Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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SULLIVAN'S SALVOS

June 23, 2017

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/27/17



In this edition:


*Poor Farm Housing
*Did You Know?



*Poor Farm Housing
         As you may know, Johnson County is putting together a plan for the future of the County Poor Farm. While there are several areas of agreement, there are also several things upon which we disagree. The most critical of these issues is the need for housing as a component.

         On Friday, June 23, the Board voted 3-2 to move forward with a Poor Farm planning process that includes some housing as a part of the mix. Supervisors Friese, Carberry, and Sullivan voted yes; Supervisors Green Douglass and Rettig voted no.

         You are going to hear a bunch of hyperbole around this. One Supervisor has falsely said that we “want to develop the whole Poor Farm,” and “sell the whole Poor Farm,” and “pave the whole Poor Farm,” among all sorts of other indiscretions. Please allow me to be very clear about what we want to do.

         I happen to believe housing at the Poor Farm is absolutely critical. In fact, I would argue that a housing component is SO critical that no plan is worthwhile without it. Here are but a few of the reasons for my thinking:

Affordable housing is the number one need in Johnson County, period. We have a rare opportunity here. We have a valuable resource – land in Iowa City – that matches the single biggest need in our community. We should not squander this opportunity.

         Yes, we could build affordable housing elsewhere in the county. But while we have a mechanism to buy land (the Conservation Bond) and conserve it as prairie, we have no comparable mechanism for buying land for housing. We already own this land. This is our one shot.

         Think about that for a moment. Imagine we want both 10 acres of prairie and 10 acres of affordable housing. Which is easier to create in the county? Almost any cornfield could be converted to prairie, as could most pastures, etc. But our own zoning laws (which I support) would prohibit turning that same 10 acres into affordable housing.

         The cost isn’t even close. 10 acres of farmland in an Ag area could be purchased for between $5,000 and $15,000 per acre. That is the cost to buy land and set it aside as prairie. There are literally hundreds of parcels where this could occur. To buy 10 acres zoned appropriately for affordable housing, on the other hand, might run five, ten, or twenty times as much. Don’t taxpayers expect us to use our resources – both land and tax dollars – more wisely than that?

         What’s more, affordable housing in the unincorporated areas is a recipe for disaster. Just look at the history of rural mobile home parks. For affordable housing to be successful, it requires city services, such as sewer, water, schools, and transit. Any attempt at affordable housing in the rural areas would lack those amenities; being in Iowa City proper, any affordable housing at the Poor Farm would have all of them.

         The attempt to incorporate housing into the Poor Farm has been criticized as, “urban sprawl.” This is a stretch, since it is already in city limits, contiguous to literally hundreds of existing homes.

Plus, the Board advocates setting aside dozens of acres as prairie. So it is not as though prairie would be absent here. It simply wouldn’t be the sole use.

         As a matter of fact, the proposed plan also sets aside dozens of acres for farmland, and dozens of acres of open public space. Housing would occupy only a tiny fraction of the available land; perhaps 10-20 acres out of 150 or more.
        
         I am just scratching the surface here. There are many more reasons to include housing as a part of the Poor Farm Plan.

         Another big reason is that the Board of Supervisors has expressed a commitment to Local Foods. I have taken the time to speak to the folks who grow food locally. They have told me what is needed. Small farmers want and need housing. Just ask them. I am not making this up. I am not substituting my judgment for the judgment of the people who do this every day. I have spent the past decade talking to small producers and people who want to enter farming. While it is not easy, they can find a couple of acres of land to lease. The difficulty is that they cannot find places where they can both live affordably and farm. Living in Iowa City and farming a couple acres near Lone Tree or Swisher is simply not effective. I am not making this up – one simply needs to talk to the local foods community. They will tell you they want this. You just have to listen.

         In the plan we approved, several beginning farmers could buy or lease an affordable home at the Poor Farm, then lease adjacent farmland from the County. If they quit farming, the lease would be broken, and the land could be rented to someone else. Same thing if they moved out of the home. It would become a farm incubator. Proximity might allow the sharing of some sheds, tractors, tools, etc., not to mention the benefits of community and the sharing of ideas.

         And we have witnessed it being done successfully. Most Supervisors traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to visit Troy Gardens. Troy Gardens has real world experience, and will reinforce my arguments.

         Again, we could allow the Poor Farm to become prairie, then try to implement this idea somewhere else out in the County. But why in the world would we choose to take a route that is so much more costly and so much less effective? (Remember – contrary to the way one Supervisor presents it, the vast majority of the Poor Farm is NOT currently open green space. It is 120 acres of GMO corn!)

         Then there is the idea that people need to be able to visit a working farm. I agree, and that is why I have been so excited to support Grow Johnson County and other farming efforts at the Poor Farm. I am positive access to farms and farmers will be a big part of this plan.

         Does that mean people need cornfields in which to walk? Well, Iowa has over 32 million acres of land dedicated to the production of commodity crops- 90% of the total land mass of the state. Johnson County is not much different. We have 297,209 acres of ag land. Of that, 246,987 – 83% - is row cropped. So if you want to see a cornfield in Johnson County, you can. We do not lack those. What we DO lack is affordable housing and available land for local food production.

         Let’s move on and talk about history. I have often said that we tend to focus on the “farm” part of the Poor Farm and ignore the “poor” part. Go back in time to the era in which the Poor Farm was created. A settler could simply ride up to a piece of ground, set up camp, and claim the land as his own. File a couple documents, and the land was his. That is how pretty much all our farms started. It was not particularly noteworthy to start a farm. Thousands of people did it.

So what made the Poor Farm different? It is the “poor” piece. Counties date back several hundred years, coming to the US from Great Britain. From the very beginning, counties were charged with caring for those who could not care for themselves. The way that settlers in the 1800s chose to provide this care was through a system of Poor Farms. They recognized, even back then, that counties had an obligation to help house those in need.

It wasn’t the “farm” piece that was special. Again, you could set up a farm almost anywhere. It was the “poor” piece that was special. Counties had an obligation to help house those in need.

You know what? That obligation has not gone away. Counties still have a duty to assist the poorest among us. Turning the Poor Farm solely into a park, while nice, would be a betrayal of the County’s historic mission to provide for those in need. Housing for the poor is why this land was purchased in the early 1800s. We owe it to our forefathers to continue to house low-income people there today.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. We have a historic opportunity, and we need to think big. I feel the plan that includes housing, small farms, and parkland is the best way to accomplish this.



*DID YOU KNOW?  From the Johnson County Historical Society: In 1855, the Johnson County supervisors decided to procure 160 acres on the edge of Iowa City for a “poor farm” to provide systematic care with economy.



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

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at rodsullivan@mchsi.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or rodsullivan@mchsi.com. I look forward to serving you!

---Rod






June 15, 2017

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/20/17



In this edition:


*Trumpgate?
*Distractions
*Facts
*Juneteenth
*Did You Know?



*Trumpgate?
         The Watergate Scandal added an interesting twist to the English language. Now every scandal is given the suffix “-gate”. I went ahead and applied it above!

         It has been quite some time since I have written on National politics. In the meantime, we have serious questions over Russian involvement in US elections. This would seem to be a pretty significant concern.

         But that was before the Republican Party decided to change everything.

         What do I mean by that? I mean there is now one single rule by which the GOP operates, and that is GOP politics is the only thing that matters. Facts do not matter. Laws do not matter. Lives do not matter. The only thing that matters is GOP politics.

         President Trump said during the campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any votes. Amongst Republican leaders, that is 100% true.

         Look at the way Trump personally insulted the families of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, yet they stand by his side. There is truly NOTHING Trump can do that crosses a line for these Republicans. He could literally shoot someone on 5th Avenue, and they would initiate the process of defaming the person he shot.

         Obviously, not every Republican feels this way. Many are concerned over the current state of events. But until their leaders are willing to vote against Trump and his enablers (Including Iowa’s US Senators), nothing will change.



*Distractions
         Are these Russia investigations important? I believe they are. But they can also serve as a huge distraction from issues that could have MONUMENTAL impacts on American citizens.

         Look no farther than the US Senate, where Republican Senators are quietly drafting a bill designed to cut healthcare for poor Americans while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest.

         It may be exciting to watch testimony, or to check out the Presidents’ daily buffoonery, but we need to stay diligent on many other important issues.



*Facts
         In all seriousness, I have never been more concerned for our country. The reason? We can no longer agree on the facts.

         Climate change is a fact. But we destroy the messenger. John Kerry was a war hero. But he gets “swiftboated”. Those recent incidents set the stage for our current politics, in which facts simply do not matter.

         The President bears much of the blame for this. The media are liars. The judiciary is a bunch of liars. Scientists are all liars. The CBO is full of liars. Only the President has the facts.

         In the good old days, this would be easily solved. The American people would see how dangerous this is for our Democracy. They would simply look at the facts.

         But now we have no facts. Because the media, the judiciary, the CBO, and scientists are all liars.

         Where do we go from here? I honestly do not know. Democrats can provide opposition, but there aren’t enough of us. Independents and Republicans are going to need to stand up. I hope they do so before it is too late!



*Juneteenth
The Johnson County Juneteenth Community Committee is hosting a day of family fun from noon-6 pm on Saturday, June 24, at Mercer Park in Iowa City. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The free event will include free food (while supplies last), live music, and games and activities for the whole family.

This year’s theme is “U & I in commUNITY,” said event coordinator LaTasha DeLoach. “This is such a great opportunity to bring people together to not only focus on unity, but also remember the past that divided us. This event is for everyone who cares about freedom,” she said.

The event will kick off with a panel discussion from 10 am to noon: “Essentials for Success: Passion and Direction,” featuring alumni and the head track and field coach from Wartburg College who will share their personal stories and tips on how to be successful in school, work, athletics, and life. The interactive discussion is intended to get youth motivated and thinking about their futures.

The awards presentation for the Iowa City Human Rights Commission’s Youth Essay & Art Contest will take place at approximately 12:15 pm. Afternoon activities for children include body painting, double dutch, and hopscotch. Live entertainment will be provided by The Dream Center Performance Art Academy, a spoken word performance by Micah Ariel James, gospel trio Charism, the Funk Daddies and DJ Risquisimo. There will be historical displays and a presentation from the African American Museum of Iowa, as well as an indoor health and information fair and local vendors selling art, clothing, books and more. Learn more about the Juneteenth event at http://icjuneteenth.wordpress.com.

In its second year, the Juneteenth Trailblazer Awards event will take place on Friday, June 23, at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville from 7 to 10 pm. Doors open at 6:30 pm. Trailblazer Awards honor Emerging Activists, Outstanding Leaders and Transformative Icons in the area of civil rights activism. Advance tickets can be purchased at Eventbrite.com (IC Juneteenth Trailblazers Award). http://bit.ly/2qBnSAi

The Trailblazer Awards will honor local individuals Kendra Malone with the Outstanding Leader Award, and Monique Green with the Emerging Activist Award. The Transformative Icon Award will honor the Center for Worker Justice.

Marian L. Coleman, who served nearly 40 years as an educator and administrator in the Iowa City Community School District, will be the keynote speaker for the event. Coleman is well known as a leader and a strong advocate for education, civil rights and community service.

Juneteenth event sponsors include the City of Iowa City, the Johnson County Community Partnership for Protecting Children, Johnson County Social Services, Waterfront Hy-Vee, Veridian Credit Union, the Iowa City Parks & Recreation Department, Johnson County Democrats, Hills Bank and Trust Company, Scheels, RAYGUN, Prairie Lights Bookstore, and Forbidden Planet. Trailblazer Awards sponsors include Hills Bank and Trust Company, the University of Iowa Chief Diversity Office, and the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center.



*DID YOU KNOW?  69 Nixon Administration officials were indicted as a part of Watergate, with 48 being found guilty, including the US Attorney General and White House Chief of Staff.



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

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at rodsullivan@mchsi.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or rodsullivan@mchsi.com. I look forward to serving you!

---Rod






June 8, 2017

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/13/17



In this edition:


*Father’s Day
*Iowa City Pride
*Quality of Life
*Urban Wildlife
*Kmart Closing
*Dad’s Phone Number
*Did You Know?



*Father’s Day
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there! Being a dad is the best thing I have ever done. It is also the most difficult. I imagine that is the case for most fathers.

It has been several years since I have had the pleasure of enjoying a living father or grandfather. If you are lucky enough to have a father or grandfather around, please take a moment to reach out to him this weekend.



*Iowa City Pride
Come celebrate community, individuality, and PRIDE at Iowa City's Pride 2017! The Parade is Saturday, June 17 and starts at noon at College Green Park.

The Festival is also June 17, from 12 PM - 5:30 PM in the Pedestrian Mall. The Festival features vendors and information booths from all over the area.

Festivities continue this year along Linn Street with food vendors, a dunk tank, and the party space of Studio 13!

And new this year: be sure to check out our dedicated community spaces for queer people of color, transgender & nonbinary folks, and LGBTQ Elders. More information will be coming about these, too!



*Quality of Life
On Wednesday, June 7, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors hosted the event “Enhancing Quality of Life in Johnson County: A Celebration of Community Partners,” at the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building. The event was an opportunity for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to recognize and thank community organizations that receive county funds.

For fiscal year 2018, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors allocated more than $2.25 million through various grant and fund allocation processes to more than three dozen community partners, including social services organizations, libraries, and economic development groups. The Board directed additional funds to address food insecurity and, for the second year, the Board also committed $600,000 to address critical affordable housing needs.

Unlike many grant programs, county funding can be used by organizations for critical operating expenses, helping build financial stability. In addition, county funds can be used to leverage additional money from federal, state or private resources.



*Urban Wildlife
         It has become a bit of a joke between myself and Brad Freidhof of Johnson County Conservation, but I have a lot of wildlife at my house! (Brad suggests a Conservation Easement!) You might think that is no big deal, but I live right in the middle of Iowa City!

Of course we have the ubiquitous urban wildlife: squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, raccoons, sparrows, and mourning doves. We also have had several visits from animals that are a bit more rare in the urban areas: deer, opossums, moles, cardinals, blue jays, hawks, barred owls, and honey bees.

But what have really struck me are our visits from mink. I grew up in the country, and spent many, many hours in the woods and in the creek. Despite that experience, other than those caught by trappers, I had never seen a mink in the wild. Until they began showing up in my yard!

A couple things about all this urban wildlife: First, these are wild animals. Leave them alone and keep your distance. Secondly, while it is cool to see them in town, it could well mean that their previous habitat has been disturbed. We must protect it! Finally, this serves as a great reminder that nature is all around us!



*Kmart Closing
         I was extremely disappointed to hear that the Iowa City Kmart is closing. I sincerely hope the Iowa City Council can find a similar business to take its’ place.

         That area of town desperately needs a department store. It is critically important to the economy and quality of life for the SE side of Iowa City. Yes, we are moving to an Amazon economy. But I still believe that if people have to drive 5 miles or more to buy the type of basics Kmart offered, they may simply choose to live somewhere else.

Selfishly, I will miss this Kmart for several reasons. It is the closest place to my house to buy many items. What’s more, I have been going to that Kmart since I was a young child. It is just one of those things I take for granted. Or it was.



*Dad’s Phone Number
         I had a really interesting thing happen the other day, and it has been on my mind ever since. I want to see if others have had similar experiences.

         I was at a Building Trades meeting, and the gentleman from the Laborer’s Union handed me his business card. I glanced at the card, saw his phone number, and was overcome by a flood of emotions.

You see, my father had worked for Laborer’s Local 43 in Cedar Rapids for over 30 years. As it turns out, they still have the same phone number. The number I called when I was 4 and just wanted to talk to my Dad. The number I called when I was 16 and wanted to borrow the car. The number I called when I was 23 and wanted to talk about the Hawkeyes. The number I called until almost the day he died when I was 31.

         I was shocked, frankly, by the emotions that came back from simply seeing that phone number. Obviously, it is still on my mind. Anyone else out there ever experience anything similar?



*DID YOU KNOW?  Laborer’s Local 43 has just under 500 dues paying members in Eastern Iowa.



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

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at rodsullivan@mchsi.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or rodsullivan@mchsi.com. I look forward to serving you!

---Rod






June 1, 2017

Sullivan’s Salvos     6/6/17



In this edition:


*Bridge Over I-80
*The Politics of Bridge Building
*City Growth in Johnson County
*Haiku
*Did You Know?



*Bridge Over I-80
         Johnson County got some bad news last week, as we were informed that the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) plans to eliminate the Lower West Branch Road bridge over I-80.

         A bit of background: I-80 was built over the course of a decade, with the Johnson County sections among the last to open in 1963. The intersections we had then are the same ones we have now, including the Herbert Hoover Highway (HHH) exit and the West Branch exit. (The West Branch exit is technically in Cedar County, just half a mile or so over the county line.)

         Building I-80 caused dozens of county roads to become dead ends. This was an inconvenience for neighbors, obviously, but probably a fair trade for the overall convenience of I-80. Still, some local roads needed to cross the Interstate. Emergency vehicles need to be able to reach residents without lengthy detours. Farmers need to get to town. You simply couldn’t close every local road.

So between those two exits (HHH and West Branch), the IDOT built bridges to allow Wapsi Avenue and Lower West Branch Road to cross I-80. These would be the roads that locals could use to get north and south.

And they have worked! For 54 years! HHH to Wapsi is about a mile and a half. Wapsi to Lower West Branch Road is about 2.5 miles. Lower West Branch to West Branch is another 1.5 miles. This arrangement has served the people of Johnson County well.

         Well, now IDOT says they are closing the Lower West Branch Road bridge. The existing bridge is not long enough to allow the Interstate to expand to six lanes through Johnson County. And building a longer bridge is money the state does not want to spend.

         I think this is disingenuous on the part of the IDOT. First of all, THEY are the group that put that bridge there in the first place! Why was it needed in 1963, when our population was 53,000 residents, and not in 2017, when the population is 153,000?

         Secondly, the IDOT is widening the Interstate because of the population growth! Doesn’t it make sense that these additional people will not require LESS ways to cross I-80?

         I am frustrated by this process, as are all my colleagues. We will do our best to fight to keep the bridge. But let’s be honest – state government has no love of Johnson County. If they can stick a thumb in our eye, they will do it. Even if it puts the health, safety, and welfare of rural residents at risk.



*The Politics of Bridge Building
         I find that there are often disconnects between reality and the political narratives we choose to embrace. The issue of rural bridges is a good example of this disconnect.

         First, a bit of background: every Iowa county has hundreds of miles of gravel roads. In addition, many of these roads have multiple bridges. Some are concrete, some are steel, and some are timber, but they all serve the same purpose. We replace a few of these bridges every year, and I can tell you the cost is pretty much always between $300-$600,000, depending upon the length.

         These bridges are lifelines for the people who live in the area. This is how farmers get to their fields. This is how farmers get to town. The rural economy functions best when these bridges are well maintained.

         In addition, there is a public safety factor. Fire trucks, ambulances, and Sheriff’s vehicles need to be able to access the residents of the area via a quick and direct route.

         On the other hand, the cost of these bridges adds up. Say we set aside $1.5 million for these bridges each year. That is the same cost as one brand new mile of paved road, or the rehabilitation of 3 miles of paved road.

Some of our paved roads see thousands of cars every day. Often these gravel roads have traffic counts as low as 25 cars per day. Needless to say, many people feel it is foolish to invest so much money in these bridges when the total traffic counts are so low.

I understand both sides of the argument. But time after time, I have come down on the side of the farmer. I have served as a Supervisor for 12 years. In that time, Johnson County has never permanently closed a bridge. I am extremely proud of that fact!

         But you won’t find a bunch of farmers singing my praises. In fact, you’ll find the exact opposite; farmers talking about how much they hate my work as a Supervisor.

         Here is where the disconnect comes in. Washington County – with more farms than Johnson County – has closed several of these bridges. The Washington County Board is made up 100% of conservative Republicans. But they have been closing bridges.

         Cedar County is the same way. The Cedar County Board is made up of 100% conservative Republicans, including the Chair of the Iowa Republican Party. But they have been closing bridges.

         The same disconnect exists in the case of the I-80 bridge described in the article above. The Branstad Administration runs the IDOT. They are all Republicans in charge. They could choose to serve our farmers and keep the Lower West Branch Road bridge. But instead, they are closing it.

         Like many areas of our politics today, the politics of bridge building are not what you might guess.



*City Growth in Johnson County
The U.S. Census Bureau has released 2016 population estimates, and Johnson County cities continue to boom. Tiffin saw a 54.4 percent population increase to 3,006 – the fastest growth in Iowa. North Liberty was the state's fifth fastest-growing city, growing 38 percent to 18,520.

Iowa City grew at 9.5 percent to 74,398 people. Coralville grew by 7.9 percent to 20,397. Solon grew 24.5 percent to 2,587; Hills 15% to 808, Shueyville 14% to 646, Lone Tree 7% to 1388, Swisher 5% to 924, and University Heights 3.6 % to 1,089.

The State Library of Iowa said that 243 Iowa cities grew, 652 shrank, and 49 cities stayed the same.



*Haiku
Yes! Summer is here!
Baseball and green plants.
Life is truly good.



*DID YOU KNOW?  Iowa leads the nation in most bridges in poor shape, according to a new report. The report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association says “of the 24,184 bridges in Iowa, 4,968, or 21%, are classified as structurally deficient”.



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

"Sullivan’s Salvos" is sent once per week to any interested party. It will give a brief update on issues of interest to Johnson County residents.

These messages come solely from Rod Sullivan, and neither represents the viewpoints of the whole Board of Supervisors nor those of groups or individuals otherwise mentioned.

If you do NOT want the weekly E-mail, simply reply to this message, and type "unsubscribe" in the subject line.

If you know anyone else who might be interested, just forward this message. They can E-mail me at rodsullivan@mchsi.com with "subscribe" in the subject line.

As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or rodsullivan@mchsi.com. I look forward to serving you!

---Rod