Carberry runs for Democratic nomination
By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
JOHNSON COUNTY– Johnson County supervisor Democratic candidate Mike Carberry traces his ambition back to his roots.
The son of a large animal veterinarian and a school teacher, Carberry grew up on a small farm in Benton County.
“I spent a lot of time on small family farms from my dad, and I learned a real conservation ethic from those farmers,” said Carberry. He mentions his participation in Boy Scouts and earning the rank of Eagle Scout as another influence.
“I learned a lot about leadership, trustworthiness, the whole thing that comes with being a Scout. My folks were also involved in giving back to the community, and we were encouraged to do that as well.”
His family moved to Iowa City in 1976 and his father retired to a second occupation, as proprietor of a coin collector and dealer business. Carberry worked in the family business, until a fateful turn took him to the world of political activism and environmental advocacy. While working with Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 1997, Carberry read Gore’s book, “Earth in the Balance,” a book about ecological concerns and policies.
“It literally changed my life. I realized climate change was an issue that would define our generation, and nobody knew about it,” Carberry said. At that time, Carberry began volunteering with the Sierra Club, one of the few organizations speaking out about global warming. In 2003, while working on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, Carberry learned of Dean’s own environmental advocacy, and it was that intersection of politics and ecology that satisfied Carberry’s skill set, personal values and interests all at once.
By 2005, he had started his own business as an environmental lobbyist.
“It seemed more important that I use my talents and skills to better environment and the place we live,” said Carberry.
It’s the same reason he is now running as a Democratic candidate for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, which will have two vacancies this November. In the June 3 Democratic primary, Carberry faces three other candidates: incumbent Janelle Rettig, and newcomers Lisa Green-Douglass and Diane Dunlap.
“Johnson County is absolutely the greatest place to live in the Midwest, but I’m concerned about growth,” said Carberry. “A lot of my issues are related to sustainability, both environmental and economic. As the second fastest-growing county in Iowa, I want Johnson County to continue to be the best place to live and work in Iowa and the Midwest.”
The Johnson County Land Use Plan, adopted in 2008 as a guide for the county’s planning and zoning officials and the board of supervisors to determine where to direct new development within the county, has goals Carberry supports: to protect agricultural land and prevent urban sprawl. But it’s falling short, he said.
“The way the plan is being implemented is contrary to the goals of the plan itself,” said Carberry. “All the growth is targeted into the North Corridor development area– basically Highway 965 from the city limits of Iowa City to the Linn County border. For some reason, they think using clustered development is more environmentally sustainability. I disagree.”
Carberry said he instead advocates infill development to restrict urban sprawl. He cited the Dooley farm case, in which a landowner sold 90 acres of farmland on Newport Road and the county approved its rezoning for a planned development with 70 homes.
“It’s right in the middle of the county with no infrastructure,” Carberry noted. “How do you get water and sewer out there? And it’s going to put a real burden on (rural) roads not built to handle it. I would like to see organic growth from the cities outward.” The county already has 1,600 lots platted and zoned for residential development, Carberry said, and 800 of them are in the targeted North Corridor growth area.
“At our current rate of growth that’s 20 years of development. I propose we put a moratorium on new developments until we use up some of that existing stock, and then we re-address the Land Use Plan,” Carberry said.
To those rural landowners who wish to sell and subdivide, Carberry said land values are at an all–time high, and there is still plenty of demand for land to be used for agricultural purposes.
“Iowa’s number one industry is agriculture,” said Carberry. “I want to protect the rural way of life, both agriculture and country living. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Dense developments belong in the city.”
Regardless of where development occurs, Carberry also pushes for sustainability in the way services are provided. He was instrumental in helping the county craft its wind turbine ordinance, but believes Johnson County has lot more work to do to streamline the process for providers of other sustainable energy technologies who wish to bring them to Johnson County.
Similarly, Carberry said the county could do more to support local food growers.
“I want to make Johnson County the local foods capital of Iowa,” Carberry said. His involvement in local foods initiatives has shown him that while the county’s restaurants, grocers and farmers’ markets provide a large demand for local and organically-grown foods, suppliers are often from outside the county because of the red tape good growers have to navigate in Johnson County. He supports the idea of using the County Poor Farm as an incubator for small food farm operations and a food distribution hub where local farmers could sell their products in bulk to schools, hospitals, stores and restaurants.
“We have a food policy council, but it’s time to stop talking about things and start doing them,” Carberry said.
Bigger projects Carberry proposes require Johnson County to be more cooperative with its neighbors, he said; for example, he would like to see a consolidated, regional public transit district that would accommodate commuters from one end of the Corridor to the other. Complete trail connectivity throughout and between Linn and Johnson counties would both encourage bicycle commuting and attract newcomers looking for recreation and quality of life. Even reforming Tax Increment Finance (TIF)– which diverted $3.5 million of tax revenues away from Johnson County last year– would go a long way toward spurring economic development in the entire Corridor if done fairly, with time limits, anti-piracy guidelines and mandated inter-agency cooperation.
“We need to play better with our neighbors,” said Carberry. “Johnson and Linn counties need to work together on sustainability so we are managing growth throughout the Corridor and not just looking at Johnson County as an insular thing. But it’s going to take everybody working together: the schools, the cities, the counties, the University (of Iowa), Iowa City Area Development, Cedar Rapids development groups, the chambers, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the communities… everybody needs to be rolling in the same direction to create the magnet for economic development. We can disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.”
Carberry said he has both agreed and disagreed with Johnson County voters who did not pass the proposed bond issue for a new justice center in 2000, 2012 and 2013, which would have built a new jail combined with a courthouse annex.
“I’ve changed my mind on it a couple of times,” Carberry said. As for the jail, he knows the current facility needs to be updated for safety, and the problems with shipping inmates out of county and disproportionate minority incarceration need to be addressed.
“We’re going to have to spend some money to make upgrades,” Carberry said. “It may have to be put on hold, but we still need to allocate enough funds to keep things safe and secure for jail employees and inmates.”
Currently, he supports the more recent concession of the board of supervisors, a separate proposal for a courthouse annex and security upgrades to the existing historic building, with an eye toward anticipated growth to accommodate both population growth and space for the county’s successful jail diversion programs.
“Once you’ve given time for those programs to work, you get rid of the backlog of delayed court hearings, you’ve expanded the diversion programs, and I think the numbers we need for a new jail will then be more evident,” Carberry said.
Taking that kind of cautious approach to spending while still providing services is the biggest job of county government, Carberry said.
“I want to be very respectful of the taxpayers, and not spend on frivolous things,” he said. “We need to be as efficient and humane as possible. We can’t fund everything, but we need to look at the budget with a fine-tooth comb and make tough decisions. There has to be a balance between needs and wants.”
Johnson County farmer and Newport Road resident Jim Sedlacek said he appreciates Carberry’s attention to that balance. Sedlacek finds Carberry an approachable, eager listener.
“Mike’s father is a long-time large animal veterinarian, so he’s no stranger to agriculture. He’s into sustainable energy, he is big on smart growth and preserving agriculture land,” said Sedlacek. “He is also interested in getting something going on the courthouse and jail, and he’s been smart with money. I think he will make a good supervisor.”
Carberry said his parents categorize him as both a fighter and a hard worker, and he will live up to those characteristics if elected.
“I will fight for what’s right,” he said. “I will do that for the residents of Johnson County, and I want to ask for their vote. They will not be sorry they supported me.”