Janelle Rettig, candidate for Johnson County Board of Supervisors

Janelle Rettig
Janelle Rettig

Name: Janelle Rettig (incumbent)

Party: Democrat

Residence: Iowa City

Age: 53

Occupation: Johnson County supervisor

Education: Bachelor’s, Knox College


What are the three most important issues in Johnson County, and how would you address them?

• Increasing demand on services

• Growing poverty

• Dysfunction in state and federal government

Johnson County has a growing population and many people need services. For example, we have about 19,000 people in Johnson County who are food insecure. With the daily uncertainty in state and federal funding for programs, infrastructure and backfilling previous tax giveaways, it can be hard to plan and prepare. The most vulnerable in the mental health and disability services area are suffering under managed care. Johnson County must stay committed to helping those in need and funding high-quality services such as MHDS and ambulance.

What issues would you like to see the board push for in the coming two to four years?

I believe the board has lost sight of jail alternatives as it relates to crisis intervention, and we must get these programs in place as quickly as possible. The program has become so elaborate and expensive, it will take years to open. Meanwhile, people in crisis continue to be taken to jail as the only option. We can be quicker.

I would also like to see the Board focus on poverty issues. The working poor are falling through the cracks and they are often not eligible for services.

Linn County has reduced its Board of Supervisors from five to three, each representing a county district. Do you think Johnson County should reduce the size of the Board of Supervisors? Why or why not?

I believe no county should have only three supervisors. Large counties have large budgets, many programs and staff. The work of supervisors as managers can be challenging, and having five supervisors allows attention to be paid more carefully. I believe five supervisors keep more voices at the table, which can be found weekly in our deliberations and votes. I believe counties with only three supervisors are likely always in conflict with open meetings laws.


Currently, all of Johnson County’s elected offices are filled by Democrats. Are constituents with more conservative views given any say in how the county is run?

Supervisors serve at the pleasure of the voters. The voters decide every general election whom they wish to represent them, so the make up of the board is controlled by the voters. This question makes the implication that all Democrats think or vote alike. That certainly isn’t played out in an average year. I, for example, am a budget geek and numbers person. I work to create a fiscally constrained plan and vote that way. When I felt the FY19 budget was not fiscally constrained, I voted no.

How well does county government work with city governments within the county? Are there efficiencies that can be achieved with intergovernmental agreements?

I think the county now has the most open and friendly relationship with the cities that we have ever had. Because counties and cities serve two different purposes there will always be negotiations and challenges, but I believe we are better facing them together than alone. The county enjoys many agreements with the cities that benefit everyone, such as roads, paratransit, inspections, fringe areas, sheriff patrol, etc. I look forward to more discussions on space needs, regional transit and more.

Should the county push the envelope with state matters or with multi-jurisdictional issues? When should the county work with other entities and when should the county go its own way?

Iowa Code grants certain rights and responsibilities to counties and certain to cities, in many places they do not overlap. When possible, I think lobbying and advocacy together makes a lot of sense, because the counties and cities are stronger together. The county faces issues a city does not, such as courthouse security, jail size and CAFOS. Those are a few examples of when the county would be advocating matters that may not be of primary interest to cities.

If you’re forced to cut the county budget, where do you look for savings? Why?

In the past few years, Johnson County has focused on catching up with many capital projects. If the budget became tight, the capitals budgets could be reduced. I also believe there are efficiencies to be found in staffing and cross training. Many offices are seasonally busy and some staff could be floating to move from office to office as needed. While we have focused on span and control, more reductions in management could be found.


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Do you think the county should increase spending on rural road maintenance?

When I first became a supervisor, the county was underfunding roads. We have inched up funding so as to not create a dramatic increase in taxes. Currently, Johnson County is at maximum funding allowed by law in general basic and rural basic funding for Secondary Roads. I worked to create a system of very short term bonding for vital roads and bridges. While interest rates remain low and local lenders are willing, this allows more projects to get done while accessing TIF districts funding.

Would you favor the regionalization of some services? If so, which ones?

I believe regionalization could be very helpful in areas that know no boundaries, such I as transit. With regionalized economy and education system, maintaining so many transit systems is not only confusing but also inefficient. I believe the city and county accessors should be combined. There are many areas we should consider combining, but even more where sharing resources, equipment and space would be appropriate.

How would you communicate with your constituents?

I’m constantly out and about at events and fundraisers. I communicate by mail, email, phone, text, message, in person, on street corners, at events, etc. We created streaming meetings and unfortunately that has reduced attendance at our meetings by the public and certainly by the media. I wish more people would attend meetings or weigh in on issues, but I understand our society is very busy. I support the county adding more opinion pieces, radio shows, news releases and social media.

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