Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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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-

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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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