Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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April 6, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     4/8/14

In this edition:

*Happy Birthday, Jordan!
*Cities Paralyzed
*Pancake Day
*Did You Know?

*Happy Birthday, Jordan!
Happy 20th Birthday to my daughter Jordan on April 8th!  Jordan is a sophomore at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois.

         Jordan has certainly done a lot to make us proud in her 20 years! She is a really good girl, who has overcome many obstacles. In many ways, she is a hero to me. And I love her more than I could ever explain here. Happy Birthday, Honey!

         As you may recall me mentioning, Melissa and I just returned from a mission trip to Haiti. We went with Community Health Initiatives (CHI) based out of Coralville, and we thank Dr. Chris Buresh and CHI for an incredible experience.

         So – where to begin? As I wrote before we went there, Haiti is desperately poor, and the needs are enormous. I quoted all sorts of statistics, but statistics really fail to do the situation justice.

         Frankly, I was surprised and disappointed at how many of my friends thought we were just going on a Carribean vacation. The lack of knowledge about conditions in Haiti shocked me. We have a lot of education to do.

         Haiti needs so many things, it is difficult to know where to begin. How about this: What they REALLY need is a stronger business lobby! Haiti desperately needs lower taxes on the wealthy! That would really get their economy going!

         For those of you who didn’t catch my attempt at irony: government in Haiti is virtually nonexistent, except for the top federal level. There is a National Assembly, a President, and a military, but almost no local government services. So it is a Libertarian’s dream. No taxes, no government. How’s that working for them?

         In all seriousness, we take local government – especially county government – for granted. County governments track the ownership and sales of property. County governments assess property, levy taxes on the property, and collect the taxes. County governments register voters and administer elections. County governments fund roads and bridges. County governments inspect wells and septic systems. County governments vaccinate people and work to prevent the spread of disease in animals and humans. County governments provide police and jails, along with court services. County governments track births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. County governments assist the poor and people with disabilities. County governments register vehicles. County governments investigate deaths.

         Basically NONE of these things happen in Haiti. And the result is unmitigated disaster. Government MATTERS, and until you have actually spent time in its’ absence, you do not appreciate the role government plays in our lives.

         I’ll write much more on our trip for the next edition of Salvos.

*Cities Paralyzed
         We often hear the public say that they would like to see local governments cooperate more.

         Some of this is due to the fact that Iowans are extremely conflict averse. In many cases, voters would prefer to see their elected officials get along with each other rather than stand up for what is right. (You will NEVER find me in this camp!)

         In other cases, however, voters simply see the value in working together and streamlining services. I am very sympathetic to this viewpoint.

         It makes a lot of sense to have similar rules and regulations. In most cases, it makes things simpler, easier, and cheaper for most citizens and most businesses.

         Building codes are a good example. Johnson County, Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty all have building inspectors. Those entities meet frequently to make sure they are using similar standards. This helps electricians, plumbers, etc. by creating a single set of rules for the whole region. This is a good example of an area in which we work together well, to the benefit of the larger community.

         I fear, however, that we have now reached a state of self-induced paralysis. Now elected officials seem to feel we cannot do ANYTHING unless we all do the SAME thing.

Iowa City is terrified to make any type of change, for fear that Coralville and North Liberty will not follow suit. Similarly, North Liberty and Coralville claim they cannot act without Iowa City on board. Every entity fears being put at a “competitive disadvantage” if they are different in any way.

         Where does that leave us? It creates a state of paralysis. It leaves us with policy makers doing nothing, latched onto a single excuse: others refuse to act, so neither can we.

         Obviously, we know this is not REALLY the case. This faux idea of creating a “level playing field” is more commonly used as an excuse to avoid challenging situations.

         I am going to focus on Iowa City here for four reasons: First, I have tried to lead on these issues as a County Supervisor. I have not gotten very far. Perhaps that means I am bad at my job. Perhaps it is the nature of county government. Perhaps the issues are just too touchy for most elected officials. Perhaps it is a bit of all of the above. Whatever the case, county leadership has not taken hold. I’ll accept the blame for that. Meanwhile, the issues do not go away. Someone else needs to do it.

Secondly, I have lived in Iowa City for 30 years. Iowa City is my home. I am not out of line in having expectations for the people who represent me.

Thirdly, Coralville and North Liberty feel I pick on them too much. (I’d argue that I’m harder on IC, but since I don’t live either place, I’ll concede the point.)

Finally, I think Iowa City has a long history and reputation as a progressive community, and I believe the Council should embrace that.

         There are several issues where Iowa City needs to lead. Affordable housing, homelessness, environmental issues, transportation, municipal finance, sharing services, disproportionate minority contact with police, the approach to drug laws… these are just a few of the controversial topics facing our local governments.

Every one of these topics would be best addressed by a coalition of Johnson County, Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty. And every one of these topics is too important to ignore. We simply cannot allow the refusal of a single entity to bring all discussions to a halt. If one entity refuses to cooperate on a given topic, the other 3 should move forward. If two refuse, the other two go forward.

Many folks reading this are parents. Think about this situation in terms of your kids: your daughter knows what is right, but she is reluctant to do so because no one else is acting. What do you tell her? The answer is easy – you tell her to do the right thing, regardless of what others are doing. That is the message local governments need to get from the voters.

It is simply irresponsible to ignore these important issues. We must address them. Iowa City should adopt a position of leading on these issues. Hopefully, the other entities will follow. If not – better to be a leader and do what needs to be done.

         I’m willing to go to work on these issues. I don’t want to hear more excuses. I hope the cities will work together as partners; more importantly, I hope someone will step up and take the lead.

         What are your thoughts?

*Pancake Day
         The Iowa City Booster Club holds an annual Pancake Day fundraiser for the purpose of supporting the athletic programs at North Central Jr. High, Northwest Jr. High, Southeast Jr. High, City High, and West High Schools. All money raised by the Booster Club helps to purchase or improve athletic training equipment, uniforms, and facilities for all sports at each of the schools. This year’s date is Saturday, April 12, 2014, from 6:30 AM- 3:00 PM in the West High cafeteria.

*DID YOU KNOW?  The name Haiti comes from the Taino Indian word for the entire island of Hispaniola – Ayiti, which means “mountainous land.”

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

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