April 19, 2014

DPS identifies Iowa Falls man shot to death by police

The Iowa Department of Public Safety has released the identity of the Iowa Falls man shot and killed by police Thursday. A news release from DPS says officers were called to the residence of 25-year-old Leighton Fitz around 1:20 on the report that Fitz was suicidal.

The DPS release says Fitz came out of the residence with several weapons and wearing a bullet-proof vest. Two Iowa Falls police officers and 3 from DPS fired at Fitz after he refused to drop his weapon. Officers found multiple loaded guns and a gas mask inside the home. Agents also discovered threats against the officers posted on Fitz’s Facebook page.

Fitz’s body has been sent to the state medical examiner for an autopsy. DPS says it won’t release any other information until the investigation is complete. The 5 officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave during the investigation.

Unemployment rate inches up to 4.4% in March

The state unemployment rate moved up again in March. “We had just a tenth of a percent increase in our unemployment rate, and that’s really primarily due to an increase in the state’s labor force,” Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson Kerry Koonce says. The 4.4-percent unemployment rate in March is still below the 4.8-percent rate for March of last year.

Koonce says the workforce has been growing “excessively” over the last couple of months. “Individuals who maybe stopped looking for work, because they didn’t think it was available, have started again,” Koonce says. The total number of Iowans working is now 1,615,200. “That’s reached a record number — which is very good– that really shows the economy is growing,” Koonce says. “That’s 27,000 higher than it was this time last year.”

Koonce says there were some job losses. She says the most loses were in manufacturing, but she says the forecasts show that durable goods manufacturing jobs should pick up in the coming weeks and level out the loses. The professional goods and services area also lost jobs, which Koonce says is an area that tends to go up and down.

Overall manufacturing jobs are up 800 compared to last year. Koonce says construction employment should be picking up soon as the weather improves.

Commission chair says Linn County decision won’t impact Greene County gambling license ruling

Racing and Gaming Commission chair Jeff Lamberi listens as Commissioner Carl Heinrich talks.

Racing and Gaming Commission chair Jeff Lamberi listens as Commissioner Carl Heinrich talks.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission turned down the request from Cedar Rapids for a new gambling license, but the chair of the commission  says that doesn’t mean they’re saying no to any new licenses this year.

The four commissioners who voted against a license for the facility in Linn County cited the impact the new casino would have on existing facilities in eastern Iowa. Commission chair, Jeff Lamberti of Ankeny, says it’s a whole new situation when they look at a request for a gambling license for Greene County in June. “I think we’re not necessarily looking at an apples-to-apples comparison,” Lamberti says. “Obviously here in Linn County we were looking at a very significant impact on two or three markets.”

Lamberti says they will look at the proposal to build a Greene County casino near Jefferson based on its impact in that area. “So I think what we’re going to do as a commission is start the process that we did in Linn County and go back and look at them on an individual basis, and look at the individual facts,” Lamberti says.

The commission members talked about what they see as the gambling market reaching a saturation point in making their decision on the Cedar Rapids license. Lamberti says he expects the body will send a message about any future expansion following the Greene County discussion.  “When we get to the Greene County decision, I think I would expect the commission — based upon the ruling there — to then give an indication to the rest of the state what we think is out there, and if we are going to be willing to consider further applications,” Lamberti says.

He wouldn’t speculate on what may happen with the Greene County proposal. “We’ve quite honestly not even spent a lot of time thinking about Greene County right now, because we try to focus our decision making on the one before us. And that’s quite frankly why we separated them,” according to Lamberti. “Because this is a long, tough, hard process and we want to be sure people have ample opportunity to present their case to the commission. So now that this decision is behind us, we start focusing on Greene County. I don’t think anybody has prejudged anything, they didn’t with respect to Linn County, and they haven’t with respect to Greene County.”

The Racing and Gaming Commission is set to visit the Greene County site on May 29th, and will make a decision on a license at its June 12th meeting.


Decision on Cedar Rapids casino emotional for both sides

Racing and Gaming Commission members voted 4-1 to not issue a gambling license to a group from Cedar Rapids.

Racing and Gaming Commission members voted 4-1 to not issue a gambling license to a group from Cedar Rapids.

Emotions ran high among both sides after the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to deny a license for a proposed 164-million dollar casino project in Cedar Rapids. Cedar Rapids City Mayor, Ron Corbett. “I’m not going to make any comments right now,” Corbet says.

Steve Gray lead the group of investors who had told the commission the Cedar Rapids casino would generate more state gambling revenue with minimal impact on existing casinos. “We’re disappointed, we have a differing perspective,  but more importantly why we’re even here today, is our investor group and this community wanted to do something meaningful for Cedar Rapids and eastern Iowa,” Gray says. “Quite frankly,  as goes Cedar Rapids, as goes eastern Iowa.”

Dan Kehl operates the Riverside Casino and was pleased to hear the Cedar Rapids developers would not get a casino license. The state gambling studies said the new casino would eat into Riverside’s profits. “We are grateful to have this process behind us and thankful for the commission’s hard work,” Kehl says.

Kehl was asked if this will end attempts to gain a new casino. “There’s one more application pending, we’ll see how the commission reacts to that — but the market is clearly saturated or really near saturation,” Kehl says. “If we want to have first-class casino facilities here in Iowa that are competitive with surrounding states, we need to limit the competition so we can afford to reinvest, because of our high tax rates.”

The commission will decide in June whether to award a gambling license for a proposed casino in Greene County.

No gambling license for Cedar Rapids

A large crowd turned out to hear the decision on the Cedar Rapids gambling license.

A large crowd turned out to hear the decision on the Cedar Rapids gambling license.

The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission voted 4-1 against awarding a new casino gambling license to developers in Cedar Rapids.

Commissioner Carl Heinrich says he does not believe there’s a need for a new casino in the area. “I think that if anyone does desire to gamble, they have it within their accessibility within an hour in all cases, Heinrich says.

Heinrich says the two marketing studies show a new casino would hurt the existing facilities. “I believe the overall net benefit for the state gaming industry in eastern Iowa in terms of total operation is not positive enough to add a new license at this time,” Heinrich says.

Commissioner Dolores Mertz is a former legislator, who was the only one to vote for the new license. “I look at this just like I do agriculture issues.  When I was chair of the ag committee in the House for four years — nothing came through that committee that hurt agriculture,” Mertz says. She says the market should drive expansion in the gambling industry.  Mertz says she got many letters about the issue. “And my pros way, way outweighed my cons, so I have to listen to people,” Mertz says.

Commissioner Rich Arnold says the impact on existing casinos was his top concern. “The administrative rules require the commission to consider the impact on other casinos. There is a significant amount of impact for two existing casinos, which would likely trickle down to decrease investment to their properties and loss of jobs,” Arnold says. He says awarding a new license would change the past policies of the commission.

“No gaming license in Iowa has ever previously been issued where this much impact has been proposed for two existing facilities,” Arnold says.

Commission chair, Jeff Lamberti, echoed the comments of the other commissioners in explaining his vote against the new license. “This is not a decision that any of us is too excited about. It is never fun to go through something like this, but I am confident that the commission as a whole is making a decision that is in the best interest in the state of Iowa,” Lambertis says.  The vote shoots down several months of planning by the group in Cedar Rapids, which touted the casino as another step in the redevelopment of the city in the wake of the flooding in 2008.

HUSH program sees drop in deer donations

The number of deer donated to a Department of Natural Resources program that uses the meat to feed the hungry in the state dropped by 15-percent this year. Hunters still donated 3,900 deer to the “Help Us Stop Hunger” or HUSH program.  The DNR’s Jim Coffey oversees HUSH and says hunters have been very generous over the last decade. “The Hush program has been very popular with our hunters, they see direct benefit back to local communities and helping needy families,” Coffey says.

He says the drop in deer donations compared to last year amounts to around 30-tons of ground venison. “Most likely the donations are down because the deer population is down,” Coffey says, “also beef prices are up, so it’s more like that people keeping more for themselves.”

Coffey says the DNR’s efforts to reduce the deer population have worked. “We’ve been more liberal with the harvest of the doe deer. And obviously, the does are the ones that produce the next year’s offspring. So, when we’re harvesting additional does, that means were producing less deer into the population next year.”

The Food Bank of Iowa coordinates distribution of the deer meat and is replacing the loss of venison with other protein, like canned chicken, or even peanut butter. Hunters in the program have donated some 60,000 deer in 10 years — which is the equivalent of 10.8 million meals.

Two given federal jail time for failing to register as sex offenders

Two people have been sentenced to federal prison time for not signing up on Iowa’s sex offender registry. A district court judge sentenced 29-year-old Sergio Maldonado-Butler of Avoca to one year and one day in prison for failing to register as a sex offender. Police discovered in August of 2013 after responding to a disturbance call, that Maldonado-Butler was required to register as a sex offender for a 2005 rape conviction in Oregon. He pled guilty to living in Avoca for six months and not registering.

In the other case, 37-year-old Jeramie Reazer of Omaha, Nebraska was sentenced to 21 months in prison for not registering. Law officers determined Reazer was living in Mills County in May of 2013 and was required to register for a 2005 third-degree sexual assault conviction in Douglas County, Nebraska. Both men were ordered to serve 5 years probation after their release.