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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

May 1, 2017

Des Moines Register. April 25, 2017

Budget crisis? Not at the Iowa Utilities Board

If you really want to know what your elected leaders’ priorities are for Iowa, ignore the self-serving campaign literature and speeches and look instead at where the state chooses to spend its money.

The Iowa Legislature just went through the difficult process of slashing the 2017 and 2018 budgets and eliminating a number of valuable programs and initiatives that will have a direct impact on families across the state.

That’s worth remembering when considering plans by the Iowa Utilities Board to spend nearly $500,000 remodeling the interior of the newest state office building in Des Moines. According to the Associated Press, the board is moving ahead with plans to demolish and reconstruct much of the customer-service area in the building.

Planning documents obtained by AP call for new conference rooms; glass walls; new doors, ceilings and woodwork; and a 75-inch television. An information kiosk is to be demolished and replaced with a customer greeting desk.

The project, budgeted at $464,000, will be paid for using $330,000 left over from the 2016 budget year, and a $250,000 appropriation that was approved last year by the Legislature. The board has so far spent $91,000 on design and bid documents. Construction contracts are to be awarded next month, with work scheduled to begin in July.

Board spokesman Don Tormey told AP the project will give the public more space to meet privately with the staff or to sit and review files or consumer-oriented brochures. The 75-inch television will replace a projector that’s now used for presentations in the conference room, he said.

Given that the utilities board building is six years old, and given the scope of the planned renovations, a project of this kind would be questionable even if the state was flush with cash. But as every Iowan knows, the state is in a very difficult financial situation.

Lawmakers just approved cost-cutting legislation that, if signed by the governor, would force the closing of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. It imposed cuts that will reduce court services for Iowans throughout the state. It scrapped a plan to help third-graders improve their reading proficiency and replaced it with nothing whatsoever. It cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the budgets of the agencies charged with protecting seniors in nursing homes and assisting children who have been subjected to abuse and neglect.

Lawmakers also voted to cut $1.4 million from crime-victim-assistance grants, and approved a budget that increases funding for public schools by just 1.1 percent, although an increase of at least 3 percent was needed just so the schools could maintain their current level of service.

In that context, the board’s remodeling project is not only extravagant, but wasteful.

The board needs more than just decent surroundings in which to conduct business, but an office that is welcoming to the public and projects professionalism. And it’s important that lawmakers provide funding for basic building maintenance and upkeep, if only to keep those costs from spiraling out of control.

That said, this particular renovation, at this particular time, is wholly unnecessary. The $464,000 it’s expected to cost taxpayers is money that would have been better spent in any number of areas.

The newly renovated office will almost certainly end up looking beautiful, but it will also stand as a testament to the misplaced priorities of Iowa’s leaders.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. April 28, 2017

Grassley shows how Congress should function

Study finds Iowa’s senior U.S. senator ranks very high in bipartisanship

Iowa’s senior U.S. senator helps counter by the example he sets the disillusionment so many Americans express about Congress. He works collaboratively with other senators — both Democrats and Republicans.

A study just released by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy illustrates Grassley’s exemplary commitment to bipartisanship. The researchers evaluated how often members of the Senate work across party lines as evidenced by bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship. It based its conclusions on data drawn from the 114th Congress (2015-2016).

Grassley ranked No. 5 out of the 100 U.S. senators in terms of documented bipartisan behavior.

“Many Americans might be surprised to learn that real bipartisanship exists these days in Washington,” Grassley said in a statement reacting to the study’s conclusions. “I hope my work for Iowans serves as an example that working together is not only possible, but also should be expected of elected officials. Just this Congress, there’s been bipartisan legislation involving veterans’ access to health care, prescription drug costs and combating sexual assault on campus. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find common ground to address the problems facing the nation.”

In the 114th Congress, the Judiciary Committee, which Grassley now chairs, reported 30 bills out of the committee, 24 of which were passed by the full Senate and 17 of which became law. All were bipartisan.

That’s an impressive record that deserves strong praise.

Grassley’s exemplary performance reminds us that good government requires collaboration and cooperation in the public interest. Unfortunately, too few federal officeholders seem to be committed to that approach.

The Messenger applauds Grassley’s record. Iowans should be proud that they have sent to Washington a senator who is dedicated to the highest standards of public service. We hope that other officials at all levels of government will take note of Grassley’s performance and be inspired to put the public interest ahead of partisanship.

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Quad City Times. April 28, 2017

Special election is best option for 3rd Ward

Davenport City Council is rightly marching toward a special election to fill the vacant 3rd Ward seat.

Options are limited. And there’s no reason to delay things for any longer than necessary.

The seat was vacated this month when Bill Boom pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury, a felony, in federal court. City Council could appoint someone to finish the rest of 2017.

But, in so doing, the council runs the risk of accusations of tilting November’s election. Any appointee, in effect, might enjoy the Election Day benefits of incumbency, while, in fact, being an unelected member.

There’s always the placeholder option that’s been kicked around. Under this scenario, the council appoints a member who pledges to not seek the job in November’s general election. At least one former official has expressed a willingness to serve within such a capacity.

Cheap, efficient and, most importantly, fair, the placeholder approach has merit for residents of the 3rd Ward and taxpayers at large.

But, it’s election law that will likely force the council’s hand. A petition with just 96 signatures can force an election in the 3rd Ward. Scott County Auditor Roxana Moritz said that multiple petitions are circulating already. Getting the required number of signatures should be a breeze for those doing the leg work.

So, Davenport City Council has limited options. It can appoint and be overruled by a petition, which would do little but rile voters and unnecessarily delay the process. Or it can vote Wednesday for the special election and get this whole thing rolling.

Mind you, this won’t be cheap. The extremely high probability of the process actually resulting in two elections — a primary and a general — only bolsters the likely expense.

That’s the process, though. Democracy is, by design, clunky, slow and expensive.

Earlier this week, City Council members indicated their preference for a special election. All available facts show it to be the correct course.

There’s no reason to appoint, if a petition is bound to overrule the council. There’s no reason to delay the entire process for weeks.

Bill Boom’s legal troubles left a stain on the City Council. And they’ve left the 3rd Ward without representation. Meanwhile, a short-handed City Council is grappling with important issues, including riverfront development and restructuring its regulatory boards, places where Boom’s voice was often the loudest.

There’s clearly significant interest in the job. And the people of the 3rd Ward should have representation as soon as possible. It might come only after a primary that winnows the field and then a special election to choose the victor.

But that’s better than a summer filled with unnecessary angst, petitions and accusations of favoritism in the lead up to November.

Davenport City Council this week looked keenly aware of the pitfalls should it choose any option other than a special election. Now it must act accordingly on Wednesday and approve a special election.

Third Ward residents deserve that much.

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Sioux City Journal. April 27, 2017

School board review should be external

In an April 16 editorial, we urged the Sioux City Board of Education to appoint an individual or group of individuals from outside the district to undertake an independent examination of concerns raised by John Chalstrom, the district’s former chief financial officer, because we do not believe the board itself is independent enough.

Not only do we urge the board again today to take this step, but we offer the name of one respected local citizen who we believe possesses all the proper tools necessary to undertake an unbiased, thorough and professional examination of the Chalstrom charges for the school board and public and who we believe is willing to take on the task if asked.

He is Brian Miller, the retired commander of the 185th Air Refueling Wing.

As a result of reporting by The Journal, here is what the public knows about the Chalstrom matter so far: On Feb. 13, Chalstrom was placed on administrative leave, with pay, by the district. Two days before he was placed on administrative leave, Chalstrom shared with school board members, through a third-party intermediary, a list of allegations about Superintendent Paul Gausman. Allegations, as reported by The Journal on April 9, included the following: Gausman created a hostile work environment and Gausman threatened to terminate Chalstrom if he presented alternative budget proposals to school board members outside regular board meetings. On April 10, the Board of Education approved an agreement to end Chalstrom’s tenure.

As we have said before in this space, we believe the public deserves to know to what level, if at all, Chalstrom’s charges have merit.

Board of Education President Mike Krysl told a Journal reporter on Thursday an internal investigation of the Chalstrom charges is under way. We are encouraged by the fact an investigation will proceed.

However, we continue to believe the public will be best-served if a full review is conducted by an individual or individuals from outside the local public school system, not from within.

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