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Johnson County joins Linn, Blackhawk in I-380 Coalition

BY AUDREY ROEN | NOVEMBER 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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Johnson County officials approved a plan to spend $20,000 each year to boost the county's lobbying efforts.

Despite some hesitations, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors agreed on Thursday to join the I-380 Coalition with Linn and Blackhawk Counties.

"This is the first step between working for a stronger relationship among counties," Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said.

Proposed by Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers, the I-380 Coalition plans to promote joint planning among the counties and create a unified voice to lobby for their interests in Des Moines.

Membership for the coalition is $20,000 per year for each county. Each of the three counties will pay just $10,000 for the rest of this year.

Supervisor Pat Harney is the only supervisor who voted against passing the coalition.

"It's not so much that I am against the lobbyist," Harney said. "My issue is that we should be taking care of Johnson County issues first … I feel $20,000 … is an issue."

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said the board received the request from Linn County around six weeks ago and, while he's somewhat wary of the price, he thinks the organization is a good idea.

"I do support it," Sullivan said. "I will admit that there's a part of me that's a little chagrined that we feel like we need to pay for the lobbying in counties … But this is what it's come to."

Legislative officials say county issues have been pending in the legislature for years, but they said the coalition will help to move forward with more issues.

State Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, and Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, say the coalition's success will depend on the maintenance of relationships in the coalition and the ability to unify opinions.

"I'm supportive of coalitions no matter what the issues are," said Mascher, who has worked with previous coalitions on county issues. "Yet, you have to have the right people advocating it and supporting it."

Jacoby agreed with Mascher, while worrying about the coalition's ability to maintain agreements and opinions they voice to the Legislature.

"I think the challenge will be with the coalition to get one unified voice," Jacoby said.

Blackhawk County Supervisor Tom Little said his county enthusiastically joined the coalition Nov. 1.

"Hopefully, we can confront the larger, more specific issues of Linn, Blackhawk, and Johnson Counties," he said.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig noted that the coalition's cost would be less than the county hiring its own lobbyist. Rettig estimated hiring such a lobbyist would cost roughly $60,000.

"This is $10,000 that will get us at the table immediately," Rettig said. "I'm willing to spend $10,000 to find out if we are invested."


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