September 30, 2014

Iowans recognized for American Lung Association fundraising efforts

Story City firefighter Trent Whipple.

Story City firefighter Trent Whipple.

Iowans are being praised for their fundraising efforts for the American Lung Association. In the past 11 years, a “stair climb” event in Des Moines has raised more than $1.5 million.

It’s one of 64 stair climb fundraisers held annually around the country and Lewis Bartfield, president of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, traveled to Des Moines today to recognize several “Fight for Air Climb” participants.

Scott Dean of Des Moines is the top individual fundraiser in the nation for the American Lung Association’s stair climb events. Dean has raised more than $25,000 over the past four years. He’s a member of “Team 27,” a group that was organized in 2010 in honor of Tom Muselman, who received a double lung transplant in 2009.

Muselman’s son, Jason, helped form Team 27 — the top fundraising stair climb team in the country. “The courage he had to go through his surgery inspired us to step up ourselves and really help out the American Lung Association,” Jason says of his father. “We started with four people and we never thought we’d get this big. It’s been an amazing ride.”

The Ruan Building is one of four downtown Des Moines buildings that will be part of the 2015 “Fight for Air Climb.”

The Ruan Building is one of four downtown Des Moines buildings that will be part of the 2015 “Fight for Air Climb.”

Team 27 has grown to 127 members and raised nearly $43,000 in this year’s Fight for Air Climb. Next year’s Fight for Air Climb in downtown Des Moines is scheduled for Sunday, March 22. Participants can choose to climb the stairs in four different buildings, up to 93 floors or 1,801 stairs.

Trent Whipple, a volunteer firefighter in Story City, has participated in the Fight for Air Climb for 10 years. He’s one of dozens of firefighters who compete in the stair climb wearing 70 pounds of equipment. Whipple says they train for roughly five months leading up to the event. “As a volunteer, we only get three or four calls a week, so we aren’t wearing that gear a lot. So, being able to put that on as many times as we can really helps us out,” Whipple says.

Organizers of the Fight for Air Climb in Des Moines have set a fundraising goal of $310,000 for next year’s event.

More tests find nothing illegal in pills at Rockwell City prison

Hundreds of pills found inside the walls of an Iowa prison facility have come back negative for any controlled substances. The 300 to 400 unknown capsules were discovered earlier this month during a routine inspection by staff at the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City.

Initial testing at the prison found the pills might contain cocaine and the prescription pain reliever Demerol. But, Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson Fred Scaletta says the DCI crime lab has completed more thorough testing. “It was determined the pills were not illegal drugs,” Scaletta says. “The Department of Corrections does consider them to be contraband and we will continue our investigation into those matters.”

The minimum security facility in Calhoun County houses around 490 inmates who are classified as “low risk” offenders. It remains unclear how the pills slipped through security and exact content of the pills. “I haven’t got that confirmation yet, but I know they were over-the-counter drugs that were purchased at a pharmacy,” Scaletta said.

A news release from AFSCME Iowa Council 61 last week claimed, since the discovery of the pills, “numerous inmates at the North Central Correctional Facility have tested positive for marijuana.” Scaletta said he’s not heard anything about inmates using marijuana at the Rockwell City prison.


Iowa Lottery move to new building remains on schedule

Iowa-Lottery-signThe head of the Iowa Lottery says his agency’s move into a new building is still scheduled to happen before the end of the year. Lottery CEO Terry Rich says the transition from the current building, located east of downtown Des Moines, to the new building in Clive is going smoothly.

“When we budgeted for the new building, we budgeted around $7 million and right now…we feel pretty comfortable that we’ll be on budget and on time,” Rich said. The Iowa Lottery is paying $5.35 million for the new building and spending extra on a generator and several security measures.

The current Iowa Lottery headquarters building has a heating and cooling system that was built in 1954 and needs to be replaced. The work would take several months, so it’s more cost effective for the Iowa Lottery to buy a more modern building. “Because the Iowa Lottery does almost $1 million a day, we realized that we couldn’t take three months off, move out, let it be done, and move back. That would cost a lot more than going to another building in a short amount of time,” Rich said.

The Des Moines School District is buying the current Iowa Lottery headquarters building for $1.6 million. After installing a new heating and cooling system, it will serve as the district’s administration building. Anyone who wins an Iowa Lottery prize of more than $250,000 must claim that prize in person at lottery headquarters.


Man sought in kidnapping and robbery of Iowa City store clerk

An Iowa City convenience store clerk is recovering from injuries after being kidnapped and robbed. Iowa City Police say they’re still looking for a man who walked into the Gasby’s Conoco gas station on South Gilbert Street Sunday morning, displayed a gun and demanded cash.

The suspect then kidnapped the clerk and stole her SUV. The incident occurred around 6:30 a.m. The cashier fought with the man in the SUV before she was pushed out of her moving vehicle a few blocks away from the store. Police say she was treated for minor injuries.

The suspect — described as a black man, 5’8″, 200 pounds — remains at large. He was driving the cashier’s blue 1999 Ford Explorer with Iowa license plates 860 WJY.


U.S. Ag Department awards funds to Gilbert, Knoxville, Waukon, Harlan

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $1.45 million in grants and nearly $3.9 million in loans to a host of projects across rural Iowa. U.S.D.A. Rural Development Acting Under Secretary Doug O’Brien says that includes a $300,000 grant that’ll benefit the central Iowa town of Gilbert.

The grant will help finance the construction of a building that will be used as a fire station, city hall, and community center. Other grants and loans will help build a fire station in Waukon, finance renovations to the Knoxville Hospital and Clinic, and help the Monogram Prepared Meats plant in Harlan expand its food processing capacity.

The Iowa Foundation for Microenterprise and Community Vitality, headquartered in Boone, is also getting a $200,000 loan and a $50,000 grant to help what O’Brien calls micro-businesses. “Businesses with 10 or fewer (employees),” O’Brien says. “This is another example of how the U.S.D.A. is able to partner with entities in a rural place and help serve small businesses, improve the quality of life, and create jobs.”

O’Brien is a native of Dubuque County. He says, across the country, the U.S.D.A. is awarding $59 million in grants and loans to projects similar to those in Iowa.



Westgate man charged with violating protective order involving 5 kids

Joshua Steinbronn

Joshua Steinbronn

A northeast Iowa man, arrested last week for locking five children in a bedroom for more than 24 hours, is back in custody for violating a protective order.

Twenty-eight-year-old Joshua Steinbronn of Westgate was charged on September 19 with five counts of child endangerment and five counts of false imprisonment.

He posted bail the next day, but was ordered not to have contact with the five children, who are between the ages of 3 and 9. Steinbronn was accused of locking the children in a bedroom on multiple occasions, for several hours, denying them access to food or a restroom.

Fayette County Sheriff’s deputies this week found Steinbronn was back at the children’s home and during previous welfare checks, it’s believed he hid in a crawl space under the home by using a hidden door in a closet.

Jonya Smith

Jonya Smith

Deputies say the children’s mother, 29-year-old Jonya Smith, knew Steinbronn was there and she’s now facing charges that include child endangerment and aiding and abetting the violation of a no contact order.

The children have been removed from the home and placed with the Iowa Department of Human Services.

In addition to arresting Steinbronn and Smith, deputies arrested two people at the home for possession of drug paraphernalia. Nineteen-year-old Traeton Wilharm of Sumner and 21-year-old Megan Owens of Oelwein were at the home when deputies first responded to a domestic dispute at the residence on September 19.

Photos courtesy of Fayette County Jail.


Audit finds 3 employees paid by Secretary of State after leaving jobs

Matt Schultz

Secretary of State Matt Schultz.

A report released today by the State Auditor’s office shows Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz allowed three political appointees to remain on the state payroll after they left their jobs. The audit was requested by Senator Liz Mathis, a Democrat, after reports surfaced that Schultz allowed his chief deputy, Jim Gibbons, to collect a paycheck for six months after his job was eliminated in 2012.

Chief Deputy Auditor Warren Jenkins says,while reviewing the Gibbons case, he found two more instances where appointees were paid after they resigned. The audit shows Schultz’s office paid roughly $110,000 to those three appointees after their last day of employment.

“The majority of which was for Jim Gibbons, that was in excess of $90,000. The others (amounted) to a little over $20,000,” Jenkins says.

In addition, Jenkins says he could not determine what, if any, work the appointees did that would qualify them to remain on the payroll. “We looked at what documentation was available regarding work accomplishments and found there was basically very little written information as to what was accomplished,” Jenkins says.

Schultz, a Republican, is not seeking reelection as Secretary of State and is instead running for the office of Madison County Attorney. It’s unclear if the $110,000 will be returned to the state. “I would not anticipate it would be returned unless somebody, such as the legislature or somebody else, would initiate action to try and recover it,” Jenkins says. “The difficulty would be trying to determine how much the amount should be because we could not determine what was accomplished for that amount of money.”

Jim Gibbons was the wrestling coach at Iowa State University from 1986 to 1992. Gibbons was hired as chief deputy by Schultz in 2011 following an unsuccessful bid as a Republican congressional candidate.

Schultz issued a brief statement in response to Jenkins’ report, saying “There is nothing new here. What I have consistently maintained is that I acted on the advice of DAS, which was shown by the State Auditor’s office. The restructuring of the office saved the taxpayers over a quarter of a million dollars and those savings can continue in the future.”

Mary Mosiman, now the state auditor, took over Gibbons’ duties in the Secretary of State’s office after he was let go in May 2012. Jenkins’ report found Mosiman received $2,500 in excess vacation pay when she was Schultz’s deputy. Jenkins says Mosiman was unaware of the erroneous pay and has already reimbursed the state. She was appointed state auditor by Governor Branstad last year.

Statement from Senator Liz Mathis, co-chair of the Administration and Regulation Budget Subcommittee:

“During the 2014 session, it took repeated phone calls and emails by legislators to get Secretary of State Matt Schultz to answer basic questions about how he was spending taxpayer dollars. Now we know why he was not eager to answer questions about his potential misuse of public funds. An audit released today confirmed that Schultz handed out a six-figure salary to an employee who simply wasn’t working. This is a disgraceful example of favoritism and a misuse of the powers of the office of Secretary of State. It also proves again that Schultz is a poor manager who lacked the experience to oversee the Secretary of State’s office in a responsible way. Last December, the State Auditor raised serious questions about whether Schultz had misused more than $240,000 of federal funds on fruitless criminal investigations of Iowa voters. The audit released today shows Schultz misspent another $113,000 of taxpayer funds. And this may not be the last we hear about Schultz’s misuse and mismanagement. Today, I renew my call for Secretary Schultz to apologize to Iowa taxpayers for this misuse of public money.”

Statement from Brad Anderson, Democratic candidate for Iowa Secretary of State:

“The Auditor’s report released today detailing the incredible mismanagement of the Secretary of State’s office under Secretary Matt Schultz is troubling and should concern all Iowa taxpayers. Iowa taxpayers deserve a Secretary of State who will do the job of Secretary of State rather than chase headlines and keep political cronies on the payroll without requiring them to show up for work. Iowans value work and have no tolerance no-show political appointees, especially at a time when our local election officials face tight budgets and struggle to pay for updated voting equipment. While my opponent in the Secretary of State’s race (Paul Pate) says he wants to ‘continue Secretary Schultz’s good stewardship of the office,’ I believe the time has come for new, fiscally responsible leadership in the office. I urge all the candidates in the Secretary of State’s race to join me and call on the no-show employees identified in the audit to either immediately document their work or return the salary they were paid to the general fund.”