Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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September 9, 2016

Sullivan’s Salvos     9/13/16

In this edition:

*Linn County Conservation Bond
*Linn County Supervisors – 3 or 5?
*Linn County Minimum Wage
*Did You Know?

*Linn County Conservation Bond
         In November voters in Linn County will have the opportunity to follow Johnson County’s lead, and pass a Conservation Bond initiative.

         Johnson County voters passed this in 2008 by a whisker, just more than the required 60%. (Note – we were in the midst of an economic collapse at the time!) The Johnson County effort was $20 million dollars, but the overall investment is much greater, as we have leveraged other dollars at a rate of almost 2:1.

         Linn is shooting for $40 million, and I wish them luck! I was extremely glad to see that Linn County is working with the Trust for Public Land (TPL). The TPL assisted us, too, and we would never have gotten our bond passed without their help!

         Unfortunately, Linn County has a fight on its’ hands. Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett showed his hypocrisy. Corbett has long argued against the Des Moines Waterworks suit, claiming locals could figure out solutions to our water quality problems. Well, the Linn Supervisors have put forth the ultimate local solution, and Corbett refuses to endorse it. Voters – REMEMBER that!

         It is also sad, frankly, to see so many other “leaders” in Linn County who only want to criticize the plan. Ummm… that is NOT leadership! What Linn County is doing IS leadership. You had your chance to do this, and punted. Now it is time to get on board, or get out of the way!

         One frequent criticism is, “I want to know specifically what land might be purchased.” This criticism is pure foolishness. First, the bond lasts 20 years. Who could possibly know what might be for sale 18 years from now? Secondly, if people know the County is looking at land, it throws off the market. That is why governments are allowed to discuss the purchase and sale prices of land in closed sessions. Wanna spend way too much on Conservation properties? Force them to list them all now!

The Conservation Bond has been a great thing for Johnson County; I think every county ought to do it! Best of luck to our friends in Linn County!

*Linn County Supervisors – 3 or 5?
         Linn County voters have another issue on the November ballot. Voters there will also decide whether or not to stay with 5 Supervisors or switch back to 3. (Linn County switched from 3 to 5 in 2006.)

         To be honest? This vote is stupid. Linn County has over 200,000 residents. That calls for more than 3 representatives. They need the extra two sets of eyes, ears, and minds.

         Proponents of cutting down to three Supervisors claim it will save money. Well, it MIGHT… but let’s put this in perspective. Linn Supervisors make about $100,000 annually. We’ll throw in a generous benefit package, and call it $125,000. Times two positions is $250,000. The Linn County budget is well over $100 million annually. If money is the issue, Linn County could cut less than one quarter of one percent anywhere in the budget and get a better result.

         The bigger issue, in my mind, is that I honestly believe a three person Board is incapable of following Iowa’s Open Meetings Law. According to the law, any time a quorum of the Board talks any County business, the meeting must be noticed and minutes must be kept.

         I refuse to believe that 3 Supervisors could work in the same office every day and NEVER ONCE have two of them discuss ANYTHING business related. If you did it just one time, you broke the law!

         Why mess with this? Linn County is a big, diverse place. The people deserve more representation, not less.

*Linn County Minimum Wage
         I was very pleased to see Linn County vote to increase the minimum wage in that jurisdiction. I am particularly proud of Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers. When it appeared the increase was on shaky ground, Rogers stepped up into the leadership role and got it done. Nice work, Ben!

         It is interesting – I have used Linn County as a point of comparison thus far. Neighboring counties. Same laborshed. Historically, unemployment in Linn County has been about one percent higher than Johnson County. It was that way for the year prior to Johnson County raising the wage. And for the ten and a half months since we raised the wage, the gap has stayed at one percent.

         What does that mean? It means the people who claimed jobs would move elsewhere where COMPLETELY wrong. Raising the wage has not cost Johnson County jobs.

         I am very glad to see that Linn County will be coming on board. Low-wage workers there deserve a raise!

         It seems there are always a number of issues in Johnson County that center around aesthetics. How tall should buildings be? What constitutes a “well-maintained” yard? Does color matter on historic properties? What is the definition of art? How much is art worth?

         Personally, I have always been very much in the “function over form” camp. If you have ever seen any clothes or shoes I have worn, haircuts I’ve had, or cars I have driven, you should easily recognize this. And I’ll be honest; I wear my “function over form” like a badge of honor. I am pretty certain it saves money and natural resources. And I do not have to worry about keeping up with the Jones’.

         On the other hand, I know my proclivity toward function can cross the line into a fault. I helped the kids duct tape the mirror to our old van. Probably should have gone another route. Melissa certainly deserves prettier things than I typically provide. And yes, I can be judgmental when I see people spend what I consider to be too much on clothes, cars, phones, etc.

         I remember a big civic fight back in the late 1990s that found advocates for funding for public art pitted against advocates for services for the poor. The Iowa City Council at that time did a great job of pitting those who wanted money spent on public art versus those of us who wanted money spent on public services. In fact, BOTH groups needed to challenge the arguments of the City. There was enough money for BOTH arts and services; it simply wasn’t a priority of that City Council.

         Over the years, I have been quite frustrated by people who seem to be too focused on aesthetics. I would imagine they have also been frustrated by me.

         So what is the right balance? Do we need more emphasis on aesthetics? Less? Or do we strike a pretty good balance? More importantly, how can we bridge our differences so that those who would oppose us both are not allowed to divide us?

*DID YOU KNOW?  Linn County is Iowa’s second most populous county, with 220,000 residents. Johnson County is 4th at about 150,000. (Source: US Census.)

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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