Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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August 16, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/20/13

In this edition:

*Happy Birthday BJ!
*Back To School
*Good Luck, Jordan!
*Cosgrove Pork Day
*War On Poor Downtown
*Did You Know?

*Happy Birthday BJ!
         Happy birthday to my son BJ, who turns 17 on August 22nd. For those of you who do not know him, BJ is a smart, caring, compassionate, thoughtful, kind, hard-working, and funny young man. I am very proud of him, and proud of the man he is growing to become.

         Happy birthday, Buddy! I love you!

*Back To School
         Schools start across Johnson County over the next couple of weeks, and residents need to remember to adjust!

         Allow yourself a little more time when driving, biking, or walking. Beware of pedestrians. Expect the unexpected.

         Most importantly, enjoy the influence of our young people!

*Good Luck, Jordan!
         This has been a summer of adjustments for my family. Our daughter Jordan returned home from her freshman year at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois, and moved back into her old bedroom. Like many families in this situation, we found we had some things to work out!

         Now Jordan has headed back to Western for her sophomore year. There is much less squabbling in our home, but also much less joy.

         Good luck, Honey! I am proud of you! I love you!

*Cosgrove Pork Day
         Need I say anything else? Sunday, August 25! If you’ve never been – go!

*War On Poor Downtown
         There is a War on the Poor going on in Downtown Iowa City. We have these about every five years. In every case to this point, these efforts have been misguided.

         Look, I know something about this. For one, I spend a lot of time downtown. I understand that there are lots of people down there who are dressed badly, smell badly, and are looking for money. They are not pleasant people to be around. Their appearances are different, and can scare little kids and old ladies. I’d prefer not to sit by them.

On the other hand, I spent twenty years working in human services. I understand that many of these people have serious needs – mental illness, disabilities, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, addiction, and more. They are not getting the help they need.

I have seen former clients down there begging – people who are smart and able-bodied, yet choose this lifestyle. I know they have homes. I’m disappointed in them, and when I see them, I tell them so.

I also rarely give money to beggars. We DO give very generously to health and human services agencies – Melissa and I give ten percent of our annual income. We prefer to invest our money in attempts at systemic change. (Meanwhile, how much giving comes from those advocating for “cleaning up” downtown?)

If people break laws – littering, using drugs, assault, theft – whatever – then by all means, enforce the law. My sense is that this is less about laws being broken, and more about aesthetics.

Every previous approach has led to laws that take away civil rights. These laws are then applied arbitrarily and capriciously. Do you look scary to an old white lady? Sorry, buddy. You are coming with me!

This group of people is an easy one to pick on. They lack money and influence. They are unlikely to speak out. Sometimes they are rude and obnoxious. They do not look, sound, or behave like “we” do. Not many people will stand up for them.

As a matter of fact, I am already being criticized for this stand. I am now anti-family, anti-business, and anti-safety. All the influential people in town “want something done.” This issue ain’t a political winner – trust me! Local Libertarians? I’ve heard crickets. They are happy to let me fight this fight alone. They are only concerned with their OWN liberties; not those of the poor. I don’t even personally approve of the message the downtown street folks send; I am simply defending their right to send it.

There is also a move underway to privatize our public space. While Iowa City has more and better public space than most, it is going away. A big chunk is now being used as construction staging; interesting how that has coincided with these perceived “problems”. Privatization means the “undesirables” are on the way out; private property rights rule.

How about a more humane approach? If someone is doing something you don’t like, try asking him/her to stop. Perhaps the DTA could invest in a social worker rather than a cop. How about a rapid re-housing program? Those have had significant success in other areas. How about a “wet” shelter? That is a definite need. Are we really this lacking in creativity? Other cities have tried many different approaches, while we default to one. The lack of innovative thinking here is very, very sad.

         Secondly, let’s talk about this as it relates to my role as a County Supervisor. Some have said I have no right to comment as to what goes on downtown. I beg to differ. I’ve lived in Iowa City for 30 years. I am a resident, citizen, voter, and taxpayer.

         From a County perspective – we don’t need people jailed for vagrancy. We just don’t. We have no space, it costs too much, and it does not alter behavior. So this “crackdown” that is being called for will cost the County dearly.

The County also spends a LOT of money on human services. Not as much as we should, but many times more than all cities combined. Now, if cities chose not to use TIF, thereby shutting the County out of any new taxes – perhaps we could better address the needs that exist downtown. Or perhaps the cities could use TIF money to house those without housing. Maybe the 10-15 people who cause the bulk of the problems downtown could live in the 14-story tower next door?

         Finally, let’s look at this through the lens of morality. If Jesus Christ were to show up in downtown Iowa City, would he hang out with jewelers, politicians and sorority girls? Or would he hang out with people who were poor, hungry, and mentally ill?

         I hope the Iowa City Downtown District and Iowa City Council address this issue in a new and better way. But I expect that instead they’ll just tell their friends about how out of touch I am.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Volunteers with the local Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) did work equivalent to 38 FTEs last year. (Source: Elder Services, Inc.)

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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