That Was the Year That Was - 2017

Tomorrow (3 Jan 2018) marks a year to the day since I took the oath of office and began my term as a Johnson County Supervisor.  I love my job and am very grateful to all of you for trusting me with it.

There’s a tricky little glitch in the calendar that means that incoming supervisors are thrown smack into the middle of the budget process, the first incline on a steep learning curve.  Of course, I’ve done budgets many times but none of them had 9 figures and 99 departments.  I’m grateful to our finance team for holding my hand, and to my fellow supe’s for their patience with me as I got up to speed.  I feel better about this year’s process, having been in on it from the start.

The only time I’ve been angry in this job came pretty early in it, when in early February we learned that the MCO that then-Governor Branstad had given authority over our Medicaid system, Amerihealth Caritas, had gone back on its word to our MH/DS caseworkers, resulting in many of them losing their jobs (which I posted about at the time).  Amerihealth may have seemed magnanimous in offering some of those caseworkers jobs within their company, but then last fall they pulled out of Iowa altogether, leaving those that had left their County jobs for work at the MCO out twisting in the wind, and all their clients once again confused about where to get their much-needed services.

Soon afterwards we took on what I had come to call a “Community Trust Resolution,” which evolved into more of a joint statement between the Board and the Sheriff’s office.  The idea was to ease concerns about the safety of our immigrant neighbors, the “New Iowans” who the newly installed president had threatened, along with the federal funding local governments need.  The statement affirmed our stance that the County will take no part in immigration “raids” and will not hold people in jail without a warrant.  I blogged about it, it got a little press, and the final resulting statement is available here (pdf).

The two biggest things we have worked on over the last year are the Johnson County Historic Poor Farm and the 2018 comprehensive plan.  Both have had their share of controversy.  On the Poor Farm, the divide was over whether or not we should honor its original purpose and use a small portion of it for affordable housing.  In the comp plan there is still some wrangling over land use, some definitions, and our stance on CAFOs.  You’ll find posts about the comp plan here and here, and my take on the 3-2 split vote on the Poor Farm is here.

In July some Shueyville area residents organized an effort to get a new surface in Curtis Bridge Road, which they felt was the worst road in the county.  I continue to contend that it’s 965 north of North Liberty, which is on the 5-year road plan for this calendar year.  It was very heartening to see citizens organizing an effort to petition their government for redress of grievances, and I believe we may soon be coming to a resolution.  Meanwhile, here is what I said at the time.

The autumn brought us something of a surprise controversy regarding a farm near Morse called “Versaland.”  The tenant had asked for a rezoning in order to embark on an ambitious project of permaculture farming, orchards, aquaculture and several cabins for both farm workers and visitors – a sort of retreat center.  He published a video on Facebook making several accusations about the County, members of its staff and the Board itself.  It got wide play and led to a flood of angry calls and emails, most from out of state, a few vaguely threatening, which accused us of being anti-organic, anti-farmer, and/or anti-local food.  What he had not communicated to those who watched his video, and what was really the crux of the matter regardless of how anyone felt about his ambitious plans, was quite simply that the applicant was trying to rezone land he did not own, and the owner opposed the rezoning.  More details in that little tempest are here.

We began a new calendar year this morning, with the annual organizational meeting wherein we installed my friend and colleague Mike Carberry as chair – which is something we simply rotate.  Mike was vice chair last year and now Lisa Green-Douglass is, then she’ll take chair next year.  After that and a few necessary organizational resolutions, it was back to the business of the budget, which I feel a little more capable of handling.  We should all strive to be a little better every day, don’t you think?  I’ll keep trying.

Thanks again JoCo.