‘Harm’ of transgender issues heats up at Board meetings

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 4/2/24


During a week when the Transgender Day of Visibility was recognized nationally, the subject itself turned into a heated controversy at a couple of Johnson County Board of Supervisors …

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‘Harm’ of transgender issues heats up at Board meetings



During a week when the Transgender Day of Visibility was recognized nationally, the subject itself turned into a heated controversy at a couple of Johnson County Board of Supervisors meetings last week.

Supervisor V Fixmer-Oraiz, who identifies as a transgender, and Supervisor Chair Rod Sullivan were unanimously approved during the Board’s March 28 formal session to lead an advisory committee examining transgender issues in the county.

But that action came one day after Supervisor Royceann Porter objected to the creation of a committee focused only on the transgender community during a Board work session, which, in turn, produced an hour-long formal session March 27 featuring members of the LGBTQ public verbally attacking Porter as she retired to her office to participate in the meeting via an online connection instead of in person.

“I think that it is absolutely imperative that we recognize that direct harm is happening,” Fixmer-Oraiz said of the transgender community. “I guess I want to make sure that we as a board is not questioning whether harm is happening, but, in fact, fully investigating how we can … address that harm and reduce those barriers.”

Porter, who is the first Black to serve on the Board, raised other issues.

“I have to talk about the Black people that are marginalized in my community,” Porter said. “Why is it you are making this only … all this is about transgender people only. One subgroup. This, to me, this is not right. Black people in our community go through the same things.”

Fixmer-Oraiz said the focus on transgender was meant to be “in addition” to other issues facing county residents. They had the original support of Sullivan and Supervisor Jon Green.

“What I’m thinking now is inclusivity, all of Johnson County,” Porter said. “It has nothing to do with one set of people, transgender. It’s inclusivity, diversity, equity. Y’all talk about that all the time, but you don’t really understand what it means. There’s no way. There’s no way.”

“You know I’m going to say what I get to say,” Porter added. “But this is bullshit. You can call it what you want to call it and you can say what you want and you can call it subcommittees and putting committees together, but this has nothing to do with us.”

What followed were passionate, sometimes tearful, responses hours later during the public comment section of a formal session which was actually created for a public hearing of the Johnson County Fiscal Year 2025 property tax levy.

One day later, Thursday, the creation of a working committee examining transgender issues received yes votes from all supervisors, including Porter.

“We heard you,” Supervisor Lisa Green-Douglass said. “There will be a lot of learning.”

Porter said she would work with legislators to stop discriminatory law-making and spoke about the subject during the March 28 session.

“I would like to stop the attacks that’s on Royceann. It’s always Royceann. I got work to do,” Porter said. “Royceann is for what’s right. I never say it that I wasn’t for transgender. I have been out there. I’ve been in the market.

“I’ve been in your spot. I’ve been there. … For us, nobody did anything. But guess what? I’m going to do the work for you. I promise you. I’m going to get out there and I’m going to do it.”

Tax asking: $65M

Johnson County’s tax asking for FY25, which begins July 1, is $65.1 million, an increase of more than 10% from the current fiscal year.

Dana Aschenbrenner, Finance Director, told the Board that the property tax levy rate for general services is estimated for an increase of 6.1%, but the levy rate for rural services will go down 2% despite tax askings going up 2.5% to $7.25 million.

The rural levy rate is expected to be 3.61169. The levy rate for general services will be 6.43080.

Aschenbrenner said the reasons for the increase in tax askings including 19 new county staff positions, salary and benefit increases, county land and building improvements, and construction projects.

Housing Project

Lynette Jacoby, Social Services Director, gave the Board details for a proposed housing pilot project at its March 27 work session. The project, which will be financed by $220,000 in funds already budgeted for FY25, would benefit between 10 and 15 families, Jacoby said.

Informational meetings are scheduled to begin April 10 with a tentative application deadline of May 9. The project would begin July 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.

The project is being set up as three-year pilot program.

Affordable housing continues to be a sticky problem. County statistics show that 11% of families in Johnson County earn less than $15,000 annually. More than 450 students in the Iowa City Community School District experienced homelessness in the 2022-23 school year.

Supervisor Travel

Supervisors Jon Green and Lisa Green-Douglass were among those willing to give up remaining travel expenses for FY24 to make up for the overage in travel spending by Supervisor Royceann Porter.

With two national conferences still to come, Porter may hit $9,000 in overages before the fiscal year finishes in June. The other four supervisors are under budget in FY24 travel expenses.

“I have represented Johnson County very well,” said Porter, who has attended professional conferences nationwide and has served on boards. “I’m not just spending taxpayer dollars.”

Finance Director Dana Aschenbrenner said the funds are not a concern because expenditures are running $180,000 under budget.

“I don’t know,” Sullivan said. “I just think this is kind of out of control and needs to be reigned in. I’m not sure what the appropriate way to reign it in is.”

Board Action

The Board set public hearings for 5:30 p.m. April 17 for the FY25 budget estimate and 2024 general obligation loan agreements.

The Board set the monthly evening session and public hearings for zoning and platting applications, for 5:30 p.m. April 11.

The Board approved the county’s suggested minimum wage for workers be raised to $12.64 per hour, beginning July 1. Iowa’s statewide minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and has not been raised in eight years. The county rate is unenforceable.

The Board approved, by a 4-1 vote, a number of reserve deputy sheriff appointments. Supervisor V Fixmer-Oraiz opposed.

The Board approved the Secondary Roads budget for FY25.

Next meeting: The Board’s next formal session is at 9 a.m. April 4.

Johnson County, Board of Supervisors, Royceann Porter, V Fixmer-Oraiz, transgender