Steep Learning Curve

This is a big job, and I’m going to make some mistakes.

Anytime a person applies for a new job, they know there are aspects to the job they cannot be aware of: the “known unknowns” that accompany any new venture.  I knew when I announced my bid for county supervisor that there were aspects of what the county does of which I was not fully cognizant.  Yes of course I know all the departments, and have a general (and occasionally detailed) understanding of what they do, but after almost two weeks in office, what strikes me is the depth and breadth of the services the county performs and the lack of awareness on a broad cross-section of Johnson County’s citizenry.

Please don’t misunderstand, JoCo has a very large number of very involved citizens.  We all know people personally who take the time to stream board meetings online, folks who volunteer for boards and commissions, and in other ways pay attention to the inner workings of local government.  However, most people don’t.

Many people are too busy.  Some, I suppose, are apathetic.  But I like to think that the reason many people don’t feel the need to pay attention is because the 500+ staff members in 25 county departments do their jobs so extraordinarily well.  A lot of people take county services for granted, and in a way, maybe that’s a good thing.

You have confidence that when you call 911 that an ambulance will arrive post haste.  You know that when a blizzard hits, the roads will be cleared expeditiously.  We all watched as dangerous faults were discovered in the highway 965 bridge, and while it’s closure may have been a hassle to some, the repairs were completed ahead of time and under budget.  Our elections go off without a hitch.  Parks and wetlands are well maintained and getting better all the time.  This is all because the people of Johnson County Government do their jobs so well.

Right now the Board of Supervisors is in the throes of the fiscal 2018 budget.  Such discussions and decisions are never a simple matter, and I am the new fish just thrown into the deep end, halfway through the process on a $100M budget.  Thankfully my fellow supervisors were all new once themselves (so they help me), and among the aforementioned 25 departments is a Finance team that knows their <ahem>.  I’ve run half-million-dollar budgets before.  I’ve run $5M budgets before.  But $100M is a new league for me and I am grateful for the support of my fellow Board members and the Finance team.  And did I mention the County Attorney’s office?  Also vital in this process.

The greatest challenges to our budgeting process are not in the board room though nor in any of the departments in the County Administration.  They are in Des Moines and DC.

Elections have consequences, and the results here in JoCo might have been positive, but statewide and nationally they are going to result in massive cuts to much needed services.  Even in the short term, the Iowa Legislature is planning “clawbacks” this fiscal year (meaning in the current budget, not the one we are planning – those cuts come next) reclaiming promised funds of $100M+ statewide.  Mental Health and Disability Services could literally run out of money in the next couple months because state support that was promised to them will simply go unfulfilled.  The lake restoration at Kent Park might get stopped.  Road construction and repair delayed or cancelled.  JoCo’s Representatives and Senators will fight tooth and nail, but the fact is, they are all in the minority now, and the Republicans value tax cuts over all else.

(Want to help fix it?  A good starting point is here)

Not all is doom and gloom though, and in between budget work sessions and formal/informal meetings, I’ve been spending my time as liaison to a few of the departments (so far Secondary Roads, Fleet, and IT) and getting tours of departments and facilities.  Among the things I’ve learned:

  • Planning and zoning (what we call Planning, Development and Sustainability, or PDS) is a very complex beast, and the 2 years we will spend on the comprehensive planning process will be time well spent
  • The new AME building is worth the price tag, because there can’t be many more services the county offers that are more important than the ambulance, the medical examiner, and the security of our elections
  • The Jail Alternatives Program overseen by Jessica Peckover, especially the Crisis Intervention Training aspect, is a state and national leader of which we should all be proud
  • The Jail Alternatives Program needs the Restoration Center to be built (and strongly supported by stakeholders and the community at large)
  • Even with all the above, something (I don’t know what yet, but something) is going to HAVE TO happen soon to alleviate the stresses on the jail and courthouse
  • JoCo’s IT and network systems rock
  • The Board of Supervisors support staff, Angie and Andy, are outstanding, but Andy is leaving us <sad face> and replacing him will be nigh-on impossible

This list could go on and on, but I’d best leave off there, lest my gentle readers bang their collective heads against their iPads, but it’s clear we will all need to find our magic wands in order to fund all the vital projects we need in the coming years.

You are very fortunate to live in Johnson County.  This crew works very hard on your behalf.  All four of my fellow supervisors, the department heads and their staff are dedicated public servants and people of integrity and strength.  I will make mistakes, but I am confident that these people will help build a county that is more Regenerative, Resilient, Sustainable and Inclusive.