Staff Editorial

Heiden and Rettig should lead Johnson County forward

The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the penthouse level of the MidWestOne OnePlace building on South Clinton Street in Iowa City on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the penthouse level of the MidWestOne OnePlace building on South Clinton Street in Iowa City on Tuesday, April 4, 2017. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
2018 ENDORSEMENTS ARTICLES

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If anyone would have asked, at the beginning of the 2018 endorsement process, where our board would encounter its most difficult decisions, it’s doubtful we would have pointed to county supervisor races. Yet here we are again, agonizing over the best choices to lead local government.

Voters in Johnson County will pick two from a list of three highly qualified people to serve on the Board of Supervisors. On the ballot are two Democrats — incumbent Janelle Rettig and relative political newcomer Pat Heiden — and one Republican, current Iowa City school board member Phil Hemingway. Three distinct individuals, each with strengths that would benefit the county.

Without reservation, we endorse Pat Heiden, who took a job as a part-time front desk clerk at the nonprofit Oaknoll Retirement Community and left the organization nearly 40 years later as a revered and accomplished executive director. In between, with help from friends and family, Heiden navigated the difficult path of single motherhood while pursuing an advanced degree.

She rightly notes that the fastest growing population segment in Johnson County is the elderly, and that no one currently on the Board of Supervisors has her level of expertise and understanding of the challenges faced by this expanding demographic. That nugget alone makes her a compelling addition to county government. When coupled with her long-standing ability to resolve conflicts and nurture consensus, it quickly becomes apparent that Heiden is the dynamic voice of reason and inclusion Johnson County needs.

Less clear during our initial deliberation was who of the remaining two candidates would best serve the county and its residents while providing specific skill sets with added value to the five-member board. Rettig won our endorsement based on her long-standing history of environmental advocacy balanced with fiscal responsibility, commitment to government transparency and continued leadership on public access to detailed county budgeting.

All three of these attributes were on display recently when Rettig, who co-chaired the successful Land, Water and Future Conservation Bond initiative, voiced her concerns about how the funds are being spent and use of an executive session to privately hammer out details.

“I believe budgets should be completely transparent, and people have every right to know how their money will be spent and for what purpose,” she said. “Hiding behind a potentially incorrect executive session is exactly what the taxpayers of Johnson County shouldn’t accept.”

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Hemingway previously earned our endorsement while pursuing his current nonpartisan position on the school board. Time has shown him to be an exceptionally valuable member of that body who consistently forces discussions that lead to increased academic opportunities for local students and healthier alternatives for all who use school grounds and facilities. There simply is no other member of the school board with his tenacity or attention to detail, especially on fiscal matters. Barring any significant changes, we would wholeheartedly support his continued service in this area, and we encourage him to reconsider his decision to not seek another term.

LOOKING AHEAD

A key reason this board found Heiden’s candidacy so promising is her experience with conflict resolution. Something distasteful has brewed among supervisors for the past several years. We labeled it as “strong personalities” in a cautionary note published alongside our last supervisor endorsements. Incidents have since progressed, and not for the better.

Too often disagreements lead to grudges, and grudges lead to harsh words within and beyond county meetings. Such near-constant churning and bickering has cheapened the work of county officials, and has become a semi-permanent stain on the county.

As well paid public servants, supervisors can be and do better. Voters providing their trust have a reasonable expectation it won’t be fractured by a series of heated arguments that bubble out of the administration building, into neighborhoods and onto the internet.

Those who depend on county services as well as those who fill county coffers expect adult leadership.

• Comments: (319) 368-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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