116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Eric Heick, 24, of rural West Branch in Johnson County, a politically independent candidate, is seeking one of two open seats on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in the Nov. 8 general election. Heick has not previously held political office and works as a research associate with Syngenta.
The Gazette posed a set of questions to Johnson County Supervisor candidates. Below is the transcript of Heick’s answers. Polls will be open on election day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
What do you think are the three most important issues the county is facing? What would you do to address them?
Heick: The three most important issues facing Johnson County are: finding ways to meet the needs of both the rural and urban residents of the county, finding ways to support local small businesses in the county, and Supervisor meeting accessibility. I think the best way for me to address the needs of all residents of the county is to seek their input on county issues. In my conversations with rural residents many of them feel that their voice isn’t heard by the board, I would address this by bringing a rural perspective to the board. To support local ventures in the county I would work to reduce the barriers to starting a business in the county. To increase the accessibility of county meetings I would work to have more of them scheduled in the evenings to make it easier for residents to attend.
Do you support the use of eminent domain for CO2 pipelines? Why or why not?
Heick: I think that the use of eminent domain is a serious issue, but if it is determined that a CO2 pipeline meets the criteria to grant eminent domain then it is the counties responsibility to ensure that each affected landowner is compensated at the fair market values of their land as well as any damages associated with the construction of the pipeline. There are many other pipelines in the county that transport a variety of products which eminent domain could have been used to obtain the property needed to construct them. Personally I would prefer that landowners are able to negotiate what they consider to be a fair deal for any project requiring the use of their land rather and the use of eminent domain.
If you’re forced to cut the county’s budget, where do you look for savings? Why?
Heick: If I was forced to cut the county budget, I would look for savings in nonessential services. It is important that the county always maintain essential services but there are other areas in the counties budget where savings can be found. I would also want to evaluate county spending in relation to other surrounding counties to see how Johnson County compares.
How would you assess the long-term planning and vision of the county? Are there areas that you think should be planned for?
Heick: To assess the long term planning of the county I would seek input from residents on where they want growth in the county and what services they would want to be improved. I would look at past planning activities the county has done to see how that is progressing as well as what was and wasn’t effective to build upon past success and navigate away from failures. I think that it is important while planning for growth to also consider the needs of farmers. When constructing or improving roads it is important to consider how larger farm equipment as well as semis are going to be able to navigate roundabouts and streets. I think it is important to consider the current usage of roads when planning future projects.
What should the county's role be when it comes to affordable housing programs? Should there be additional partnerships with cities or other organizations? What other programs could the county implement to assist residents in need?
Heick: As supervisor I would want to gain a better understanding of what the counties current role in affordable housing is as well as what the county's needs are in this area. I would also look to other counties in the state to see what role they play in affordable housing as well. As supervisor I would be open to having conversations cities and organizations in the county about what partnerships could be mutually beneficial. I would want to know what the goals of any partnership would be and how they would improve the lives of residents of the county. I would also seek input from residents about what programs they would like to see the county adopt.
Does Johnson County need a new jail? Why or why not? If yes, should the county consider a multi-county facility? Why or why not?
Heick: To determine the need for a new jail I would want to compare the cost of a new facility to the cost of housing Johnson county inmates in other jails as well as looking at the possibilities to reduce the overall number inmates through programs other than incarceration. I would also look into if the current jail poses any safety or security risks to both jail staff and inmates as well as determining if it is up to all current standards. If in the long run a new jail would result in a lower cost and better safety for the county then that is the route the county should go. To determine if a multi county jail was the best choice I would also want to look at how it would affect the upfront costs of the jail as well as looking at how it would impact the cost of operation.
How should the county approach balancing the needs of urban and rural residents?
Heick: To balance the needs of rural and urban resident the county needs to have a good understanding of the needs of both groups. Based on my conversations with rural residents many of them feel that the county only has the needs of urban resident in mind. I think the best way to approach this issue is to have representation on the board from both the rural and the urban residents of the county so that the supervisors can speak from personal experience as well as building upon the connections they already have with their neighbors to better represent all county residents. I also think the county can work to balance these needs by being out in the communities and actively seeking input from both rural and urban residents rather than waiting on resident to come to them.
Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors rejected the Sheriff’s request for a smaller armored vehicle. Sheriff Brad Kunkel has previously said he would not negotiate the need for an armored vehicle but would get rid of the MRAP if the smaller BearCat was purchased. What is your opinion of the need of these armored vehicles in Johnson County? Would you support a request for a smaller armored vehicle, why or why not?
Heick: I think that the equipment needs of the Sheriff’s department are best known by the Sheriff. Since I don’t have personal experience in law enforcement I would rely upon the Sheriff to determine the needs of the department and communicate them along with justifications to the board. I would request a report from the department on the current usage of the MRAP along with the costs of ownership, operation, maintenance, and training needed to operate it. I would also want a report on the same metrics related to the BearCat as well as the cost to purchase and the salvage value of the MRAP. I would want to know if changing to the BearCat would result in increased safety to residents of the county as well a potential savings before I made a decision on the subject.
What do you see as next steps for mental health services in Johnson County? What should the county do to continue providing resources and encourage them to seek those services?
Heick: I think that the county should analyze the services it is currently providing to residents of the county and look at how many people are using the services to determine if it is meeting all the current demand or if there are shortcomings which need to be addressed. I think that the county should look to other counties in the state to see what services they provide to their residents and how they provide them. I also think the county should conduct a campaign to inform residents of the services available to them, how to seek them, and how the county can help them access the services they need.