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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

October 1, 2018

Des Moines Register. September 27, 2018

Cronyism enables misconduct, sexual harassment in government

As government ethics issues go, cronyism isn’t usually at the top of our list of grievances.

Report indicates ex-IFA chief’s friendship with Gov. Kim Reynolds discouraged complaints about sexual harassment

The level of outrage reserved for politicians who appoint their pals to well-paid government positions rates somewhere below the indignation we feel when someone drives too fast on the interstate. We may not like it, but it happens all the time, and we have more important things to worry about. Like sexual harassment in the workplace, for example.

But because of cronyism, some of the things we do worry about — misspending of government money, conflicts of interest, and yes, sexual harassment — can run rampant, and no one wants to say a thing about it.

The report of the independent investigation into sexual harassment at the Iowa Finance Authority carries a strong whiff of cronyism. It’s just hard to detect under the nauseating reek of breast-grabbing, demeaning nicknames, crude humor, displays of pornography and blatant sexual innuendos attributed to the former agency executive director.

The director, Dave Jamison, was fired by Gov. Kim Reynolds on March 24 after two female employees reported detailed allegations of sexual harassment against him over several years. The investigation by the Weinhardt Law Firm, commissioned by Iowa Finance Authority, not only evaluated the allegations but also looked at who knew about Jamison’s conduct but failed to report it.

The report states that Jamison denied all allegations of misconduct, but it also concluded that his denials weren’t credible.

Investigators found only one instance in which Jamison allegedly threatened an employee who suggested he tone down his inappropriate remarks. But the report states:

“We did find, however, that Mr. Jamison regularly touted his relationship with Governor Reynolds to other employees at IFA, particularly after she became governor. At least some IFA employees inferred from Mr. Jamison’s claims about his relationship with the governor that he had the power to squelch complaints about his behavior. That may have discouraged reports about his behavior.”

It’s well-known that Jamison was a longtime friend of Reynolds going back to the days when both were county treasurers. Reynolds didn’t hire him for the IFA job; that was former Gov. Terry Branstad. The political patronage was obvious: Jamison was among several failed candidates from the 2010 election who got a soft landing with a state appointment from Branstad.

Reynolds, in a statement responding to the report, denied knowing about Jamison’s inappropriate behavior and expressed dismay that he may have used their friendship as a shield.

“While it is not a secret that Mr. Jamison and I were friends, having served as county treasurers at the same time, I had no idea that he behaved this way. . Among many troubling issues raised by this investigation, I am frustrated that Mr. Jamison created the impression that he wouldn’t face consequences because of my friendship with him. That could not be further from the truth.”

This isn’t about bashing Reynolds. I don’t think her administration is demonstrably worse than others when it comes to hiring personal associates. Having friends in high places obviously didn’t save Jamison’s job, and it probably wasn’t Reynolds’ fault if he took advantage of their relationship. But it does help explain why Jamison’s alleged outrageous conduct could continue for years before someone finally complained.

Instead, this is about putting voters on notice about why we should be wary when public officials hire their friends, donors and even family members to government jobs.

Cronyism was also an element in the Iowa Communications Network scandal earlier this year. The agency’s executive director, Ric Lumbard, was fired amid allegations that he misspent almost $380,000 of taxpayer money. He was also accused of hiring associates from a charitable organization that Lumbard was running while also holding the full-time state position. Some members of the commission charged with oversight of the ICN later admitted they had been too trusting of Lumbard, who had worked at the ICN since 2006 and was promoted to executive director in 2014.

State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, said he would look into hiring reforms but added that “the best way to uncover fraud is whistleblowing.” That’s surely true, but whistleblowing doesn’t happen when an executive can hire his or her pals or squelch concerns by flaunting powerful connections.

One of the most important tasks of any executive is to hire the most qualified people. That’s especially true of our governor, who is doing the people’s work with taxpayers’ money. It’s the job of our senators to make sure nominees for top government jobs are qualified and that they’re doing the job.

As voters, we should be seeking assurances from candidates that they won’t use their position as an employment agency for their buddies. Iowans were disgusted and dismayed by the allegations of misconduct at IFA and the ICN. We should be just as alarmed by the cronyism that allows that shocking behavior to go unreported.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. September 28, 2018.

Foster Care helps children thrive

There are many young folks locally who need loving support

When youngsters lack a loving and supportive home life — even if that is just a temporary circumstance — they are put at an enormous disadvantage. All too often, the result can be a journey to adulthood that does not afford the child the type of environment necessary to thrive.

One of the options for such young folks is placement in a temporary home with a caring family — foster care. Nationwide more than 400,000 young Americans are part of the foster care system. Here in Iowa, the Department of Human Services has chosen two agencies — Four Oaks Foster and Adoptive Family Connections and Lutheran Services in Iowa - to manage its foster and adoptive children and families services. Four Oaks handles these programs in four of the five service areas and LSI in one of them. Four Oaks leads this important effort in Webster County.

The need for more foster families is an ongoing reality. That point was made forcefully at a gathering on Monday to honor area foster families and send the strong message that still more are needed.

The event, Thrive - Helping Families and Children in Our Community Through Foster Care and Adoption - was held at Prairie Lakes Church. Thrive is an effort between Four Oaks, which works to see that children become successful adults, Shimkat Motor Co. and Prairie Lakes Church.

Bambi Schrader, recruitment and engagement leader for Four Oaks, said that in fiscal year 2017 there were 17 licensed foster families in Webster County. Sixty-one children were referred to foster care.

“We want to keep our kids in our community,” Schrader said.

Joni Duffy, a social worker who helps foster and adoptive families become licensed through the Iowa Department of Human Services, said keeping foster children in their home community is important to their well-being.

“So they can stay in the same school, go to the same church,” she said. “If they’re on any sports or activities, to have those same friendship connections.”

It is crucial that this call to action be heeded. Nothing is more important to the future of any community than cultivating future generations.

The Messenger urges area residents who have an interest in helping youngsters in difficult situations by becoming foster parents — or who wish to support this vital work in other ways — to learn more about how to do so. That process can be started by visiting the www.fouroaksfamilyconnections.org — the Four Oaks website.

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Sioux City Journal. September 26, 2018

Civility suggests need for protest boundaries

As Americans, we recognize and support — indeed, celebrate — the right of protesters to speak their minds and make their voices heard.

However, simple civility suggests the need for some societal boundaries.

In our view, public officeholders shouldn’t be subjected to what U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, faced in a Washington, D.C., restaurant on Monday night.

In a scene becoming, unfortunately, more and more common, Cruz was besieged by a group of shouting, heckling, chanting, in-your-face protesters opposed to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a U.S. Supreme Court justice as he and his wife, Heidi, attempted to have dinner. As a result, they left the place.

Besides not serving to advance a cause in any constructive way and producing nothing more than the requisite online video, the spectacle was staged in what was, in our view, a wrong place and time.

We don’t care what the issue is, if the protest is spontaneous or organized, if it involves an individual or group, or to what political party the target belongs, we believe even public officials are entitled to some quiet, uninterrupted time of their own, both in their home and away from their home.

Earlier this year, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., encouraged harassment of Trump administration Cabinet members over the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy on illegal immigration.

“Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” she encouraged supporters.

We reject that kind of suggested strategy for confrontation.

If you want to protest elected leaders at any level over votes and positions on issues, protest away (in peaceful fashion, of course) — at places where they conduct the people’s business, like capitols and public office buildings, and at scheduled public events at which they appear. Ample opportunities exist.

But we don’t think it’s asking too much to let them and their families, say, eat dinner in a restaurant in peace.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. September 24, 2018

When players, coaches and spectators left the football stadium the evening of Sept. 7, they thought that Mount Vernon High School had claimed a thrilling victory over West Delaware. The Mustangs scored on the last play of the game to win, 35-33.

However, a few days later Mount Vernon forfeited its victory to the Hawks. Turns out the Mustangs violated Iowa High School Athletic Association rules by having a player participate in too much of the varsity contest after playing in the freshman-sophomore game earlier that evening.

Somebody discovered that violation and notified officials of the state association and West Delaware, and the game went into the books as a West Delaware victory.

Who turned in Mount Vernon? Mount Vernon.

That’s right. As soon as they realized a violation occurred, school officials, starting with coach Lance Pedersen, self-reported the situation and

forfeited their hard-fought victory.

In a time when some folks will stop at nothing to gain an upper hand — even in youth sports — it’s commendable and refreshing to see a local program step up, do the right thing and willingly accept the consequences.

Mount Vernon claimed a victory that night after all — a win for sportsmanship. The Mustangs’ honesty will be remembered long after the excitement of the game itself has passed.

In mid-December, we called on federal lawmakers to start paying their interns. At the time, we could find none of the lawmakers who represent the tri-state area who pay their interns (or would respond to our inquiry).

Most senators and representatives have long contended that the deep pool of applicants willing to work all summer for free shows the value of the internship experience, and so pay, on top of that experience, isn’t necessary.

That experience comes at a steep price — an estimate of as much as $6,000 for a summer in the nation’s capital. That’s more than many prospective interns can afford, so guess who is more likely to apply and land a congressional internship — a student from a well-to-do family. That’s an obstacle to diversity among the intern corps.

That might change.

Nearly $14 million for intern compensation is part of the spending bill still before Congress.

One of those pushing for the funding is Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., himself a former intern. “I came from a family of means that could help me afford to live down here for the summer,” Murphy stated in a Roll Call article, “but there are plenty of incredibly capable kids who don’t have those means, especially from far off places.”

While lawmakers should have been able to find money for interns in their current budgets — some look to score political points by not spending what they have now — it’s positive that they are at least moving toward doing the right thing.

On another topic involving students, the Dubuque Community School District is investigating adjusting the time at which middle- and high-school students start their day.

Proponents point to research that teens, who tend to be sleep-

deprived to begin with, fare better academically and developmentally if they don’t have to show up for school as early.

As Superintendent Stan Rheingans said to the school board this month, “Anything that you can do to push your start times back tends to be more in sync with where they’re at from a growth and development standpoint.”

It’s appropriate to have, as Board Member Nancy Bradley

described it, a “conversation” about scooting back the start time — perhaps just 20 or 30 minutes. However, the impact on schedules — of thousands of students and their families — can cause a ripple effect and unintended consequences.

Depending on what changes, if any, are made, significant impact on the transportation system is possible. The district might have to acquire 20 more buses — and hire 20 more drivers, no easy trick these days.

All to give students an “extra” half-hour of sleep? Figure out options that don’t require extra money. The district might do as well to educate families regarding sleep health and encourage earlier bedtimes. Or buy every student an alarm clock — and move up the time display by a half-hour.

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