Government

Johnson County supervisor race: one new face or two?

Two Democrats and one Republican running for pair of seats

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Johnson county Logo Color
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IOWA CITY — The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will have at least one new face after the Nov. 6 election.

Second-time Democratic candidate Pat Heiden, Republican Iowa City school board member Phil Hemingway and Democratic incumbent Janelle Rettig are competing countywide for two open seats on the board.

Rettig and Heiden beat incumbent Mike Carberry for their party’s nomination in June. Hemingway didn’t join the race until August. If elected, he would be the first Republican to win a seat on the board in a general election since 1958.

The five-member Board of Supervisors approves county budgets and levies taxes, enters into contracts on behalf of the county and supervises the secondary roads system, among other responsibilities. Supervisors earn $77,239 a year.

ACCESS CENTERS

The newly elected supervisors will take their seats as the county moves to create a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, which will feature sobering and detoxification units, a low-barrier winter shelter and mobile crisis outreach, among other services.

The Johnson County project comes amid a statewide push to improve mental health services. Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature passed a mental health bill calling for six regional mental health “access centers” to be set up across the state. But the measure did not specify where they would go.

Heiden said she’d be supportive of the new Johnson County facility becoming one of those.

“Johnson County is so rich with resources, and I don’t want to work in silos,” she said. “My only concern is we want to ensure the success of the center well into the future.”

Hemingway said he also would be supportive of making the Johnson County center a regional facility because of its proximity to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Separately, Linn County supervisors also are taking steps to create a similar center.

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But, Hemingway said, state and county officials could do more to improve mental health services especially for children.

“It was a good start, but it needs to go further,” he said. “We have a lot of issues with providing services for people under 18 years of age. ... We’ve got to help people. That’s got to be a top priority for us.”

Johnson County bought a 5.82-acre site for the center at Waterfront Drive and Southgate Avenue, which is going through the rezoning process.

Rettig voted against the particular land purchase because it is in a flood plain, but she supports the behavioral health center concept.

Rettig said she had concerns the state’s access centers are more medically focused than the county’s sobering, detox and low-barrier shelter center.

“Delivering those services, I think our county should’ve done years ago and so to wait even longer is just difficult for me. Because while we’re looking for something perfect to answer a lot of questions, many people are still suffering,” Rettig said.

LOCAL CONTROL

The Democratic-controlled Board of Supervisors in 2015 passed a countywide minimum wage increase that would be tiered and eventually each $10.10. The GOP-controlled Legislature, however, last year banned such local control over wages.

Rettig said there will always be a “push pull” between levels of government and it’s not always negative. But she believes this Legislature shifted to a mind-set of more power rather than more control going to local government.

“It’s not as adversarial as it seems like but it’s OK to push the envelope once in awhile and get knocked back. At least we have the whole state talking about minimum wage,” Rettig said.

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Hemingway said he wants to “build a bridge” to the Legislature. He said one of the reasons he’s running for the board, which is occupied by all Democrats, is for diversity of thought.

“The reality is we have people in two parties. And when you have a large county with a large population, being driven by one party, I don’t think it serves to make good policy or good government, and I think we have to recognize diversity,” he said.

Heiden said she felt that Johnson County has sometimes operated as an island with a lack of relationships. She said in her professional career as executive director of the Oaknoll retirement community, she knew her success was based on building relationships.

“I think we as a county need to do better as far as reaching out to our sister counties and our state legislators because we’re all in this together,” Heiden said, adding that clean water, for example, doesn’t have county boundaries. “Everything starts with relationships and building those relationships.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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