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Three battle for two Johnson County Supervisor seats

Supervisors race features an incumbent and a Republican

JOHNSON COUNTY– Three candidates are on the ballot Tuesday, Nov. 6, for two seats on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Incumbent Janelle Rettig survived a primary election to defend her seat while Pat Heiden also won on primary night to fight for the seat being vacated by Supervisor Mike Carberry. Heiden defeated Carberry in the primary. Republican Phil Hemingway enters the fray as well, hoping to be the first Republican to be elected to the board since 2013 when John Etheredge of Kalona was elected to fill the seat vacated by Sally Stutsman when she left for the Iowa Senate.
All three candidates were sent the following questions by email. Below are their responses as the Solon Economist and North Liberty Leader received them.

Janelle Rettig: As noted above, Rettig is a current county supervisor. She’s a native of a small town in Illinois and has a B.A. in political science and secondary education from Knox College. Rettig has lived in Johnson County for 28 years and has served on commissions at the city, county and state levels including six years as a Natural Resource Commissioner for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. She has also worked for the Illinois Legislature, U.S. Congress, non-profits and owned a small business. Rettig is a resident of Iowa City.
Phil Hemingway: Hemingway, a resident of Iowa City, is the owner/operator of an auto and truck repair business (since 1997) and was born and raised on his family’s Century Farm in rural Johnson County, between Morse and Oasis. He’s a fourth-generation farmer and spent five years managing Roy Carver’s cattle ranch in Belize, Central America. Hemingway has worked in Africa and the former Soviet Union. He was elected to the Iowa City Community School District Board of Education in 2015.
Pat Heiden: Heiden is a resident of Iowa City and was born and raised on a dairy farm in western Iowa. She has been a Johnson County resident for over 40 years and spent her entire 36-year professional career at Oaknoll Retirement Residence and served as its executive director for 21 years before retiring in September 2016.

Why are you running for the position of Johnson County supervisor? Why do you feel qualified to occupy a seat on the board of supervisors? And, what do you feel you would bring to the board, for the benefit of the citizens, if elected?
Rettig: In my two terms, I have worked hard every day for the people of Johnson County. I have a solid record of leadership on many important issues. I am running because I believe we have more work to do on poverty issues, livable wages, mental health and disability services, infrastructure, sustainability, conservation, finances and so much more.
Hemingway: I look to bring my fiscal oversight and blue collar, common sense to the board of supervisors. I believe that transparency and diversity of ideas are important for successful decision making.
Heiden: My passion for public service comes from my mom. She served on the Crawford County Board of Supervisors for 14 years and was one of the first women in Iowa to chair such a board. In 1994, she ran against Steve King for a seat in the Iowa State Senate.
What I will bring to the board is what I learned at Oaknoll as executive director. I am an experienced leader, administrator and manager. I will be a strong, compassionate and effective voice who will give all the people of Johnson County a seat at the table.

Why do you feel qualified to occupy a seat on the board of supervisors?
Rettig: I am a numbers person; I love financial reports and budgets. I think one of my greatest strengths on the board is finding efficiencies and creative ways to fund services, programs and projects within our limited resources. I promoted and pushed to create a finance department and to develop fiscal policies. I worked with the county treasurer to come up with a way to use short-term bonding so Tax Increment Financing districts would pay into county projects. I will continue to demand transparency and to improve fiscal responsibility.
Hemingway: It is up to the community to decide who is best to represent Johnson County.
Heiden: One of the fastest growing segments of the population in Johnson County is the elderly. I have spent my entire professional career and a lifetime of community service in the cause of the elderly. My expertise and experience in this area will serve the county well.

What do you see as the most pressing issues affecting the citizens of Johnson County? And, as one voice on the board, how would you go about addressing them?
Rettig: Increasing demand on services. Growing poverty. Dysfunction in state and federal government.
Johnson County has a growing population and many people need services. For example, we have about 19,000 people in Johnson County who are food insecure. With the daily uncertainty in state and federal funding for programs, infrastructure and backfilling previous tax giveaways, it can be hard to plan and prepare. The most vulnerable in the mental health and disability services area are suffering under privatized managed care. Johnson County must stay committed to helping those in need and funding high-quality services such as MHDS, ambulance, roads and bridges, and other county services. I will continue to ask hard questions and to advocate for all Johnson County residents.
Hemmingway: Mental health– meeting 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.
Maintaining existing infrastructure: roads and bridges; we must make sure existing infrastructure is properly maintained and not neglected. Rural roads are crucial to agriculture and our outlying communities.
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 and no surprises. (As one voice on the Board, how would you go about addressing them?) By being a strong advocate for the residents and taxpayers of Johnson County.
Heiden: The most pressing issues affecting the citizens of Johnson County are affordable housing, livable wages and mental health care delivery. These are not new issues and even though notable progress has been made, there is still much to accomplish. I will build on what has been accomplished and I will work tirelessly until the stated goals of these important issues have been achieved.
Affordable Housing– The county must continue to work in partnership with the cities and other stakeholders because I believe more affordable housing must be developed within the city limits and/or fringe areas. Closely connected with affordable housing is transportation. Often families who need access to affordable housing also experience challenges with reliable transportation. Thus it is imperative they have access to public transportation for their livelihood and quality of life.
Livable Wages – The county should continue to support the progress toward a livable wage in Johnson County. This is a basic human right.
Mental Health Care Delivery – It is exciting that the Behavioral Health Urgency Care Center (BHUCC) will open in 18 months-two years. Many stakeholders contributed to the development of the BHUCC and the supervisors must continue to lead the effort through completion.
Another pressing issue that is emerging is the lack of quality, affordable child care in Johnson County. This is not only a family issue it is also a workforce issue. We must work closely with not for profits and the state legislators to find solutions to this emerging crisis.

What do you see as the proper role of a county supervisor/the board of supervisors? How does your personal political ideology shape the decisions you would make as a supervisor?
Rettig: Supervisors in large counties have many roles, from policy makers, to managers, to advocates, to negotiators, to cheerleaders. I believe my personal ideology of liberal arts background of studying diverse issues, gathering lots of information, asking hard questions and remaining independent is a good fit for a Johnson County supervisor. I always ask the question, “How will this decision impact people in Johnson County?”
Hemingway: To be a jealous advocate for the taxpayers and residents of Johnson County and to make sure county government works for them instead of against them. A Johnson County supervisor should represent all citizens of all political affiliations in the county.
Heiden: The most important responsibility of a supervisor is to represent all the people of Johnson County and that each resident has a voice and the opportunity to be heard. Just as important is to be sure minority positions and marginal populations are represented, heard and opinions respected. Different party affiliations, personal political ideology and differing points of view should not sway the board from doing what is right. Supervisors must foster an environment in the board room, with county staff, county residents and beyond that is open and encourages honest discussion.

The board of supervisors has drawn the ire of state legislators in the past and at times has presented something of an “Us vs. Them” persona. How do you determine what is proper for the board to address, and what is the state’s domain? Also, if state legislation is contrary to your desired policy goal, what would your reaction be?
Rettig: Johnson County Supervisors should do all they can to stand up for Johnson County residents. Many of our residents are struggling. Too many times state and federal government are failing to address issues such as health care, mental health and disability services, Medicaid, food insecurity, public safety, wages, good roads, failing bridges and emergency medical care. Supervisors are closer to these struggles and have an obligation to frame issues and lobby when necessary. To do otherwise, would be failing the people we are elected to serve.
Hemingway: The county needs to concentrate on running the county not running the state. We have enough issues facing our taxpayers and residents without working on issues which we have no control over. Nothing stops supervisors from advocating their views (on their own time), but county business should be our top priority.
Heiden: Local control is important but the reality is that we do not live in a bubble. We must work effectively with state legislators and elected officials of other counties to achieve common goals and to advocate and inform what is important to the residents of Johnson County. That does not mean we shouldn’t lead whenever there is the opportunity. We have done this in the past. As a county we committed to promoting regular and incremental wage increases and we continue to support the process of collective bargaining.

Since a supervisor is a servant to all residents of the county, how would you reach out to and work with people whose views do not align with yours? How accessible would you be to the citizens of the county, and what does “transparency” in the context of county government mean to you?
Rettig: Supervisors serve at the pleasure of the voters. The voters decide every general election who they wish to represent them, so the makeup of the board is controlled by the voters. I think it is important for supervisors to study issues from many angles, keep an open mind and listen to a lot of points of view.
I’m constantly out and about at events and fundraisers. I communicate by mail, email, phone, text, message, in person, on street corners, at events, etc. We created streaming meetings and unfortunately that has reduced attendance at our meetings by the public and certainly by the media. I wish more people would attend meetings or weigh in on issues, but I understand our society is very busy. I support the county adding more opinion pieces, radio shows, news releases and social media.
I believe government should be open, transparent and conduct business in public meetings.
Hemingway: I believe I am the only elected official in Johnson County that holds weekly gatherings with community members; since I was elected to the ICCSD (Iowa City Community School District) board of education, I have held community gatherings every Friday at my shop to discuss community issues. I would continue this and look to expand it when elected to the board of supervisors. Of course, we all receive emails as a form of communication and, me personally, phone calls and face to face conversations are always welcome. I will set up regular listening posts at various locations throughout the county thereby enabling all people the opportunity to speak to me and make their concerns known.
Transparency is not just something you put on an overhead projector. It means conducting county business in the open for public scrutiny and observation and decisions should be made in the open. All questions from the public should be answered.
Heiden: I will represent all residents of Johnson County no matter their points of view or opinions. As evident by my tenure at Oaknoll, I am approachable, available and anxious to have conversations with all whom I serve and represent. Most important is that people feel acknowledged, listened to, and that their opinions are validated. Communication through social media, listening sessions and having an open door policy are important. It is equally important to meet people where they are and I’ve already enjoyed attending county, community and neighborhood celebrations, gathering and events.
Transparency in the context of county government means that the public is privy to all discussions and decisions made by the supervisors, as appropriate, and that public comment is encouraged and sought out. This is achieved through open meetings scheduled at times convenient for the public and that meetings are available via video and audio tape.

Do you favor tax increases or new taxes to meet increased demands? Or do you favor reallocating existing revenues? If budget cuts were on the table, what programs would you fight to preserve? And what programs would you be willing to cut back or eliminate?
Rettig: In the past few years, Johnson County has focused on catching up with many capital projects. If the budget became tight, the capital budgets could be reduced. I also believe there are efficiencies to be found in staffing and cross training. Many offices are seasonally busy and some staff could be floating to move from office to office as needed. While we have focused on span and control, more reductions in management could be found.
The countywide levy and county debt is actually lower than when I became a supervisor. So we are in a good position to face uncertain times.
Hemingway: We should always be looking for savings not only when we are in a tight budgetary situation. Every opportunity to run the county leaner and more efficiently should be looked at. We should always look to maintain essential services. Everything should be based on needs not wants because there is a never-ending list of wants.
Heiden: My first priority is not to increase taxes, however, there will be times when bonding or other revenue raising needs are necessitated especially with the reality of dwindling resources from the state and increased needs and well being of the county’s residents. From experience cutting budgets is difficult but, at times, necessary. For me the priority would always be people over property. Prioritizing must involve discussions with stakeholders and department heads before informed, thoughtful and deliberate decisions are made.

Describe your vision of how the board/county should interact with the municipalities in the county. In the past there has been friction on some issues such as who should pay for a road project/who’s responsible, and the “fringe areas” continue to be a source of discussion, as examples.
Rettig: I think the county now has the most open and friendly relationship with the cities that we have ever had. Because counties and cities serve two different purposes there will always be negotiations and challenges, but I believe we are better facing them together than alone.
Iowa Code grants certain rights and responsibilities to counties and certain to cities, in many places they do not overlap. When possible, I think lobbying and advocacy together makes a lot of sense, because the counties and cities are stronger together. The county faces issues a city does not, such as courthouse security, jail size and CAFOs. Those are a few examples of when the county would be advocating matters that may not be of primary interest to cities.
The county enjoys many agreements with the cities that benefit everyone, such as roads, paratransit, inspections, fringe areas, sheriff patrol, etc. I look forward to more discussions on space needs, regional transit and more.
Hemingway: We have to recognize that all municipality budgets are tight and demands for greater and newer facilities and services will constantly put pressure on budgets. This reality should push all groups to work with one another to pool resources whenever possible for the common good.
Heiden: I would continue the use and support of 28E (intergovernmental) agreements that exist between the county and municipalities. They have been successful over the years. These agreements are important and do create some efficiencies for the benefit of both city and county. While continuing to pursue these, I also believe we must focus just as much on better communication, create more opportunities for open dialogue and cooperation between the municipalities and county. By doing this, my hope is that frictions will decrease and there will more of a spirit of collaboration and compromise resulting in strong working relationships between the municipalities and the county. We are one county and our one goal should be working effectively together to meet the needs of the county instead of supporting personal agendas.

Bottom line: Why should the voters of Johnson County hire you to be one of their county supervisors?
Rettig: I am proud of the many accomplishments while I’ve been on the board of supervisors. In addition, every budget has been balanced, and the county debt and the county-wide levy are lower than when I took office.
I study hard. I listen. I set goals and work every day to accomplish those goals. I have vision, and I like to get things done. I have led on improving roads, bridges, paved shoulders and trails. I have led on funding for affordable housing and social services. I have led on building solar arrays and sustainability. I have led on wetland mitigation banks. I have led on financial management. I have led on raising wages. I believe my role is to help create a strong, progressive agenda, be a budget watchdog, and to get things done.
I would greatly appreciate one of your two votes for Johnson County supervisor.
Hemingway: 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.
Heiden: I am a strong and experienced leader. I know our county is served best through collaboration with all of our urban and rural partners. I will facilitate cooperation, compromise and common sense. I will provide strong fiscal management and prudent use of resources. I will advocate for open and honest discussion. I will treat county staff with respect and support professional development, mentoring and leadership opportunities. I will be a strong, compassionate voice who will represent all the people of Johnson County.