BREAKING NEWS

Johnson County Supervisor Kurt Friese dies at 54

Kurt Friese, Johnson County supervisor, speaks during a “Joni Ernst Town Hall: ‘Our Voice’ Rally” hosted by Iowa Action and Hawkeyes for Dream Iowa before U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst held her Johnson County Town Meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Kurt Friese, Johnson County supervisor, speaks during a “Joni Ernst Town Hall: ‘Our Voice’ Rally” hosted by Iowa Action and Hawkeyes for Dream Iowa before U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst held her Johnson County Town Meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Kurt Friese, a Johnson County Supervisor and longtime Iowa City restaurateur, died Friday at 54 years old.

Emergency personnel responded to a medical emergency at Friese’s home at 11:22 a.m. and found Friese had already died, according to a news release from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office

Officials are investigating his death, but no foul play is expected, the Sheriff’s Office said. Officials aren’t releasing more information until an autopsy is conducted.

Friese, a first-term supervisor, was a proud progressive Democrat known for championing local food and sustainable agriculture and advocating for higher wages.

“He was concerned about the greater world around him and everyone in it, and that showed through his work,” said Supervisor Janelle Rettig, adding that Friese worked to get everyone on Johnson County staff to go through mental health first aid training. “He never stopped caring about other people.”

Supervisor Mike Carberry called Friese one of his best friends and said they consulted on each other’s campaigns. Carberry said Friese was passionate about preserving farmland, preventing urban sprawl and supporting progressive politics, among other issues.

“The most I could say about Kurt is that he walked the walk,” Carberry said. “If he said it, he believed it and he lived it. He will be greatly missed.”

Carberry called Friese the “godfather” of the local food movement in Johnson County.

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A well-known chef, Friese and his wife, Kim McWane Friese, were owners of Devotay, a restaurant in downtown Iowa City for 21 years until they sold it last year.

Rettig said she’s known Friese since the couple opened Devotay and they, among other business owners, formed a business association called the Northside Marketplace.

“He showed his love for people by cooking for them,” Rettig said.

Jill Kinkade, a server at Devotay and former front of house manager, said much of the staff members at the restaurant were in shock Friday evening. Kinkade said she knew Friese for 14 years.

“We’re all working tonight. The restaurant is open. I think we just need to focus,” Kinkade said.

Other local and state leaders offered their condolences Friday night.

“Our office mourns the passing of Supervisor Kurt Friese,” Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said on Twitter. “His time with us, and with the county, was far too short, and it was an honor and privilege to work with him.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price released a statement on behalf of the party.

“We are shocked and saddened by the death of our dear friend Kurt Friese,” Price said. “Kurt was a progressive activist and Democratic leader who worked tirelessly to make his community and the lives of those around him better. Johnson County and our state will miss his leadership.”

Friese was elected to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in 2016 and has a term lasting through 2020.

Rettig said the next steps will be for Weipert, Johnson County Treasurer Tom Kriz and Recorder Kim Painter to convene a committee and decide whether to appoint or hold an election to fill Friese’s seat. Rettig said Weipert’s office is currently preparing a memo about possible special election dates.

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If the committee chooses to hold a special election, it could not happen during the Nov. 6 election, according to Iowa Code.

Rettig said the county has experience with supervisors dying while in office or resigning. She was appointed to the board after Supervisor Larry Meyers died of cancer in 2009.

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

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