Angela Connolly Polk County Supervisor Des Moines Iowa
Angela Connolly is a native Iowan, born to second-generation Italian immigrants. Her parents owned a small Italian restaurant, which was like a second home for Angela and her three brothers. The restaurant is where Angela learned the value of hard work. She attended Kansas University after high school to study liberal arts. She returned to Iowa to marry her husband Tom in 1974 and together they have three children and four grandchildren. Angela began her career in the Polk County Public Works Department as a Zoning Enforcement Officer where she was a dedicated employee for nearly 20 years. She was first elected as a Polk County Supervisor in 1998. Angela is one of three female Supervisors to be elected to the Polk County Board of Supervisors in more than 150 years. She represents the 2nd District which includes the northwestern area of the City of Des Moines, a portion of unincorporated Polk County as well as the suburb of West Des Moines.
Upon being elected to serve the residents of Polk County, Angela has dedicated her career to serving the most vulnerable families in our community. While she has been a key contributor to the growth and revitalization of our region and recognizes the importance of the many accolades and awards that our region receives, there are still members of our community who have been left behind and they are what will remain a priority for Angela.
Angela is dedicated to serving the most vulnerable residents in our community. Throughout her career she has come to understand that our community is only as strong as our weakest link. She has a voice that is heard throughout our community and is always willing to tackle the difficult issues head on. Angela has dedicated her career to improving access to affordable housing, transportation, services for those with mental and physical disabilities and refugees.
In 2014 the Board of Supervisors created the Partnership for Hunger Free Polk County. The goal of this initiative is to raise up to $10 million to expand the safety net network of food pantries, community meal sites and meal delivery programs. To date over $5.1 million has been raised, over 250 hours of access per week have been added to the food pantry system, a mobile pantry is visiting nine neighborhoods in Polk County, and two new pantries have been opened. It has helped thousands of people who were previously not accessing help. Angela has been a leader in commissioning local research on the issue, increasing awareness and in advocating for enhanced data collection and sharing. Her goal is to convene partners who will create strategies to address the root causes of hunger - difficult issues such as employment, wages, benefits, affordable housing and transportation.
In an effort the improve the lives of up to 25,000 Polk County residents the Polk County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance in October of 2016 that would raise the minimum wage in Polk County from $7.25 to $10.75 over the course of three years. Angela voted "yes" for this ordinance and spoke out in support of raising the minimum wage when the Iowa State Legislature introduced and ultimately passed a bill that pre-empts the ability of counties and cities to adopt their own ordinance.
Central Iowa Shelter & Services provides shelter for over 300 individuals experiencing homelessness. The Board of Supervisors provided funding in 2012 to expand the number of beds available. Angela has also helped by providing funding that was used to hire security staff in order to provide an evening health clinic at the shelter and helped create a centralized intake system that helps house individuals faster and prioritizes those at highest risk.
Community engagement has always been a priority for Angela and she enjoys participating regularly in neighborhood organizations and civic activities. She visits her neighborhoods and community centers multiple times each year and speaks with her constituents daily. Leaders throughout the metro area respect and value Angela's opinion and she is often one of the first who is called on to participate in new initiatives or partnerships.
Our region is experiencing unprecedented growth, in large part because of the vision and strategic investments of leaders such as Angela. She works closely with business leaders, the city governments that lie in Polk County, the Greater Des Moines Partnership and others to support economic development that is sustainably and beneficial to all residents. Some examples of impactful projects that Angela has been involved with include:
- Prairie Meadows. Polk County owns the land that Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino operates on. As part of the lease negotiations that Angela continuously participates in, Prairie Meadows pays Polk County a portion of their gaming revenues. Those funds are invested back into Polk County communities through development and betterment grant awards.
- The Iowa Events Center. In 1996 Polk County took over operation of Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the Convention Complex from the City of Des Moines. When Angela was elected as a member of the Polk County Board of Supervisors she advocated for a plan to build Wells Fargo Arena. With the enormous recent success of the Iowa Events Center, it's hard to imagine that before the Arena was constructed it was a contentious issue but some segments of the population in Polk County did not support this development. Angela had a vision for the Iowa Events Center and fought for this project amidst intense public scrutiny. In 2002 construction of Wells Fargo Arena began, followed by the completion of Hy-Vee Hall in 2004. Angela recognized almost immediately the need for a professional management vendor and advocated for the hiring of Spectra. Under their management Polk County has seen consistent growth in revenue, including record breaking profits of over $1.9 million each for the last two years returned to Polk County. They have been successful in bringing millions of people to the region since opening and the economic impact has been immeasurable and is undoubtedly one of the main contributing factors in the revitalization of Downtown Des Moines.
- Hilton Hotel and the Iowa Events Center. Since the opening of the Iowa Events Center it has been a long-time dream of the community to build an attached convention hotel. It has been estimated that an attached convention hotel would attract an additional three million visitors to the State of Iowa and increase economic activity in the region by $35 million in the first year of operation. It was this research that convinced Angela to put her support behind the construction of the Hilton Hotel that opened in the spring of 2018.
- Courts Referendum. In November 2013 67% of Polk County voters approved an $81M bond referendum to renovate the existing courthouse and expand the courts services to the former county jail and former Wellmark building. Angela was an advocate for this project because the renovation of three downtown buildings is contributing to the revitalization and economic development of Walnut Street and provides a safe and easy to navigate campus of court services.
- Valley Junction Master Plan. This neighborhood has been an anchor for the West Des Moines community and in recent years has experienced a revitalization in business development and community activity. Angela has supported this economic development by providing community development and betterment grants and working closely with city officials and neighborhood leaders to create the Valley Junction Master Plan.
- In the last three years Angela has supported the communities she represents and the causes that she believes in with over $1.2 million in grant funding.
Polk County has a yearly budget over $260 million. Since taking office in 1998 her leadership has helped Polk County operate a balanced budget every year. Polk County had a AA+ bond rating when Angela took office and has had a AAA rating (the best possible rating) every year since 2007. Angela recognizes the importance of conservative spending and balances that with the need for making smart investments to better our community and to serve our most vulnerable families.
Health and wellness has been a priority throughout Angela's career. Recently she implemented a health and wellness program for Polk County employees. Healthy employees can not only help keep health care costs down but it contributes to a higher quality of life. Since implementing the program in 2015, 493 employees have completed a biometric screening and survey to help them learn about their health risks and actions they can take to improve those risks, 223 have joined the YMCA through a discounted membership partnership that Angela negotiated, and 72 employees participating in a weight loss program have lost a collective 650 pounds.
Polk County is responsible for maintaining over 700 miles of paved and gravel secondary roads that are critical in connecting our rural communities to the urban areas of our community. Angela has supported Polk County's Public Works Department in maintaining these roads and in completing large projects such as the Kempton Bridge and the Beaver Ave bridge over I-80/35. While these projects are a necessary component of Polk County's infrastructure Angela has also supported streetscape projects such as the Roosevelt Cultural District and the Beaverdale neighborhood. Through her work on the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning she has helped implement "complete streets" projects in many Polk County communities. These projects are important because they improve safety for traffic, pedestrians and bikers and they encourage walkability which improves opportunities for retailers.
Mental health has been a priority for Angela for much of her life. She has first hand experience in helping loved ones deal with mental health issues and has advocated for improvements in the mental health service delivery field. Recent accomplishments include:
- Crisis Observation Center. In July of 2014 Angela led the effort to open a Crisis Observation Center in Des Moines. Far too often, people who are in mental health crisis end up in the jail or the emergency room where they may not get the most appropriate treatment. The Crisis Observation Center is a place that is open 24/7 and available for walk-ins or for police to take individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis. Since opening, it has served 2,342 individuals and saved over $5 million in emergency room, hospital admissions and jail costs.
- Mobile Crisis Unit. Angela was an early and vocal supporter of the Mobile Crisis Unit that is housed at the Des Moines Police Department. In situations where the police are called to a possible mental health issues, the Mobile Crisis Unit will accompany the officer to provide treatment in the field. Since 2013 they have responded to 7,133 calls. Of those, 3,013 were successfully treated in the field, avoiding nearly $14 million if they would have been taken to the jail, over $3 million if they would have been taken to the emergency room and over $12 million if they would have been admitted to the hospital. Additionally, of the calls responded to 1,811 were taken to the hospital rather than the jail where they were able to receive appropriate treatment.
- Angela participated in a task force to reduce suicide attempts in the Polk County jail by making small changes in the intake process that will better identify individuals with a history of mental health issues. She has also helped accomplish this goal by enhancing training for law enforcement and first responders to better recognize mental health issues and provide alternative treatment options.
- Polk County has been recognized by the White House as a leader in mental health service delivery and is participating in their Data Driven Justice Initiative.
- Angela was part of the team that successfully implemented one of the only certified substance abuse treatment programs in the country that operates in a jail facility. Bridges of Iowa began providing in-patient substance abuse treatment in 2013 at the Polk County jail to inmates who were released from custody.
During Angela's time on the Polk County Board of Supervisors she has made public safety a priority and engaged with local leaders to collaborate on numerous public safety projects.
- One recent project was a new weapons permitting system that Angela initiated with the Polk County Sheriff. The new weapons permit status check system allows gun dealers and private citizens the opportunity to check the validity of an individual's Polk County Permit to Carry or Purchase. Current state law allows for permits issued by County Sheriff Offices to be good for up to five years and once a gun owner has that permit the dealer no longer is required to do a federal check. There was also no online system for checking if a permit had been revoked, which meant that as long as a person still physically had their permit, they could buy a gun even if it had been revoked. The new online system is one common sense step to ensuring that people who have revoked permits are not able to purchase weapons.
- Angela also worked with private and public partners to fund increased security on Court Avenue in response to a series of late night violent incidences. Polk County provided funding that resulted in increased police presence on weekend nights, improved lighting, security camera installation and participation from local businesses in enhanced security measures. The initiative has successfully curbed violent incidences on Court Avenue.
- Finally, Angela has been a strong supporter of the Polk County jail by funding substance abuse treatment programs, pre-trial release programs and appropriate staff levels. This has resulted in the Polk County Sheriff's Office receiving 100% compliance with two different accreditation agencies. The accreditation process included interviews with inmates and staff, who provided overwhelmingly positive feedback on their experiences in the Polk County jail. This is a difficult environment to manage and Polk County has achieved rare success and recognition for best practices.
Angela is committed to bettering the neighborhoods that she represents. She makes multiple visits every year to each neighborhood and senior center and works regularly to improve the safety and beautification of those neighborhoods. For example, she supported streetscape improvements in Beaverdale and the Roosevelt Cultural District and is working with several community partners on addressing indoor health hazards that often lead to expensive hospital visits. She has also provided funding to build walking trails at Moore Elementary and Hubbell Elementary to promote physical health among students and the community.
Under Angela's leadership, Polk County built a new Community Center in West Des Moines's Valley Junction neighborhood. It is a place where seniors can get a hot lunch, socialize with their peers and engage in healthy activities. Community members also enjoy using it for evening and weekend events.
In all of the work that Angela has done to help reduce poverty in our community and to enhance economic development, transportation has been a recurring theme. A robust transportation system is beneficial in not only creating a thriving downtown and business community but it an essential connector for our most vulnerable residents. While Polk County has seen success through the Des Moines Regional Transit Authority (DART), the region has been slow to truly embrace a robust transit system. Angela's vision for public transit in the metro is one in which public transportation is available in all communities and is supported by residents and businesses alike. She has been an advocate of an effort to restructure the governance of DART to include more participation from suburban communities and remains hopeful that this will be the first of many steps towards creating a more complete public transit system. Angela was also a leader in relocated DART's Central Station to Cherry Street in order to improve access for riders and to open up Walnut Street for redevelopment.
While the event name and venues have changed through the years, the festival mission remains unwavering — to educate, inspire and engage audiences toward a heightened appreciation of visual and other forms of art and to enhance our sense of pride in the Des Moines community. The Des Moines Arts Festival® features the nation’s top professional artists and emerging Iowa artists in a juried exhibition of artwork in a variety of mediums. Providing guests with the unique opportunity to meet artists from around the world and purchase their artwork, the Festival has become a signature event for the community. More than two million domestic and international visitors have attended the Festival through the years. In 2017 the Festival will celebrate their 20th anniversary on June 23-25 in the Western Gateway Park. Angela joined the Art Festival Board of Directors in 2016 because she appreciates the important role that the arts play in creating a well rounded and diverse community.
As one of the first members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in 2008 Angela has worked with partners in the jail, the courts, the department of corrections, the County Attorney’s office, and others to find creative solutions to keep individuals with mental health or substance abuse disorders out of jail and in appropriate treatment. In 2012 she helped negotiate a contract with Bridges of Iowa to provide substance abuse treatment in an unused wing of the Polk County jail, which is the only certified substance abuse program operating in a jail in the country. In recent years she has pushed for criminal justice reform by working to bring a scientifically validated risk assessment tool created at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation that aims to get more low risk offenders out of jail as they await trial. She has also worked with the Sheriff to improve the process of screening inmate for mental health issues in order to get them into appropriate treatment.
Angela understands the important role that public transportation plays in creating an economically robust and diverse community. She has served on the Board of Commissioners of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority for 13 years and is truly committed to their mission of enriching lives, connecting communities, and expanding opportunities.
The Greater Des Moines Visitors & Convention Bureau has been one of the engines behind the growth of our region. They are dedicated to enhancing the quality life of metro residents and travelers alike. Angela has served on their Board for 18 years and is currently a member of the Executive Committee. She has been a valuable member of planning committees that have helped bring enormous events such as the NCAA Men's Division 1 Championship 1st and 2nd round games to Polk County. These events have been important contributors to the economic growth that our region has seen. The CVB has also been a valuable partner to Polk County and the City of Des Moines during the construction of the Hilton convention hotel at the Iowa Events Center, booking over $1.6 million in future business when the hotel opens in the spring of 2018.
Angela works daily to improve the lives of Polk County’s most vulnerable residents. She has served on the Board of Polk County Health Services since 1999. Polk County Health Services annually serves approximately 9,000 Central Iowans with mental illness, intellectual or other developmental disabilities. The Polk County Board of Supervisors created Polk County Health Services in 1976 to develop and oversee a local network of services and support for people who have disabilities. Today, PCHS remains a private, nonprofit organization, governed by a community board that is committed to offering effective and responsive local services.
The Homeless Coordinating Council (HCC) was established in 2010 by Polk County and the City of Des Moines to work on a long-term strategy to address homelessness in our community and make the best use of available resources. As a permanent member of the Council, Angela has helped ensure that implementation occurs in a manner that is coordinated and effective by the many agencies and organizations involved in providing services to the homeless. One of the great successes of the HCC that was championed by Angela and other members, was the creation of a Centralized Intake system that shows shelter availability in real time, serves as a single entry point to the network of providers, and prioritizes shelter access for the highest risk individuals and families. It has been effective at diverting families from homelessness and encouraging better coordination among providers.
The Polk County Housing Trust Fund is the comprehensive planning, advocacy and funding organization for Affordable Housing in Polk County Iowa. Focused around these three core activities, the Housing Trust Fund is responsible for crafting the community strategic plan for affordable housing and leading its implementation. It is also tasked with helping the community understand the need for and benefits of adequate affordable housing. Finally, the organization is responsible for allocating community funds aimed at increasing and preserving the inventory of affordable units in the County and improving the lives of the people who live in them. Serving on their Board since 2000 Angela has been effective at brining local leaders together to improve the coordination of affordable housing across the region.
Mainframe Studios is a non-profit whose mission is to provide permanent affordable workspace to artists of all disciplines. They hope to transform Central Iowa’s art scene by creating a financially self-sustaining economic and cultural driver, serving as a national model for art incubators.
The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is a regional transportation planning entity comprised of local communities and transportation agencies in the Des Moines, Iowa, metropolitan region. They provide a regional forum to ensure coordination between the public and local, state, and federal agencies in regards to planning issues and to prepare transportation plans and programs. The Des Moines Area MPO develops both long- and short-range multimodal transportation plans, selects and approves projects for federal funding based upon regional priorities, and develops methods to reduce traffic congestion. As a member of the MPO Executive Committee Angela has advocated for transportation plans that enhance the walkability and bikeability of our community.
Rebuilding Together is the leading volunteer organization that, in partnership with the community, rehabilitates the homes of low-income homeowners, particularly the elderly, disabled, and families with dependent children. Angela has served on their Board of Directors since 2009 and served as Chair in 2016 and 2017.
In August of 2016 Angela was inducted to the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame because of her advocacy and support of women in leadership positions, joining the ranks of 164 other Iowa women who have make a lasting impact on our community. The nomination for this honor was submitted by Henny Ohr, Executive Director for EMBARC, because of the leadership Angela has shown in welcoming refugees to our community. Ms. Ohr stated that “because of Angela’s unwavering support of the refugees and immigrants in our community, we are able to provide much needed resources to help them better settle into their new homes.” This is one of the greatest honors of Angela's career and she is thankful for the mentorship of the numerous women who have played important roles in her life, including her mother and grandmother. She hopes to serve as a role model for young women in our region, as well as her daughter and granddaughters, in encouraging them to pursue careers in leadership and be advocates for what they believe in.
Angela was nominated in 2016 by the Des Moines Metropolitan Planning Organization for the National Association of Regional Councils Tom Bradley Leadership Award because of her leadership on important regional strategic planning initiatives such as the Tomorrow Plan, Capital Crossroads and DART Forward.
The Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) named Angela as a 2015 recipient of the national Award for Outstanding Elected Official Leadership, recognizing her leadership roles in The Tomorrow Plan, Capital Crossroads and DART Forward 2035. The award was announced at the 2015 AMPO Annual Conference in Las Vegas. “This is an incredible honor and certainly one I never anticipated,” Angela said. “There are hundreds of people who have committed their creativity, passion and hard work to develop these plans – and then put them into action, improving the lives of tens of thousands of residents. I would like to express my gratitude for all of their service to the community.”
In 2015 Angela was awarded the Primary Leaders in Health Award from Primary HealthCare because of her dedication to improving health in the community and serving those less fortunate. She participates on the Homeless Coordinating Council, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the Health Services Board of Directors, Polk County Housing Trust Fund and Rebuilding Together. She has been instrumental in improving access to services for the homeless and pushing for improved services for mental health and substance abuse issues.
Angela has been a long standing advocate for the homeless and in 2014 she was recognized at the Central Iowa Shelter & Services annual dinner with their “Heroes for the Homeless” award. This award recognizes individuals, leaders and businesses that have significantly contributed time and/or financial support to reducing homelessness in Des Moines. Central Iowa Shelter & Services works with partners, such as Supervisor Connolly, to serve about 2,000 homeless individuals in Des Moines by providing not only food and shelter but access to health care, education and services to help restore their dignity.