Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 18, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos 1/22/13 In this edition: *MLK *Diversity Policy – Blame To Go Around! *Revenue Purpose Statement *Did You Know? *MLK Things rarely appear twice in Salvos. I happen to believe the MLK Holiday is important enough to be written about on consecutive weeks. We often hear about Christians who feel that Christmas has lost its meaning, union members who feel that way about Labor Day, and Veterans who feel the same about Veteran’s Day. I fear that this could be happening to MLK Day as well. If you get this in time, please look into participating in some of the many events designed to honor MLK. Enjoy the day off, if you get it – but please remember what we are celebrating. *Diversity Policy – Blame To Go Around! The top news story in Johnson County continues to be the Diversity Policy recently proposed by the ICCSD Board of Directors. It is ironic that this issue is being discussed at the same time as the MLK holiday. For all his action on issues of race, it was his advocacy for the poor that scared the powers that be. How would MLK view our discussions? Much has been reported about the ideas of school diversity and school capacity. Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) statistics can be quoted by parents throughout the District. Most people agree that there are issues to be addressed. The ICCSD Board has come under heat from all directions. The Iowa City Council has expressed support for the proposed policy; Coralville and North Liberty are opposed. Letters have already appeared in the paper. I find it ironic that ANY of these cities feels the need to weigh in. They CREATED this problem! Let’s have a little history lesson: I have been a critic of our local zoning decisions for over 20 years. During that time, none of these cities have adequately addressed the issue of middle-income housing, and the issue of low-income housing is not even open to discussion! Iowa City Councilor Jim Throgmorton previously served on the Council – back in 1994. Way back then, Throgmorton was arguing for inclusionary zoning. Inclusionary zoning is simple – it requires every new subdivision to have a small percentage of homes that are priced for middle and/or low-income people. So, for example, a city might say that for every development of two units or more, at least 10% must be moderately priced and 10% must be available for low-income people. So if a developer put in a 20 home subdivision, 2 houses would need to be targeted at moderate incomes, 2 at low incomes. You could do something similar with apartment buildings - if a developer put up two 12-unit apartment buildings, 3 units would need to be moderately priced, while 3 would need to be lower income. Developers hate this. Land is expensive, and they make a lot more from their investment if they build more expensive housing. They have been asked repeatedly over 20 years to do something voluntarily, and they have failed MISERABLY! The private sector is clearly not the answer here. Their financial incentives are too great. So governments (aka the cities) NEED to step up. But the cities have shirked this duty for over 20 years; I see no reason to believe that they will suddenly change now. In Iowa City, Councilors gave in to the wishes of developers and decided to hope that they would do things voluntarily. Meanwhile, a huge percentage of the low and moderate-income housing sits in a single area of town. It was becoming an issue in ’94 when Jim was first elected; now it is a critical problem. Iowa City does point out – and it is true – that any housing policy like inclusionary zoning should ideally be implemented in Coralville and North Liberty, too. (While I agree, this also gives them a convenient excuse for failing to act.) Coralville will not even participate in discussions on low-income housing. They have twice thwarted efforts by the MPO to bring the subject up. They have also systematically eliminated what low income housing did exist there. I vividly recall a discussion I had with a former Coralville Councilor around this issue. I noted that there were some new retail jobs in Coralville as a result of the then-new mall. What was Coralville going to do about housing those folks? “That’s what North Liberty is for,” he told me. I have seen no signs that anything has changed since then. In addition, all the TIFs in Coralville have hurt the ICCSD financially. The state backfills some of the money Coralville diverts, but only about 50%. The ICCSD is forced to raise taxes in an attempt to recover the rest. So ICCSD taxpayers subsidize Coralville development – and money that could go toward fixing up our schools funds a brewery and a clothing store. North Liberty actually does have a considerable amount of moderately priced housing as a percentage of total units. But as you can tell from Council discussions over the past few years, North Liberty has no interest in being “the place you go for cheap housing.” They are willing to have the conversation, but they are not willing to shoulder more than their share. I just don’t want to hear anyone from any city council complain about the ICCSD. Because I have not seen any city councilors SINCE Throgmorton 19 years ago who have fought for more low-income housing in more places. Elected officials at the city level simply fail to represent the poor. You may not like what the School Board is doing, but at least they are doing something. So. Here we are. Most parents in the ICCSD recognize the problems inherent with two elementary schools at 5% FRL while two different elementary schools hover around 80% FRL. Our community should not be so divided between rich and poor. Politics creates strange bedfellows. People who have legitimate concerns over the policy team up with people who hate and fear the poor and people of color. People who really want to increase the opportunities for the poorest kids in the District team up with people who want others to take the poor and people of color off their hands. We look to the ICCSD Board to fix things. The problem is, they did not create these problems, and they are limited in their ability to fix them. The public needs to own this. Parents – you elected the city councils that created the housing policies of the past two decades. You never held them accountable on this important issue. Now the chickens have come home to roost. If I were Throgmorton, I’d have a very difficult time not saying, “I told you so.” I sincerely hope that the parents who are so involved in the discussions at the ICCSD will begin to get involved in local zoning matters. Until the public begins to care about something beyond the most basic of NIMBY concerns, things will not get better. They are going to get worse. And no school board, no matter how well intentioned, will be able to clean up your mess. *Revenue Purpose Statement Somewhat overshadowed in the whole discussion of the Diversity Policy is the February 5th vote on the Revenue Purpose Statement (RPS). I support the RPS, and you should, too. The ICCSD is woefully behind in terms of facilities. We have new facilities that need to be constructed, and older buildings that need work. The RPS is the quickest and most cost-effective way to address these needs. Understand – this does NOT increase taxes. It only allows the ICCSD to bond against future revenues. They are not bonding ALL the future revenues; it will be about half at most. The payback is automatic. Some folks say they do not trust this School Board. So what? So kids should suffer in inadequate buildings? You’ll have plenty of opportunities to replace Board members with whom you disagree. You can even do so before virtually any building project could get started. You root for the east side only? Stupid attitude, but kids on the east side need you to vote for this! You root for the west side only? Stupid attitude, but kids on the west side need you to vote for this! Interest rates will never be lower. Needs will only grow greater. This opportunity is too good to pass up. Vote yes on the RPS. *DID YOU KNOW? The compound Polonium is so deadly, it would only take one millionth of a gram to kill the average person. 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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