January 25, 2015

Deere spokesman says layoffs should not be a surprise

DeereDeere and Company will lay off 900 workers in Iowa and Illinois to handle an anticipated declines in sales of farm equipment. Deere announced Friday, that 565 employees at three Waterloo facilities will lose their jobs, along with 300 at the Des Moines Works in Ankeny.

Company spokesman, Ken Golden, says no one should be surprised. “In November we had indicated our forecast for 2015 was considerably lower for sales overall — especially in the ag and turf division. And so, today’s announcement reflects what we had indicated in November,” Golden says. “And it results in changes in our workforce in the ag division, and changes in our workforce in the construction and forestry division.”

The impact in the Quad Cities will not be as harsh as in Waterloo and Ankeny. The job cuts there include 45 positions, plus a 500 employees will be on a shutdown that is longer than normal. “It would hard to estimate how normal shutdowns take place because it all depends on the products and how much we’re selling,” Golden says. “This particular shutdown is an extended shutdown, but the difference is, these employees do have an expected call back date.”

Deere also announced it has added 110 jobs at the Davenport Works and 110 at the Dubuque Works. Both factories make construction and forestry equipment. And Golden says the company had rehired many workers who lost their jobs building farm equipment last year.


Supreme Court says doctor helping juror is cause for retrial

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court says a Des Moines doctor who helped a juror during his malpractice trial should have to be retried after the verdict came back in his favor.

Doctor John Sweetman and Doctor Jennifer Booth were accused of malpractice after Booth performed a hysterectomy on Mary Jack in 2009. Sweetman an anesthesiologist was accused of malpractice in inserting an IV in Jack’s arm during surgery.

During their trial, a juror fainted and Sweetman went to her aid. The juror was removed, and the district court allowed the trial to continue even though Jack’s attorney’s request a mistrial, saying Sweetman’s action could influence the jury.

The jury ruled in favor of the doctors, but Court of Appeals ruled they both should be retried. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Dr. Sweetman’s action should not have impacted the case against Dr. Booth, and says Booth should not be retried, but Sweetman should.

Here’s the full ruling: Doctor trial ruling PDF

State investigation details theft at Café DMACC in Ankeny

Auditor-logoA special investigation by the State Auditor’s office reveals a former cashier at a cafe on the Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) campus in Ankeny was voiding sales at her cash register and took thousands of dollars for her own use.

Deputy state auditor, Tami Kusian, says the school asked for the investigation after doing a project at the cafe that required them to look at the sales information. “And when they obtained that information they started looking at it and saw that there were a lot of these voids and there wasn’t any reason that they would be having those,” Kusian explains.

The investigation totaled up the cost of all the voided items. “We identified almost $26,000 of improperly voided transactions at the Cafe DMACC,” Kusian says. “Most of those transactions, pretty much all of the voided transactions, were done on one cashier’s cash register.”

The cash register in question was run by Dawn VanFleet. “What it appears is that she voided several transactions at the end of the day, so it wasn’t as the transactions were occurring. At the end of the day she would go in and complete some voids and was then able to take the cash out of the cash register,” Kusian says. Kusian says they were then able to find evidence that Van Fleet took the money for her own use.

“One of the things that we’ll do is look to see if some of that cash is being deposited into the person’s personal bank accounts,” according to Kusian. “And we identified almost $19,000 in cash deposits in this one cashier’s bank account.” VanFleet was arrested and charged in July with multiple counts of second-degree theft and fraudulent practices. She pled guilty to one count of second-degree theft.

Kusian says her office advised DMACC to create more oversight of voided transactions and other controls and policies for handling cash. “DMACC has already made several changes in this area and corrected several of those loopholes,” Kusian says. Van Fleet is schedule to have a sentencing hearing on February 4th.


Board of Education goes back and forth on school start date (Audio)

Diane Crookham-Johnson used corn dogs and toy school bus during the school start discussion.

Diane Crookham-Johnson used corn dogs and a toy school bus as props during the school start discussion.

The State Board of Education discussed the school start date in their meeting Thursday in the wake of new guidelines issued by the Department of Education on how schools can qualify for a waiver to start school early. The issue has pitted those who say starting earlier is better for learning against those who say it hurts tourism events like the Iowa State Fair.

Board member Dianne Crookham-Johnson of Oskaloosa was critical of the timing of the December letter that indicated the department would no longer automatically grant waivers. She pulled a box of corn dogs and a small toy school bus out of a bag and put them on the table before speaking.

“How did we decide that in what appears to be behind closed doors with very few people — I’m not sure we’re even aware as board who’s making these decisions, we probably have guesses — there was a sudden rug jerked out from every district in the state of Iowa. Because we are more concerned about the State Fair, beer sales and hotel-motel sales tax revenue in this state, than we are about all of the kids going to school in Iowa,” Crookham-Johnson says.

Crookham-Johnson says the decisions on school calendars are discussed by everyone involved and approved by the school boards after hearings. “If our local citizens are that upset with school calendars right now, they can elect new board members. Local districts are very good at replacing school board members that they don’t like,” Crooks-Johnson says. “So we have a mechanism in place for districts to deal with immediate issues. No one is able to tell us what the emergency is for August and September of 2015.”

Crookham-Johnson questioned why the fair should get special treatment. “If tourism is really what’s going to be important, why did we pick the state fair as the tourism vehicle that we’re most concerned about?,” Crooks-Johnson asked. ” Why don’t we worry about tulip time in my part of the state? Why don’t we worry about the Clay County Fair up in northern Iowa? Why don’t we worry about pheasant seasons? Why don’t we worry about youth deer season? Those are all big tourism mechanisms in different parts to of the state, but we’ve chosen to focus on only one tourism event.”

Mike May

Mike May

Board member Mike May is a retired teacher and a resort owner in Spirit Lake. He says the decision on start dates is up to the legislature. “The folks over there ought to consider all sides of this and when they make a decision they’ll bring it back to us, whatever that was, and we’ll write rules to implement it. That’s the way the process should work,” May says.

May then directly addressed Crookham-Johnson’s comments. “To me to suggest that Governor Branstad or Mike May or anyone who thinks we should enforce the state law now somehow doesn’t love kids or care about them or hasn’t spent their life — in my case 50 years — working for kids, I think that is totally unfair,” May says.

May says the governor has included over one billion dollars in his budget for allowable growth for schools. “Governor Branstad wants to do more than that, you know he does, but he has a budget that has to be balanced. One of the key industries in the state of Iowa is the tourism industry, is the travel industry. It’s an 8 billion dollar industry,” May says. “And what we’ve done over the past decade is to take two to three weeks of that summer session, which is most important to tourism, and we have pushed kids back into school.”

May says it would be like cutting out several weeks in the growing season for farmers and it ends up costing the state revenue that could be spent on schools. May says those who says starting early helps improve learning haven’t backed up their argument. “If I thought for one moment that starting school the 1st of September or the week in which if falls hurts kids, I would not be a proponent of it here today. I have never in this argument, Diane, seen any empirical evidence that spreading out the school year…or that ending school for the first semester at Christmas time improves student achievement,” May says. “Show it to me. Bring it to me. I’ve been asking the same question for ten years: Spread out the school year, make it longer and that will improve student achievement? Not a chance. There’s no empirical evidence to suggest that.”

Board of Education president Charles Edwards says he understands the concerns about how the decision to end automatic waivers was handled, but agrees that the issue is not one the board can decide. “We don’t have any standing here. I think it needs to be resolved by the legislature, by the governor. I believe it will. And I just hope that there is enough flexibility in whatever waivers and whatever the process is going forward that school districts still have some flexibility in setting their calendars,” Edwards says.

The discussion was generated in part by the Department of Education issuing guidelines for what will be accepted in granting waivers. Department director, Brad Buck, says that was a standard move. “The law is clear, The law indicates when school should start. It’s also clear in saying that in order to deviate from that and receive a waiver, there needs to be a demonstration of significant impact,” Buck says. “So, a very common practice of the Iowa Department of Education, when there is a waiver process, is to establish criteria for a waiver.”

Buck says there is no clear consensus in the state on the issue. “I would tell you it’s a mixed bag of reactions. I don’t know if you know this, but I have received a couple of emails on this, ” Buck told the board, to laughs. “It’s a mixed bag, this is probably a sort of representative demographic of how people feel about it.” Buck also pointed out that schools still can try to get approval to start early.

“The waiver still exists. If schools can demonstrate that there is a significant negative educational impact by not beginning when the law says, there is an opportunity to have the start date waived,” Buck says. There are bills in both houses of the legislature and the governor has indicated that he is willing to reach a compromise on the issue to come up with something that will benefit schools.

Audio:  Board meeting comments from Diane Crookham-Johnson and Mike May. 11:00


Grand Falls Casino agrees to fine for allowing a minor to gamble

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission met in Johnston.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission met in Johnston.

The Grand Falls Casino agreed to a $20,000 fine today for an illegal gambling violation at the facility near Larchwood in northwest Iowa.

Iowa Racing and Gaming administrator, Brian Ohorilko, explained the situation to the Racing and Gaming Commission. “We had a minor on December 14th enter the gaming floor unchallenged, was on the gaming floor for 30 minutes and had gambled,” Ohorilko says.

Casino general manager, Sharon Hasselhoff, apologized to the commission. “We take it very seriously, we did not I.D. this guest as we should have,” Hasselhoff says. “Simply, there’s no excuse. We did not do our job.”

Hasselhoff says they have taken steps to ensure this does not happen again. “Since this incident, we have had significant retraining with our employees, reminding them or the importance of their job,” Hasselhoff says. She says 127 employees in security, table games and food and beverage areas went through I.D. checking and training to check for intoxication since the incident.

She says they stressed during the training the importance of always following through and the consequences for the facility if they let someone in without checking their I.D.

“Again, we’re very sorry that this happened and are using it as a retraining lesson for our employees,” Hasselhoff says.

Gaming administrator Ohorilko says the $20,000 penalty is standard for underage gambling violations. He says Grand Falls has a very good record and has not had any other recent violations.

The Racing and Gaming Commission held its monthly meeting in Johnston.

Mason City man who traded his dog for a gun sent to prison

A Mason City man will spend more than 21 years in prison after he traded his dog for a gun. Court records show 58-year-old Billy Douglas Thorne traded his dog for a .22 caliber rifle that he intended to use to shoot his son.

He was afraid the gun would be found at his home and asked others to hide it in a Mason City park. Thorne was arrested on harassment charges and police confiscated the gun. A jury found him guilty of one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Thorne had been convicted in Florida on five felony counts of burglary and one felony count of armed burglary in 1997. He was sentenced to 262 months in federal prison.


Author who calls for studying slavery reparations speaks in Iowa

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

A national correspondent for “The Atlantic Magazine” who gained attention for an article calling on the United States to study possible reparations for slavery was in Iowa this week to speak at Grinnell College’s Martin Luther King Junior Day events.

In an interview with Radio Iowa, Ta-Nehisi Coates says the idea of reparations for slavery is as old as the country itself. “Immediately after the Revolutionary War you had black people who had been enslave by the British making that argument that post-colonial, not really colonial government, reclaimed the property of British slave holders that African Americans who had been enslaved and had helped contribute substantially to that property were owed reparations,” Coates says.

He says he was always aware of the idea, and really started thinking about it around two years before the published article “The Case for Reparations” in June of 2014.  Coates says as he looked deeper into the issue he found the problems created by slavery went on well after President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. “One of the first thing people say about reparations was ‘anybody is owed reparations is long dead.’ But there is a fairly good claim that can be brought up at least into the mid 20th century, perhaps even further, on behalf of people who are very much alive today dealing with reparations,” according to Coates.

He says he believes there is a “tremendous gulf between White America and Black America” that has not been addressed. “And we’ve tried all sorts of various means — except directly addressing the problem — directly addressing the gulf, admitting to the fact that the gulf is not there by magic, it didn’t just appear for no reason, and we made the gulf through our policies and our decisions,” Coates says. “Throughout our history we made a decision that we wanted there to be a gap , and just as we made that decision to make that gap, I say that we have a responsibility to unmake it.”

Coates has no idea how to get rid of the gulf, he says the purpose of the article was to make the case that it is something worth studying. He says when you mention reparations now, “people bust out laughing.” “The first thing is to get people to admit that there is in fact a chasm there and that it is the result of actual policies and decisions that were made, that there is an actual debt. And then we can talk about how to service the debt after that,” Coates explains. “In terms of where we are in terms of our conversation in this country, we won’t even admit that there is a debt yet.” Coates tries to explain how the polices and decisions have led to the problem.

The home mortgage loan crisis is the most recent example of the gulf created between whites and blacks cited in the article by Coats. “The African-Americans disproportionately — after you controlled for income, after you controlled for credit worthiness, after you controlled for all relevant factors that might explain this — African-Americans received more sub-prime loans than anybody else,” Coates says. “And the only thing that is not controlled for when we do these experiences is the experience of racism. And that’s not just a rhetorical charge, African-Americans live in segregated communities more so than any other population in this country.”

He says African-Americans also have a large number of people who have not enjoyed access to credit to buy homes. “If you are looking to hawk a sub-prime loan, African-Americans are the prime audience for it because you have all the people, all your likely customers centered in a particular place. And we have to ask why are those people there to begin with? Well they are there because we had housing segregation for a good part of the 20th Century,” Coates says.

Coates says the idea of studying those issues has been put forward in Congress, but has never been taken seriously. “For probably I guess about 25, 26 years, Congressman John Conyers (Michigan) has introduced a bill into the House of Representatives arguing for a study on the affects of slavery, enslavement and everything that came after enslavement, it’s ensuing legacy and it’s affect on African-Americans and decide if reparations are owed and how they might be done,” according to Coates. “Regrettably H-R-40, that’s the bill’s name, has never picked up any traction under the Republican majority or the Democratic majority. So it’s there, it’s there waiting for us, somebody just has to decide hey this is a serious thing and we need to move forward.”

Coates believes we could study the issue and figure out a solution like Americans have with other big issues. “I am certain we can, certain we can, we are the country that invented the atomic bomb, we’ve have all these great engineering miracles, we are the country that engineered this great Social Security thing, Medicare, all the things that we’ve done,” he says, “we’re supposed to be the greatest country in the history of the world. If we are, we have the responsibility to live up to that billing. So we can get this figure out too I think.” Coates says the impact of studying and dealing with reparations would be “gigantic.”

He says one of the first benefits is the country would not have to go through what he calls “theater” that happens in the cases like those of Eric Garner, a black man who was choked to death by white police officer. “This just theater that does not actually get at the root of the problem, that’s the first thing,” Coates says. “But the second thing, I think this is the big, big deal. An America that accepts reparations is a very, very different America. Its a much more historically aware America, it’s a much more frankly, deeply patriotic America. Because it’s not just an America that embraces patriotism when it’s time to wave the flags and fire up the grill on the Fourth of July. It accepts its heritage in its entire totality.”

Coates says that type of America would have a big impact on all of our politics. He says the country would be more “politically aware” and the impact of that awareness would not just end with dealing with white supremacy and racism. Coates isn’t jumping up and down and saying “do this now”, but he believes it is an issue that has to be addressed for our children and grandchildren.

“It took the United States almost 250 years, to really get to a point where all of its citizens were empowered. And we are always fighting even today to make sure that is the case,” Coates says. “So it’s not so much that we have to have the idea right now and then the solution has to come tomorrow. The ideas are put out there and hopefully at some point society gets enough integrity, enough courage to do the right thing.”

You can read his entire article here: www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631