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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. Because of space constraints, their responses will be divided into two sets alphabetically. The second set appears below.

Royceann Porter
Porter moved to rural Iowa nearly 30 years ago living in Washington, (Iowa) and working for IBP. Later she chose to make Johnson County her home “because of all it had to offer. I have been a resident of Johnson County for 28 years. I am currently serving on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors since Dec. 26, 2018. I am the wife of Anthony Porter and together we have two beautiful daughters– Antonia and Staci Porter.”

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.

Why are you seeking reelection/election to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors?
Porter – Citizens elected me a year and a half ago to finish out the last half of my friend Kurt Friese’s term after his unexpected death in 2018. Kurt was a friend and a fellow activist, a public servant who devoted his life to making Johnson County a better place to live. Kurt and I shared the same sentiments. Pretty simple and pretty profound. Wanting our residents of Johnson County to have good and healthy food to eat, to have clean air to breathe and to have clean water to drink. After almost two years of learning more each day about being a supervisor, I can see how much more there is to do it and as a community undergoing immense change, we are surprisingly now situated better than ever to move forward.

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.

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?
Porter – Johnson County Mission Statement: “To enhance the quality of life for people of Johnson County by providing exceptional public services in a collaborative, responsive and fiscally accountable manner.”
The first role is the obvious one– to make sure the county is doing to the best of its ability all the things it needs to be doing from mental health services, county government services, supporting Johnson County Sheriff, courthouse, auditor’s department to secondary roads.
We have to set the plans and the priorities for the future– whether it is future budgets in our finance department or zoning/Planning, Development and Sustainability Department¬– to ensure sustainable and green growth in our county. What this really comes down to are values and my values are that I believe plans for the future need to make sure we include all parts of our county wide community in the planning process and we all share in the rewards from good decisions.
I can say that definition flows from my personal ideology of our community is our focus and the importance of social justice in local government, and representation in local government, what local government is supposed to look like for that matter. I put people first. It’s the right thing to do. And turns out, everything else works because of people out in a community. Worried about education, the economy, our environment, equality?
Step one is to protect people and you will end up protecting everything else in the best way possible.

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!

What do you see as the most pressing issues for Johnson County, and as a supervisor, how would you propose to address them?
Porter – While having a list of current important issues is... well... important, voters also are electing people based on their values and judgment for the major things you don't know are coming.
Nobody knew six months ago we would be in the middle of having our world turned upside down by a global pandemic. Times of crisis is when what kind of leaders you elected really matters. COVID-19 challenges are going to literally change and impact every other issue I deal with so that informs housing, mental health resources, public services and safety of county employees and county residents from the courthouse to the country roads.
Housing issues/affordable housing/will folks be able to pay their rent/Mortgages?
Will small businesses stay nimble in the face of COVID-19’s effect on our community?
Public safety in every aspect, which includes health, physical and mental safety, food security and stability in what so many people are realizing is the New Normal.

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.

What other issues do you see as a need for the board of supervisors to address, or continue to address, and why?
Porter – There are as many issues as there are people that live in our county but here are some that are especially relevant and from recent conversations I’ve had in the community:
Ongoing issues of racial equity around the county, especially with ways those factors now intersect with COVID-19– both the disease and all the consequences of that disease which is why momentum on the Johnson County Strategic Plan on Diversity and Inclusion must continue.
Issues with the jail population, especially after we were forced to really reduce the behind bars population because of COVID. How did that work out? If it isn’t causing problems in the public, maybe we can learn something from that.”

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.

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?
Porter – Yes, I want to talk about how listening to and dealing with the concerns of residents is a major priority for me, and that’s why I made the recommendation to have the listening posts in the rural communities in regards to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. I have put on my duck boots and spent a lot of time on gravel roads traveling out to the ag community, meeting people and learning their concerns and challenges directly from them.

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.

The bottom line: Why should the citizens of Johnson County rehire/hire you to represent them on the board of supervisors?
Porter – Citizens have current concerns, questions, perspectives, an abundance of ideas, and rights– my job is to listen, ask hard questions and connect people to answers– learn the needs of our community then pair actions with solutions. Decisions we make today and tomorrow must be based on what medical experts say will preserve the health of our community and save the most lives. Since being elected to the board of supervisors 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. I will continue to bring the perspective of working people to the board of supervisors. I am committed to inspiring, empowering, connecting and bringing action to our local communities. I am a recognized longtime community leader who has devoted much of my time in improving the lives of my neighbors. I have been an advocate in Johnson County for decades on a wide array of issues including mental health services, affordable housing, veterans’ services, worker’s rights, restorative justice, and opportunities for youth. 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.
I am running so that I can help make those well-informed decisions with the goal of putting people first. Our work is ongoing and important and I humbly ask for you and the citizens of Johnson County to vote for me in the primary and then re-elect me to the county board so I can continue to bring your voices to the table and build on the work that our leaders do every day …
So, I hope you will vote for me, Royceann Porter. Thank you.

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.

Important election information
• 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)