IOWA CITY — Rural issues, diversity and social justice were in the spotlight Wednesday night during a Johnson County Board of Supervisors candidate forum.
Union organizer and Democrat Royceann Porter and school board member and Republican Phil Hemingway are facing off in a Dec. 18 special election for a vacant seat on the board with a term lasting through 2020. The seat opened after Supervisor Kurt Friese died in October.
A statutory committee of Auditor Travis Weipert, Recorder Kim Painter and Treasurer Tom Kriz voted 2-1 to hold a special election rather than appoint a supervisor. The election likely will cost the county about $60,000.
The Johnson County League of Women Voters sponsored the hourlong forum at Iowa City Hall. Both candidates responded to questions from league and audience members.
Hemingway emphasized his experience in farming and the county’s need to preserve its land. He said he’d bring a rural perspective to the board if elected.
“Iowa and Johnson County’s greatest resource is our farmland. And I want us to be great stewards of that not only for ourselves but for future generations,” Hemingway said. “We have to be very, very selective on where our developments go because once you take that land out of production, it’s very difficult to put it back in.”
Porter said she’s opposed to confined animal feeding operations in the county. She said she approves of the job the board is doing to preserve and protect the environment and is willing to learn more about the issue.
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“I was able to get some schooling before this forum on preservation and conservation,” Porter said. “We can replace lost (ecosystems) with modern technology and with beneficial native plants and animals. ... The Board of Supervisors and many people in the community have reached out to help me with that piece.”
On diversity and social justice, Porter said as long as immigrants have IDs, they should be supported with resources like everyone else in the county. If elected, Porter would be the only African-American supervisor on the board.
“Embracing diversity and inclusion in Iowa City has been very important to me. It’s my baby because I’m totally against discrimination and I fight and advocate,” Porter said. “Johnson County is growing, and we have people moving in that look like me.”
Citing the need for another type of diversity, Hemingway said people in rural and small communities are underrepresented on the board.
“We have people that feel that supervisors aren’t concerned with their problems, with their issues,” Hemingway said. “Johnson County is bigger than Iowa City, Coralville or North Liberty...”
The Johnson County supervisors earn $77,239 a year. Their responsibilities include approving county budgets and levying taxes, entering into contracts on behalf of the county and supervising the secondary roads system.
Wednesday was the first day for Johnson County residents to vote at the auditor’s office, which is open from 7:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays through Dec. 17. Pre-registration and absentee ballot requests are due by 5 p.m. Friday.
The auditor’s office also offers two satellite voting options:
• Dec. 14 — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the first-floor Pappajohn lobby.
• Dec. 15 — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Iowa City Public Library.
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Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 18. While most voters will go to their regular polling places, 17 precincts will be combined into eight locations.
• Big Grove, Cedar and Solon will vote at Solon City Hall.
• Coralville 1 and 4 will vote at the Coralville Public Library.
• Iowa City 19 and 20 at the Senior Center.
• Iowa City 5 and 11 at the University of Iowa’s main library.
• Iowa City 6 and 16 at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center.
• North Liberty 1 and 5 at the North Liberty Community Center.
• Graham and Newport at Celebration Farm.
• City of Hills and Liberty-Pleasant Valley at the Hills Community Center.
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