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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

September 24, 2018

Des Moines Register. September 20, 2018

Des Moines is wrong to hold a hostage bullied student (and her school funding)

A thistle to the Des Moines School District and the Iowa Board of Education for denying a transfer to a middle school student who was bullied. The family of the 12-year-old, identified in state documents as H.T., asked Des Moines to let her transfer to another district after being harassed and threatened by another student. She wanted to attend school in Saydel, which is near her home and where her friends attend.

Des Moines officials determined the bullying was not a persistent issue and said she could move to another school within the district, but not to another district. The family appealed to the state education board, but it backed Des Moines’ denial for a transfer. An administrative law judge told board members that if a student is given another option within a district, the state typically does not intercede on appeal.

The student doesn’t want to go to another Des Moines school.

H.T. was called names and harassed by a boy at Harding Middle School on a daily basis in fall 2017, according to state documents. Her mother talked to the school’s principal, who investigated and found “the harassment was so frequent and pervasive that the other student needed to be moved away from H.T.” That student was put on a new class schedule.

Though school authorities considered the matter resolved, H.T. continued to face threats of violence from other students in early 2018.

In May, several girls accused her of stealing a balloon from their teacher’s desk and threatened to “jump” her. The teacher told H.T. not to call her parents and instead resolve the issue in class, but she left the classroom crying and called her mom, state documents said.

Iowa’s open enrollment law is supposed to give students and families options. School districts have latitude to provide those options, which include allowing them to transfer out.

Yet Des Moines insists on effectively holding a student hostage — and the state per-pupil education funding that accompanies her. That is wrong. And it makes the state’s largest school district look bad.

Let the sun shine on Iowa universities

A rose to two retired University of Iowa professors for helping make future university presidential searches more transparent.

Retired professor Harold Hammond sued the university in 2015, claiming the search that ended in the hiring of UI President Bruce Harreld violated Iowa’s open meetings law. When Hammond died in 2016, another retired professor, John Menninger, refiled the case.

The case alleged the search committee members violated the state’s open meetings law by meeting outside of the state (in a Chicago suburb) and improperly closing meetings.

The University of Iowa settled the case last week, agreeing to pay $55,000 in legal fees for attorney Gregg Geerdes, who represented the retired professors. Unsurprisingly, the university did not admit any wrongdoing. It did, however, agree to abide by some sunshine policies during future presidential searches. For example, it agreed to online streaming of all open portions of committee meetings. It also agreed to give the public at least three business days’ notice for meetings unless it is “impossible.”

The university did not agree to hold future search committee meetings in Iowa, and it may still close portions of meetings if that expectation is stated on published agendas along with the reason secrecy is necessary.

A separate lawsuit over the 2015 search was dismissed by a judge but remains under appeal.

Hammond and Geerdes filed a similar lawsuit after Sally Mason was named UI president in 2007. In a settlement two years later, the search committee admitted to violating the open meetings law in four ways. Let’s hope the university learns its lesson this time. If it doesn’t, we’ll need more people like Hammond and Menninger to stand up for the public’s right to know.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. September 23, 2018.

Conservation efforts are succeeding

More farmers and others are participating in Iowa Water Quality Initiative.

Protecting and enhancing the quality of the Hawkeye State’s water resources is vitally important. That’s why the Iowa Water Quality Initiative was created in 2013. Among the goals is to help bring about a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen and phosphorus losses to Iowa’s waters.

The approach taken by this program is especially commendable. It puts a priority on backing undertakings that are genuine collaborations between public and private sector entities.

This month, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig announced that a record number of Iowa farmers have agreed to install nutrient reduction practices on their farms through the Iowa Water Quality Initiative’s statewide cost-share program.

According to information just released by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship “more than 2,800 farmers from all 99 Iowa counties signed up to try cover crops, no-till/strip-till or nitrification inhibitor on more than 300,000 acres.”

The state government’s share of that program’s cost is just a bit more $5 million. The participating Iowa farmers will be investing an estimated $9.1 million.

“We continue to see growing interest by farmers in using water quality-focused practices on their farm. Together, we are building a culture of conservation across the state and it is encouraging to see farmers continuing to invest in these practices,” Naig said. “This is one of several programs that are available to assist farmers as they work to protect water quality and build soil health.”

The success of the various components of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative are quite impressive. According to IDALS:

. Over the past five years, 8,000 farmers, including nearly 4,600 first time users, signed up to use a water quality-focused practice through the Water Quality Initiative.

. These farmers invested more than $17 million to try cover crops, no-till, strip-till or a nitrification inhibitor on their land.

The Messenger welcomes ongoing success of the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. We have supported this vital program since its inception. It deserves strong support from all Iowans.

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Sioux City Journal. September 20, 2018

Grassley embraces commitment to representative government

In our editorial endorsement of Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley for re-election in 2016, we said this: After more than 40 years in Congress (six years in the House and nearly 36 years in the Senate), Charles Grassley is today much the same public servant he was when he first arrived in Washington, D.C. He’s an honest man of integrity who reflects the priorities and values of Iowans and stays connected to the needs of his constituents.

Those words resonate for us today, two years later, in the wake of two Grassley accomplishments of note this summer.

— In July, Grassley marked 25 years of no missed Senate votes by casting his 8,169th consecutive vote (the streak remains alive today at 8,219). In January 2016, he set the record for longest length of time without missing a vote in the history of the Senate, breaking the old mark held by late Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire.

The last time Grassley missed a vote was in 1993 when he was back home in Iowa at a time when the state was ravaged by flooding.

In other words, Grassley is, each and every day, engaged in the process and decisions of our federal government in service of voters who provided him with the privilege of holding public office.

— Earlier this month, Grassley completed his 38th consecutive year of making an annual visit to each of Iowa’s 99 counties by holding an hour-long town meeting at the Clarke County Hospital in Osceola.

Essential to accountability, public meetings — in which officeholders meet with Americans (including those who disagree with them) face to face, listen to what they have to say and answer their questions — symbolize the tenets of representative government.

Not surprisingly in today’s heated political climate, emotions ran high at the town hall in Osceola, according to an Associated Press account in The Journal. In our view, it is precisely in times of discord and division like these when the need for interaction between government leaders and constituents is greatest. We give credit to Grassley for his continued commitment to public forums.

“I wake up every day wanting to work for Iowans,” Grassley told our editorial board during his re-election campaign of 2016.

As we said in our editorial endorsement two years ago, we believe working for Iowans is exactly what Grassley does, still.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. September 23, 2018

The harassment probe that nearly didn’t happen.

Almost anyone reading the investigative report on former Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison would clearly see the described behavior as offensive, creepy and wholly inappropriate for the workplace. In some cases, the harassment allegations rise to the level of assault.

Lewd, sophomoric “humor.” Heavy drinking at work-related events. Showing pornographic videos on a phone to an employee while she drove them to a conference. Touching the employee’s breasts. Asking employees overtly sexual questions.

In addition, this telling investigation depicts a state department clearly wasting public money with afternoon drinking sessions and unnecessary conference travel that included spending time in bars and massage parlors.

Additionally, the employees who suffered the harassment received dramatic increases in their salaries — again, public dollars — over time.

The report details two female employees subjected to a barrage of abhorrent behavior, afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation from a boss who often talked about his close friendship with Gov. Kim Reynolds. Jamison implied that relationship protected him, according to the investigation.

It’s an eye-opening and scathing review of a hostile workplace.

And it’s an investigation that Reynolds initially didn’t even think was necessary.

Reynolds fired Jamison in March, citing “credible” allegations of sexual harassment. She was content to let that be the end of the story, and allow it to fade from public scrutiny. A month later, however, amid mounting pressure, she disclosed the letter outlining those credible threats.

When release of the letter raised even more questions, Reynolds was not interested in doing anything more. No commitment to further investigate employees’ complaints that a culture of harassment pervaded Jamison’s office. Initially, she said that there would be no further investigation: “The culture (of harassment) with that was for one individual. And I fired him,” she said.

Reynolds deserves some credit for reversing course on that, albeit belatedly and in response to criticism. An investigation was launched, the findings of which were released last week.

Should there be any doubt whether an investigation is merited in such cases, this should be the testimonial.

When the head of a state department has significant, credible allegations lodged against him, there should be no equivocating. The state must learn whether other supervisors knew of the behavior and what was done to address the problem.

Welcome to 2018 — sexual harassment cases require follow-up. Too often, there is a culture of ignoring or covering up the problem, and that exacerbates victims’ pain.

More than one lesson can be learned in the wake of this gross violation of state policy — not to mention workplace decorum, human decency and perhaps even the law. Priority 1 for any institution facing harassment charges: Dig to the bottom of it. Learn all the allegations. Don’t assume the perpetrator is solely responsible for the culture.

That almost didn’t happen in the case of the Iowa Finance Authority. Here’s hoping the course correction was a moment of realization for the governor.

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