September 1, 2014

Pleasure of porches to be celebrated in Mt. Vernon

An eastern Iowa town is planning an event to celebrate a popular feature of American home architecture – the porch. Mitch Bloomquist, with the Mount Vernon/Lisbon Community Development Group, is helping organize the event scheduled for Sunday, September 21.

He says attendees will visit at least 10 porches in the Ash Park District of Mount Vernon, which features many Victorian era homes. “At each stop, we’ll have a variety of things ranging from old children’s games and activities to art, music, crafts, and demonstrations. We’re also planning to have a few ‘ask the experts’ stops along the way where you can ask about porch restoration, planting on porches, painting, and things like that,” Bloomquist says.

The event will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will include a couple of educational seminars. At 1 p.m., Dr. Richard Thomas, a former professor at Cornell College will talk about the history of the domestic porch, including its near disappearance in the Post World War II Era and its resurgence over the last 50 years. At 1:45 p.m., Ed Sauter, co-chair of the planning committee for the event, will discuss porch design and restoration.

Registration for the event is $10. Children 14 and under are free. Registration and more information is available online at:

SUV runs over, kills baby in Des Moines

Charges are pending after an infant was run over and killed in Des Moines. The accident happened Saturday evening in a driveway of a home on Des Moines’ east side.

Police say the father of a four-month-old boy placed the child, in his car seat, in front of an SUV as he and another man were loading several children into a pair of vehicles. The SUV then ran over the baby, who was taken to a hospital, where he died.

The man who was behind the wheel of the SUV, 33-year-old Deanthony Clark, could be charged with vehicular homicide. Police say they don’t believe Clark knew the child was there, but noted that Clark smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech.

Investigators performed a drug test on the scene and are waiting for those results. A police report shows the driveway was littered with beer cans and several liquor bottles were scattered in the yard.

DNR posts warnings at 7 state beaches

Swimming is not recommended in at least seven of Iowa’s state park lakes for the last holiday weekend of the summer. Mary Skopec is the beach monitoring coordinator with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Right now, we have five beaches that are not recommended for swimming due to E. coli bacteria advisories and we have three beaches that are not recommended for swimming based on algal toxin levels that we see,” Skopec says.

Recent heavy rains have contributed to a rise in E. coli bacteria by washing manure spread on farm fields into the lakes.

The beaches where swimming advisories are posted are at Union Grove State Park, Denison Beach, Black Hawk State Park, Backbone Lake, Lake of Three Fires, Prairie Rose Lake, and McIntosh Woods on Clear Lake.

The DNR tests the water each week and posts the results on their website.



State Patrol warns Labor Day drivers to use caution

Patrol-carState law enforcement officials are warning that the Labor Day weekend is historically one of the most dangerous holiday weekends on Iowa roadways.

Sergeant Scott Bright, with the Iowa State Patrol, says in 2013, the Labor Day weekend had the second most traffic fatalities among the six holidays tracked by the Iowa DOT.

“Last year, we had four fatalities. One was alcohol-related, so we’re recommending if people get out there this weekend and have too much to drink, they should make sure they don’t get behind the wheel and they call somebody to take them home,” Bright says.

With nearly two-thirds of 2014 complete, Bright says the state is on pace to potentially record the fewest traffic fatalities in decades.

“Last year, we had 317 fatalities in the state, which has been the lowest in over 40 years. Right now, we’re at 193. We’re five ahead of this time last year, so we’d like to see that number go down,” Bright said.

The 317 traffic fatalities last year was the lowest total since 1944. According to Bright, 75 of last year’s fatal traffic crashes were alcohol or drug-related.


MIT predicts continued snowy winters even with global warming

A national report on climate change finds even with global warming, we’ll still have plenty of snow in the winters ahead in Iowa and across much of the country’s northern half. State Climatologist Harry Hillaker says climate change is very gradual and snow blowers and shovels will remain necessities.

Hillaker says the report from MIT didn’t exactly go out on a limb in predicting continued snowy winters for Iowa. “When you think about it, that’s not really much of a surprise, I guess the basic mechanism on how we get snow is not going to be changing in a warmer world,” Hillaker says. “The number of opportunities may be decreasing but the storms could be just as intense but probably not as frequent as what we’ve been seeing in years past.”

The Old Farmers’ Almanac forecasts the winter ahead will be colder than usual, then next summer will be hotter. The publication predicts winter temperatures, precipitation and snowfall will all be below normal, with the coldest period running from early December into the first half of January.

Hillaker says it’s an extreme challenge to accurately predict the weather several months in advance. “Certainly, not very easily and there’s lots of outfits out there like the Farmer’s Almanac and some private forecasters that attempt to do that sort of thing,” Hillaker says. “I don’t know if anyone’s attempted any kind of study of how accurate those prognostications are, but certainly it’s very, very difficult and we’ve got a long ways to go in those longer-range outlooks.”

While scientific advancements are making forecasts more on-target, Hillaker says no one can really predict now, at summer’s end, what the weather will be this winter. “Certainly, the day-by-day forecasts, out a week or two, have gotten far, far better than they used to be just in the last 20 or 30 years, tremendous improvements,” Hillaker says. “On that longer range, say from 30 days on out, there’s some skill there, but still a lot of guess work.”

The MIT study predicts some regions will see less snowfall, but the snowfall extremes may actually intensify. Hillaker notes, Iowa’s had above-average snowfall in seven of the past eight winters.


State audit finds cost of confidential settlements more than reported

A state audit released Thursday shows taxpayers paid nearly $700,000 to cover confidential settlements to former state employees over a four-year period. The dollar figure is roughly $200,000 more than what had been previously reported.

On March 24, Governor Branstad signed an executive order ending the use of confidentiality provisions. At the time, his administration identified 24 former state employees who given settlements totaling  $468,000.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman has identified 18 more. “We identified at total of 37 who had confidentiality clauses and of ones that were settled through court proceedings, we had five, so a total of 42 confidentiality clauses,” Mosiman said.

The audit did not reveal any more evidence of so-called “hush money” payments to former state workers in exchange for their silence. Governor Branstad fired Mike Carroll, who was head of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, after a Des Moines Register investigation found his office had paid nearly $300,000 in settlements to a half dozen former workers to keep the details of their firings secret.

Mosiman noted in her report that the 42 confidentiality clauses did not violate public records laws. “None of them violated (section 22.13 of) the Iowa Code, which states these clauses are a matter of public record,” Mosiman said. “It seems the (confidentiality clauses) were intended to impact the behavior of the parties to the agreements, but it did not impact the ability of the public to have access to the document as a public record.”


Jack Hatch, the Democrat who is challenging Governor Branstad’s re-election bid, released the following statement:

“It’s exhausting trying to get answers out of this Governor. Iowa needs a fresh start with a government built on openness, honesty and transparency after these years of Terry Branstad dodging the truth and hiding the facts. Terry Branstad promised Iowans he would get the facts out, level with Iowans and open up the books.  None of it was true. He still hasn’t kept his promise. Branstad hasn’t been open, he isn’t being honest, and his administration shows no signs of being accountable. Branstad made a change in the leadership at the Department of  Administrative Services and pronounced everything okay. That clearly was not the case as the new Director did not reveal the information about the additional secret settlements. This Governor continues to mismanage state government and act as if he’s above the law, and re-electing him will only reward that behavior. Iowa can do better, and when I’m Governor, we will.”


Statement from Senator Janet Petersen, Democrat, Oversight Committee chair:       

“When the story broke earlier this year about former state employees being offered and paid hush money to keep quiet, few of us could imagine what else was going wrong in the Branstad Administration. Today’s report by the State Auditor is another wake-up call for Iowans concerned about secret settlements, hush money and misuse of our tax dollars.  We need a long-term solution — not Band-Aids — to fix this serious problem in the management of state government. While Governor Branstad and many legislative Republicans show no concern about all these problems, the Senate Oversight Committee is continuing to ask questions that Iowa taxpayers deserve to have answered. We remain disappointed that Governor Branstad and legislative Republicans turned their backs during the 2014 session on Senate File 2358. The report today by the State Auditor demonstrates the need for the Legislature and Governor to get behind legislation, which was designed to keep state government open, honest and accountable to taxpayers by:

- Banning secret settlements and hush money payments throughout state government.

- Expanding protections for those who blow the whistle on wrongful activity.

-  Requiring the State Auditor to investigate previous secret settlements.

- Preventing no-bid contracts on state jobs.

-Outlawing cronyism in hiring state employees.

-Mandating disclosure of state worker bonuses.

-Reforming use of the state “do-not-hire” database.

Harlan statue officially welcomed home today

The unveiling of a statue that was previously placed at the U.S. Capitol will take place today on the campus of Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant. The statue of U.S. Senator James Harlan was replaced in Washington, D.C. earlier this year by a statue of Iowa-born crop scientist and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug.

Elizabeth Garrels is a member of the Iowa Wesleyan College Board of Trustees “It’s a wonderful homecoming for Senator Harlan because not only is he a significant person in the history of Iowa Wesleyan College, but his contributions to the legacy of the state of Iowa — elected four times, as well as secretary of the interior,” Garrels says.

Harlan became president of Iowa Wesleyan in 1853 before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1855. His statue had stood at the U.S. Capitol since 1910.

“So we’re very pleased to have the statue come home,” Garrels says. “It’s very interesting to know that the sculptor for this statute was a woman from southeastern Iowa as well.”

Nellie Walker created the eight-foot tall bronze statue of Harlan. An unveiling ceremony is scheduled today for 2 p.m. Harlan was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Abraham Lincoln. Harlan’s daughter, Mary, married Robert Todd Lincoln, the 16th president’s son.

The couple’s Mount Pleasant home sits on the Iowa Wesleyan campus, and now serves as a museum known as the Harlan-Lincoln House. James Harlan died in Mount Pleasant in 1899.

More information is available at: