Johnson County officials visit Wisconsin

BY BEN MARKS | MAY 07, 2015 5:00 AM

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Early this week, county officials from Iowa and Wisconsin sat down together to discuss jails, local food, homelessness, police, and housing.

On Monday, around 15 Johnson County and Iowa City employees traveled three hours to Dane County, Wisconsin, where they stayed for two days. One of the reasons supervisors chose Dane County was picked is its similarity with Johnson County. Like Johnson County, Dane is also home to a state university, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Among the Johnson County officials who went were County Attorney Janet Lyness, Sherriff Lonny Pulkrabek, Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine, Social Services Director Lynette Jacoby, and four of the five supervisors.

The trip was designed to be an informational exchange between the two counties, first thought of last year by Supervisor Rod Sullivan when he attended a Local Food Summit where the keynote speaker was Kyle Richmond, a Dane County supervisor.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the two counties despite the significant size difference,” Dane County Supervisor Chair Sharon Corrigan said. “But we face a lot of the same issues.”

In 2013, Johnson County had a population of 139,155 while Dane County’s population was 509,900.

Corrigan said she believed some of the issues, like affordable housing and homelessness are similar between all university towns.

The county has a local food program similar to Johnson County’s Poor Farm, called the Troy Community Farm.

“Troy Gardens is one of the models we can possibly use to develop our poor farm,” Supervisor Mike Carberry said. “You take that model they’ve used with the lessons they learned and try to incorporate that into one that will work for Johnson County.”

Johnson County Assistant Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Josh Busard also went on the trip and said he met with Dane County sustainability employees, discussing everything from solar projects, to workflow, to how their projects are funded.

Although he said coming away from the trip left him with lots of ideas, he said they’re still formulating them.

During the trip, Pulkrabek met with the Dane County Sheriff and jail officials, and said his main focus was to talk about disproportionate minority contact, jail overcrowding, and jail alternatives.

“I wanted to take a look at the issues they’re facing and how they’re dealing with it, and honestly what I found was at times it was like looking in a mirror,” he said.

After the trip Pulkrabek said he has some ideas he’ll be discussing and working through in the future, including possibly having a trained doctor to screen inmates for physical and mental health issues prior to accepting them to the jail.

“They have a physician and a lot more nurses on staff while we have none of that,” Pulkrabek said. “Our staff has certain screening tools, but unless there’s something glaring we accept people.”

Overall, Corrigan said she believed the trip went really well and was beneficial to both Johnson and Dane County.

“As county supervisors sometimes you get focused on your own county and it’s helpful to take the blinders off and see how other people are doing it,” she said.

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