Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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July 19, 2009

Sullivan’s Salvos 7/21/09

Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite…the images of my formative years are quickly passing from this earth. I guess this is what aging feels like.

The Johnson County Fair is July 27-31. This is a great event that in many cases serves to reconnect urban folks to their rural roots.

Parking and admission are free, and there is truly something for everyone. Please take a look!

The Johnson County Master Gardeners will host their 14th annual Taste of the Heritage Gardens on Wednesday, July 22 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Plum Grove Historic Site, 1030 Carroll Street in Iowa City.

For a suggested donation of $5, attendees will receive a taste of 19th recipes for soups, salads, vegetable dishes, breads, drinks and desserts prepared by the Master Gardeners. In addition, the audience will be entertained by the Senior Center Horn band, and there will be guided tours of the gardens and 1844 Lucas house.

There will be a drawing for door prizes and recipe booklets will be available. Free parking is available on site.

The proceeds from this event go to garden maintenance and Kirkwood scholarships. In case of bad weather, the event will be held at Building C at the Johnson County Fair Grounds. Further information is available at 351-4903.

A friend recently pointed me to an interesting site that provides guidance in terms of the value of volunteer time. It is based on the average hourly earnings of all production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls (as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Independent Sector takes this figure and increases it by 12 percent to estimate for fringe benefits.

So, in Iowa, volunteer time can be calculated at $16.10 per hour. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of hours volunteered in Johnson County every year, and you can see that we are talking about serious contributions!

One of the most delicate balances for any elected official is the balance between following staff recommendations and following the wishes of individual members of the public.

On one hand, it is absolutely vital that elected officials trust their staff people. We hire people to be experts. If we are not willing to heed expert advice, why employ an expert?

On the flip side, we all have instances where we disagree. If elected officials blindly follow staff recommendations, things will not go well. Elected officials are charged with weighing staff expertise versus public opinion and other mitigating circumstances.

So, how does an elected official strike a healthy balance? In my mind, the most important factor is hiring good people. If elected officials have less than 99% confidence in key staff, there will be trouble. Second-guessing hurts everyone involved.

Part of the measure of a really good staff person is her ability to accept things when elected officials overrule or disagree with her. I always appreciate it when staff people turn things around on elected officials, and let them own the decision. For example:

“Here is the situation. Here are your adopted policies that may/may not be applicable. Here is my recommendation. Here is why I recommend it. If you choose to accept my recommendation, here are the possible ramifications. If you choose not to accept my recommendation, here are the possible ramifications. Let me know what you decide, and I’ll begin implementing it right away.”

We are very fortunate in Johnson County, as we have some EXTREMELY good staff people. Many run through the decision making process just as I laid it out above. I follow their lead most of the time. When I do not follow their advice, we discuss the reasons why, and there are no hard feelings. (At least, I HOPE there are no hard feelings!)

There is no magic number when it comes to following staff recommendations, but it probably shouldn’t be 100%. If so, one must question the ability of the elected official to think independently. A more important factor is the dialogue that occurs around these decisions. Elected officials and staff should both be able to articulate their positions clearly.

Pay attention to the interactions between professional staff and elected officials. These relationships are the key to how well your government will operate.

DID YOU KNOW? 94% of Johnson County residents 21 and older have a high school diploma. (Source: US Census Bureau.)

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.

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



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