Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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November 27, 2015

Sullivan’s Salvos     12/1/15

In this edition:

*County Budget
*A Tale Of Two Counties
*Did You Know?

*County Budget
Johnson County begins budget discussions in earnest in December.

         We will be working on the FY16 budget. Iowa’s counties use a July 1-June 30 fiscal year, so the budget we will be discussing begins July 1 of 2015. It is actually the FY16 budget, however – the budget year refers to the calendar year in which the budget ends.

The FY16 budget is due to the State by March 15, but due to requirements for publishing, public hearings, etc. the process needs to be completed by early February.

         So, do you have thoughts as to how Johnson County should be spending money? If so, now is the time to communicate those thoughts!

         I found it interesting that “micromanaging” became an issue in the Iowa City Council race. It seems to be a very insider topic to put before the voters. But I do believe micromanaging is worthy of discussion.

            Micromanaging can occur in any organization – for profit, nonprofit, government… any organization that has a hierarchy. Wikipedia defines micromanagement as “a management style whereby a manager closely observes or controls the work of subordinates or employees. Micromanagement generally has a negative connotation.”

         Why does micromanagement have a negative connotation? I think that is pretty easy to understand. If a manager spends time micromanaging, essentially two people are doing the job of one. That type of staffing is clearly less efficient and more costly.

         More importantly, micromanagement takes a toll on the employees who are being managed. These employees feel as though they are walking on eggshells. They are not proactive. They are not creative, because they fear a reprimand. They are less productive and less happy. Basically, micromanagement hurts both your organization and the people in it.

         So we know micromanagement is bad. The problem, in my experience, is recognizing it. Clearly there was a difference of opinion between Iowa City Councilors as to what constitutes micromanagement. The ICCSD Board is currently having this argument. I think we have differences of opinion on the Board of Supervisors as well.

         There is a pendulum here. An elected body can clearly ask too many questions, and can prevent things from happening in a timely manner. On the other hand, elected bodies can simply allow staff to make all the decisions. I do not like either extreme. In my opinion, Iowa City has not suffered from micromanagement in the past couple of years. In fact, the opposite has been true.

         The pendulum may be swinging too far the other direction when we discuss Johnson County government. I worry that Supervisors are spending too much time on some details, and I worry about negative impacts on our staff.

         At the same time, the price of not paying attention is very steep. Someone did something wrong? Why didn’t you catch it? The public expects elected officials to know everything, and be aware of every situation. How does one achieve that without getting heavily involved?

         Striking the appropriate balance is not easy. It requires constant diligence, an abundance of good judgment, and real self-awareness. It is not easy to find seven (or even five) people who meet these criteria.

         What are your thoughts? Too much micromanagement? Not enough? Do you even care? Please let me know!

*A Tale Of Two Counties
         (This piece ran in Salvos at Thanksgiving 2013. I believe it is still relevant today.)

I frequently write about issues of wealth and poverty. Thanksgiving offers me the opportunity to do this to an even greater extent.

         The country as a whole is becoming more and more unequal. The same phenomenon is taking place in Johnson County. It really is a “Tale of Two Counties”, with a small but growing wealthy population, a shrinking middle class, and a huge and growing population of poor people. This is not hyperbole – it is fact. There are all kinds of statistics backing this up.

         Some people honestly believe this is good. Social Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. Free markets. Invisible Hand. Call it what you want; we can see the results. I happen to believe these results are unacceptable. I also believe that a proper role of government is to help regulate in areas where the unregulated results are unacceptable. In my mind, our economic results are unacceptable.

Last year, Ohio Senator Rob Portman changed his view on same sex marriage after his own son came out as gay. I heard a few comedians remark, “Too bad his son didn’t come out as poor.” Not sure who first said this, but I love it! We need an awakening!

         So, what governmental interventions do I suggest? Most of the best anti-poverty programs are federal. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, school lunches, Section 8 housing and many other federal programs are proven to be effective anti-poverty measures. Sure, each of these programs has had its problems, but the successes number in the hundreds of millions! The national media likes to pretend these programs do not work. Nothing could be further from the truth. We should support these programs – not just their maintenance, but their expansion.

         There are also things can and should be done at the local level. One that I have mentioned frequently is inclusionary zoning. Developers do NOT build affordable housing without being forced to do so; local governments should simply require it. Done. It is that easy, and it would really help poor people.

         We are working on the FY15 Johnson County budget. Some time in January, there will come a day where we see what county government will cost the owner of a $100,000 property. And once we see this amount, the Board will begin to cut programs and services.

         It happens the same way every year. Supervisors will want to prove their fiscal bona fides, and make indignant comments such as, “How much more can people afford?” It is all great theater.

Yet we will be discussing $3 per $100,000 assessed value. $3. And believe me, much of that $3 will be cut. So the owner of a million dollar house will not have to spend that extra $30. And we Supervisors will pat ourselves on the back and talk about how frugal we are.

         But few people ask about what was cut. Who is not helped? What service was cut? What position was not funded? What agency cut back on staff?

         Yes, we have a Tale of Two Counties. We are living it. If you are reading this, you are likely one of the fortunate people. This is a great time of year for you to count your blessings. Trust me – many folks in Johnson County do not share in your good fortune.

*DID YOU KNOW?  Johnson County ranks 40th of Iowa’s 99 counties in overall property tax rate. (Source: Iowa State Association of Counties.)

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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