The Johnson County Board of Supervisors had what was perhaps its biggest crowd of the year at its meeting Thursday, but the people weren’t there for any particular issue.
Instead, they were recognizing Sally Stutsman, who was elected to the Iowa House this fall and was attending her last meeting after 18 years as a county supervisor.
About 50 people, mostly county employees and fellow elected officials, made up the standing-room only crowd in what was a surprise send-off for Stutsman.
“I didn’t expect this at all, but thank you for coming in,” she said. “I’m just really so pleased. I mean, jeepers.”
Stutsman was first elected to the five-member Board of Supervisors, which is the county’s legislative body, in 1994. She will start her term in the Legislature next month.
She plans to formally resign from the Board of Supervisors Jan. 2. That will put in motion a state law that requires a committee of the county auditor, recorder and treasurer to appoint someone to the final two years of Stutsman’s term or call a special election. A petition from the public could force an election.
Like all of Johnson County’s elected officials, Stutsman is a Democrat. But she’s more conservative than most and comes from a farming family in the rural southern part of the county.
A theme that emerged from the several speakers Thursday was Stutsman’s interest in matters that affect people, particularly the disabled, those with mental health issues and civil rights.
She received a certificate of recognition from the county’s Targeted Case Management Advisory Board, which she sits on and which serves Medicaid recipients with mental or developmental disabilities.
Supervisor Janelle Rettig said she was particularly proud of Stutsman’s action on two issues before Rettig was on the board. One was passage of a human rights ordinance in 2007, the first county in Iowa with such a law. It banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, a protection not offered by state law at the time.
Rettig also said Stutsman was supportive of an event in which people in same-sex relationships, like Rettig, applied for marriage licenses from the county before gay couples could legally wed in Iowa.
“Sally got civil rights before it was cool,” Rettig said.
Stutsman replied, “You talk about those things and I sit here and think, ‘Yeah, but it was the right thing to do.’”
Stutsman cited flood recovery and the creation of a land-use plan and departments for human resources and information technology as highlights in her 18 years.
Board Chairman Rod Sullivan, who organized Thursday’s surprise, has said Stutsman helped reform a county government that was full of “cronyism, sexism, secrecy” before she was elected.
Something Stutsman would rather forget? “Don’t anybody mention Newport Road,” she said to laughs. That was a reference to a bitterly divisive road plan proposed several years ago that Stutsman supported but ultimately was defeated in the face of strong opposition from residents of the area north of Iowa City.
Jo Hogarty has been the supervisors’ secretary for 25 years and described Stutsman as a mother figure for 18 of those.
“I’ve gone through many supervisors, and you’re one of the great ones,” she said.