Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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August 29, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     9/2/14

In this edition:

*RIP Jim Clifton
*Roads Update
*Real Economic Development!
*Did You Know?

*RIP Jim Clifton
         I never really understood how badly the US needed healthcare reform until I met Dr. James Clifton. Yeah, I had a softball injury when I was young, stupid, and uninsured. It took me several years to finally pay off the bill. I hated it, and it seemed unfair, but I naively thought there was no better way.

Then in the early ‘90s, I met Jim Clifton. He had gravitas; he was an important guy at UIHC. Yet he really cared about the health of schmucks like me. In addition to being a skilled provider and teacher, Jim was a passionate and articulate advocate for healthcare reform.

         He left a huge impact. RIP, Dr. Clifton.

*Roads Update
         I decided it was time for an update on this summer’s activities in the Johnson County Secondary Roads Department. This information is cribbed from a report County Engineer Greg Parker sent to the Board on August 12.

Construction Project Updates:
Mehaffey Bridge: The contractor is putting together a new completion timeline due to the two flood events that impacted our original completion timeline. At this point, the contractor appears to be 12 weeks behind schedule. The contractor will have a revised construction schedule timeline completed in the next couple of weeks.
Mehaffey Bridge Road: The intermediate asphalt layer is in place. The contractor has will be putting down the final surface layer within the next couple of weeks. We were hopeful to complete this project before school started, however, it looks like we won’t be complete on this project until September.
520th Street (Utah west to Hills): The flood this summer has also extended the construction timeline for the contractor on this project. We just received an updated schedule and they have all shoulder work and the cold-in-place work being completed by the end of August. The new timeline for completion is the end of September.
Sharon Center Road Bridge: The contractor is bringing in additional crews to speed up construction completion. They will be working on the other pier and they are continuing to get the regrading of the roadway completed.

Design Projects:
Curtis Bridge Road: Design is in progress for the summer of 2015.
Oakcrest Hill Road Bridge (R-28-12): Due to the extended timeline on 520th we are considering holding off construction for this structure until Spring 2015. This is not what we preferred, however after last winter, we do not want to have the road closed over the winter. We will keep you informed as we get closer to the decision deadline.
Copi Road – Timber Bridge: Preliminary design is complete. Permits have been submitted to the COE and IDNR. Staff is looking into the cost for removing and relocating the existing bridge. We have received our approved permit from the COE. We have been calling the IDNR for updates and have not heard back from them yet.
Johnson-Iowa Road Timber Bridge: No change. Preliminary design is complete. Our joint permit has been submitted to the COE and IDNR for approval. The preliminary design plans have been submitted to the Iowa County Engineer for comments as this is a joint project.
Mehaffey Bridge Road Separated Trail: No change. This is planned for a 2016 construction timeline due to federal funding availability.
IWV Road Phase 1: Design is in progress. It is scheduled for summer 2016 construction.
Ely Road/Trail: Staff is working on different phases as it was approved in the 5-year program. We are working with Linn County on their project that starts at the county line and goes into Ely. We have also met with and are collaborating with Conservation on the Solon to Ely Trail alignment to accommodate the trail in the County ROW. Several alignment options are being considered.

Maintenance Activities:
1.) Seal Coat: The contractor is planning to be completed with seal coating of 17.5 miles of County Road which is planned for completion middle of August.
2.) Shoulder Repair and Pothole patching: We are continuing to actively take care of locations.
3.) 2nd Application Dust Control: This is planned for, weather permitting, August 19th.
4.) Equipment: We will be replacing a dump truck with a Volvo as discussed at the Board meeting, the truck has been ordered. We are going to be replacing two District Foreman Pickups as defined on our approved Equipment Replacement Schedule for FY2015.
5.) Culverts/Roadway: We are blading roads as needed, ditch cleaning and replacing culverts.
6.) Flood: We have been repairing the flood-damaged areas and we have had an initial meeting with FEMA. Due to the most recent declaration from the President, we will be attending the upcoming meeting to further prepare for FEMA reimbursements. We are still cleaning ditches, washouts around structures and debris removal.
8.) Maintenance Rehabilitation Program: We are planning to start the Observatory regrade around Sept. 1st. Letters to residents in the area should be sent out in the next week.

Integrated Roadside Vegetation Management Program Activities:

· Maintenance and weed control of turf type buffalo grass planting at Shueyville Shed.
· Mowing of cover crop in prairie plantings at Shueyville Shed.
· Completion of various visibility complaints at intersections, driveways, etc.
· Herbicide applications for brush management in Districts 3 and 4.
· Landowner contacts for Roadside Maintenance Agreements.
· Seeding and erosion control activities in maintenance/ditch clean out areas.

         As you can see, lots going on in Secondary Roads! Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

*Real Economic Development!
         *What if I told you we could bring in 50 full-time jobs that would pay $15 per hour?

         *What if I told you these jobs could neither be outsourced overseas nor subcontracted?

*What if I told you those jobs would be filled by hard-working low-income people, all of whom are local?

*What if I told you NO bribery (aka “tax incentives”) would be required to land these jobs?

*What if I told you there were no special workforce training programs required?

*What if I told you virtually ALL of the money earned would be spent locally?

         What would happen? Well, the Chamber of Commerce would put it in their newsletter, and the Ambassadors would do a ribbon cutting. Debi Durham would come over from Des Moines and do a big press event, and the Governor just might join her. ICAD would tweet this success to the world. Mayors would grab gold shovels and pose for a photo. You might get a visit from a US Senator. The Press Citizen and Gazette would both do front page stories. The Corridor Business Journal would write a nice editorial. The region would be hailed for its forward thinking, and folks would talk far and wide about how well we do economic development.

         So what if I told you the exact equivalent has already occurred? It has.

         Several years ago, I went to a National Association of Counties (NACo) conference and learned about a program that had started in Cook County, Illinois.

         As it turns out, a huge number of low-income workers leave money on the table when it comes to the federal income tax system, particularly the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Cook County created a series of free tax clinics to ensure this money returned to their county.

         I did some investigating, and it just so happened that Johnson County had the same problem, though obviously on a much smaller scale.

         So I pushed for Johnson County to begin a free tax help program. It struck me that we had a potential partner in the Tippe College of Business, and as luck would have it, I could not have had better timing. Dr. Joyce Berg was ready to greatly expand the work her student tax preparers would do. It was a perfect fit.

         Former Supervisor (and current Legislator) Sally Stutsman was very supportive. Amy Correia had just been hired as Johnson County’s first Social Services Director, and Amy took the ball and ran with it, including securing grants to cover all operating costs. The Tippe College, ICCSD, United Way, Iowa City Public Library, and many others have become valued partners. In recent years, current Social Services Director Lynette Jacoby has maintained and improved upon all this success.

         What are the results? The Free Tax Help Program brings over $1.5 million into the local economy every year. It goes to low-income local workers, who spend it locally. And it uses no local tax dollars.

         Remember when I said “50 full-time jobs at $15 per hour”? That adds up to a $1.5 million annual impact, just like the Free Tax Help Program. But the Free Tax Help Program is actually even better, because it serves over 1,100 Johnson County tax filers and their families!

         Economic Development can take many forms. I happen to believe the Free Tax Help program has contributed a lot of good things to the local economy. We have not had any fancy groundbreakings or ribbon cuttings, but we have accomplished something!

         So if you know Lynette Jacoby, thank Lynette Jacoby. She has done great work! If you know Joyce Berg, thank Joyce Berg. Her students have given much more back to this community than they could ever take.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Johnson County is responsible for over 900 miles of roads!

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!


August 22, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/26/14

In this edition:

*Labor Day
*Labor Day Picnic
*Sutliff Street Dance
*Did You Know?

*Labor Day
Happy Labor Day next Monday! I love Labor Day. Every Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day we set aside time to recall the folks whose service has given us our freedom. I have long felt we need to treat Labor Day in a similar fashion.

Please take a moment this Labor Day to remember the people who fought (and often died) to give us child labor laws, 40 hour weeks, weekends, overtime, vacations, the minimum wage, sick leave, parental leave, OSHA, employment nondiscrimination, pensions, Social Security, health insurance, and so much more.

Do not be fooled! These benefits were not GIVEN to workers by benevolent corporations! They were earned by workers who sacrificed! It is a shame that so many average Joes have chosen to support our corporate masters versus supporting those whose efforts really benefit the masses.

Unions continue to provide the best protections working people can have. I feel as though I have accomplished some good things as a member of the Board of Supervisors. One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud is starting an employee appreciation lunch every year the week of Labor Day. Johnson County employees deserve much more, but this is one extra opportunity to say thank you.

Trust me – the average person has nothing to fear from unions. We all benefit when folks have safe and healthy workplaces. We all benefit when workers get adequate rest. We all benefit when workers receive good training. We all benefit when folks earn a living wage and have health insurance. Unions help improve the quality of life for all of us.

One example of a way in which unions benefit everyone: much is made of the automobile industry expanding into the southern US. While these are not union plants, workers still have good wages and benefits. Some see this as an indictment of unions. It is precisely the opposite.

Do not think for a minute that these companies pay $22 per hour because they WANT to. They would be much happier to pay $4 per hour. And, when China’s workforce improves in quality to the point that they can do automotive work, the companies will move there.

Understand – large corporations exist for one reason, and that is to earn a profit. If the laws allowed slavery, some companies would use it. Because it is cheaper.

So why do they pay $22 in the southern US? Because of the threat of the United Auto Workers (UAW). If the wages or benefits ever sink too low, UAW could unionize those workers. The car companies don’t want that, so they pay the lowest possible acceptable wage.

See? The UAW does not represent the workers at those plants. But they have driven up the wages and benefits for the workers there all the same.

I am proud to be a member of Local 716 of the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the Iowa City Federation of Labor. Happy Labor Day!

*Labor Day Picnic
The Iowa City Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, will host its annual Labor Day picnic on Monday, September 1, starting at noon at Upper City Park, shelter 2. Burgers, brats, veggie options and beverages provided. Please bring a dish to share. Political speeches and a good time guaranteed. Free to all Friends of Labor.

*Sutliff Street Dance
The Sutliff Bridge Authority is holding its 30th Annual Street Dance fundraiser on Sunday, August 31 in beautiful downtown Sutliff.

Gates open at 12:00 noon - $5 donation requested. Music by Between Monsters from 1-5 pm. Food provided by the Johnson County Pork Producers. Limited beverages provided by Baxa’s Sutliff Store and Tavern. No coolers please.

You may have heard that law enforcement agencies in Johnson County are now in possession of an MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected) truck. The 58,000-pound, six-wheeled vehicle was built for the military. With recent military disengagements, MRAP vehicles are being made surplus. While many are being scrapped, others are being made available through a federal program to local law enforcement agencies.

There has been a public stir around this vehicle, and I understand why. I wish they had never accepted the vehicle. I think it is a bad idea on at least two counts. But first…

A disclaimer – it is not easy to be a cop. You are charged with protecting and serving everyone – including the real assholes. These officers are our friends and family members. They are public employees – most are union employees. They deserve our respect, and they deserve to be safe when doing their jobs.

There are always a few who behave badly in a group situation, whether you have a group of 100 protesters or 100 law enforcement officers. Those “bad apples” can cause a lot of trouble for both groups.

In addition, the citizenry of the US is more heavily armed than the militaries of most countries. How can we continue to urge all citizens to “arm up” and not expect law enforcement to do the same?

The problem is, every interaction a citizen has with a police officer puts the citizen’s civil rights on the line. If an officer wants to find a reason to take that citizens liberty (and sometimes life) that officer can find a reason. That is why the job is SO important, and why we must make certain that officers understand the gravity of their positions. It is also why law enforcement must be accountable to voters (like the Sheriff) as opposed to insulated from those they serve (like Police Chiefs). But trust me, I get it  - the job is important and not easy!

As for the reasons I am concerned…

First, and most importantly, I am concerned about the militarization of our local police forces. Look no further than Ferguson, Missouri to see how things can devolve. I am afraid that having this unit available will lead to using it at inappropriate times. As the old saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

I can understand why a unit might need to be dressed out in military gear. Active shooters, hostage situations… I see the value. Unfortunately, agencies are tending toward using this equipment for routine drug investigations, serving warrants, and other routine tasks. This simply increases the chance of conflict.

Secondly, I am concerned about future financial impacts. There could (probably will) be costs for storage, repair, etc. I just don’t see any reason to have the MRAP in the first place, so why take on those costs?

Sheriff Pulkrabek has pointed out that no local tax dollars were used in this process; the transportation, painting and equipping was all forfeiture money from the Johnson County Drug Task Force. While that partially addresses my second concern, it fails to recognize that the forfeiture money could have been spent in other areas (such as training) that might have been a better use of funds.

God forbid, but it has also been pointed out that there may be situations where a bomb-proof vehicle could come in handy. Thank goodness that has not happened. It should be noted that some of the same folks who are complaining about the equipment feel Johnson County should have a plan in case of a bomb threat. What is that plan? What equipment should they use? How would you suggest law enforcement approach the situation? I still don’t want the MRAP – but this stance seems hypocritical to me.

The Supervisors were not consulted on this deal – nor are they required to be. But in the future, it might make sense to ask us what we think. Preferably ahead of time.

I am all for the public speaking out on this issue. But the Board of Supervisors did not authorize the funding, nor can we take it away. A Supervisors meeting on the topic would amount to little more than political grandstanding.

Should the Sheriff hear about it? Absolutely! But I see no benefit to the Supervisors organizing a public roasting of the Sheriff. That is simply showboating. If you want to complain to his office, you should by all means do so.

But let me be clear – we have an EXCELLENT Sheriff! Lonny is a very good human being who cares about people. We are extremely lucky to have him in office. That does not mean he and I will never disagree; we disagree here. We have disagreed in the past. We’ll disagree in the future. But I am not interested in trying to show him up. He deserves better.

In addition, the Sheriff’s Office is but one of 5 local law enforcement agencies that combined on the vehicle. Whatever displeasure one might have should also be directed in equal parts toward North Liberty, Coralville and Iowa City as well as EMA and the University of Iowa’s Public Safety Department.

I do not like the purchase of the MRAP. I think it was a bad idea. But I am not sure a public flogging of the Sheriff helps in any way.

*DID YOU KNOW?  The first observance of Labor Day is believed to have been a parade on September 5, 1882, in New York City, probably organized by Peter J. McGuire, a Carpenters and Joiners Union secretary. By 1893, more than half the states were observing a "Labor Day" on one day or another, and a bill to establish a federal holiday was passed by Congress in 1894. President Grover Cleveland signed the bill soon afterward, designating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.

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!


August 15, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/19/14

In this edition:

*Happy Birthday Loshika!
*Happy Birthday BJ!
*Back To School
*Tiffin Fest
*Cosgrove Pork Day
*Landlocked Film Festival
*More On LOST
*Did You Know?

*Happy Birthday Loshika!
         Our foster daughter Loshika turns 19 on August 20. Lolo has begun a new chapter of her life, as she starts her freshman year at Kirkwood on her birthday!

         Happy Birthday Lolo!

*Happy Birthday BJ!
         Our baby turns 18! I guess there are no more children in our house, as our son BJ turns 18 on August 22. He begins his senior year just a few days earlier.

         If you do not know BJ, you should. I’m very, very proud of him. He is a good human being. At the most basic level, that is really every parent’s biggest concern. Is the young person I’m raising going to grow up to be a good person? I am lucky, because I can say yes. Unequivocally, yes!

         Happy Birthday, BJ! I love you!

*Back To School
         I am feeling a bit melancholy of late. My son BJ is starting his senior year at City High. While it is great seeing him grow up to be a hard working, funny, charming, kind, and caring man, there is some sadness here, too.

         BJ is our youngest. So each event that takes place is a “last”. Last time registering for school. Last first day of school. Last senior photos. Last Back to School night. It has been a good ride, and it is sad to have this phase of life come to an end.

         That said, Melissa and I have plenty of things we can do. I am sure we will find a way to stay busy! Meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy this “victory lap”.

*Tiffin Fest
         One of eastern Iowa’s fastest growing communities is also home to one of eastern Iowa’s fastest growing festivals! The 7th Annual Tiffin Fest is this weekend, August 22-24.

         The people of Tiffin have really done a great job with this. The list of activities and events is remarkable! See it for yourself at:

*Cosgrove Pork Day
         If you find Tiffin a bit too large, but still want a small-town festival, check out St. Peter’s Pork Day in Cosgrove on Sunday, August 24.

         Cosgrove is a small, unincorporated village about 8 miles west of Iowa City, and 7 miles south of Oxford. It is home to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the Cosgrove Institute, and lots of cool people! I urge you to join them for fellowship, food, beer, and fun!

*Landlocked Film Festival
         Iowa City’s very own film festival runs August 21-24 at several venues in downtown Iowa City.

         I LOVE the Landlocked Film Festival! I’ll be there when I can; I hope you’ll join me! For more information and a full schedule, see:

*More On LOST
         Johnson County had more discussion on the proposed local option sales tax (LOST). There were really three things at issue. Here is the scoop:

         1.) Coralville balked at putting 10% toward the proposed courthouse annex, so the Board decided to decouple those two items. Now no city will be asked to contribute 10%. I believe this is a very good thing; I always wanted the courthouse annex to succeed or fail on its own, independent from the LOST. I fear that these issues were becoming linked, and more importantly, getting confused. Confused voters tend to vote no.

         I understand that Coralville thought the county’s letter sounded like a threat. I agree. The whole thing was a mess. We would have been much better off never requesting anything in the first place.

         But methinks Coralville doth protest too much. I don’t think they really want a conversation about tax fairness or how municipalities use tax dollars. If they do, I’m game. Meanwhile, I hope we can just move on from this debacle.

         2.) The Board reaffirmed an earlier commitment as to how to use any LOST revenues, spending 90% on roads, and 10% on the courthouse. Supervisors Harney, Neuzil, and Etheredge favored this approach; Supervisor Rettig and myself called for a different allocation that included human services funding. (The papers portray us monolithically, as though being on the losing end of a 3-2 vote means you endorse the action that was undertaken.)

         3.) The Board decided to put the LOST on the ballot for ten years. Supervisors Harney, Neuzil, and Etheredge wanted a ten-year sunset. Supervisor Rettig is opposed to the LOST, and is therefore voting “no” on ten years.

I have a hybrid view – like Supervisor Rettig, I oppose the LOST, and I will be voting “no” in November. But I also see no reason to shaft the Iowa City Council. They asked for ten years; even though I disagree, I see no reason why the Board should stop them. (Again, the papers portray us monolithically, as though being on the losing end of a 3-2 vote means you endorse the action that was undertaken.)

         Don’t get me wrong; I HATE the way Iowa City did this. It was all backdoor with no public discussion whatsoever. It was forced down our throats. And we already had a courthouse annex on the ballot. Iowa City screwed the county on this. Plain and simple.

         I am going to work against the LOST, and I’ll be happy when it fails. Then perhaps the next time they want to do this, they will consult with the Board. Though I doubt it. Iowa City would never lower itself to work with the great unwashed in Johnson County. And a public meeting is out of the question.

         But it seems to me that the honorable way to defeat the LOST is at the ballot box, and not through a quirk in State law that allows counties to set the sunset date.

         It is ironic; State law favors cities over counties in almost every imaginable way. Cities can (and do) take county revenues, land – whatever they want, really. Counties are powerless to stop them. The counties are completely ignored at the Iowa Legislature. Then you have this one tiny quirk in State law that actually gives counties power over cities. I can see why my colleagues decided to try to use this leverage; it is the only leverage they have ever had!

         But two (or 40 million?) wrongs do not make a right. I just wish the cities of Coralville and Iowa City would sit down with Johnson County in a public meeting. Encourage the public and the press to attend. Why must I continue to make this plea, a decade after I began?

This whole thing stinks. How is that for a summation?

*DID YOU KNOW?  There are about 29,000 people under age 18 in Johnson County. (Source: US Census Bureau.)

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!


August 8, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/12/14

In this edition:

*RIP Patrick Hughes
*Happy Birthday Melissa!
*LOST Discussions
*Did You Know?

*RIP Patrick Hughes
         Johnson County lost a real giant with the passing of Patrick Hughes. Much has already said about his life… I’ll just add one thing.

         As you go through the next few weeks, try to view everything through this lens: Which Side Are You On? Think of Patrick as you do that.

*Happy Birthday, Melissa!
         My wife Melissa celebrates her birthday on August 17th. Those of you who know her know that I am a very lucky man!

         Happy Birthday, Honey! I love you!

*LOST Discussions
         As you probably know, the City of Iowa City has called for an election on a Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). State law allows any city to make this decision so long as that city holds 50% or more of the population in their county. Iowa City makes up 52% of the population of Johnson County. So the vote will be on the November ballot.

         I have already written at length about my philosophy in terms of sales taxes versus property taxes (and income taxes). I am no fan of sales taxes. But the piece today is more about the mechanics of the LOST and discussions held to date.

         First the distribution formula: LOST revenues are distributed using a formula that allocates the revenues 75% on population and 25% an antiquated property valuation formula. Some of my Coralville friends feel this is very unfair; their argument is, “We have invested in this retail area; we should reap the benefits.” That is a legitimate argument. The formula should really be 75% population, 25% point of sale.

         On the other hand, many of the things that have contributed to Coralville being a retail center have been provided by the state and federal governments. This includes I-80, I-380, Highways 965, 6, and 218; other state and federal highway funds; state investment in Oakdale Research Park and the IRL; I-Jobs funding, state flood recovery dollars, state money for sewer and water projects, federal Brownfield money… the list goes on and on. All taxpayers funded these projects, not just residents of Coralville.

In addition, we have seen how badly “point of sale” has worked in other states. Until they made some changes, Illinois had some cities with huge property tax rates while retail rich cities had virtually no property taxes at all. This created a situation where the rich continued to get richer, and disparities grew to the breaking point.

Plus, people from all over pay the tax, not just Coralville residents. Take unincorporated Johnson County, for example. There are about 22,000 unincorporated residents, but very few retail outlets. Under a point of sale system, rural residents would pay the tax but accrue very few benefits.

Finally, it is just difficult for someone who works for Johnson County to listen to anyone from Coralville complain about issues of tax fairness. There are 40 million reasons that argument does not work. That is a whole different discussion, and not one to be held today, but it cannot be ignored.

So while I understand and respect the Coralville argument, I feel a 75-25 formula is a pretty fair way to distribute the LOST revenues.

         Moving on from the formula to the vote: The LOST vote is held separately in the unincorporated areas, Swisher, Shueyville, Oxford, Hills, and Lone Tree. If it passes in any of those places, that city gets a share of the revenue. Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin, and University Heights vote as a bloc. If 50% plus one of the voters in that bloc vote “yes”, the tax is in place for the whole bloc.

         So theoretically, every city but Iowa City could vote against the LOST, but if Iowa City voters outvoted them, the LOST is in place. Conversely, Iowa City voters could turn down the LOST, but voters in the other cities could pass it over their objections. City boundaries do not matter; in this election, those 5 cities will be voting as one.

Each city in the county plus the county itself gets to determine how any LOST revenues will be spent. But the plan for the money must be spelled out in ballot language. It can be as vague as “any lawful purpose”, but it must be spelled out.

         Moving on to the duration of the tax: State law gives the County Board of Supervisors the sole power to set the duration of the LOST. The duration is the same for all cities who pass the tax. Iowa City has requested ten years; in informal discussions, elected officials from other communities said they would like to see it go even longer. Meanwhile, Coralville officials indicated they would prefer 7 years. I suspect every city will be sharing thoughts with the Board soon.

         Moving on to the timing: Ballot language from every city (and the county) is due August 27, as is the question of duration. The Board of Supervisors is likely holding a public hearing on the LOST at our August 14 evening meeting, and will likely take formal action at 9 am on August 21. Technically, we could act up until August 27th, however.

         Moving on to the county uses of the LOST: As I mentioned, each city decides how to spend its share of the LOST revenue. The same goes for the county, which decides how to use its share.

         This was complicated a bit when the county requested that all the cities put 10% of their LOST revenues toward the proposed Courthouse Annex. Obviously, cities would not be obligated to do so, but doing so would reduce property taxes for all county residents. Iowa City had indicated an interest in doing so, so long as the other cities in the “bloc” (Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin, and University Heights) do the same. Those cities still need to hold those discussions.

         I’m not certain how I feel about this. I think it high time our cities helped the county with SOMETHING. I did not think it would even be worth asking; I was surprised when anyone said they would consider it. Unfortunately, I have come to expect cities doing anything and everything they wish, with no thought to the county whatsoever.

         I’m not thrilled with the “threat” the county used, potentially holding the duration of the LOST hostage to city cooperation. I’m sick and tired of being treated badly by cities, but I’m not certain returning the favor is the way to go.

         The issue was complicated even further when Iowa City Councilor Kingsley Botchway asked each entity to consider designating 10% of the LOST revenues toward affordable housing projects. (Iowa City has already decided to do this.) It is unclear if other cities will make this move.

         Understand – my saying that these two efforts have “complicated” the LOST discussions does not mean I am opposed. We SHOULD be having long and complex discussions between local governments. I simply say this to point out that there are many moving parts to this thing.

As for the county’s own discussions about allocating the revenues: Each Supervisor put forth her/his own personal ideas for the revenue. I wanted to spend 40% on roads and bridges, 20% on public safety, 20% on debt reduction, and 20% on health and human services. (In my thinking, debt reduction includes the Courthouse Annex, and health and human services includes affordable housing.)

Supervisor Rettig came up with a proposal very similar to mine, which is interesting, because we never spoke a word about it. Supervisors Harney and Etheredge wanted 90% for roads and 10% for the Courthouse Annex. Supervisor Neuzil started there, and offered to consider 10% for affordable housing, but only if that money was used exclusively in the unincorporated areas.

         I could not see using affordable housing money only in the unincorporated areas. First, everyone has paid the tax; it would accrue to the General Fund, not the Rural Fund. Secondly, we do not need more affordable housing in the unincorporated areas. That is not a cop-out; it just doesn’t work well. Affordable housing should be accompanied by public water, public sewer, public transportation, and other public services. When it is not (see Regency) very bad things can happen. I think Johnson County should definitely be funding affordable housing – just not in the unincorporated areas.

         So, negotiations ceased, and Supervisors Harney, Etheredge, and Neuzil voted to use the money 90% for roads, 10% for the Courthouse Annex.

         Where do we go from here? It will be interesting to see what, if any, conversations we might have with other elected bodies. As I wrote last week, the discussion over the LOST was the best intergovernmental discussion in my ten years on the Board.

         What will I do? As I said, I am philosophically opposed to the LOST. In order to vote for it, I need to see a great deal of willingness to invest some of the revenues in ways that benefit low-income folks. Right now, I do not see enough of that. It appears that on the Board of Supervisors (and elsewhere) they have the votes. So they do not NEED to negotiate with me. We will see if anyone reaches out.

         Meanwhile, it is going to require some more progressive action for LOST proponents to earn my vote.

*DID YOU KNOW?  The last LOST vote (2009) passed by 7 votes in Iowa City, and failed by 8 votes in Coralville. That was a special, flood-related LOST in which the cities did NOT vote as a block.

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.

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!


August 1, 2014

Sullivan’s Salvos     8/5/14

In this edition:

*Time To Merge
*Great Joint Meeting!
*Mental Health Region
*How Much Should Electeds Talk?
*Did You Know?

*Time To Merge
         If you have listened to anything our local city councils have said recently, or read anything their staffs have written, you know what I am about to say is true.

         The “competition” is on! Iowa City CANNOT make a move unless Coralville does the same. Coralville CANNOT make a move unless North Liberty does the same. And so forth, and so on. Every city is paralyzed by fear of what the others may or may not do.

         Given the current state of affairs, perhaps it is time to discuss a series of government mergers. Louisville, Indianapolis, Nashville, Jacksonville – Duvall, Charlotte - Mecklenberg… there are several examples of successful government mergers.

         Do we need 4 transit systems? 5 parks systems? Are there savings that could be realized? Perhaps it is time to consider radical change?

         I’m not being facetious here. It would be in the public’s best interests to at least have some discussions. Maybe you do not have any full-fledged mergers, but you may find some savings.

No one will listen to me on this front, so it will have to be suggested elsewhere. Chamber of Commerce? ICAD? League of Women Voters? Anyone?

*Joint Meeting
         While I am a frequent critic of local governments, I also feel an obligation to point out when folks get it right. Local governmental entities held their quarterly “Joint Cities” meeting on July 28, and it was BY FAR the finest such meeting I have experienced in my ten years on the Board of Supervisors.

         A bit of background – when the ICCSD began building Van Allen Elementary and North Central Junior High in 2003, they did not account for the cost of roads and sidewalks. Those expenses ended up being covered by Coralville, North Liberty, and Johnson County, each of which felt as though they had been caught off guard. Ever since, elected officials from those bodies (plus Iowa City) have met regularly. In recent years, Clear Creek Amana Schools and the smaller towns in Johnson County have been added to the mix.

         Unfortunately, these meetings have typically been a big waste of time. The most critical topics are usually avoided, and substantive discussions rarely take place.

         But July 28 was different. There was discussion of the details of the Local Option Sales Tax, as well as potential uses. We discussed school plans, affordable housing, and animal facilities. It was a really good meeting!

         At one point, two Council Members from Iowa City argued with a Council Member from Coralville. But you know what? The world did not end! As a matter of fact, the argument was handled very respectfully.

         Most importantly, it was done IN PUBLIC. No backroom deals between staff – this was elected officials discussing things in public. As it should be!

         This is EXACTLY what the people of Johnson County need and deserve! We can do this! Bravo to all involved!

*Mental Health Region
         Iowa’s counties recently merged Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities services into 15 regions across the state.

         Johnson County ended up in a very odd 9-county geographical region – we are combined with Benton, Iowa, Linn, and Jones Counties – that comes as no surprise. What I would not have guessed is that we are also teamed up with Buchanan, Bremer, Dubuque, and Delaware Counties.

         The region is governed by a 9-member board, consisting of one Supervisor from each county. I am Johnson County’s appointee to this group. We had been meeting for over a year in anticipation of our actual merger, which took place July 1st. The Board has worked well together. Staff people have been great. And I’m pleased to report that aside from a few computer glitches, the transition went smoothly.

         This transition changes the financing considerably. Medicaid is primarily a Federal funding stream, but it has a local match. In the past, counties paid the cost of this local match. Now the state is paying the non-local match for Medicaid. Meanwhile, county property tax dollars pay for all the non-Medicaid services.

         Another big financial change is the elimination of Legal Settlement. Here is an example of how Legal Settlement worked: A person with a disability born and raised in a more rural county often moves to Johnson County to get services, seek VA services, work, attend school, access public transit, etc. Under Legal Settlement, the rural county paid for those services even though the person had moved here. Now that Legal Settlement is gone, we pay for all residents, period. Obviously, given the many things that attract people to our region, the elimination of Legal Settlement will find us paying for many more people than in the past.

The idea behind the creation of regions is to increase the available services, while making services consistent statewide. While these are admirable goals, the changes we have implemented do not get us there.

The actual solutions to our mental health crisis are actually quite simple: 1.) We need to roughly triple the available funding, 2.) We need to reduce bureaucratic rules, and 3.) The state should run the system equitably across Iowa.

The state wants #3, but they are completely unwilling to act upon #1 and #2. Until we do so, we are simply moving resources around.

         I am sure the region will continue to do its best. I am sure people in need will continue to receive services. But is this change to regions going to transform mental health services in Iowa? No, unfortunately it is not.

*How Much Should Elected Officials Talk?
         Years ago, Karen Kubby “revolutionized” local politics by insisting that she would explain her votes on controversial issues. She felt the public deserved to know not just HOW she was voting, but WHY.

         This really did revolutionize local politics. Ever since, elected officials know that this will be expected of them, at least once in a while. Elected officials have an increased responsibility to inform the public. This is an example of an elected official talking that is good.

         On the other hand, elected officials can often talk rather than listen. This is very unhealthy, and probably needs no further explanation.

         But what is the right balance? I often find myself wanting my colleagues to talk more; I often find myself wanting them to speak less. And I often wonder if my own “balance” is a good one.

         So what do you think? Do you want your elected officials to talk more, less, or keep it the same? Does it depend? If so, on what?

*DID YOU KNOW?  Johnson County traditionally served just under 2,000 MH/DS clients annually.

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!