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Four contenders for three seats

An all-Democrat field vies for board of supervisor in the June 2 primary

JOHNSON COUNTY– Four Democrats are competing for three seats on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in the June 2 primary election.
Supervisors Rod Sullivan, Lisa Green-Douglass, and Royceann Porter are facing the expiration of their term on Dec. 31 while Dean Phinney hopes to take the place of one of them as three seats are on the ballot.
Sullivan is currently the chairman and has been on the board since 2004. Green-Douglass was elected in 2016 to complete the term vacated by Terrence Neuzil. She was elected to her first full four-year term in November 2016. Porter also joined the board via special election in 2018 to replace the late Kurt Friese.
All four candidates were sent a list of questions and their responses follow below.
Supervisor Porter’s responses were not received in time for this edition and will be printed at a later date.

Rod Sullivan
Sullivan grew up on a Heritage farm (150 years in the same family) near Sutliff and attended Lisbon schools. “I am an alumnus of the University of Iowa. I have had several positions in the field of human services, including six years with the Department of Human Services and six years as executive director of the Arc of Johnson County.” Sullivan is married to Dr. Melissa Fath, a research scientist at the University of Iowa and a volunteer pharmacist at the Free Medical Clinic. “We have three adult children– Rachel, Jordan, and BJ, and have served as foster parents for another 50-plus children.” He is a member of several community organizations including: St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parent Association, NAMI, Center for Worker Justice, ACLU Hawkeye Chapter, AFT Local 716, and Iowa City Federation of Labor. Sullivan also served four years as the chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party.
Lisa Green-Douglass
Green-Douglass moved to Johnson County in 1980 from Houston, Texas, to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa (UI) where she received a master’s degree and a doctorate in Spanish from the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. “My husband of 39 years, Dr. R. Thomas Douglass, and I have lived in unincorporated North Liberty since 1986 and we raised our five children here.” She taught high school Spanish for two years, but most of her teaching career was at the college level at the UI and Cornell College. In 2007, she left academia and began providing job-specific Spanish-language training to law enforcement officers, jailers, correctional officers, conservation officers and paramedics in various parts of the country. “The training also includes a strong cross-cultural component, which is a vital part of the communication.”

Dean Phinney
Dean Phinney grew up in Clear Lake, and came to Johnson County in 1977 to attend the UI after being recruited by Dan Gable for the Hawkeye wrestling team. “I met my wife of 39 years (Teresa), and we decided to stay in Johnson County and raise our family. We have two children, Melissa, 36, and Anthony, 25. I also have three grandkids, Emma, 9, and Emilia and Ellie, who are four-month-old identical twins. We also had a grandson, Jack, who died in 2018 just before his second birthday.” After their children had grown, the Phinneys moved to North Liberty from rural Tiffin, and have lived in Johnson County for 43 years. “I worked for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters for over 13 years. Currently I am working for a government contractor working with the CDC responding to COVID-19 questions.”

Why are you seeking reelection/election to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors?
Sullivan – Two reasons, primarily. First, I want to see some things through, notably the recovery from the COVID-19. It will require solid leadership to manage the recovery. I am also very excited about the GuideLink Center. This facility will serve as an alternative to the jail and hospital for many folks who get arrested. Another thing I care about deeply is negotiating our next set of union contracts. I think we have several opportunities to make adjustments that benefit both employees and the county as an employer, and I would like to pursue them.
The other reason I am seeking reelection is because I feel as though I provide solid leadership on the board, and that leadership is needed. County government doesn’t just happen. It requires the right people doing the right things.

Green-Douglass – I am seeking re-election to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors because there is a lot of work yet to be done to make Johnson County the best place to live. While I have accomplished a lot since being elected to the board, there are some areas where we simply haven't reached a finishing point. I would like to see these areas through completion. Three specific examples come to mind. First is the completion, opening and establishment of Johnson County's first-ever access center, GuideLink Center. This center will be a one-stop facility for people who are in a mental health or substance use crisis. I've served on the steering committee, the executive committee and the design committee for this project. My goal is to be an active part of getting the facility open and established as a vital part of mental health care in our area.
Second, part of the Board's strategic plan involves strengthening and nurturing our human resources. I am researching recruitment and retention practices that will make Johnson County a competitive employer. I believe the best way to ensure a high morale and motivation level (thus positively impacting productivity) is to make sure our employees are paid well for their work and that the process for determining raises is transparent and fair. We have completed a compensation study and are in the first stage of implementing the recommendations from it. I would like to be part of the decision-making process for implementing subsequent stages of the plan. Additionally, I have served on the Performance Evaluation Committee, helping to rewrite the evaluation process we use for all our employees. We plan to present this new process to the rest of the board in the next month but it will be a year or two before we are able to fully examine this new evaluation process and measure its success. I would like to see this project through completion and participate in any fine-tuning that is needed.
Third, as our county grows and becomes more diverse, we need to ensure equity and inclusion, both in our workplace and in the programs we support in the community. Language barriers can keep people from fully participating in all the services we have here in Johnson County, so I've translated a number of county documents into Spanish (Community I.D. information, jail handbook, PREA, signage for building closures, and a revision of a social services hunger resources brochure). I advocated for the hiring of Johnson County's first-ever Inclusion and Equity Specialist, and she started in January. While there are many parts to inclusion and equity, I have particular expertise in languages and translation and have consulted with our specialist about how to ensure translation services of the highest caliber. There are a number of ways we can be more inclusive and equitable and I would like to identify those areas and help to create a plan to address them.

Phinney – After dealing with Johnson County government and some of their departments I have come to feel that things need to change. I think there needs to be some common sense in the decisions made by county government. That anyone coming before the board should have equal access to a fair decision. It shouldn’t be who you know on the board that gets your project approved it should be on the merits.

What do you see as the proper role of a county supervisor? How much should personal ideology apply to the decisions a supervisor makes for a diverse population base?
Sullivan – The role of a county supervisor is to provide leadership and direction on policy, along with managing all aspects of county government. I am proud of my work in this area.
As for personal ideology – I don’t say, ‘Well, 75 percent of the people in the County voted for Biden, so I need to vote the way they want 75 percent of the time.’ That is silly. Our personal ideologies are a part of who we are. They don’t just go away. But as the saying goes, ‘There is no Democratic or Republican way to fix a pothole.’ I just do my job to the best of my ability.
I am glad that the question recognizes that Johnson County is growing more and more diverse. In addition to almost 5,000 on-farm residents, Johnson County is home to over 11,000 African Americans, over 10,000 people of Asian descent, and over 9,000 Latinx folks. We do indeed have a very diverse population base!

Green-Douglass – There is not just one single, solitary role of a county supervisor. Our role is multidimensional, though there are three obvious topics that rise to the surface: 1) creating the county budget, 2) supervision of our department heads, and 3) decisions regarding planning, development and sustainability. A good county supervisor knows a little bit about a broad range of topics within county government. Individually, each of us has an area of expertise. But not one of us knows everything about every topic within county government. Our role, then, is making sure that we hire the best, most qualified candidates to head our departments. We must trust that we have experts in these positions and then ensure they have the tools needed to perform their job optimally and the latitude to flourish. Personal ideology is the lens through which we examine information, consult with subject matter experts and make decisions. Anyone who says their personal ideology does not color their decisions is speaking out of naiveté.

Phinney – The main role of the supervisors is to represent the citizens of Johnson County especially the rural population. The supervisors need to work with the municipalities within the county so that growth can be planned, directed and controlled. I think supervisors need to view all citizens as equals and with equal opportunities. Johnson County is a very diverse population and ideology because of the makeup of our citizens. I feel that continuing these diverse ideas the public views are important. Personal ideology should be left at the door especially if it keeps you from serving the public’s diverse needs, desires and heritage. I just feel that sometimes people try and impose what they think is right over what is right for the community.

What do you see as the most pressing issues for Johnson County, and as a supervisor, how would you propose to address them?
Sullivan – The continuing response to and recovery from the Coronavirus will obviously be a key issue for the next board. There are not just the acute health concerns, but the ongoing effects the virus will have on our economy.

Green-Douglass – The most pressing issues for Johnson County are:
Recovery from the effects of the COVID pandemic - My plan to mitigate budget shortfalls created by the COVID pandemic is to request each of our department heads and elected officials to find a planned expenditure within their budget to put on hold. While I realize this is a sacrifice, it is doable and is one of the few things within our control.
Continuing efforts for supporting underserved 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 - To speak to the needs of under served populations, I will continue to approve programming that addresses their needs.
Attention to the maintenance of our infrastructure - I will continue to vote in favor of funding projects to repair and maintain our infrastructure, it may become necessary to reduce the number of projects per fiscal year.
Addressing the most prominent aspects of poverty: affordable housing, affordable childcare and transportation - In striving to reduce poverty in our county, I will focus on housing, childcare and transportation. I will continue exploring ideas for creating affordable housing on county property. Childcare solutions are multi-faceted. I serve on a committee that has been examining the role businesses might be able to play in reducing the childcare shortage. And finally, I will support mass transportation efforts, including but not limited to rail.

Phinney – I think the Supervisors need to complete projects that they start and then put to the side. A good example of this is the new Comprehensive Plan that was adopted. They needed to better think it through before approving. Some of the vital parts of the Comprehensive Plan need to be completed but seems the supervisors have forgotten about them. A good example of this are the Fringe Area agreements. Many of these expired five-10 years ago and some longer. Because of this, municipalities within Johnson County have no plan that incorporates their Comprehensive Plan with Johnson County’s.”

What other issues do you see as a need for the board of supervisors to address, or continue to address, and why?
Sullivan – Growth is always a big issue in Johnson County. While growth is typically viewed as preferable to the alternative– and rightly so– growth remains our biggest challenge. How a community decides to grow affects both existing residents and future generations. In 1990, our population was 96,000. In 2020, it will be over 150,000. That is an increase of 60,000 people in just 30 years. And the rate of increase remains high. These people need places to live, roads, schools, jobs, parks and much more.

Green-Douglass – The board of supervisors should do more in the area of economic development. Historically, the county's role in economic development has been as a backseat player, designating a member of the bboard to serve on the Iowa City Area Development Group and the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. Occasionally, the county helps with funding for economic development by a contribution to a project when it is a stipulation for another entity to receive grant money. The county can and should create opportunities for economic development. Some areas of possible growth are in ag-tourism and in fostering local foods endeavors.
The board of supervisors also should create an aggressive climate action plan. We have a sustainability coordinator who is quite knowledgeable and could help guide our plan. Also, the City of Iowa City has already created such a plan from which we could model our plan.”

Phinney – I think we need to better address the needs of the family farms. Farmers are increasingly put under pressure because of financial stress. Every year many farmers wonder if this is the year that will drive them off their farm. We need to better understand the farmers so that we can keep them on the farm and producing products we all use or consume daily.

There has been much friction between the agricultural community and the county government over the Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). If elected/reelected, would you do anything to reach out to the ag community to improve relations? Or to ease their concerns?
Sullivan – I will admit to a great deal of frustration over this process. There were a number of people deliberately spreading misinformation, and it unnecessarily worried a lot of people. Once the real facts were explained to people, they were typically very accepting. I am confident that once I sit down with someone, I can explain what Johnson County is trying to do.
My family has been farming the same land since before Iowa was a state. I grew up on the farm, and protecting farmland has always been a central focus for me. So it really hurt to be called an ‘enemy’ of farmers. I believe that characterization was (and is) completely unfair. But no one said this would be fair!
I frequently speak to Farm Bureau President Mark Ogden, and consider him a friend. Mark and I do not agree on everything, but I am confident that we can reach a compromise on any issue. I have never refused to sit down with any farmer who asks, and I will continue to do so if reelected.

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 Comp 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.

Phinney – I think the friction between the Supervisors and the Ag community is because the Supervisors aren’t listening to them. I think the Supervisors need to sit down with a cross section of the Ag community and listen. Listening is needed in improving any relationship that is damaged. The Supervisors need to help repair this relationship before it is un-repairable and the Ag community loses all trust in the supervisors. The supervisors themselves have admitted that there needs to be changes to the Comprehensive Plan and the UDO and that the rollout could have been done better.”

The bottom line: Why should the citizens of Johnson County rehire/hire you to represent them on the board of supervisors?
Sullivan – I have a record of great accomplishment during my tenure on the board. Some of the accomplishments of which I am proud:
• Leadership during the COVID-19 crisis.
• Leadership during ’08 floods.
• Raising 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.
• Heritage AAA Outstanding Elected Official – 2009.

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 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 4-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.

Phinney – I think I have the abilities and knowledge to improve the board of supervisors. I grew up in a small farming town in North Iowa. I spent 24 years living in rural Johnson County and have come to understand some of their needs and issues. I owned and operated a business in Johnson County so am aware of the needs of people operating businesses in Johnson. As an organizer for the Teamsters for over 13 years I developed excellent communication skills when dealing with the public. I have worked with people from tremendously diverse backgrounds, economic backgrounds and ethnicities. In conjunction with these skills I come to the supervisor position with a clean slate. I owe NO ONE any favors or considerations. Everyone will be viewed as equal in my eyes!

Important election information
• Monday, May 4: First day for in-person absentee voting at Auditor's Office.
• Friday, May 22: Voter pre-registration deadline and last day to request mailed absentee ballot, by 5 p.m. (Voters may still register after this date using election day registration procedure).
• Monday, May 25: Memorial Day, office closed.
• Saturday, May 30: Auditor's Office open for voting 8 AM to 5 PM.
• Monday, June 1: Last day for in-person absentee voting, 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Postmark deadline for mailed absentee ballots.
• Tuesday, June 2: Election Day. Polls open 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. Vote at regular polling places. Most regular polling places will be open. (Reminder, Voter ID law in effect)