Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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October 17, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     10/22/13

In this edition:

*Coralville Elections
*Ease of Accessing Public Records
*Did You Know?

*Coralville Elections
         Before I even begin discussing Coralville elections, I need to be preemptive. I can hear it now – “Sullivan doesn’t even LIVE in Coralville!” That is true. But almost everything Coralville does affects me; I represent every single citizen of Coralville. So I am impacted - primarily professionally, but personally, too.

         Coralville Democrats… if you accept campaign funds from other jurisdictions; if you think we need to cooperate to improve the lives of all our friends and neighbors; and if you really believe we are “all in this together”, then you shouldn’t get too upset with a guy who lives 5 miles away weighing in.

         It is also safe to say that no one involved in this election wants my endorsement. Each would probably prefer I endorse her/his opponent! They just don’t want me bringing up certain issues. Now, about this election…

City Council and Mayoral elections in Coralville have the town abuzz. Matters of finance, TIF, and debt have created two slates of candidates with polar views.

         Unfortunately, I think this election is going to be a big loser for the people of Coralville, when it could have been an opportunity.

         On one side, you have incumbents and way too many of their supporters claiming that Coralville has never EVER done anything wrong, and if you dare criticize anything, you are jealous and/or a Coralville hater.

On the other side, you have challengers and way too many of their supporters claiming that everything Coralville has EVER done is wrong, and that bankruptcy is just around the corner.

         Both of these groups are wrong. Coralville is a great city with a bright future. It also needs to make some changes. Middle ground exists. I’m just not certain either group is interested in finding where that middle ground lies.

         Instead, we are being treated to a debate that goes something like, “Did too.” “Did not.” “Did too.” “Did not.” 

One of my biggest frustrations over my almost 9 years in office has been the refusal of the cities of Iowa City and Coralville to meet with Johnson County. I understand why – the County will air grievances, and the cities don’t want to talk about it. It is easier to ignore issues and pretend they’ll go away.

But the public deserves better. The public deserves a conversation between elected bodies. That is how we create understanding and reach agreements.

I met with challenger Matt Adam, and I came away impressed. While we are not from the same party, we agree on many fiscal/budget/TIF issues. I would even go so far as to say I found him “refreshing”. (Yes, the use of that word is purposeful.) We really did see eye to eye on several things. He seems to be smart and committed. I hope Mr. Adam will stay involved in local politics.

         There are other candidates in the field. David Fesler is a legacy – his father served as the Mayor of Coralville back in the ‘60s. David is a real gentleman who loves his hometown deeply. The guess here is that Mr. Fesler takes some votes from both sides, but not enough to alter the outcome. Also, 18-year-old Logan Strabala has demonstrated a lot of moxie while throwing his hat in the ring; perhaps we will hear more from him in the future.

So, what are voters to do? I would urge them to vote John Lundell for Mayor. Here is the deal – John and I have had our disagreements. On several issues, frankly. But if I were a Coralville voter, I’d choose John.

I wrote in Salvos about a month ago that I vote for candidates based upon 1.) character; 2.) ideology; 3.) everything else. I have known John long enough and well enough to tell you that you aren’t going to find a better guy. He loves Coralville, he knows Coralville, and he is a really good person. Character counts.

I have spoken to John Lundell, and he agrees that Coralville and Johnson County should meet. That is absolutely critical, in my estimation. It shows that John is willing to listen and perhaps embrace at least a bit of change.

I am going to push for joint meetings no matter who wins this election. I’d love to see the Press Citizen, Gazette, League of Women Voters, and others push Coralville (and Iowa City) to meet with Johnson County. And I hope I’m wrong – I hope both sides change their approaches, and recognize the people of Coralville deserve open-minded governance.

*Ease of Accessing Public Records
         The Board has recently decided to maintain a policy of keeping names off of our Geographical Information (GIS) database. That means you can look things up by address or parcel number, but not by the owner’s name.

         This is a frustration to several people who regularly utilize the GIS site. The GIS employees, Assessors and Treasurer have all heard complaints from members of the public who would like to have the ability to search by name.

The Board made this decision several years ago, after concerns were raised about the ability of stalkers to use GIS to easily look up information on their victims. I disagreed then, and I disagree now.

         I am not unsympathetic to victims of domestic violence. I am a supporter (financial and otherwise) of DVIP, and have been for years. I understand domestic violence better than most – I taught Batterer’s Education classes for almost 15 years. I have family members who have been victims of abuse. I understand the concerns.

         Still, I think the approach this Board has taken is wrongheaded. Deed holder information is a matter of public record. If a person comes into the office, we give him the information. But we do not allow him to get it online.

         This makes no sense to me. Why are we making it MORE difficult to access public records? We would never tell him at the counter, “Yes, it is a public record. But you’ll have to find it yourself.” We always attempt to make it EASIER. Why make it harder online?

         In addition, there are literally thousands of public records under the control of Johnson County. Why are we singling out name searches on GIS? We could remove all information from our website – wouldn’t that make victims safer? We could force folks who come into the office to look info up themselves – wouldn’t that make victims safer? We could require folks do a Freedom of Information Request and wait 7 days for every piece of public information – wouldn’t that make victims safer?

         Obviously, we could go to ridiculous lengths to make public records available, all in the name of keeping victims safer. But there is absolutely zero data demonstrating that victims are safer because we limit name searches. It is all anecdotal at best.

         I think this also ignores reality. Privacy as we knew it no longer exists. We all have LOTS of info out there. That horse has left the barn. I’m not convinced that limiting this single bit of the public record is really going to serve as such a deterrent. If a guy wants info on a victim, there are easier places to go than our GIS website.

This also overlooks a very important fact – these are PUBLIC records. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors does not own these records. The people do. We should make public records MORE available, not less.

         Will some people use this information to harm others? Probably. They can already do so. A great many more people will use this information to be more effective and efficient in their jobs. It is not the job of the Board to play God with who gets the info – it is our job to get it out to people as easily and simply as possible. With public records, I cannot justify doing anything else.

         A final note – I’m willing to increase the funding Johnson County gives to DVIP in this year’s budget. I think that actually WILL make victims safer. I’m not certain all my colleagues will follow through. Let’s see if the “support for victims” we see in this policy translates into a commitment to greater funding.

         I think the Board is making a mistake here. I hope it changes some day.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Shelter House served 534 adults and 100 children last year. They stayed a combined 25,326 nights.

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

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