Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 30, 2015

Sullivan’s Salvos     2/3/15

In this edition:

*Iowa City Council Procedures
*”Open Government”
*DINOs and RINOs, Oh My!
*Did You Know?

*Iowa City Council Procedures
         I wrote a while ago about the Charter Review process happening right now in Iowa City. The Charter Review Commission could recommend some major changes to the structure of Iowa City government. But they won’t. (In the interest of full disclosure, I applied to serve on the Charter Review Commission in ’94, ’04, and ’14. I have received zero votes so far. I plan on applying in ’24 as well.)

That should not deter supporters of improved governance, however. There are several other ways of doing business that need a change, and do not require a commission. Following are just a few:

         1.) Hold informal meetings immediately after formal meetings. The way things work now, informal meetings are held immediately prior to formal meetings. Informal meetings are critical – this is where city staff make their recommendations, 99% of which are followed. So under the current system, items are introduced and voted upon on the same evening. If a council member wanted to do her own research, there is no opportunity. If the public wanted to weigh in, there is no opportunity. By reversing this order, the public gets two weeks to weigh in, and the council gets two weeks to hear from folks. This CAN be done; Johnson County does it now.

         2.) Broadcast informal meetings. We already noted that these meetings are really where information is shared and decisions are made. This process SHOULD be as public as possible. So why not put it on TV for all to see? The only reason I’ve ever been given is that councilors will not want to appear uninformed, so they won’t ask questions. That may be the single worst reason I have ever been given for any policy, but there you go. Again, this CAN be done; Johnson County does it now.

         3.) Allow public discussion at informal meetings. Contrary to what council members and staff would have you believe, there is no legal prohibition on public comment at these meetings. The council can set any parameters on public comment it wishes. The council can determine the number of speakers, length of time each speaks, total comment time – it can do anything it wishes. The law allows many different approaches. You CAN allow public comment. Again, this CAN be done; Johnson County does it now.

         There is no compelling reason for the way Iowa City currently handles these matters. All three of these procedures are the classic “that is the way we’ve always done it.” That is not a good enough reason for skirting democracy.

Each of these simple changes is cheap, efficient, and friendlier toward democracy. None would require anything beyond a vote of the council.

I am hoping to introduce these ideas into the 2015 Iowa City Council election; I hope you will assist me. Let’s get every candidate to pledge to make these changes, and open up Iowa City government.

*”Open Government”
         State Senator Tony Bisignano of Polk County recently filed a bill dealing with the compensation of county officials, and in the process decided to attack Iowa’s County Supervisors.

         I actually don’t have any problem with Senator Bisignano’s bill. It does sound as though the Polk County Compensation Board is drifting into some areas (deferred compensation and severance pay for elected officials) that may deserve the scrutiny of the Iowa Senate. If I were a Senator, I would support his bill.

         I called the Senator after reading his press release. Our conversation was pleasant enough, but he did too much talking and not enough listening. I have two problems with the way he handled this, and I told him so.

First is the way in which it was done. In a grandstanding move, Senator Bisignano sent out a press release once his bill was filed. In the press release, he claims that County Supervisors do not act in a way that is “transparent and accountable to the voters.”

I take STRONG issue with this statement! While Bisignano and his fellow Senators do State business BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, County Supervisors across Iowa meet in public. Every time we talk, the time and place is noticed at least 24 hours in advance. It is open to the public. Media are invited. Meetings are both televised and streamed on the web. Minutes are kept, then published in the paper and available on our website.

How does that compare to a Senate caucus? Who REALLY does the people’s business in public? If Senator Bisignano is REALLY such an advocate for transparency, let him sponsor a bill that holds the body in which HE serves to the same standards as the one he has decided to attack!

I mentioned this during our call. He claims the Iowa Senate HAS to meet secretly in order to get their work done. That comes as a shock to Iowa’s 350+ County Supervisors, who manage to get our work done in the light of day.

Secondly, it is clear that Senator Bisignano’s concern is with Polk County, where he used to work. But he called out all of Iowa’s 350+ Supervisors in his press release.

         I know it is incredibly difficult for a Polk County bigwig to understand this, but there are 2.6 million people in Iowa who do NOT live in Polk County.

         If he has a problem with his former bosses, bring it up with them. Senator Bisignano is using his elected office to score cheap political paybacks, and that is between him and his constituents. But he should leave the rest of Iowa out of his petty bickering.

*DINOs and RINOs, Oh My!
         You have probably heard the terms DINO (Democrat In Name Only) and RINO (Republican In Name Only). They get thrown around a lot by folks who follow national politics.

         Recently, I have heard many local Democrats use that term to describe Congressman Dave Loebsack. These folks are primarily upset with two votes: the Keystone XL pipeline, and the bill that relaxed regulations on big banks.

         For what it is worth, I disagree with both of the Congressman’s votes. But I have a very serious question for the folks who are vocally complaining about their Congressman: How do you vote when it comes to local candidates?

         Local governments (City Councils, Board of Supervisors, School Boards) are full of elected officials who are registered Democrats. But are these folks progressive in any way?

         Most voters I know blindly take their cues from their political party, the Chamber, or some other group. They have no idea what candidates actually believe, let alone their character.

         I would argue that this is where you will find your “DINOs”. I would also argue that this is where you should put your efforts. This is where you need progressives the most, and this is where you can affect the most change.

         So, yes, by all means – go after the DINOs. Just begin at the local level.

*DID YOU KNOW?  "Past, Present and Future: Local Foods at the County Farm” will be held on Saturday, February 7th, from 10 AM to 3 PM in Montgomery Hall at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. The event includes informative speakers, a locally-sourced lunch and a community visioning activity.

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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