Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 5, 2012

Sullivan’s Salvos 10/9/12 In this edition: *Supervisor Forum *Sutliff Bridge *Seven Myths of Government Bashing, Part 2 *Did You Know? *Supervisor Forum The League of Women Voters and the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce are cosponsoring a forum for the 5 candidates for Supervisor on Monday, October 15 from 7-8:30 pm at the Iowa City Public Library. I recognize that races for President and Congress are much higher profile. But local government is important, too. There are significant issues at hand, and significant differences in the views of the incumbents, let alone the challengers. I am proud of my work on the Board of Supervisors, and it is exciting to have an opportunity to discuss it. I hope folks will take the opportunity to turn out and ask us some questions. *Sutliff Bridge The debate over whether or not to rebuild the Sutliff Bridge will undoubtedly be back now that the bridge is open to the public. I believe the vote to allow FEMA to repair the bridge was a very good thing for Johnson County. As most of you probably know, I have biases here. I grew up at Sutliff. My younger sister lives within 200 yards of the bridge. My family has lived in the area since before Iowa was a state. My friends and family fought to keep the bridge in the early 80s. My senior class picture was taken on the bridge. The bridge is tied up in family, friends, childhood memories, current relationships, and more. I want to state that in the interest of full disclosure. The Sutliff Bridge was built a couple decades prior to the advent of motorized vehicles. It is the longest Parker Truss Bridge in the US. It is listed on the National Historic Registry. To people in the area, it defines the place they call home. As for those deep questions - What is history worth? What is ANYTHING worth? If we get rid of an old bridge because it does not function the way it used to, should we apply that logic across the board? Should we quit spending tax dollars on senior citizens, many of whom no longer function the way they used to? Should we have torn down the Old Capital Dome after it burnt, and instead built a new office building? Should we preserve the ruins in Athens and Rome? Do Iowa’s Century and Heritage Farm programs make any sense? Why do we mark graves? Should history be taught in our schools? What is history worth? Frankly, it is impossible to place a value on history. I have been in the Old Capital probably ten times in the past year – almost certainly five times more often than most Johnson County residents. Do more people visit the Old Capital, or do more folks visit Sutliff? (My guess is Sutliff by a 20:1 margin.) Should attendance matter? Must history focus only on government, or is there value in preserving the people’s history? What makes one thing historic and worth saving, and another less so? The Sutliff Bridge is a destination for cyclists, motorcyclists, snowmobilers, farmers, anglers, hunters, boaters, birdwatchers, people exploring their Czech backgrounds, history buffs, and more. What is that worth? Can we accurately measure the economic impact of such a place? Thousands of tourists spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the area – to businesses that pay lots of taxes. Doesn’t that qualify as economic development? Or can economic development only occur in the “big city”? Is this economic development worth more than a 2 mile road resurfacing? Is it worth more than a few loads of gravel? There is ZERO local match required to restore the bridge. So no County dollars will go toward the project. ZERO. The cost of future maintenance would be a County expense, but given the fact that FEMA would be bringing it up to code, there should be very little in the way of maintenance expenses for 10-20 years at a minimum. Even the future maintenance looks good from a taxpayer’s perspective. The Sutliff Bridge Authority (SBA) has raised tens of thousands of dollars over 25+ years to maintain and insure this bridge. They are willing to put roughly $30,000 toward the future maintenance right now, with more to come very shortly. $30,000 should cover the maintenance costs for a long, long time. Plus, they have pledged to continue to raise funds into the future. I trust them and believe in them. History is on their side. So the people of Johnson County are getting this replaced courtesy of the federal government. I can already hear the familiar refrain – “they are still our tax dollars!” Of course. No one wants to see the federal government waste money. But this is an issue with any and every tax expenditure. If it benefits me, you think it is wasteful. If it benefits you, I think it is wasteful. People complain about waste in federal health programs, but ignore billions of waste in defense. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. There is little agreement as to how federal tax dollars are spent. That will not change any time soon. Most importantly, FEMA awarded this money to the people of Sutliff for the bridge. What right would Johnson County have to take it? The money was intended for the bridge. Stealing the money and using it for anything else would be wrong. Some try to make this an issue of fiscal accountability on the part of the Board. Want to track how Supervisors vote when it comes to the County budget? I have kept track of the public record. Those who opposed the Sutliff Bridge have voted for far more spending and to forego far more revenue than those who voted for it. The totals go well over $1 million. Ask me some time if you want to see the record. Interestingly, the State of Iowa, Polk County, Des Moines, and Principal have combined forces to build a $12 million pedestrian and bicycle bridge over the Des Moines River. Linn County built the $1.6 million Lundby Bridge in a County park. Local tourism and economic development folks are calling this a huge draw. The DM project is 1/3 the length of the Sutliff Bridge, and spans a much smaller river. Why don’t we market our own treasure? Johnson County has 59 structures on National Historic Registry, 41 of which are in Iowa City. These recognized structures include the Old Capitol, Plum Grove, Old Brick, the old Coralville Schoolhouse, the Johnson County Courthouse, the Englert Theater, Bethel AME Church, St. Mary's Catholic Church, and yes, the Sutliff Bridge. Federal, State, and local experts determined years ago that the bridge was one of 59 historic things in Johnson County worthy of saving. Can you imagine tearing any of these other structures down over a fear of future maintenance expenses? My general inclination is to lean toward preserving things. I think we benefit from having a connection to and understanding of history. Too much of our past is gone, never to return. Do I think everything is worth saving? No. But I happen to believe that the investment in the Sutliff Bridge is worth it. *Seven Myths of Government Bashing A friend recently sent me a great piece by Gail Cohen entitled “Seven Myths of Government Bashing”. I like this piece so much that I have decided to divide it into seven parts and run it in Salvos. Today, Part 2: CLAIM: When government steps in to fix a problem, they never get it right. They should just leave business to fix itself. ANSWER: It’s quite true that government’s fixes never seem to work, but that’s by design. We don’t want a government with absolute power to dictate policies, even if those policies seem good for the short term. We’re too smart for that. We know very well that giving government lots of power to fix today’s crises would create rules that, later on, would be burdensome. This is true by and large, but there are times we should rethink that notion. Take the example of the BP oil mess. For decades, America has let Big Oil pretty much have its own way, let them sign off on their own safety reports, accept their verbal assurances that they will play nice and not hurt the pretty fishes when they drill. Now, BP has created a crisis they can’t control, so we want Obama to step up and take over. But since America has always let oil companies manage their own problems, we lack the expertise to come in behind BP and play cleanup. Obama will now try his best to jump in and fix things, and the results will appear clumsy and poorly-thought-out, simply because a spill of this magnitude is quite new to all of us, and we’ll have to learn as we go. One might say that the government should have been keeping closer watch of Big Oil all along, so as not to be caught in this sort of mess. But then, Republicans would have seized that opportunity to whine even more about “government” interference. Another example of government’s partial solutions to big problems is Obama’s foreclosure prevention plan. It’s a flop. Why? Because the plan is voluntary. Obama’s plan would work just fine, if Congress forced the banks to play, but who has the political stomach for that? Force the banks to take pennies on the dollar? There’d be cries of “socialism.” Very few people want to grant the government the broad powers and regulatory teeth required to craft a workable solution to the foreclosure problem. Such a plan would be very good for the economy, but enacting it is a matter of political will. Who wants to tell the banks that they need to take a haircut for the good of the nation? Obama could, if he had enough political support to weather the character assassination that is sure to follow. Since Americans want Obama to be both “in charge,” but also let the private sector run its own ship, then he’s bound to fail in many people’s eyes. Americans seem destined to accept ineffective half-solutions to the problems we want the government to address, rather than give the President the mandate to enact something far-reaching and comprehensive. So pick your poison: Give government the wide-ranging power to fix a problem, or live with that problem and feel “free” from government oppression. Just don’t complain that “government can’t fix things.” *DID YOU KNOW? The Johnson County Board of Supervisors expanded from 3 to 5 members following the 1978 election. 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! ---Rod


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