Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 2, 2015

Sullivan’s Salvos     1/6/15

In this edition:

*Welcome to 2015!
*Welcome Mike!
*What I Learned In 2014
*Did You Know?

*Welcome to 2015!
         Happy New Year! Here’s to a better and brighter year ahead! I have never been big on New Year’s resolutions – you can see that by my weight! But I certainly welcome the “fresh start” feel of the New Year. I hope 2015 is good to you and yours!

*Welcome Mike!
         Mike Carberry has joined the Board of Supervisors as of January 2nd. A Democrat, Mike was elected back in November, defeating Republican incumbent John Etheredge.

         I look forward to working with Mike. For one thing, there are several votes where I have been on the losing end of 3-2 decisions. I’m hopeful that a couple of these issues can be revisited and overturned.

         Meanwhile, welcome aboard, Mike!

         People come, and people go. As Mike Carberry begins his employment with the county, others leave. I want to acknowledge a few retirements that have just recently taken place.

         First, Kevin Kinney has taken an early retirement from the Sheriff’s Office. Kevin had over 27 years of remarkable service that included breaking up a large human trafficking ring and being named the 2013 Iowa Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. Kevin moves on to bigger and better things, as he will soon be starting as a State Senator in Senate District 39. Congratulations, Kevin, and thanks!

         Kathy Elliott has retired from the Auditor’s Office after over 34 years. Kathy had spent some time in elections, but more recently served in the Real Estate area. There are several County jobs like hers – virtually invisible, but extremely critical. Do it poorly, and everything falls apart. Do it well, and no one notices. Kathy did it well. Congratulations, Kathy, and thanks!

         Finally, Iowa City Public Works Director Rick Fosse is leaving Iowa City after 30 years. While Rick is not a county employee, he is a tremendous asset to everyone in the county. Not to mention one heck of a good guy! Rick not only led us through major disasters, but managed the day to day business of the City extremely well. Garbage and recycling get picked up. Roads are good. The water, sewers, and storm sewers work well. That is Rick’s doing. Thank you, Rick, for a terrific career!

*What I Learned In 2014…
         I have read several pieces from authors who discuss “what they learned” in a given year. I will admit, I have been skeptical of such pieces. That is, until 2014.

         I had a near-death experience in April of 2014, and I think it is likely to stay with me the rest of my life.

         People who visit Haiti often say that it “changed their lives.” This happened to me as well, but for a different reason.

         Melissa and I joined a team from Community Health Initiatives (CHI) on a medical mission to Haiti in late March – early April. It was a moving experience, but I felt relatively well prepared for everything I saw. I had read extensively about Haiti; I had spoken to others who had made multiple trips; I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into. That is, until we made the trip to Fondol.

A bit of background: we stayed in a city called Arcahaie, which is on the ocean, and roughly the size of Iowa City. Most of our clinics were in a village called Do Digue, which is roughly the same size as North Liberty, and roughly the same distance from Arcahaie as NL is from IC.

There was one clinic, however, in a village called Fondol. It is another 5 miles from Do Digue, and it is 5 miles almost straight up the mountains. It is almost impossible for vehicles to reach Fondol. The people are extremely isolated, and they are very poor and sick, even by Haitian standards.

The vast majority of our team would need to hike into and out of Fondol; there is simply no other way. But we had hundreds of pounds of medicine and equipment to transport; it was going to be impossible to carry it all in. So the CHI leaders contracted with a “tap tap” to drive all our supplies up a rugged path. A tap tap is similar to Jed Clampett’s old truck in the Beverly Hillbillies. And in Haiti, tap taps get overloaded with people and cargo to an extent you can barely imagine.

Most of the CHI crew consisted of young people who were in excellent shape. Melissa and I were among the oldest people there. There was a retired doctor with a bad knee; he could never make the whole hike. We had a 4-year-old girl with us (a long story) – she would need to ride. A couple interpreters would also ride. That left one seat – shotgun – for the ride up the mountain.

After some debate, folks urged me to ride in the tap tap. I put the little girl on my lap, and we headed out.

The road was not a road per se. It was a glorified cow path. The terrain was very rocky. And while it consisted of a series of switchbacks, it was extremely steep in some areas. We got about two miles into the trek, and I realized that on one side, the cliff fell off several hundred feet. On the other side, perhaps 200 feet. And then it happened.

The tap tap stalled, and the driver tried to restart it. Then the tap tap began sliding backwards. The driver yanked on the emergency brake, only to have it come off in his hand. He looked at me, his eyes the size of dinner plates, and I realized we were in very serious trouble.

You know how time slows down in a car accident? That happened here. I threw open the door, and immediately thought of the little girl. Should I throw her out? If I threw her too far, she’d surely die. I decided we were going out together. I put my foot on the ground, but I got caught by the open door. I was going to have to go all out and dive.

And then, all of a sudden, the tap tap hit something. It rocked back, then forward. I stumbled out the door, girl in my arms. The tap tap stopped, about ten feet from falling over the cliff.

I owe my life to the interpreters. They saw what was happening, and threw large suitcases full of supplies off the back and under the rear wheels of the tap tap. It was just enough to stop it.

We all got out of/off of the tap tap. The little girl was angry with me; my guess is I squeezed her too hard. An interpreter began carrying her up the mountain. Meanwhile, I approached the retired doctor. He had been in back, watching us slide, powerless to do anything. I felt as though I should hug him or something. But all he did was shake his head and say, “That’s Haiti for ya’.” Then he began trudging toward Fondol.

I was shell-shocked. I started hiking, too, but I wanted to somehow share my feelings. But no one in my group had any time for such nonsense. We had jobs to do.

We hiked the rest of the way, probably an hour and a half. Upon entering Fondol, I could see that the people were in bad shape. We had seen sick people, and we had seen poor people, but not this sick or this poor. None of these people cared what had just happened to me.

Ironically, the driver got the truck started and arrived in Fondol right after we did. Melissa and the others hiked two more miles than we did, so they arrived about an hour later. I shared my story with her. You know what? She didn’t care, either. We were faced with several hundred patients, a storm was coming in, and we would have a three-hour hike home when it was all done. There was no time for my feelings.

         So what did this teach me? I think I gained some perspective. Lots of people die in Haiti. Untimely deaths are mourned, but people move on. They must move on.

         I think we are probably all guilty of being a bit egocentric; some of us more so than others. But incidents in 2014 taught me that I am just one of some six billion souls on this planet just trying to make a go of it. And when one goes, another takes his place. As much as I’d like to believe I’m special, I’m not.

         Yes, I have problems. But they truly are “first world” problems. No matter how you measure things, I am a pretty lucky guy.

*DID YOU KNOW?  I will be serving as the Vice Chair of the Board this year, while Supervisor Harney serves as Chair. If things go according to plan, I will then become the Chair in 2016.

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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