Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 28, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 1/31/12

In this edition:

*Sullivan for Supervisor Fundraiser
*”Parental Responsibility” Ordinances
*Sand Road and Other Chip Seals
*Did You Know?

*Sullivan for Supervisor Fundraiser
Reminder - I am holding a fundraiser for my reelection campaign on Wednesday, February 1 from 5-7:30 PM at the Mill in downtown Iowa City. No need to RSVP – just show up!

*”Parental Responsibility” Ordinances
I have heard that some in Iowa City are calling for a so-called “parental responsibility” ordinance. The idea here is that if a minor child is charged with a crime, parent(s) may also be charged.

I think people who support this ought to volunteer to be foster parents. Until they are willing to step up and take that on, they should shut their mouths.

Passage of this type of ordinance would kill foster care. Why would anyone risk prosecution to care for someone else’s child?

I have had more than my share of experience with troubled youth. This is not as simple as ordinance supporters make it sound. Sure, most parents can keep a rambunctious 6 year old in his room. (And 99.99% DO.) But what is that same parent to do when that child grows to be a 16 year old, 200-pound young man?

I have personally seen dozens of situations where the parent would give almost anything to have the assistance of the police. They want their child to do the right thing; they cannot do much with an out-of-control teen.

We are severely lacking in services for troubled teens. Parents have almost no support. 25 years ago, the Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) funded services for families in this situation. Not any more. In many cases, the only way a parent can get any help for a child is to hope she gets arrested!

In addition, there are already laws in place to punish teens that commit crimes. Why do we need “extra” punishments? Crime isn’t even up in Johnson County; it is down significantly!

Another factor is mental illness. The onset of most types of mental illness tends to take place during the mid-late teens. These children have done nothing wrong. They are ILL. Their parents face a LIFELONG, daunting challenge to provide for, support, and advocate for their kids. Meanwhile, some smug SOB thinks that parent, who has experienced suffering they will never know, should get a fine. Makes me so angry I could scream!

Finally, there are significant civil liberties concerns in play. How can you charge someone with a crime who has done nothing wrong? The ACLU is fighting these ordinances across the country, and having great success. I hope they continue to do so!

Supporters of this type of ordinance have lived in a bubble, and they are lucky that they have been so blessed! A more appropriate response would be a call for more and better services for families in need. Meanwhile, supporters of punishing parents should heed the old adage: there but for the Grace of God go I.

*Sand Road and Other Chip Seals
The Board was recently asked to consider lowering the speed limits on 170th Street (near Lake MacBride) and Sand Road south of 520th. After doing speed studies, the data called for 170th to be lowered to 45mph, and called for Sand Road to stay at 55.

Instead, the Board voted to keep 170th at 55 mph while lowering Sand Road to 45 mph. Why? Well, paraphrasing one Board member – if he knows you and you ask him directly, he’ll vote for whatever you want. But if he hasn’t spoken to you, you’re out of luck.

I voted to use science as the guide, and keep the Sand Road speed limit at 55. I lost on a 4-1 vote. The idea that Supervisors “just know” when a speed limit should be lowered is silly. The current state of affairs is that speed limits will get dropped when people fill the room. That is not how we are supposed to govern.

I wrote the following piece a couple of months ago, but it bears repeating today.

The Board recently heard from a group of residents who live along Sand Road south of 520th, where the road becomes chip seal. The residents are concerned about excessive speeds, coupled with farm and bicycle traffic. The road has seen a big increase in traffic – up to 1600 vehicles per day (vpd). The residents feel this section of roadway has become dangerous.

The residents out there want something done. There are really only 3 options, none of which are perfect solutions:

1. “Improve” the road
2. Paint stripes on the road
3. Reduce the speed limit

“Improving” the road means buying right of way (so taking front yards), cutting down trees, and paving a wide swath. It is expensive, and while it makes driving fast safer, it does nothing to address the farm/bike traffic.

Painting a chip seal road is a waste of money, period. It costs about $5,000 per mile to paint, and it would need to be done every single year. With over 100 miles of chip seal road in Johnson County, we simply cannot afford it.

Reducing the speed limit is the cheapest and easiest option, but poses problems of its own. The average speed on the road is currently greater than 55. Is it wise to artificially lower the speed limit? And what are the implications for the Sheriff’s Office where enforcement is concerned?

The bigger question is: why address Sand Road, and why now? Personally, I think we need to take a holistic look at ALL our chip seal roads. There are over 100 miles of chip seal road in Johnson County. We should begin to address this starting with the highest vpd and moving on through to the lowest.

The fact of the matter is, we have several chip seal roads with more curves, more hills, more trees, higher traffic counts, more bikes, and more residents. In my mind, these roads deserve our consideration before Sand Road.

Do not get me wrong: I sympathize with the folks on Sand Road, and I trust that everything they report is true. But the people who live on Sandy Beach Road (the highest vpd of any chip seal in Johnson County) have not been in the room to advocate for their road. What about their needs?

Since starting as a Supervisor in January of 2005, I have tried to make as many data-driven decisions as possible. Historically, too many decisions get made based upon who you know. I prefer quantifying those things that can be quantified, and putting that information to use.

Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors is very susceptible to the desires of a room full of voters. It is an election year for four of the five Supervisors, and it is likely that any candidate would prefer 40 happy constituents to 40 that are angry. So my guess is that the Board will vote to give these residents the lower speed limit they desire without tackling the tougher topic.

Personally, I will only vote for a comprehensive approach to our chip seal roads. That may leave me on the angry side of those 40 voters, but I feel it is the only fair way to proceed.

The issues of speeding, tough terrain, and noncompatible uses are problems countywide. The Board should address the issue countywide rather than simply greasing the squeaky wheel.

*DID YOU KNOW? Only 11% of Americans moved last year, the lowest percentage since 1948. (Source: Governing Magazine.)

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

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