The Johnson County Board of Supervisors consists of five at-large members. Recently some people in the rural community have advocated for a board elected from districts within the county. A House Study Bill a few years ago would have required counties with a population greater than 150,000 to elect supervisors from districts, though a similar bill had failed earlier.
While districting a board of supervisors may appear to provide more representation to rural residents, the opposite would result. Currently, any resident anywhere in the county has five supervisors to whom they can communicate their needs. With districts, residents would have only one supervisor representing them.
There are many reasons electing supervisors from districts is not a good idea for Johnson County. But here is why, in fact, it’s a bad idea.
In Johnson County, our current practice for funding projects is determined using a needs assessment approach. This can be seen in our Five-Year Road Plan and works quite well. It is a triage of sorts, with the greatest need addressed first. With districts, it would become necessary to rotate projects based on the district in which it is located rather than the greatest need.
Imagine what might have happened in the 2016 emergency situation on the Highway 965 bridge over the Iowa River! During routine bridge inspections, county engineers determined repairs to that bridge to be our county’s greatest road need. It was an issue of public safety. Our at-large Board of Supervisors approved that project for immediate repairs.
Had we had districts, that project would land within my district and might have been put on hold, waiting for my district to have its turn at a big roads project. Just a couple years later, Swan Lake Road bridge over I-380, also in “my district” was deemed in need of immediate repair. While there is not a lot of traffic on that bridge, it is an essential route for farmers in the area. The closure was inconvenient during one farming season, but is now open and in good repair.
With districts, that bridge, in particular, would still be closed because it would be unfair for one district to have two big bridge repair jobs done before other districts had one done.
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There are many other reasons why Johnson County’s Board of Supervisors should continue as an at-large body. Each county should be allowed to determine its own board of supervisors structure.
Lisa Green-Douglass is a candidate in the Democratic primary for Johnson County Board of Supervisors.