Janelle Rettig resigns from Johnson County Board of Supervisors

Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig speaks during a rally on the Pentacrest to show support for sexual assault survivors and stand against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Janelle Rettig announced in a Facebook post on Sunday that she had “just resigned as Johnson County Supervisor.” Rettig had served as a supervisor since 2009.

“I’ve known I wouldn’t be running for re-election for years, but with a lot of thought and discussion over the last year, I decided it was best to move on as soon as the COVID disaster was concluding,” Rettig wrote. “While the overall pandemic is certainly not over, the local Emergency Operations Center concluded last week [that] If people stay vigilant and get vaccinated, we can quickly regain some normalcy.”

Rettig’s decision came as a surprise to other supervisors.

“We hadn’t had any conversation about it,” Pat Heiden, chair of the Board of Supervisors, told the Press-Citizen.

In addition to feeling it was an appropriate time to step down, Rettig cited ongoing health problems as a reason for her decision.

“As you may know, for a long time I have had headaches and aches originally caused by Lyme disease. It’s time to try to focus on reducing stress and pain,” she wrote in her post on Sunday.

Janelle Rettig grew up in rural western Iowa, not far from the Mississippi River. She attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, earning degrees in political science and education. After working as a teacher and coach, Rettig joined the staff of an Illinois state legislator and worked for Rep. Jim Leach, the Republican who represented the Iowa City area from 1977 to 2007.

Rettig has lived in Johnson County since 1989, and after working for Leach, she owned retail business Alternatives and later worked as a consultant. She was active in the community and in local Democratic politics.

Before declaring her candidacy for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in June 2009, Rettig had already served on the Iowa City Airport Commission, the County Compensation Board, the County Trails Committee and the State Natural Resources Commission. In 1997 she received the Stonewall Human Rights Award. Rettig and her wife Robin Butler — the couple married in Canada in 2003 — were awarded the Rick Graf Award by Iowa City in 2007. The award recognizes the long-term commitment of the recipients to rights of others.

Janelle Rettig — official photo

“I have been working on issues for several decades from the outside, and although I’ve had success at that and although I feel my views have been listened to, the county board has a stronger influence on issues I care about,” Rettig said when she announced her run for the board in June 2009. “It’s time for me to work from the inside.”

Three months after Rettig launched her campaign, Supervisor Larry Meyer died. Meyer’s term would have ended in December 2010, and the three county officials — the auditor, the recorder and the treasurer — were tasked with determining whether to fill a board vacancy through an appointment or by holding a special election. They decided to fill the vacancy through an appointment. Rettig was one of 11 people to apply for the opening.

Following a review and interview process, Rettig was selected by a vote of 2-1. There were objections to the selection, and a group led by a Solon resident gathered enough signatures on a petition to force a special election for the seat in January 2010. Rettig won the special election, and won her first full term later that year in the general election. She was reelected in 2014 and 2018. In her most recent election win, Rettig received 57 percent of the vote.


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“A lot has changed in Johnson County Government in the past 11 years,” Rettig said in her post on Sunday. “There are so many things I’m proud to have been a part in, but here is a short list:

– Saving the historic Sutliff Bridge
– Raising minimum wage
– Increasing trails and paved shoulders
– A County finance department and strong financial policies
– Investments in reducing poverty and hunger and for affordable housing
– Investments in infrastructure and planning
– Community ID and being welcoming to all

Rettig said she “will be cheering Johnson County and our great cities on for the island of hope they are in an ever concerning and extremist Iowa.”

“Robin and I aren’t leaving Johnson County, but we plan on a lot more time for reading, riding bicycles and motorcycles and when it is safer poker,” she said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar talks with Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig following a mental health roundtable at the Iowa City Public Library. Saturday, May 4, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The last vacancy to occur on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors happened in October 2018, when Supervisor Kurt Friese died. In that case, Auditor Travis Weipert and Recorder Kim Painter voted to hold a special election to fill the seat, because there were still two years left before that seat would normally be up for election, and they felt that was too long to have an appointed supervisor serve. Treasurer Tom Kriz voted for an appointment, because the county was in the middle of the budget process and Kriz said he was concerned a newly elected supervisor might have difficulty joining the process.

The special election was held in December 2018, and Royceann Porter won.

It will now be up to Weipert, Painter and Kriz to determine whether to fill the 19-and-a-half months left on Rettig’s term through an appointment or a special election.

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