Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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December 4, 2010

Sullivan’s Salvos 12/7/10

In this edition:

*Property Maintenance Ordinance
*Did You Know?

*Property Maintenance Ordinance
As I have mentioned previously, Johnson County is in the process of considering a Property Maintenance Ordinance for the unincorporated areas.

This has been discussed for quite some time. The first time I recall discussing it was when we were made aware of the conditions at the trailer where Jetsetta Gage was murdered. Nothing passed at that time; since then, we have had numerous other complaints, notably concerns over some mobile homes at Regency.

Most cities have some type of property maintenance ordinance. Iowa City’s is quite thorough; some of the smaller towns are a bit more lax. But while the 110,000 Johnson County residents who live in cities are covered, our 25,000 rural residents have no such protections.

I favor a Property Maintenance Ordinance of some type. I believe that every Johnson County resident has a right to safe wiring, functioning plumbing, heat that works, and a structurally safe residence. These are basic human rights, and no one should live in a place that lacks one or more of these elements.

Perhaps I am too naïve, but I have been extremely disappointed by the public response to this proposed ordinance. Opposition seems to fall into two categories: folks who are ridiculously uninformed, and farmers.

Let me begin by addressing the ridiculously uniformed. Contrary to what you might have heard, inspectors from Johnson County will not be free to kick in your door and forcibly enter your property.

I know a lot of people think the Supervisors are pretty stupid. I happen to disagree. But really? You honestly think we want to be responsible for passing an ordinance that authorizes kicking in the doors of county residents? Can you be serious?

There is plenty of room for debate on this issue. We do not need absurd falsehoods clouding the real issues. I hope folks will stick to the facts, and recognize the foolish comments for what they are.

As for the farmers – I understand farming. I grew up on a Heritage Farm, over 150 years in the same family. We actually have two Heritage Farms, passed down from the lineages of both my Grandmother AND Grandfather. I lived there, worked there – I respect the culture. So I am sympathetic to the needs of farmers? Yes, I am.

Because of this, I have argued from the beginning that I wanted to exempt the farm buildings and focus on just the residences. Every third farm has a dilapidated building of some type. But the vast majority of those buildings pose no threat to the safety of people who live at the address.

The current version of the proposed ordinance does exempt all farm buildings except the very small percentage that pose a threat to the public. (For example, a barn that is ready to collapse onto a public road.) I’m certain the number of these very unique hazards in Johnson County could easily be counted on one hand.

I recognize that farmers would like to be exempt. Why would anyone want extra rules if they can avoid them? The problem is, we have some farmhouses that are uninhabitable. Not lots of farmhouses, mind you. But some. I feel these houses should be addressed at the same time we address other problem properties.

I have never understood why a farmhouse should be exempt from this proposed ordinance. The ordinance is focused on the condition of the house, not the occupation of the owner. What would the public say if we said we wanted to pass a law, but it did not apply to the homes of bankers? The public would be (and should be) outraged! So why should we pass a law that exempts another group (farmers) based only on their occupation? It makes no sense.

I would urge opponents to look no further than Linn County, which has had a Property Maintenance Ordinance for about a decade. They have had no problems. Zero. Zip. Nada.

What’s more, the Linn County code is significantly stricter than the code being proposed for Johnson County. The Linn County code covers ALL farm buildings, sheds, barns, etc. Yet they have had no problems.

I hope Johnson County Farm Bureau members will contact Dave Mahachek, a Linn County farmer and Farm Bureau official who ran for Supervisor there three times. Mahachek never complained about this oppressive ordinance. If it was such a huge problem, why didn’t he run on the platform of repealing it?

I hope we have a thoughtful and informed discussion on this important issue. If you would like to participate in the decision making process on this topic, you can attend the public hearing, scheduled for 5:30 PM on Thursday, December 9th in the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building, 855 S. Dubuque Street.

Kudos to US Senate Republicans for eliminating earmarks! I wish my own Democratic Party had beaten the GOP to this populist position!

The ironic thing about the GOP eliminating earmarks is that it empowers bureaucrats. Instead of Senators deciding where highways will be built, you will have DOT bureaucrats making the decisions.

I have no problem with this; the DOT folks are supposed to be experts, who can apply agreed-upon criteria fairly to projects across the US.

Obviously, oversight is an important role for our elected officials. It is the job of Congress and the President to ensure that these departments are functioning properly. We have seen recently that the Minerals Management Division was badly broken; it is incumbent upon Congress and the President to intervene in these cases.

(I had just finished writing this when it was reported that Senator Kyl (R) of Arizona had requested earmarks. So the pledge lasted about 5 days. Guess we can forget the whole paragraph above!)

*DID YOU KNOW? Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost almost $1.5 TRILLION dollars. That is a million millions. That is $5,000 for every man, woman, and child in the US.

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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