IOWA CITY — Pat Heiden spent 22 years leading Oaknoll Retirement Residence as its executive director.
In that time, Heiden learned the skills necessary to be a good leader — listening, giving others the benefit of the doubt, not having an agenda, being patient, embracing different ideas and fostering relationships.
“We’re not always going to agree,” Heiden said. “But, if you have a solid relationship and one that’s built on respect, no matter what you’ve got to do going forward, you’ve got the foundation.”
Heiden, 66, will rely upon those same skills this year as she continues her first term on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Two years after joining the board, Heiden will serve as board chairwoman for 2021. She’ll lead the board as it continues to navigate a pandemic with an eye toward returning to a sense of regular operations later this year.
“I hope this year we get back to a new normal,” she said. “Obviously, it’s not going to be the same as it was before. It’ll be our new normal.”
A resident of Johnson County for more than 40 years, Heiden spent 36 of those with Oaknoll. When she retired in 2016, Heiden set her eyes on public office.
“I always wanted to pay it forward and serve the community that’s been so good to me,” said Heiden, whose mother was a Crawford County supervisor.
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After an unsuccessful first attempt, Heiden was elected in 2018. Although she attended many meetings between 2016 and 2019, Heiden said there has been a “huge learning curve” during her two years on the board.
“There’s just so much and a wide variety,” she said. “I have really enjoyed it very, very much.”
Heiden points to working on a unified development ordinance for the county, as well as the completion of the GuideLink Center, as two of the biggest accomplishments during her time on the board. And the board has navigated the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Heiden serving as one of two supervisors on a county building entry task force that is responsible for making sure best practices are in place for use of county facilities.
What reopening the county will look like will be a focal point of Heiden’s tenure as board chair.
“I certainly don’t anticipate that happening for a number of months,” she said. “But, we must be ready and a plan must be in place so we can execute that.”
The board also will have to respond to decreased property tax revenue from the pandemic, and Heiden wants to continue having conversations about affordable housing livable wages, hiring a diverse county workforce, economic development and social change. To have productive discussions, Heiden said she’ll foster an environment that encourages debate and dialogue while also nurturing a sense of consensus and collaboration.
“I have no authority as one supervisor,” she said. “As a board, we have a great opportunity to move our agenda forward. We have to have that foundation of being collaborative and cooperative. We have to have that respectful dialogue so we can do that work ... The citizens of Johnson County deserve nothing less of us.”
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