BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – For years, Rich Harlow used his voice for radio, but now he wants to put his voice to work for the residents of Lee County.
Harlow, a former Fort Madison City Councilman, is running for the District 3 Lee County Supervisors seat being vacated by Don Hunold, who’s stepping away from the board at year’s end.
Harlow (D-Montrose) is running against Jim Steffen (R-Keokuk).
Harlow could be considered a jack of all trades. He current drives a bus for the Fort Madison Community School District, and is employed as a driver with King-Lynk Funeral Home. He’s also served stints on area radio stations covering sports, been an announcer for area high school games and spent more than three decades helping people find work with the state’s workforce department.
His motto: “Better to wear out than rust out.”
“People know me from not only working radio in north and south Lee county, but also for being a workforce leader in the county,” Harlow said. “I was there for 30 years and our name changed from Job Service of Iowa, to the Iowa Workforce Development, and now Iowa Works. “
Harlow said he spent 30 years helping people looking for work and going to industries seeing firsthand the landscape of the workforce in southeast Iowa.
30 years as an interviewer and working with employers, economic development officials, and working with people looking for jobs,” Harlow said. “I’ve taken applications for so many people and industries I can’t name them all. I really have been helping people and that’s the thrust of my campaign. Whether its radio, Fort Madison City Council, the (Lee County) Conservation Board or all the other things I’ve been involved in over the years.”
Harlow said one of his favorite pastimes is getting involved and rolling up his sleeves to help people.
“I like to see things happens. Being on the city council, the conservation board, or the board of supervisors, that’s democracy in action,” he said.
Harlow mentioned recent issues in front of the board that show his involvement was helping bring attention to the issue of a county shed in Argyle that had the ire of the some residents and truck drivers using jake brakes near Clearview Heights in Fort Madison. Harlow is also now a member of the Lee County Farm Bureau and the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce.
Harlow approached the Lee County Board of Supervisors several weeks ago about the shed and the jake brake complaints from those living at Clearview Heights.
He said he’s also picked up the endorsement the AFSCME Local #2989, representing the correctional officers at Iowa State Penitentiary.
“My theme is I care about you and Lee County and those two things are indicators of what I’m doing,” Harlow said. “I’m saying it and as I’m out campaigning I’m bringing those people to meetings to get things done on their behalf.”
Harlow said his focus concerning the county budget and spending is to find out what money the county has and how to best allocate those funds. At the last board of supervisors’ meeting another budget amendment was passed that resulted in a general revenue balance of approximately $8 million.
“We know that in life, decisions and government decisions revolve around money, and money moves things. I think were in good shape now, but you always have to be aware of how much you have and how much you’ll spend down the road. The Fort Madison City Council has got some problems as far as its budget and we have to be careful that doesn’t happen with the county budget,” he said.
The current status of a budget surplus at the state level, is something Harlow said he would like to see brought back down to Lee County.
“The fertilizer plant has been a big boon as far as Lee County is concerned and I’m hearing they may want to add an ammonia plant. My golly, that would make the picture look even better as far as money and jobs and those kinds of things.”
He said election time is not the time to talk about raising property taxes, but he said the county may progressively get better with income from the fertilizer plant and possibly the pipeline if any revenues are seen off that utility under Lee County property.
“What candidate running for office would be stupid enough to say, ‘I think it’s time we raise taxes.’,” he said. “We can’t count our chickens before they hatch and you got to have that money in the coffers. It’s like a checking account. We gotta have that money before we can spend that money. I’m not going to spend money we don’t have and I’m going to listen to people as far as taxes and prioritize. I’ll work with other supervisors in all facets for the best for Lee County.”
Economic development is a cyclical thing, according to Harlow and he said his priority would be to help the county prioritize economic issues and keep pushing forward.
Harlow said the current restructuring and elimination of the Lee County Economic Development Group CEO is part of those types of cycles.
“ED is very important and way up high on my priorities,” he said. “I’ve seen these cycles through the years and my experience on the council and other boards. You have your ups and downs where you have money and then you have times when things are real tight. As that happens, you take a hard look and prioritize. You get out there and compete with other counties to get as much as you can.”
“I liken it to sports, when you play you’re fighting for a win. We’re fighting for other companies and businesses to not only keep what we have, but get more. We want to get everything we can get for the citizens for Lee County. Nothing stays the same, that’s the way of life.”
He said it would seem the LCEDG is struggling a bit right now, but he’s aware of the state and national awards they’ve received for the progressive plans they are putting in place to develop the workforce in Lee County.
“That tells me they’re doing a good job, but they’re cyclical like other things. They are restructuring and in a change mode right now, so they’re worried about their money coming in.”
Harlow feels that the best way to help mitigate the current contention between hunters and the Lee County Conservation Board is to keep bringing people to the table, knowing that the board of supervisors approves the LCCB budget and appoints board members. The rest of the programming is done by that board.
“Just as was brought up by Supervisor Ron Fedler, supervisors’ business is not conservation, the conservation board’s business is conservation,” he said. “That’s a hot button issue. I’m not taking sides because I can see both sides of the coin, but if I’m elected I would ask both parties to take a look at that again. I was on that board and was the chairman. I know what it’s like to have pressure put on you.”
Harlow said county law enforcement is well situated right now, but that’s an issue that needs constant communication between the board and Sheriff Stacy Weber.
“I think we’re doing alright now, but we constantly look at that and stay in contact with law enforcement in the county, specifically the sheriff. We go from there and listen to the citizens. There you have it. You prioritize with the money you have. People don’t like to have their taxes raised, however, they do want us to keep them safe. And that’s way up there with me, keeping the citizens safe.”
He said the focus on mental health and how to deal with residents who need care or who end up in jail or emergency rooms should be on the state.
“The way I look at it, the Iowa legislature put us in the mess and it has to be the legislature and governor to get us out of this mess. In the meantime – it’s a big mess. That’s my take on that.”
Harlow said the budget would be the first thing he would want to tackle as a supervisor.
“The first thing is the budget – the money we have to work with. When you look at all the money, I want to know what we’ve got and how we can spend the money the best way possible. The best bang for the buck.”
“They should elect me because I’ve proven I care about people and am proving that right now with the shed. My opponent talks transparency and if I hadn’t done that, that wouldn’t be transparency. I’m showing there that I care about people and want to help. The thing about jake brakes in Clearview Heights. I encouraged those people to come to a supervisors meeting and some positive things are happening there. I’ve proven that I have the background, experience, and energy to help people. I’m available to people on the road, in coffee shops, wherever. What I do is I talk the talk and walk the walk.”
“Not only do I like Lee County, but I love it and like its residents. I like to see it succeed, people succeed, see smiles on faces, crops coming up, people with a good job and safe, and people in Lee County just plain enjoying life.”