Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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May 8, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 5/11/10

In this edition:
*Panhandling Ordinance
*Exceptions to Policy
*Bike to Work Week
*Friends of Hickory Hill Plant Sale
*Did You Know?

*Panhandling Ordinance
I am troubled by the recent panhandling ordinance passed 6-1 by the Iowa City Council.

Apparently, several Councilors are moved by anecdotal stories that “some long time residents are afraid to go downtown.” So now we are going to outlaw behavior “some” people consider “scary”? What people among us get to decide this, and what criteria are they setting for “scary”?

I have an 18-year-old daughter. Rachel is African American. She wears her hair in a “frohawk”. She has several piercings. She likes to wear funky clothes. To many people – especially old, white people – Rachel would be scary.

I think about my dearly deceased grandmothers. Neither was exposed to a great deal of diversity during their long lives. I could see them being “scared” of people they viewed as “different”. What I do not understand is how the IC Council can criminalize behavior that is protected by the US Constitution.

Panhandlers are on public property. They have a right to be there. They have a right to speak and to hold signs. I spend more time downtown than most IC residents, and I have never seen this so-called “aggressive panhandling”. We already have laws that prohibit someone getting “aggressive” toward another person.

Personally, I do not give to panhandlers. If the free market really works, we all stop giving and the panhandlers will need to find another way of making a go of it. (This ABSOLUTELY does not mean we should turn our backs on those less fortunate. I give generously to the United Way and organizations that work to prevent hunger, homelessness, and other societal ills.) And I do not begrudge those who do give. I think it is great that a few among us will spare a dime for his fellow man.

I do not like to see panhandling. That does not mean it should be illegal. What speech must “move” next? This time it targets the poor panhandlers. Next time, it could be speech YOU like.

Thanks to Councilor Mike Wright for a courageous vote in opposition to a very bad ordinance.

*Exceptions to Policy
Like any governing body, the Board of Supervisors is often asked to make exceptions to policy. I have some guiding principles I use when considering exceptions; after I lay out my thoughts, I’d like to know your opinions!

First, I look at the rule in question, and ask, “Is it intended to further the goals we wish to achieve as a county?” If not, I say we get rid of the rule.

Secondly, I look at the rule in question, and ask, “Does it have the intended effect?” If not, we may need to modify the rule. This includes a broad look at all the cases that do and don’t comply with said rule.

Let’s assume the rule is necessary and generally works. If so, my third effort is to try and understand why the petitioner cannot or will not comply.

Fourthly, I try to look at all the possible options, including those that comply and those that do not. I weigh each option.

The fifth step is discussing my thoughts with all involved (petitioners, staff, etc.) to make sure I understand all the issues.

Finally, I make a decision to support the requested exception or to oppose it, and communicate my reasoning.

Here are a few of my pet peeves when it comes to exceptions. Unfortunately, these examples are all too real:

1. Elected officials grant an exception without explanation. The public deserves to know why you are bending the rules.

2. Elected officials grant exceptions because they were too lazy/unable to understand the implications of the decision. It sounds bad, and it is! But unfortunately, it happens!

3. Exceptions are granted only for the powerful & well connected. It sounds bad, and it is! But unfortunately, it happens!

4. Exceptions are granted to folks who were too lazy to learn and/or follow the rules. A failure to plan on their part does not constitute an emergency on the part of the government.

5. Exceptions are granted virtually all the time. This means the rule is no good.

I believe exceptions to policy should be both infrequent and easy to explain. What are your thoughts?

*Bike to Work Week
Bike to Work Week is celebrated across the Iowa. Get your bike out and ride to work during May 17-21. There are several events throughout Johnson County… check out the Bike to Work Week page at for the best info.

Happy riding!

*Friends of Hickory Hill Plant Sale
The Friends of Hickory Hill Park are hosting their annual Spring Plant Sale Friday May 14 from 4-7 PM and Saturday, May 15 from 10-4 at 1167 E. Jefferson Street. All proceeds benefit this wonderful park!

DID YOU KNOW? Johnson County averaged 180 jail inmates per day in April. The jail holds a maximum of 92 inmates; the rest were housed in other counties.

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

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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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