Sullivan cites need for fresh ideas, varied experience in county government

Thursday, July 24, 2008 | 10:35 p.m. CDT
Boone County Southern District Commissioner candidate, Sid Sullivan, meets with supporters at a campaign event at Orr Street Studio.

 COLUMBIA - Sid Sullivan sits in a red armless chair inside the Rocheport General Store on a recent morning. A French press and empty glasses and mugs sit on the red tabletop. He's sorting campaign pamphlets, "Sid Sullivan for Boone County Commission. Governments working together."

Across the table from Sullivan sits his wife, Joan Sullivan, sipping water and peppering the conversation with highlights of her husband's long resume. The pair is in Rocheport on this humid Saturday to meet with voters and canvass the area. They'd spent the early hours of the morning chatting with farmers in McBaine. Sullivan has been impressed with what he's heard from voters outside of Columbia. He takes their concerns and ideas to heart. After early morning meetings, Sullivan hits the pavement.

More on Sid Sullivan


The county commission is made up of the District I (Southern) Commissioner, District II (Northern) Commissioner and a presiding commissioner elected at-large. The commission is responsible for all matters of county business ­­- administrative and legislative, public works and criminal justice. The commission handles an annual budget of about $52.6 million for all county operations. Commissioners oversee planning and zoning issues, building codes and the Public Works, Human Resources, Purchasing and other county departments. Commissioners represent the county on committees, boards and other governmental entities. The Southern District commissioner's salary is $82,014.



2980 S. Maple Bluff Drive

PERSONAL: 65. Married to Joan Sullivan. They have two adult children.



OCCUPATION: Retired after 14 years with the pharmaceutical company Roche Diagnostics. Sullivan has also worked as a math teacher for the Illinois Department of Corrections, as a social worker in Cook County, Ill., and as an aide to former U.S. Sen. Jacob Javits, R-N.Y.

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in philosophy from Loyola University of Chicago, 1967; master's degree in sociology from the New School for Social Research, 1972; master of business administration in finance from DePaul University, 1988; took business courses at the University of Paris, Sorbonne.

BACKGROUND: Vice president of the Downtown Optimist Club, president of the Maple Bluff Homeowner's Association, previous editor of Perspectives Journal of the American Probation and Parole Association, past president of the Illinois Academy of Criminology (1982-83)


Related Media

The hot weather doesn't hold him back. The gray polo he wears is made of a microfiber that keeps the body cool. He rolls up a washcloth with ice cubes and wraps it around his neck to make him feel cooler. It works for about an hour, he said. During his afternoons of canvassing, Sullivan finds himself educating more often than campaigning.

"Most people in Columbia don't even know what the county does," he said.

Columbia residents often ask him what the county does for them. First, he explains that all Columbia residents are first residents of Boone County. Then he lists the responsibilities of county government that he hopes to take on as Boone County Southern District commissioner.

Sullivan's opponent is 16-year incumbent Karen Miller, also a Democrat. Because there is no Republican contender, the Aug. 5 primary election will decide the race.

The Southern District commissioner is one of three who oversee an annual county budget of about $50 million. The money is spent on buildings, roads, the county jail and court system, the offices of elected county officials, enforcement of health codes and other items. County government does much more than most people realize, Sullivan said.

"Planning, protecting the health and safety of citizens, flood plains, over-development, storm-water drainage - they sound boring and arcane, but they're critical issues in the county," he said.

Sullivan learned about many of these issues while talking with voters two years ago, when he ran for the 24th District seat in the Missouri House of Representatives. The decision was fueled by the General Assembly's 2005 Medicaid cuts. While going door to door, he kept hearing the same complaints. Scott Boulevard was dangerous. Development on the fringes of the city was encroaching on the county. Roads were inadequate.

Sullivan lost the election but hung on to what he had heard, learning about the concerns so he could inform voters in his campaign for county commissioner.

Sullivan isn't new to learning, or teaching for that matter. His first job out of Loyola University in 1967 was teaching math at Walsh Jesuit High School in Ohio. He had joined the Jesuit order a few years earlier. He wanted to be a missionary in the Catholic church.

Outside class, Sullivan took students into the city of Akron to renovate old houses. Work in the city led him toward work in the civil rights movement. He learned that several deeds in the area still had clauses that prevented owners from selling property to non-white buyers - four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. One of those homeowners was his eventual wife. The two worked with three others to get rid of the restrictions. They won - even after one member had his windows shot out and Joan received police protection.

A reassignment took him to New York City in 1969, where he studied and worked for Sen. Jacob Javitz, R-N.Y. After earning a master's degree in sociology, Sullivan asked for a taste of missionary work. He spent two months in Guatemala, teaching in a college prep school and visiting fifth-grade classes. Sullivan didn't speak much Spanish, but he connected with the students by folding Origami birds and frogs.

"They'd teach me words," he said. "It really was learning for me, and I got to know the kids."

Sullivan returned to the United States and moved back to Chicago. After 12 years with the Jesuits - three years short of becoming a priest - he had stepped away. Fresh from seminary, he got a somewhat rude awakening after taking a job as a caseworker assigned to women's court on Chicago's south side. He hasn't forgotten his first client. It'd be tough to do so.

"She walked in wearing a tiny pink skirt - called a whistler skirt - and threw her pink panties on the desk," he said. "She said, ‘It's too hot for these.'"

It was a shocking moment for a man who'd just spent a dozen years immersed in intense religious study. But Sullivan set the episode aside and worked hard to understand and get to know his client. In the end, he said, the experience was more than worthwhile. His career as a caseworker included work not only with the courts but also with the Illinois Department of Corrections, the Cook County Sheriff's Department, probation officers and state attorneys.

Later, Sullivan took a more administrative job with the corrections department, helping it bring prisons and jails into the 21st century. He developed specific plans for 60 prisons and jails and worked closely with wardens to make improvements on tight budgets.

He later returned to Chicago's social services, this time in administration. The city of Chicago was expanding social services to cover the entire county - increasing the area fivefold. He was working on the budget for the department but kept tabs on the legislation surrounding the change. Sometimes he reminded the judge writing the law of things he'd left out.

"I really got to know the criminal justice system from the ground up," he said.

Sullivan eventually made the jump from criminal justice to business with a job in the drug testing division of Fortune 100 company Roche Diagnostics in 1988. He retired in 2000 when the company changed hands and his wife was battling cancer.


At a June campaign event at Orr Street Studios, Joan Sullivan sets the food table with bowls of hummus and homemade dolmades.

"You have to try one," she says to friends who mingle nearby the table. She didn't know whether she and Sullivan were going to make it to the event. Earlier in the evening, she was cooking in the kitchen when Bert, one of the Sullivan's two dogs, suffered a minor seizure. Sullivan had come inside, and Bert got excited and jumped up.

Joan stopped cooking and asked her husband: "What do we do? What do we do?"

They dropped everything and took Bert to the vet. They calmed and stabilized 4-year-old Bert - a bright, affectionate German pointer-mix - before leaving for the event.

"Generally you have kids and dogs and cats - all are part of the same family," he said. "The kids are gone, so it's just us and the pets."

Joan is Sullivan's campaign manager. When she has an idea in the middle of the night, she just rolls over and nudges her husband. She said he's a good listener. Sullivan said she gives good advice.

"She has qualities I don't have," he said. "And I don't know if I have anything she doesn't have."

The two have been a team since they married in 1975. Sullivan managed Joan's campaigns for the Illinois House of Representatives in the 1990s. He was working at the time and even took some vacation days to help out. Now it's Joan's turn.

Sullivan and his wife moved to Columbia in 2000 after spending 28 years in Oak Park, Ill. Their daughter sent them an article touting the 50 best places to retire. Columbia made the list, and the Sullivans started looking into it. They liked Columbia's small size and the rural character of the county.

Joan read copies of the Columbia Daily Tribune and the Missourian. She contacted city and county offices for copies of their master plans. She had done some planning work for her brother in Wisconsin, where a comprehensive master plan is required by law.

Sullivan got involved with the Downtown Optimists Club. Development and planning issues were always on his mind, so he got involved with the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition. He was looking into road issues when the school district decided where to put the new high school.

"I saw all the road money being gobbled up," he said. "Either it was a $20 million tax increase or wait another 20 years on Scott Boulevard."

Sullivan doesn't stay silent. He writes editorials for the Missourian and the Columbia Business Times.

"I'm not running to start another career. I'm running to make a difference," he said. "If I make a difference with four years, then I've done my job."

His campaign manager is on the same page.

"If we lose, we'll go on trying to find ways to help the community grow," she said. "This isn't for Sid; this is for the people."


Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.