Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

Previous Posts


June 25, 2011

Sullivan’s Salvos 6/7/11

In this edition:

*North Liberty Fun Days
*Supervisor Districts – A Bad Idea!
*Did You Know?

*North Liberty Fun Days
North Liberty holds its annual Fun Days celebration Friday-Sunday June 10-12. After a rained-out Blues & BBQ, we need to get out to North Liberty and support that city!

A schedule of all the events is available at:

*Supervisor Districts – A Bad Idea!
The issue of County Supervisor Districts has reared its ugly head in Johnson County. I think this is a really shortsighted idea!

I am sure there are some who would love to make a little dig at Supervisor Rettig and I, who only live about 12 blocks from each other. But it is not about me personally. I have been consistent in my opposition long before it had the potential to affect me personally – I was the “con” opinion at League of Women Voters forums in both Washington and Linn Counties.

As I said, this type of change is much bigger than two incumbents. It can cost taxpayers for decades to come! That is correct – a district system costs taxpayers more money!

Plus, I do not believe geography matters nearly as much as people think. One high-profile example - Supervisor Harney lives in Newport Township, yet disagreed with the vast majority of Newport residents over the road.

Personally, I voted to vacate a road that is home to one of my friends, very near where I grew up. That was not fun, but I felt I needed to ignore the geography.

Geography is but one thing that binds people together. Despite the immigration of the past two decades, we remain a small community in many ways. Frankly, most elections are won because of who your Mom and Dad are/were. There are old friendships to take into account. Every election has issues of gender, race, religion, occupation, education, political party, and income level, just to name a few.

These issues aren't usually well publicized, but it is clear that many farmers vote for farmers, many UI folks vote for UI folks, many Catholics vote for Catholics, and so forth. This does not even take into account the actual issues of the day - public safety, roads, social services, taxes, and the like. Does geography matter? Yes, but not nearly as much as people think.

This leads to the issue of Supervisor districts. Linn and Washington Counties recently adopted district systems, where the county is divided into 5 districts and only the people in that district vote for that Supervisor. Sups must live in the district they represent. I have several issues with a district system.

First, as I pointed out, geography is often less important than people realize. (See my arguments above.)

Secondly, we have a system of one person, one vote. Iowa City, with 68,000 residents, will always have more voters than Oxford, with 800. Law would not allow a district to be gerrymandered in such a way to guarantee a Supervisor from Oxford. If we had districts, each would contain about 27,000 residents. A district that included Oxford, Tiffin, Swisher, Shueyville, and lots of rural residents would still only amount to 7,000 people. Even if you added North Liberty to the mix, the district would be 7,000 people short. So the idea that you are going to get an Oxford-based Supervisor is still slim.

The best bet for someone wanting a Sup from Oxford is to find a good candidate in Oxford, work with her on issues, and urge her to run. Good candidates CAN win regardless of where they live; it is difficult to win BECAUSE of where you live.

Thirdly, districts actually eliminate good candidates. It is entirely possible that the two best candidates live next door to each other. Why eliminate one from holding office? If it was a job interview in the private sector and you were determined to hire the two best people, you wouldn’t even look at where they lived.

Fourthly, districts add inefficiency to government by creating a patronage system. If Swisher gets a road repair one year, Lone Tree will get one the next, whether it is needed or not. Because rather than looking out for the best interests of the entire county, you have created a system that rewards “bringing home the bacon.” This WILL increase the cost of government!

It also adds expenses to elections. Supervisor Districts create additional ballot types, driving up the cost of elections while adding to voter confusion. That does not even take into account the fact that you need to hold an $80,000 special election just to vote on the change!

Fifthly, districts eliminate some of the representative nature of government. All 5 Sups vote on ordinances, the budget, and everything else. If a Sup is going to spend my tax dollars, I want to have a say by being able to vote for or against her. And the Rural Fund makes up only $3 million of the $75 million dollar county budget.

In Polk and Linn Counties, there are Supervisors who do not have a single county road or rural resident in their Districts. This would likely occur in Johnson County, too, if a District system was in place. This creates an incentive for the urban representative to push all the expenses of County government to the rural side of the budget.

Finally, I dislike identity politics. I frequently hear, “We need a couple farmers on the Board.” I understand the reasoning, but I disagree. Look at all the flaws in this argument:

1. Not all farmers think alike, and not all farmers will vote alike. And who defines which people are “really” farmers?

2. Johnson County has about 4,000 on-farm residents, including children. (That amounts to 3% of overall county residents, and a little less than one in 5 rural residents.) Johnson County has many more teachers than farmers; why don’t we need a teacher on the Board?

3. In continuing the identity politics, Johnson County is home to approximately 5,000 Latinos; 6,000 African Americans; 13,000 people with disabilities; 7,000 gays and lesbians; 20,000 seniors; 25,000 people with Master’s Degrees or higher. Must we ensure that each of these groups is represented? If so, how do we accomplish this on a 5 person Board?

4. What does it mean “to be represented?” While not African American, I am sensitive to issues of race through having three African American children. While not currently a farmer, I grew up on a farm, and we still have several in the family. While I do not have a disability, I used to work at The Arc. Each Supervisor could go on similarly as to why she/he represents everyone well.

Several local business leaders have been advocating for governments to think bigger and more regionally. This proposal goes the opposite direction. I hope Chuck Peters, Clay Jones, and others who have been advocating for less government will publically oppose this silly idea!

I hope that Johnson County never heads down the ill-conceived path of Supervisor districts. It only serves to drive up the cost of government, without improving services.

*DID YOU KNOW? 295 Johnson County residents pay privately for dust control; 48 of those pay for chip seal.

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.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at with "subscribe" in the subject line.

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



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home