Printed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 13, 2010.
It's clear that Janelle Rettig has an incumbent's advantage over her two challengers to fill the remainder of the late Larry Meyers' term on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. But Rettig's advantage isn't merely the result of having been appointed to the position in late October and serving as a supervisor for less than three months. It's the result of years of involvement in county politics and an acute understanding of the way local governments do and don't work.
Back in 2008, when Rettig chaired the Land, Water, Future campaign, we were very impressed with her knowledge of county issues. And the résumé she submitted when applying to be appointed to the supervisor position shows a strong amount of government experience working for Democrats and Republicans.
For two decades, in fact, Rettig has shown rare ability for a would-be politician: She examines issues from multiple perspectives. In her work with many local and state boards and commissions, Rettig repeatedly has shown she can seek and actually find compromise and common ground.
Rettig's past experience ranges from land use planning, to civil and human rights, to environmental and conservation issues, to government openness. And like her former boss, former Iowa Rep. Jim Leach, she often answers questions by providing a tutorial on the broader issues at stake in the question.
We didn't agree with all of Rettig's positions on the issues facing the county -- she, for example, thinks the county needs to go back to square one on the justice center plans. But we do think that Rettig provided the most comprehensive answers for how our budget-tightening county needs to go about:
• reducing expenses by working more cooperatively with local cities and the state to streamline government functions;
• conducting public business in full view of the public and in as professional a manner as possible;
• ensuring that all residents have a voice in county government;
• updating and overseeing the county's land-use plan;
• keeping an eye on the operational expenses for the new joint emergency communication center; as well as
• deciding how best to address the problems needs on by inadequately sized county jail and county courthouse.
We agree with challengers Lori Cardella and Jim Knapp that Johnson County government could use a fresh voice and perspective. County government in Iowa, after all, is by its very nature inefficient. No matter how cost effectively any individual county operates, it can't by itself overcome the overwhelming inefficiency of having 99 individual counties in a state of barely 3 million people.
But we think Rettig is the candidate best positioned for offering that watch-dog approach for the remaining months of Meyers' term. We heartily endorse having Johnson County voters remove the "appointment asterisk" next to her name by voting for her directly in Tuesday's special election.