September 16, 2014

Branstad to be questioned Nov. 26 about attempt to fire gay employee (AUDIO)

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says he’s too busy campaigning to be questioned about his attempt to force the state workers compensation commissioner to resign.

“I’m very interested and willing to have a deposition, but we’ll have it after the election,” Branstad said today during his weekly news conference. “The election’s only a month and a half away and my schedule between now and then is extremely busy.”

Branstad’s top aides asked Christopher Godfrey, the state workers compensation commissioner, to resign in early 2011 so Branstad could choose his own person for the position. Godfrey had been appointed to the job in 2009 by Democratic Governor Chet Culver. When Godfrey wouldn’t resign, his pay was cut dramatically. Godfrey has sued Branstad, arguing he was targeted for dismissal because he’s gay.

“This lawsuit was filed years ago and the plaintiff has delayed and delayed and delayed it,” Branstad said. “We have totally cooperated in every aspect and I think asking me to have a deposition before the election when my schedule is already extremely busy is not appropriate.”

Jack Hatch, the Democratic candidate challenging Branstad’s bid for a sixth term as governor, today said voters deserve to know more about Branstad’s actions on this case.

“I think he’s using the election as an excuse not to give the deposition,” Hatch said, “and not to have the case resolved before the election.”

Hatch suggests this case shows Branstad “bullies” state employees.

“For him to delay it is clearly a political tactic that is preventing people from really seeing what kind of a government and management of his government that he has,” Hatch said during a news conference.

The lead attorney handling the case against Branstad is Roxanne Conlin, Branstad’s opponent in 1982, which was his first successful campaign for governor. After negotiations between Conlin and the private attorney Branstad hired to handle the case, November 26 is the date set for Branstad to be questioned under oath in the defamation case. That’s the day before Thanksgiving.

Godfrey resigned from his state post in August to become the chief judge of a federal panel that rules on employee compensation appeals.  Branstad appointed an acting state workers compensation commissioner last week.

Find the audio of Branstad’s weekly news conference here.

Radio Shack financial woes could impact 30 Iowa stores

An electronics store chain that was once very popular in Iowa may soon vanish — or become more scarce. Officials at Radio Shack are talking with lenders, bond holders, shareholders and landlords as they work to fix the balance sheet.

The company may need to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization depending on the outcome of those talks. Radio Shack has more than 30 stores in Iowa. If the company can’t get into the black ink, it will likely file what’s called a pre-packaged bankruptcy. The company has been cutting costs, closing stores and shuffling management, but still reported another quarterly loss on Thursday.


Casey’s sees an increase in sales, but drop in first quarter earnings

The Ankeny-based Casey’s convenience store chain saw first quarter earnings drop, despite an increase in sales. Casey’s reported net income of $52.3 million or $1.34 a share, which was down 6.1 percent from the $55.7 million, or a $1.43 a share for the same quarter last year. Sales increased by 8.3 percent to $2.29 billion compared to $2.1 billion in the same quarter laster year.

The financial report for the quarter that ended July 31st says a reduction in renewable fuel credits by $7.2 million impacted the bottom line. The chain says its prepared food sales were up more than 11 percent for the quarter, grocery sales were up 7.7 percent and gas sales were up 3 percent. The gas sales were bolstered by the Fuel Saver program.


Galva ethanol plant adds cellulosic capability

Just days after the grand opening of POET-DSM’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, another northwest Iowa-based cellulosic ethanol project is in the spotlight. Quad County Corn Processors of Galva is holding a grand opening event today for its new “bolt-on” biorefinery that is turning corn kernel fibers into cellulosic ethanol.

Delayne Johnson, CEO of the Quad County plant, says the new process stretches the production capacity of every corn kernel that passes through the plant. “We’re converting the corn kernel cellulose into cellulosic ethanol. When we do that, it also releases more of the corn oil that becomes available for separation and recovery,” Johnson says, “and by taking those two products out, the third thing it would do is increase the protein content of our DDG feed product that we’re selling into the feed marketplace.”

The process increases the ethanol output of the corn kernel by six-percent, according to Johnson. “We’re about a 35 million gallon facility, so we’re producing about two million more gallons per year with this process,” Johnson said. Quad County, which actually started producing cellulosic ethanol back in July, hopes to license the technology to other ethanol plants.

In addition to the plants in Emmetsburg and Galva, cellulosic ethanol will soon be produced in Nevada. Dupont Danisco plans to open a cellulosic ethanol plant in the central Iowa town later this year.

By Ken Anderson, Brownfield


Fairfield credit union taken over by regulators

State and federal authorities have forced a change in management at a credit union in southeast Iowa following a June audit. The Louden Depot Community Credit Union in Fairfield has become the seventh federally-insured credit union liquidation in 2014.

The Iowa Credit Union Division placed the state-chartered credit union into receivership on Friday, and then turned receivership over to the NCUA. The Iowa Credit Union Division made the decision to take over management of Louden Depot and determined the credit union was insolvent with no prospect for restoring viable operations on its own.

According to its June 30th NCUA financial performance reports, the $5-million Louden Depot Community Credit Union was a thriving institution, however a $400,000 change in cash reserve was noted, which was a 34% drop from a March 31st report. Community 1st Credit Union of Ottumwa immediately assumed most of Louden Depot Community Credit Union’s members, assets, and loans.

The new members of Community 1st should experience no interruption in service at the current Louden Depot Community Credit Union location during this transition. The 790-member Louden Depot Community was chartered in 1954. There’s no word on any investigation into the financial discrepancies at the institution. The Fairfield Police Department says the matter is being handled by federal authorities.

(Reporting by Steve Smith KMCD, Fairfield)


Governor names acting commissioner to decide workers comp cases

Michelle McGovern

Michelle McGovern

Governor Branstad has put a woman with three decades of experience in charge of workers compensation disputes that are appealed to the state.

Michelle McGovern is a lawyer who is now the acting Iowa Workers Compensation Commissioner. She started at the agency in 1982 and has been a deputy commissioner for the past 26 years.

Christopher Godfrey, the former Workers Compensation Commissioner, left the job last month to take a job as chief judge of a federal board that decides employee compensation appeals. Governor Branstad tried to force Godfrey to resign in 2011, but Godfrey refused and has sued Branstad, accusing the governor of targeting him for dismissal because he’s gay.

Some of the Iowa lawyers who handle workers comp disputes between employees and businesses were concerned that Branstad had failed to immediately name an acting or interim commissioner in Godfrey’s place. Arbitration decisions from the state agency hadn’t been issued since Godfrey left August 21.

Branstad’s written statement announcing McGovern will now be the acting commissioner indicated “an exhaustive and extensive search for a permanent commissioner continues.”

Iowa officials meet with Japanese executives to tout Iowa expansion

Debi Durham and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds.

Economic Development director, Debi Durham and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds. (L-R)

Over 100 government and business officials from Japan arrived in Iowa Sunday for the 46th Annual Midwest U.S – Japan Association meeting in Des Moines and Debi Durham, the state’s economic development director, told reporters there’s “great potential” for Japanese investment in Iowa.

“We’ve seen some slow down of that direct foreign investment for the last several years,” Durham said during a question-and-answer session with Iowa reporters covering the event. “But certainly with the Valent opening, we’re seeing that return.”

A Japanese chemical company spent nearly $150 million to build the new Valent BioSciences plant in Osage where 89 people are now working full-time. On Monday afternoon, Durham met one-on-one with executives from four Japanese businesses, to tout Iowa locations as expansion sites.

“Actually, we are pitching specifics,” Durham told reporters. “I mean, obviously, any time we host a company we make the value proposition of why it makes sense to expand in Iowa and really play upon those things — the natural resources that we have here, the workforce that we have here.”

Yuzaburo Mogi, the honorary CEO of Kikkoman Corporation, is co-chairman of the Midwest U.S. – Japan Association and he said “business sentiment” in Japan has improved because the Japanese economy has “stabilized.”

“Those of us from Japan know the benefit of investing in the Midwest,” Mogi said during an opening speech at the conference. “…We hope this joint meeting will help us identify and develop business opportunities for all of us.”

Iowa has not hosted the association’s annual meeting since 1995. At this year’s event, Iowa’s governor signed memorandums of understanding with officials from Iowa’s “sister tate” in Japan that will expand educational relationshps between colleges in the Yamanshi Prefecture and in Iowa, plus the agreements set up exchanges among young professionals in Iowa and Japan.

There was a “gala dinner” last night at the Iowa Events Center. The executive in charge of Ajinomoto’s North America Division was the featured speaker. Ajinomoto — which means “the essense of taste” in Japanese — operates a plant in Eddyville, Iowa. The Midwest U.S. – Japan Association meeting concludes midday today.