Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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December 7, 2013

Sullivan’s Salvos     12/10/13

In this edition:

*Justice Center - Next Steps
*Did You Know?

*Justice Center – Next Steps
         In case you missed it, the Board continues to discuss and debate the future of the jail and courthouse. Here is the latest:

         Supervisors, the County Attorney, and the Sheriff met once again last Wednesday. This was the third long meeting of its type – all in an attempt to reach a consensus as to how to proceed.

         Supervisors have been in different camps. Here is a quick synopsis of where opinions have been:

         The preference of Supervisor Etheredge is to move everything to the County Farm. Supervisor Harney wants to move some pieces around, but put forth essentially the same plan that has already been defeated twice. Supervisors Neuzil, Rettig, and I want to focus on a courthouse addition first, while continuing to work on the jail issues that do not require a new facility.

         We COULD move forward with the votes of just three Supervisors, but we are trying very hard to come up with a proposal that can garner the support of all 5 Supervisors, the Sheriff, and the County Attorney. At our last meeting, we got much closer – it seemed that most folks agreed on moving forward with a courthouse annex first.

         I disagree with many jail opponents. I happen to believe a new jail facility makes sense. I think employees and prisoners deserve a safer, more efficient, more humane facility, located in their home community. That is why I supported the last two initiatives. I felt they were the best proposals we could put forward.

That said, I am not stupid. I saw how the last two votes turned out. The public has spoken, and they do not seem to want a new jail. I disagree, but it is not my decision to make.

         I say the county should focus upon what is possible. Not what I think is best, but what can pass. Personally, I heard very little opposition to the courthouse piece of the Justice Center. Most of the opposition was to an expansion of the jail. Plus, the cost will be much lower, which may win over a few more voters.

         So, let’s take care of the courthouse needs first. Solve that part of the equation. Then continue to work on issues like disproportionate minority contact, marijuana diversion, mental health diversion, etc.

         I told you where I am. How about you? What do you think we ought to do? I look forward to your feedback.

         Each year, the Board of Supervisors comes up with a list of Legislative objectives that we will push with our local Legislative delegation. There are typically issues dealing with local control; beyond that, the issues can vary wildly.

         I was excited going into this process, because I was looking forward to pushing for marijuana legalization. We have talked about it over the years, but we have never made it a priority.

         It really is time to support this. Far too many people in Johnson County go through life dogged by marijuana convictions. And for what? Who is hurt by marijuana use?

         This topic is particularly timely, because it would send a message to the voting public. The public needs to know we are serious about keeping our justice system focused on the things that are truly important.

Here was the brief justification I wrote in support of the legalization of marijuana. Obviously, I could have gone into greater detail, but this was intended to be short.

1. Marijuana has medical benefits. The drug is less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco.

2. Legalization would lower the cost, reducing associated crimes. Police and court resources would be freed up for more serious crimes. Finally, small time marijuana offenses often sully the records of young people, causing long term difficulties with school, housing, employment, etc.

3. Legalized marijuana would be a source of additional tax revenues.

4. Aside from recreational drug use, Cannabis has several industrial and commercial uses, as over 25,000 products can be made from the crop.

         This language was voted down by a 3-2 vote, with Supervisor Rettig and I in favor. I was REALLY disappointed by this vote.

But frankly, the vote is not what makes me mad. I have been on the losing end of MANY 3-2 votes; I expect there will be more in my future. What makes me angry is the complete lack of political courage demonstrated by my colleagues.

         One Supervisor said he “needed more time to study the issue.” I think that is a pretty lousy justification. Unfortunately, it was the best justification of the three.

         Another Supervisor was opposed because, “hemp is an invasive species.” While it is true that around ten states list hemp as a “noxious weed”, this is strictly due to its illegal status. A quick review of the literature shows that countries where hemp is legal have no problems with it being invasive.

         The final Supervisor refused to support it unless our County Attorney and Sheriff went on record supporting it first. Sorry, but that move is completely lacking in political courage.

Look, if you are against this, fine. Say so. Take a stand. Take your vote and explain your reasoning. But do not patronize me. I do not appreciate it, nor does the public.

Supervisors are elected to lead. This was a missed opportunity. Legal marijuana is an idea whose time has come. Johnson County is not on the leading edge of this issue, but some day we’ll get there.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Johnson County ranks second in Iowa (to Polk County) in terms of the number of rural residents. Polk has 28,000; Johnson has 22,000. (Source: ISAC.)

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

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