Fog shrouds "Skipper" – a bronze sculpture of a young boy preparing to skip a rock on the Mississippi River – with the new I-74 bridge in the background.

Pay attention to officials’ talk vs. their actions

Voters have busy lives — families to care for, jobs demanding their attention, bills to worry about.

So, they can be forgiven if they do not closely track their government leaders’ statements and actions. Sometimes voters may find discrepancies between what politicians say and what they do.

Here is one example:

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird was in the news last week with a statement about the need for Congress to replenish a federal program, the Victims of Crime Act, that assists these people in a variety of ways.

She was one of 42 state attorneys general, Republicans and Democrats, who wrote to leaders of Congress urging them to provide this important assistance.

“We must protect victims from being victimized twice,” Bird said in a statement. “Victims have already been through enough. With a looming 41 percent cut in victim services funding, we’re calling on Congress to ensure victims and survivors receive the support they deserve.”.

With her statement, Bird opened herself up to criticism that she was talking out of both sides of her mouth when it comes to protecting crime victims from being harmed again.

Long-time state education department director says governor’s consultant report does not support her proposed changes to Iowa’s AEAs

Ted Stilwill has over 40 years of education experience starting as a teacher, building administrator, and central office administrator in Council Bluffs. He worked for the Iowa Department of Education for 18 years, first in charge of elementary and secondary education and then as department director for nearly 10 years. Following his work in the Iowa Department, Ted worked for a national educational nonprofit helping school districts and state education agencies work toward better outcomes for students. He finished his education career by working locally leading an 11-district consortium of metro Omaha districts in designing and implementing early childhood education centers.

by Ted Stilwill, Iowa Capital Dispatch
February 17, 2024

Last fall, Governor Reynold’s Department of Administrative Services contracted with a business consulting firm to produce a report critical of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs). The study was translated into a bill submitted by the governor to decimate the AEAs and weaken Iowa’s public education system.

The authors of the report are not listed. The costs are not known. The directions to the consulting firm have not been shared. The consulting firm has no apparent expertise or track record in the education world. There is no documentation in the report that a single Iowan was engaged in the preparation of the report. Most importantly, I believe the conclusions about AEAs are flawed.

Iowa Republicans and Democrats offer competing solutions to provide nursing home oversight

Iowa Capital Dispatch

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing legislation to increase state oversight of nursing homes while Republican legislators are advancing a bill that could reduce such oversight.

Both initiatives are being advanced now due to a spate of deaths and serious injuries tied to regulatory violations in Iowa nursing homes. Republican lawmakers say the situation calls for a more “collaborative” approach to enforcement, while Democrats argue the state isn’t being tough enough on violators.

On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Health and Human Services reviewed a GOP-backed bill, House Study Bill 691, that would revise the state law that requires the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing to make a preliminary review of a nursing home complaint and, unless DIAL concludes the complaint is intended to harass a facility, make an on-site inspection.

The bill would add new exceptions to the requirement for on-site inspections, allowing DIAL to forgo an on-site visit if the agency concludes the complaint involves an issue that was already the subject of a complaint or a self-report from the facility itself within the previous 90 days. So, for example, if a facility self-reported an incident tied to insufficient staffing or a failure to monitor residents, it might not face another on-site inspection if a resident complained of the same issue two months later.

Lee reports drop in print, digital ad revenue; maintains digital transition strategy will succeed

Lee Enterprises – owner of the Quad City Times, Dispatch/Argus and 70+ other news publications and web sites – reported first quarter earnings of $1.2 million, a 32 percent decrease from the same period a year ago.

Lee executives again boasted of its growth in digital subscriptions (up 58 percent from the first quarter of 2022), but overall subscription revenue fell 10.5 percent compared with the same period last year.

"Our first quarter results demonstrate our confidence in Lee's digital transformation," Kevin Mowbray, Lee's President and Chief Executive Officer, stated in its earnings news release issued Feb. 1. "We are on a clear path to becoming sustainable solely from the revenue and cash flow from our digital products."

While the company has been pushing aggressively to move print subscribers to digital subscribers, the overall impact has been a steady decrease in total operating revenues.

Lawmakers discuss reducing inspections of hotels, asbestos removal – the move led by Bettendorf's Republican State Senator Scott Webster

by Clark Kauffman, Iowa Capital Dispatch
January 23, 2024

An Iowa Senate subcommittee advanced legislation Tuesday to cut back on the law’s requirement for hotel inspections and asbestos-related inspections at construction sites.

The three members of the Senate State Government Subcommittee expressed reservations with various elements of the bill, Senate Study Bill 3064, but the two Republican members said they intended to forward it to the full committee on the theory that there will be more discussion about the bill’s merits and any potential drawbacks.

Currently, state law requires that the Iowa Department of Inspections, Appeals and Licensing inspect hotels and motels at least once every two years. However, the department has not complied with that law for several years and has instead inspected hotels largely on a complaint-only basis with some inspections being performed on a prioritized, risk-based assessment.

The department now hopes to have the law changed so that it essentially legalizes DIAL’s current practice.

Nursing homes invest in lobbying, campaign contributions; reap millions in taxpayer money

by Clark Kauffman, Iowa Capital Dispatch
December 22, 2023

Editor’s note: Shortly after this story was published, the Iowa Health Care Association removed from its website the publicly accessible audio recordings of IHCA lobbyists and members. As a result, the links in this story to those recordings may not work.

It was early on a Monday afternoon in September 2022, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Des Moines, delivering a speech to a group of nursing home executives gathered for their annual convention.

It was a friendly and receptive audience – as evidenced by the donations the Reynolds campaign had collected in the previous four weeks from some of those in attendance.

The political action committee that represents Iowa’s nursing home industry had donated $30,000 to Reynolds’ 2022 reelection effort. David Chensvold, nursing home consultant and president of HealthCARE of Iowa, gave $20,000. Ted LeNeave, CEO of Accura Healthcare, gave $10,000, as did Lisa Toti, president of Accura Healthcare. Richard Allbee, CEO of the ABCM nursing home chain, gave $5,000, as did Douglas Johnson, CEO of Blue Stone Therapy.

In her prepared remarks, Reynolds reminded industry officials of her efforts to loosen “regulatory barriers” and shield the companies from legal liability resulting from wrongful death claims and other lawsuits. She also spoke of her successful efforts to increase Medicaid funding for the industry by $23 million in 2019, and again by $19 million in 2021.

“You’re not getting much help from the federal government, which apparently has never seen something it doesn’t like to regulate or mandate,” she said. “I can’t control Washington’s approach, but I can promise this: In Iowa, you’ll continue to get the support you’re being denied in Washington.”

The same day Reynolds spoke, a group of state lawmakers assembled on the stage at the Marriott and posed with plaques in appreciation of their efforts on behalf of the industry during the 2022 legislative session.

Standing shoulder to shoulder were seven legislators — all Republicans, like the governor: Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, Senate President Jake Chapman, House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl, Rep. Joel Fry, Rep. Ann Meyer, Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, and Sen. Mark Costello.

An Iowa Capital Dispatch review of legislation, campaign contributions, federal tax returns, inspection reports and audio recordings of industry lobbyists reveals the extent to which money influences critical public policy decisions related to the protection of Iowa’s elderly and people with disabilities.

Yet another Bettendorf developer fined for violating soil retention rules; third order since September

Yet another Bettendorf developer has been fined for failing to control soil erosion while building a residential subdivision.

Tim Dolan, of Tim Dolan Development Co., agreed to pay the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) $5,500 under a consent order signed Dec. 14.

The violation stems from onsite inspections of the Stoney Creek North Third Addition last April and May.

Another Bettendorf developer fined for failing to control soil runoff; violations date back two years

Another Bettendorf developer has been fined for repeatedly failing to halt erosion of soil from a residential development into a nearby creek.

Robert Fick, vice president of Mel Foster Properties and developer of the Century Heights Phase III subdivision, agreed to a $5,000 fine under a consent agreement with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

The case dates back to two storm water runoff violations near Hess Court and Criswell Street that occurred Dec. 28, 2021 and June 23, 2022.

The order was filed November 16, nearly two years after the initial violation and nearly a year and a half after the second notice of violation was sent the developer.

Lee Enterprises reports $1.3-million 4th quarter loss; says company had 'strong fourth quarter results'

Lee Enterprises, Inc. – owner of the Quad City Times and DIspatch/Argus – Thursday (12/8) reported a $1.32-million loss for the fourth quarter stating in its earnings news release the company had achieved "strong fourth quarter results."

Lee lost $1.32 million (32 cents per share) during the three-month period ended Sept. 28, and 90 cents per share ($2.73 million) for the company's fiscal year that ended Sept. 25.

Controversial Pleasant Valley school board election could be decided by a drawing

For additional details of the recount and mishandling of election report, see this article in the Pleasant Valley High School newspaper

by Clark Kauffman, Iowa Capital Dispatch
December 1, 2023

A hotly contested race for school board in a small eastern Iowa community may be decided by a drawing on Monday.

The Scott County Auditor’s Office recently presided over a recount for one of the races involving a seat on the school board for the Pleasant Valley Community School District.

Initially, the results of the Nov. 7 election indicated challenger Jameson Smith had beaten incumbent Tracey Rivera on a vote of 256 to 250. Rivera then requested a recount which led to a new controversy involving Iowa’s own version of a hanging-chad dispute.

An assistant Scott County attorney had allegedly explained to the three parties handling the recount that because the Nov. 7 election involved the use of optical scanners, any write-in votes could only be counted if the oval alongside the line for the name of a write-in candidates was filled in by the voter.

One of the individuals involved in the recount objected to a ballot in which the oval was not filled in, while the other two individuals argued such ballots should be counted since the intent of the voter was clear. Rivera allegedly benefitted from the majority decision to count two such ballots as valid, and that led to a determination that the candidates were tied at 255 votes each.

With the process headed toward a randomized outcome, with the election to be decided by a drawing, attorney Alan Ostergren wrote to the county auditor and lodged a protest on behalf of Smith.

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