are 8 sites around the County, and translators and childcare are available at several locations. No appointments are necessary.

The initiative will begin a second year in early February. For more information on this Free Tax Help, call 211, or see the County website at

The 11th Annual DVIP Souper Bowl will be January 31, 2008, 5:30-7:30, at the Quality Inn and Suites on North Dodge and Highway 1 (It is the old Highlander, just North of Interstate 80).
The Souper Bowl is a soup supper to support the local domestic violence shelter. Local restaurants donate soup and bread. Local artists and pottery stores donate bowls. It's a family-friendly event so bring the kids! They eat free unless they'd like to take a bowl home.
Tickets are $20.00 and you get to take your bowl home as a yearlong reminder that domestic violence is a daily issue!

Have fun and help kids in Johnson County! Big Brothers Big Sisters is now accepting Team Registration forms for their annual fundraiser - Bowl For Kids’ Sake. Get together a group of five of your friends and raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County at the 24th annual Bowl For Kids’ Sake, February 23rd and 24th at Colonial Lanes in Iowa City.
This year’s pledge goal is $130,000 and we need your support. Call 337-2145 or visit for more information on forming a team. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County is a youth program of ISU Extension and is a United Way agency.
The Sullivan for Supervisor campaign has a team; please visit to sponsor us!

From Citizens for Tax Justice: Several Presidential candidates have proposed allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for wealthy Americans. For Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, "wealthy" means those with income above $250,000, while for former Senator John Edwards, this means those who make more than $200,000. John Edwards thinks people with incomes higher than $200,000 should pay more in Social Security payroll taxes, while Mitt Romney thinks that people with incomes below $200,000 need a new tax break for investments.
There seems to be a perception that people with incomes around $200,000 are "middle-class" people. A new paper from Citizens for Tax Justice finds that in 2008, only 3.2 percent of taxpayers nationwide will have adjusted gross income (AGI) greater than $200,000 and only 2.1 percent will have AGI over $250,000. The paper also shows how many taxpayers have incomes higher than these levels in each state.

It further explores how people are often even more confused when the discussion revolves around the "richest one percent," partly because about a fifth of the public seems to believe they're in the top one percent.

DID YOU KNOW? The average number of people airborne over the US any given hour: 61,000.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website -

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!


January 22, 2008

Budget discussions are happening at the local government level. While things seem to be going relatively smoothly in governments countywide, I do have an ax to grind.

I have heard several elected officials express concern over higher taxes. Some initiative or package of services will cost taxpayers $10-20 per $100,000 valuation. Without fail, an elected official (or four or five) will say, “I just don’t know how much more the taxpayers can take,” or “Somebody around here needs to look out for the taxpayers.”

If these same elected officials were REALLY concerned about the impact taxes have on their constituents, they would have joined me in opposing the one-cent sales tax.

Just do the math. $20 per $100,000 valuation will cost someone who owns a $100,000 house $10/year after the residential rollback. For a $300,000 house, it will cost $30/year. For a $500,000 commercial property, it will run $100/year.

Now look at the impact of the sales tax. The poorest families in Johnson County will probably pay around $100 more per year in taxes. The wealthiest will pay somewhere around $300. (These estimates are admittedly tough to nail down, and depend upon several factors.)

Not only was the one cent sales tax a much bigger impact on everyone – it hit the poor harder! Where were the budget hawks when this passed? I did not have much support from elected officials back then! The Press Citizen and Gazette kept calling me because they could not find other elected officials who were publicly opposed.

Local groups that oppose higher property taxes worked to pass the sales tax. How can this be seen as anything other than an attack on the poor and middle class?

At least the public got to vote on the Sales Tax increase. Though I was personally opposed, I felt it was important to let the people vote. I did not like the outcome, but I voted to allow the people their say.

Putting the regressive versus progressive argument aside for a moment - I get tired of taxes being demonized. Taxes are not a bad thing. Taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society.

My wife can attest to the fact that I am thrifty. I still wear clothes that are 25 years old, much to her chagrin. I do not believe in spending money carelessly. At the same time, I am proud of the services Johnson County provides. Trust me – if I think we are wasting money somewhere, I’ll say so. You’ll likely read it here. If you see waste that I do not, please call it to my attention.
Meanwhile, let’s cool the tax rhetoric. If you really wanted lower taxes, you missed your golden opportunity.

Excited over Democratic control of the Iowa Legislature and Governor for the first time since 1965, I created a “wish list” for the 2007 Iowa Legislature. Let’s see how well my priorities were addressed:

• Raise the minimum wage. Yes
• Tax all income the same. Reward work at least as much as we reward investment. No
• Increase the income tax rate for the top earners, and reduce it for the middle class. Maintain a progressive income tax system. No
• Allow local governments to set their own property tax caps. No
• Allow local governments to use local option income taxes. No
• Eliminate Federal deductibility for State income taxes. No
• Increase the tobacco tax. Yes
• Repay the Senior Living Trust. Yes
• Repeal the so-called “Right to Work” laws. No
• Adopt Fair Share legislation. No
• Add OSHA inspectors. No
• Fully fund Medicaid, and expand HAWK-I. Yes
• Initiate same-day voter registration. Yes
• Allow for local control of smoking ordinances. No
• Expand the Bottle Bill to include all plastic containers. Increase the deposit to 10 cents. Give 1.5 cents more to handlers, and put 3 cents toward REAP funding. No
• Require all vehicles sold in Iowa to meet low emissions standards. No
• Increase requirements for utilities to develop wind power, and allow private wind producers access to the grid. No
• Increase teacher pay to greater than the national average. Yes
• Increase State funding for Regents institutions. Yes
• Institute public campaign financing, and strong campaign finance laws. No
• Add sexual and gender identities to the Iowa Civil Rights Code. Yes
• End mandatory sentencing. No
• Repeal the 2000 foot law for sex offenders. No
• Adopt “Sunshine Laws” similar to those observed by city and county governments. All meetings of 4 or more Legislators should be open to the public. No
• Encourage stem cell research. Yes

Obviously, some of these issues are complex enough that a simple yes/no does not sufficiently explain what happened. But in general, it looks like the Legislature accomplished 9 of my 25 priorities.

The real watershed issue for me was the change to the State Civil Rights Code. The real measure of the 2007 session was if the Legislature would grant increased civil rights to Iowans. When that passed, so did my judgment of the session. To me, that was the single make-or-break issue.
I see Legislative action as comparable to baseball; one out of three is pretty darned good. With that in mind, I’ll take batting .450! Especially if the Legislature manage to pass a couple more of my priorities this year.

DID YOU KNOW? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Johnson County served around 800 youth and families in 2007.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website -

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!


January 15, 2008

The 21st marks the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. Like many holidays, it is easy to just accept it as a day off (for some, anyway) and not give it a second thought.

I fear Dr. King is becoming a caricature. A fuzzy image that we all glance at and say, “Oh, what a nice man.” We need to remember that Dr. King scared people. He was a radical.

Dr. King was murdered because he believed in the radical ideas of peace and justice. The people of the world give these topics lip service, but the powers that be do not really want peace and justice. Over the course of history, only the radicals truly fight the powers that be for peace and justice.

So the powers that be murdered Dr. King, they murdered Gandhi, and they murdered Jesus Christ, just to name a few peace and justice radicals. Forty years after Dr. King’s assassination, we continue to live in a world with too little peace and too little justice. The fight goes on.

I urge you to take some time to reflect on Dr. King, his radical ideas, and our continuing struggle for peace and justice.

The UI has several great events planned for Human Rights Week. See for more information. Happy Holiday, everybody!

The Iowa Legislature convenes this week, hoping to build upon last year’s very positive session. Good luck to our local delegation!

I heard reports of Governor Culver's recent talks with Legislative Leaders. The reports said Culver is unlikely to sign any tax increase of any kind. We know that State government does not have all the necessary resources. So what can be done?

I have a suggestion for our Legislators: Combined Reporting.

Here is how it works: There are thousands of corporations based in Delaware, because Delaware does not tax them. Years ago, Toys R Us realized that they could set up a shell corporation in Delaware. (It is named Jeffrey Inc., after their mascot, Jeffrey the Giraffe.)

Jeffrey Inc. owns every Toys R Us store, and charges outrageous amounts for rent, janitorial, building management, etc. So Jeffrey Inc. is very profitable, with all income earned in Delaware, and all income tax free.

Meanwhile, Toys R Us stores in Iowa show tiny profits, because they pay outrageous sums to Jeffrey Inc. These Iowa stores, in turn, pay much less in Iowa income tax.

While there are only 6 or 7 Toys R Us in Iowa, they should still pay their taxes as a simple matter of fairness. What's more, Wal-Mart is ubiquitous across Iowa, and they do the same thing. I have heard estimates that our lack of combined reporting costs Iowans $50 million or more per year. We could do a great deal with $50 million! I do not want to pay Wal-Mart's taxes, and neither do other Iowans.

This can be fixed through a method known as combined reporting. It forces a company to pay state income taxes in these cases. Many states already require combined reporting; Iowa does not. Our own Peter Fisher at the UI is an expert in this area, and could help you understand it much better than my simple explanation.

I truly believe that combined reporting is a necessary step for Iowa. It isn't sexy like a tobacco tax, but this nuts and bolts adjustment to Iowa's tax policy would help Iowans immensely.

The Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce is holding its annual banquet on Thursday the 17th at 6:30 at the IMU. The Chamber has had a fine year, and has plenty about which they can be proud.

I do have a challenge for the Chamber, however. The speaker at the banquet is Chuck Peters, CEO of the Gazette. Mr. Peters will be speaking on the topic of “Creating a High-Performance Region.”

Do you want to know what I think this will be? I could be wrong, but my guess is it will be yet another diatribe as to how we have too much government, and how governments need to consolidate and get out of the way of businesses. I have heard the mantra many times before. I have even heard it from Mr. Peters before.

I know the IC Area Chamber recognizes the importance of the public sector in Johnson County. I have been at the table, and I have listened to the discussions. I know the local Chamber gets it.

My challenge to Mr. Peters – explain how the Gazette outperforms local government. Which serves the public better? Compared to twenty years ago, there are far fewer local reporters covering far fewer local stories. The cost of a paper has recently gone up 33%, and instead of coverage of the local School Boards, we get canned stories on Britney Spears.

The Gazette has some great people in Johnson County – Lyle Muller, Linda Alexander, Greg Hennigan, Jennifer Hemmingsen… the list goes on. The Gazette employs quality journalists who do a good job; there just aren’t enough of them.

Newspapers (and other “local” media) have a sacred trust with the local people. Far too often in recent memory, that trust has been violated. A “High-Performance Region” simply must have “High-Performance” local media. Local media must follow local governments closely, report the results, and allow the people to decide how well their governments work.

We always hear that “government needs to be run more like a business.” This is BS. There are well-run governments, poorly run businesses, and vice-versa. There is no secret to success in either endeavor – you need to work hard, work smart, and get a little lucky. It is that simple.

If we are NOT “High-Performance”, perhaps it is NOT the fault of the public sector. Anyone ever consider that? The public sector gets a lot of blame for the things that go wrong, but little credit for the things that go well.

I applaud the IC Area Chamber on a fine year. And I suggest that next year, the Chamber have a speaker from local government talk about the need for high performance local media. :)

DID YOU KNOW? 1.4% of the surface area of Johnson County is water.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website - .

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!


January 8, 2008

A quick take on the recent Caucuses:

*Turnout was AMAZING! Johnson County, you are the best!

*Congratulations to all the candidates on a fine race. Special congrats to Obama and Huckabee, the winners on the night.

*It was not all that long ago that Iowa would never have voted for a black man, let alone overwhelmingly. We have come a long way!

*Thanks to all the local staff people. This was an outstanding crop of dedicated young people, and we were lucky to have them.

*Thanks to school principals for their cooperation, and particular thanks to school custodians! Caucuses could not occur without the patience and help of these folks.

*Thanks to Party Chairs Brian Flaherty and Bill Kettel. These gentlemen took on the thousands of incredibly difficult and usually thankless tasks that make the caucuses go.

*If you just went by yard signs, “Support Our Troops – End the War” was an easy winner. Those signs outnumbered all others by 2-1 in Johnson County. I hope all candidates keep this fact in mind!

*Three big winners: 1.) The Iowa Caucuses themselves. Iowans answered the bell. 2.) Young people. The rest of us need to take them seriously. 3.) Change. People in both parties are crying out for something different.

*Three big losers: 1.) Tom Vilsack. His endorsements have not done well. The former Governor needs to get back to listening to Iowans. 2.) AFSCME. Attack ads on fellow Democrats are a bad idea. Plus your candidate lost. Now what? 3.) New York. Guiliani and Clinton both falter, and “I Love New York” is disgusting reality TV.

I am pleased to announce that I will have the opportunity to serve as Chair of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors this year.

The Chair position is an interesting one. Many cities (Coralville & North Liberty, to name two) directly elect their Mayors. The Chair of the BOS is not directly elected by the people; the Chair is elected by her/his peers (Iowa City operates similarly). But unlike Iowa City, where individual Councilors vie to be Mayor, Johnson County has a history of simply rotating the position of Chair. So getting elected Chair is just ceremonial. Other Counties tend to do the same thing, unless local politics lead to 3 Republicans shutting out 2 Democrats, or vice versa.

The role of the Chair is not that different from the role of the other Supervisors. There are three key differences: 1.) running the meeting; 2.) setting the agenda; and 3.) signing all the things that require signatures. It is a fair bit more work, but no more pay.

Setting the agenda also has an interesting history. Since the first election of Supervisor Stutsman 13 years ago, the Supervisors have gradually begun to treat each other with greater respect. (Sally deserves a lot of credit for this!) For the past several years, any Supervisor who really wanted an item on the agenda has gotten her/his wish. So the “internal politics” of the position are not too tough.

So will anything change with me serving as Chair? Well, I would like to implement a few minor changes that I think will improve citizen access to County government.

First, I hope to move the citizen input portion of the agenda from the end of the agenda to the beginning. That way, a citizen who wants to address the Board need not sit through the whole meeting before getting to speak. Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Solon, Hills, Swisher, Oxford, and University Heights do this already, as do Linn, Scott, and Blackhawk Counties. So it is not exactly a novel idea. I think this will serve the people of Johnson County much better than our current format – I hope my fellow Supervisors agree.

Secondly, I hope to have the Board formally accept more reports than we do now; I am thinking of things such as minutes from the Conservation Board and Board of Health. While formally accepting these types of reports doesn’t really change anything, it alerts more people to what is happening in County government. Again, I hope my fellow Supervisors agree that this would better serve the public.

Finally, I hope to add some hyperlinks to the agenda. I envision the Board agenda having an item such as “Accept minutes from July meeting of Board of Health,” then having a hyperlink so any interested person could just click and know what those minutes contained. Again, I hope my fellow Supervisors agree that this change would better serve the public. There are some minor technological (and perhaps personnel) issues in the way of this, but I remain hopeful.

Special thanks to Auditor Slockett and County Attorney Lyness for their support of these ideas. County government is indeed a cooperative venture! I will let you know if any or all of these changes get made.

Please let me know if you have ideas that might improve County government. My contact info appears at the end of every edition of Salvos.

Johnson County is excited to announce that Douglas E. Beardsley has accepted the position of Public Health Director for Johnson County beginning January 2, 2008. Mr. Beardsley succeeds former Director Ralph Wilmoth, who resigned in October 2007 to move to Colorado.

Mr. Beardsley holds a Master's Degree in Public Health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Bachelor's Degree in Health Education from the University of Utah. He comes to Johnson County from Boone County Health Department in Belvidere, Illinois, where he has served as Administrator since 1994. Prior to that Mr. Beardsley was Assistant Administrator for the Henry County Health Department in Kewanee, Illinois from 1989 to 1994.

Welcome aboard, Doug!

DID YOU KNOW? The Treasurer’s Office has reduced the non-personnel part of their budget for nine consecutive years.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website -

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!


January 1, 2008

Happy New Year! I sincerely hope 2008 is the best year ever for each and every one of you!

The Iowa Caucuses are this Thursday, January 3, beginning at 6:30 PM. A complete list of caucus locations can be found at the Auditor’s website:

Here are ten caucus tips, regardless of your party or candidate preference:

1. Caucus locations are not necessarily polling places! Double-check your caucus site!

2. Caucuses begin at 6:30 PM, but the lines will be long at 6:30. Get there earlier, if possible.

3. Do not bring a bunch of extra items you will not need. Your site will be crowded, and it will be easy to lose things.

4. Sign the nomination forms for candidates for local office, and take some time to learn about candidates for other elective offices.

5. If you are a caucus veteran, volunteer to assist the Temporary Chair at your location. She/he may need help with registration and any number of additional tasks. Try to be helpful.

6. Seating will be limited; most folks will need to stand. Try to identify folks who might need a chair, and help them get seated. Otherwise, get the chairs out of there.

7. If it is at all possible, walk to your caucus site. Parking will be a nightmare – guaranteed. If you live too far to walk, carpool. It will make the caucus process work better for everyone.

8. If you have kids between the ages of 10 and 16, bring them along. They can either observe the process or help out by watching younger children. If your child will be 18 by Election Day, she can fully participate in the Caucus.

9. If you can, stick around for the platform discussion. This hashing of ideas really is democracy at its best!

10. Finally, and most importantly, please be polite and understanding. We Iowans are given a tremendous privilege. Waiting in line, being crowded, being too hot or too cold, running late, etc. are the prices we pay to have lots of folks participate in our democracy. I assure you that everyone wants the caucuses to go as smoothly as possible, but problems do occur. Hang in there, and remember how lucky we are!

Abe Lincoln lost several elections. Don Larson's career record was 81-91. Van Gogh sold one painting in his lifetime.

So what made these individuals special? Rising to the occasion when it matters most.

I want to see this same quality in the President of the United States.

I want a President who had the judgment and vision to get it right when it matters.

I want a President who had the courage and foresight to oppose the Iraq War BEFORE it started!

That is why I am going to caucus for Barack Obama.

Education, health care, roads, taxes, Social Security... It does not matter what issues are important to you. The United States is unable to meaningfully address ANY issue so long as we continue spending the $400 million per day at war in Iraq.
This war costs $4,100 per household. It has led to almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed and more than 60,000 wounded. It has caused 700,000 Iraqis killed and 4 million refugees. And the totals continue to rise.

When other candidates talk about wanting change... They created this mess! They played politics, and look what it has cost. We need to get it right when it matters. Let's help Barack Obama clean things up! Please caucus for Obama Thursday evening.

I hope you will join me in support of the striking Hollywood writers. OK, the strike is causing me to miss the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. And striking writers sometimes earn quite a bit more than striking laborers. But this is a classic labor-management battle. If you miss your favorite shows, do not blame the working stiffs – it is the fault of the big corporations. Viacom claims their internet properties are worth over a billion dollars. How much of that billion goes to the person who wrote the material? ZERO.

Stewart & Colbert are coming back – hopefully without scab writers. I will forego written TV – even my favorites - in solidarity until the billionaires pay the writers what is rightfully theirs. I hope you’ll join me.

DID YOU KNOW? 37% of Iowa farmers purchase health insurance from the independent market, compared to 8% of the overall population. While most farmers are insured, few groups pay more for insurance than farmers. (Source: SEIU)

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website -

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represent the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!