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Four contend for three board of supervisor seats

Republican Phil Hemmingway hopes to unseat one incumbent Democrat

IOWA CITY– Four candidates are on the ballot for three seats on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Democrat incumbents Rod Sullivan, Lisa Green-Douglass, and Royceann Porter are defending their seats while Republican Phil Hemmingway, a former member of the Iowa City Community School District Board of Education, hopes to unseat one of them. Hemmingway lost to Porter in a December 2018 special election to replace the late Kurt Friese, and also ran in the 2018 general election. If successful, he would be the first Republican on the board since John Etheredge was elected to one term in 2013.
All four contenders were sent a series of questions, which are printed below along with their answers as they were received.
Sullivan, a 16-year veteran of the board of supervisors, grew up on a farm near Sutliff and is a resident of Iowa City with his wife Melissa Faith. He is the father of three adult children, one grandchild, and has been a foster parent to over 50 children.
Hemmingway was born and raised on his family’s Century Farm in rural Johnson County between Morse and Oasis as a fourth-generation farmer. He managed Roy Carver’s cattle ranch in Belize, Central America for five years, worked in Africa and the former Soviet Union, and operated a business in Johnson County since 1997. He has been married to his wife Anita for 28 years and the couple has one daughter.
Porter moved to rural Iowa in 1989 to work for IBP in Columbus Junction before moving to Iowa City. She served on the Iowa City Community Police Review Board, the steering committee of the Iowa City Coalition for Racial Justice and the Juvenile Justice Youth Development Policy Board. She has worked as a Juvenile Court Liaison and Johnson County Disproportionate Minority Contact. Porter, married to Anthony Porter with two daughters, has had many years of experience with youth issues outside of the justice system and has been involved with several community-based organizations. Porter helped found the Black Voices Project and serves as its president. She has been a county supervisor for 21 months after being chosen in a December 2018 special election.
Green-Douglass moved to Johnson County in 1980 from Houston, Texas, to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa, where she received a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Spanish from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. She and her late husband Dr. R. Thomas Douglass moved to unincorporated North Liberty in 1986, and raised their five children there. Green-Douglass taught high school Spanish for two years, and taught at the college level at the University of Iowa and Cornell College. In 2007, she left academia to begin providing job-specific Spanish-language training to law enforcement officers, jailers, correctional officers, conservation officers and paramedics. She has been a supervisor since January 2016.

Tell us briefly why you are running for a seat on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, and include any relevant experience and occupations.
Sullivan: I am a social worker by trade, and that helps me to understand the many health and human services-related issues that come before the board. I feel that I am a very important voice on the board; I believe county staff respect me and my work ethic. There are many challenges ahead for this board, and I think I can help navigate the path.
Hemmingway: I look to bring my fiscal oversight and rural representation to the board of supervisors. I believe that transparency and diversity of ideas are important for successful decision making. I have worked as a farmer and a business owner in Johnson County and I feel my blue collar, common sense will serve the community well. I was elected to the Iowa City Community School District Board of Education in 2015 and my term ended in 2019.
Porter: I’m running for a seat on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors because I now have a feel and know the job. I will continue to stress the need to address affordable housing, mental health services and food insecurity, especially since the pandemic/COVID-19.”
Green-Douglass: I'm running to continue being a part of the decision making of county government. In my four-plus years on the board, I have worked with each of our county departments and have served on a number of committees and boards. In addition to the usual work that a supervisor does, I have been able to use my expertise to help with translations of brochures and signage. Because I spent much of my professional life developing testing and assessment materials and procedures, I helped to create a new evaluation process for the Sixth Judicial District Board to use for the director's annual evaluation. I also served on the county's Performance Evaluation Committee, helping to develop a new way to do our employees' annual job performance evaluations.
The next few years are critical to how we manage growth and continue providing for the needs within our county. I want to continue the work I've done so that our county grows in a sustainable way, and so that all segments of our population have opportunities for a safe, healthy and productive life.”

What, in addition to COVID-19, are the greatest challenges facing Johnson County, and briefly, what would you propose as a solution?
Sullivan: Poverty, affordable housing and healthcare are huge issues in Johnson County. Each of those topics is better addressed at the federal level, but local governments still have an important role to play. I think we have instituted some good programs and services; our biggest barrier is the desire of Republicans in the Iowa Legislature to stamp out local control. In addition, there will be economic impacts from COVID-19 that will lag behind the virus. We are faring alright for the upcoming fiscal year, but I can see changes on the horizon.
Hemmingway: Our entire community has been affected by COVID-19. Mental health issues have been exacerbated by this and we must meet the ever-expanding needs for mental health services in Johnson County by increasing prevention, treatment, and recovery services, expanding the mental health workforce, education and expanding physical space.”
Porter: Efforts to ensure that our citizens with limited resources are supported economically and financially. Prioritizing emergency rental assistance, unemployment and food insecurity. We not only faced COVID-19, but were hit by a derecho which left many people without power who lost their food. Many people lost their jobs and depended upon unemployment, which only lasted for so long and now many people are faced with how they’re going to pay their rent, mortgages and utilities.
Green-Douglass: The biggest issues facing the county are the four ever-present components of poverty: hunger, affordable housing needs, transportation and child care options. To address hunger in Johnson County, I would support mobile food pantries, farm stands, in-school food pantries and use of the County Poor Farm by organizations that address hunger. We have been addressing the affordable housing problem by allocating $640,000 annually to the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County. There is a lot more work to be done for affordable housing, though. Primarily, we need to increase the stock of available affordable housing. We need to ensure that when affordable housing becomes available, there is also transportation providing access to services. Lack of transportation and childcare often become obstacles for maintaining employment. The cities have been working on transit studies and when they bring forward a plan to the county, I plan to support it and ensure that we provide accompanying para-transit. As for childcare, we need to explore options that go beyond what is currently available. Second and third shift employees can be at a disadvantage if they can't find childcare while they are at work. I am on a Childcare Solutions committee made up of people from throughout the county. We are trying to find solutions for businesses that might be able to retain employees if they had on-site childcare. If we don't face and work to resolve the issues of hunger, affordable housing, transportation and childcare, we will have a growing population living in poverty.

Incumbents: What have you accomplished during your time on the Board, and what do you still hope to achieve?
Sullivan: I am very proud of my record, including: Leadership during the COVID-19 crisis. Leadership during ’08 floods. Raised the minimum wage– the first county in Iowa to do so. Passed a Human Rights Ordinance– the first county in Iowa to do so. Passed a Sensitive Areas Ordinance– the first county in Iowa to do so. Passed the Conservation Bond Initiative– the first county in Iowa to do so. Passed the Community ID Program– the first county in Iowa to do so. Started 1105 Project with gift of old Public Health building. Saved Sutliff Bridge after ’08 floods. Started trails funding. Created the Free Tax Help project. Created the Livable Community for Successful Aging. Added outdoor warning sirens to unincorporated Johnson County. Created the Local Foods Policy Council. Those are but a few of my accomplishments.
Porter: 1. I received the Emerge Iowa Elected Official Award on March 8. 2. Being able to see the GuideLink Center come to fruition–a long-time, much-needed mental health facility to help our most vulnerable community. 3. Able to facilitate a listening post to various cities to listen to those who felt they didn’t have a voice. 4. Advocated on behalf of our African American/Immigrant community to receive the lifesaving information of COVID-19, making sure that it was translated in ALL languages. 5. Spoke with and listened to Farm Bureau in regards to making amendments to the Comprehensive Plan and UDO (Uniform Development Ordinance). 6, Helped to organize Juneteenth 2020 for all of Johnson County which served over 1,200 people. 7. Organized derecho recovery help in Linn County making sure that our most vulnerable Immigrant/Latinx/BIPOC communities received water, food-perishable items, pillows, blankets, feminine products, pampers/milk, tents, tarps, etc. 8. Served on the eponym committee with Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass to switch Johnson County’s namesake from slave owner to the first Black Ph.D. recipient at the University of Iowa– Lulu Merle Johnson.
I will continue to bring the perspective of working people to the board of supervisors. Once again, I am committed to inspiring, empowering, connecting and bringing action to our local communities. I will continue to work collaboratively with my colleagues on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors to ensure productive outcomes that benefit all residents of Johnson County.
Green-Douglass: “I'm proud of many things I have accomplished during my time on the Board. For example, 1) I have always supported under-served populations, such as immigrants, those living in poverty, those experiencing mental illness, those re-entering society after incarceration, and others finding themselves without a voice. Along with the Center for Worker Justice, I helped to recover unpaid wages on multiple occasions. While on the Sixth Judicial District Board, I was the catalyst for that board giving funding to Inside Out Re-entry, since both entities had common goals for those who were formerly incarcerated. I supported a nurse practitioner position in one of the East Central Region's jails to provide mental health screening. 2) I have supported emergency preparedness to such a degree that, in the current COVID emergency, we have been able to help various entities with needed equipment, workers and lodging options. 3) My votes and advocacy have supported our environment, by opting for the greener, more earth-friendly, sustainable option. In fact, I advocated for, and garnered the votes of the other supervisors, for a zero-percent allowable impact to prairies because I recognize their value to air, soil and water quality. 4) I have also supported practices that increase equity and inclusion, both in the county workplace and the community we serve. First, I advocated for the county to hire an equity and inclusion specialist. Then, more recently, I chaired the ad hoc eponym committee, shedding light on the impact and importance of an early African-American resident of Johnson County, Lulu Merle Johnson. 5) Finally, I have supported the county's efforts at all levels to increase and improve access to mental health services, from our Mobile Crisis Outreach team to our new mental health access center, GuideLink Center, that will open early in 2021. I'm proud to have served on every committee for the GuideLink Center.
There is still more work that I'd like to accomplish in the next four years. First, I want to be part of the successful opening of GuideLink Center, establishing it as a go-to, one-stop facility for those suffering a mental health crisis. I plan to work with community partners to establish more childcare options, perhaps even finding a way to bring childcare to a Johnson County facility. I'd like to find ways to help the cities provide more transportation options, including finding a way to fund passenger rail from the south part of Iowa City into North Liberty. And finally, I'd like to establish certain positions in our county organization as remote, work-from-home positions. This would have benefits in employee satisfaction and retention, work productivity and would definitively move the needle on lowering greenhouse gases by eliminating the work commute.

Challenger: What do you hope to achieve if elected to the board, and what do you feel the board has failed to achieve?
Hemmingway: Improving the county’s relationship with staff and the community by working cooperatively and respectfully with everyone. People who navigate the county system must have a clear roadmap with no surprises. Supervisors must recognize they represent the entire county not just the large population centers.

The Comprehensive Plan and UDO have led to friction with the agricultural community. How would you improve relations with the agricultural community?
Sullivan: The big thing is continuing to have discussions. I am always happy to sit down and hear people out. As a matter of fact, I have a meeting with Farm Bureau representatives coming up in a few days. I grew up on a farm, I enjoy talking to farmers. We will not always agree, but we can find common ground in most cases.
Hemmingway: I believe it will be helpful to have a supervisor who has actually farmed and raised livestock in Johnson County and understands the challenges that farmers are facing, especially this year with loss of markets, drought and derecho damage.
Porter: Building relationships/personal relationships– I have personally gone out to planning and zoning meetings as well as visiting family farms and spoken with people in the agricultural community and actually listened to their concerns and to what the people had to say. I find that having these much-needed conversations, people really want you to just listen and hear them out as they state, they are taxpayers, too! My commitment is to listen to and represent all people. Since being elected to the board I have proven that I am a great listener who will keep asking questions, even the hard ones to make sure I can make the best possible decisions on behalf of the residents of Johnson County.
Green-Douglass: The Johnson County Board of Supervisors held many public meetings all over the county during the creation of the Comprehensive Plan and the Unified Development Ordinance. We received a lot of input from the agricultural community with suggested changes to both the Comprehensive Plan and the UDO. We incorporated some of the suggestions and others we did not. There has always been the opportunity for give and take and there will continue to be those opportunities.

What do you see as the proper role of a county board of supervisors in relation to governance and state law?
Sullivan: This is a pretty broad question. Iowa is supposed to be a Home Rule State. That means local governments can do what they feel is right for the people they represent unless otherwise prohibited by State Law. Lately, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have decided to take away local control everywhere they possibly can. I think this is a very bad way to govern. So, our board has pushed back in some cases. But there is only so much we can do. Elections have consequences!
Hemmingway: The county needs to concentrate on running the county not running the state. Supervisors must make sure to follow all applicable state and federal laws and to not exceed their authority. County business should be top priority. Transparency and community input should be sought, valued and utilized.
Porter: Clearly the responsibility is to make sure that the state law is met. Advocating for changes that are getting in the way of providing services to those in need. We need to be able to have local control– we are bodies responsible for delivering a broad range of services in relation to roads; traffic; planning; housing; economic and community development; environment; fire services and maintaining the register of electors.
Green-Douglass: The purview of a County Board of Supervisors is clearly defined... by state law. The state is in the practice of mandating responsibilities to the county then not funding them. Furthermore, in the four-plus years I have served on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, I have seen the state chipping away at local control. We have seen local control taken away in regard to collective bargaining, local minimum wage and planning and zoning, to name a few. Given that case, I would say the proper role of a County Board of Supervisors in relation to governance and state law is to fight for the reinstatement of local control whenever it is appropriate.

Why should the voters hire you to represent them?
Sullivan: I am honest, fair, hard-working, and I work well with others. I get things accomplished. I recognize the need to represent everyone, and I listen to all sides. Finally, I have done the job and done it well.
Hemmingway: Because I am a lifelong resident with a blue-collar background who has lived and worked in Johnson County either in agriculture or the skilled trades; I will bring my fiscal oversight and common-sense leadership to the board, and provide a new perspective and a voice for all residents of Johnson County.
Porter: Johnson County is an amazing county with so much potential. And while we’ve made many strides, much remains to be achieved. It’s time for certain barriers to be broken that will open the door to radical change in our county. I’m committed to building a safe and healthy community for residents to not just survive, but thrive. As a Johnson County resident, community leader, community advocate, community activist and community volunteer, I understand the change we need in our neighborhoods. I have served on many executive boards, and during that time I found ways to improve our quality of life through partnerships, by breaking through barriers, and by connecting our community. Yes, we should preserve our historic past, but it’s just as important for us to actively pursue new ideas to insure a brighter future for us all. You should re-elect me to continue to bring creative, innovative, pragmatic and collaborative solutions we need that will help make our county an even greater place to work, play, live and prosper.
Green-Douglass: No one comes onto the board of supervisors knowing everything there is to know about the job. In fact, even the most informed and prepared candidate faces quite a steep learning curve once on the board. Some issues come up infrequently– only every other year or perhaps once a year, so it takes time to truly gain full experience and fine-tune one's strategies and approaches. After four-plus years on the job, I feel knowledgeable enough about the various aspects of county government and the interplay among the various boards, elected officials and departments to handle not only the day-to-day workings of government, but even unexpected, unprecedented issues. I am able to address complex issues by listening to all sides, gathering data and building consensus. I have the leadership skills, work ethic, dedication and knowledge to help Johnson County work through the challenges we face and I always do so with the best interests of the people in mind.

Election information
Monday, Oct. 5, is the first day the Johnson County Auditor can mail out absentee ballots, with a no-contact ballot delivery system available at the Johnson County Auditor’s Office, at 913 S. Dubuque St. in Iowa City. Early in-person voting for the Nov. 3 general election begins at 8 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 5, at the parking ramp north of the Johnson County Health and Human Services Building, 855 S. Dubuque St. The entrance to drive-up voting will be off Clinton Street. Voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Monday, Nov. 2.