Johnson County Board of Supervisors candidates give pitches on steering post-COVID-19 economy

Candidates for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors said the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term effects on the county’s most vulnerable and the local business economy, as well as farmers, in a forum Tuesday.


Kate Heston

Elinor Levin, the forum moderator for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, leads the conversation between candidates. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors Candidate Forum took place Tuesday night over Facebook live. (Kate Heston/The Daily Iowan)

Brian Grace, News Reporter

Four candidates running for Johnson County Board of Supervisors shared their perspectives on the future of an economy recovering from the effects of COVID-19 on housing and local businesses during a virtual forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Of Johnson County on Tuesday night.

The candidates for the three seats on the board are incumbents Rod Sullivan, Lisa Green-Douglass, and Royceanne Porter, as well as Republican candidate and former ICCSD School Board Member Phil Hemingway.

Candidates discussed how they would address the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the local economy.

Porter said the board had been working on economy-centric policy even before Johnson County began seeing surges of COVID-19 cases. She said moving forward, her priority would be making sure county residents with limited resources are being supported financially.

“We have so many people right now… struggling to pay their rent, they’re struggling to pay their mortgages, they’re struggling,” Porter said. “We have food insecurities, our food pantries, and people are just, you know, these are the things we have to work on in Johnson County. We have to continue to support those social services.”

Porter said focusing on remedying local unemployment would also be a top priority in recovering following the pandemic.

Sullivan referenced former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders saying during a disaster similar to COVID-19, the people who are hit the hardest are the people who have the least. He said he thinks the county has put effort into addressing poverty, but that the county needs more help from the state and federal government to make more substantial progress.

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Sullivan said the county budget is in a good spot for however the board decides to move forward on economic recovery, but said he did think the community would see a loss in some local business.

“I do expect that over the next couple years we are going to have particularly some businesses that are not going to be able to reopen, and we could for the first time in a long time have quite a few business vacancies as those businesses sit empty,” Sullivan said. “It is going to be hard to fill them up and then it’s going to be hard to maintain the values on those.”

Green-Douglass expanded on the state of the budget saying the county had received every reimbursement it was expecting from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in response to COVID-19. Despite the budget being in good shape, she said the county needed to make sure people struggling with hunger, housing, transportation, and child care were supported.

“We have seen a lot of creative responses and within our county government on how to respond to keep people working, but we really need to remember that there are some people who are suffering so badly that they can’t pay their light bill, they can’t make rent, and find ways to create a safety net so that they don’t fall between the cracks because of this pandemic,” Green-Douglass said.

Hemingway said he agreed with the other candidates, but added that farmers and rural residents in the county were also going to need support moving forward after overcoming other obstacles like droughts and the derecho that swept through the midwest in August. He said he thought the board would benefit from having a farmer as a member to better represent the county’s rural population.

Hemingway has run for the office twice before, and if elected, he would be the first Republican elected to the board in a general election since 1958.

“I’m not going to plow the same ground as everyone else has, and those concerns are very valid and a great need, but our rural residents are going to be needing some assistance and some help as well, and we’ve got to be able to provide it” Hemingway said.