July 24, 2014

Senator Harkin says Senator Grassley is ‘wrong’ on undocumented children issue

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley blasts the Obama administration for not telling state officials about dozens of Central American children being placed in Iowa after entering the U.S. illegally. Grassley, a Republican, says the feds were wrong to put the 139 children in Iowa homes without giving the state a heads-up to provide health care, mental health care and other state services.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, disagrees. “My colleague is just wrong in saying that somehow we ought to let everyone know where these kids are, who they are,” Harkin says. “That is wrong.” Harkin says the operation was kept secret for a reason as there have been angry protests in other U.S. cities along the Mexican border which likely traumatized the already-frightened children. “These kids need to be protected, housed and kept safe,” Harkin says. “They don’t need to be made public objects where perhaps people can go out and picket a house. Maybe some family has taken in two or three of these kids to feed them and keep them safe. This is a humanitarian gesture.”

Reports say as many as 57,000 children from Central American nations have entered the U.S., undocumented and unaccompanied, since last fall. Earlier this week, Governor Branstad said he didn’t want the children brought to Iowa, calling them “lawbreakers.” Again, Harkin disagrees: “There’s a reason for the privacy, there’s a reason to protect these kids,” Harkin says. “Keep in mind, these kids are not criminals, they’re refugees. They’re kids that are escaping murder and violence and rape and all kinds of bad things.”

The children deserve due process, Harkin says, and it needs to be determined if they qualify for asylum. “I just met yesterday with the ambassadors of all three countries, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala,” Harkin says. “Things are now being put in place to help stem the exodus of these kids from those three countries.” Grassley is quoted as saying the cost to taxpayers to care for the children could be as much as one-thousand dollars per day.


Decorah man drowns in Upper Iowa River

A Decorah man has been identified as the victim of a drowning Wednesday evening in the Upper Iowa River. The Decorah Police Department received a 911 call from a woman just after 8 p.m. who said her friend was struggling in the Upper Iowa river, and had gone under and failed to resurface.

Police and Decorah firefighters responded, and a body was briefly seen just under the surface of the water — about 500 yards downstream from the College Drive bridge — however, the body then quickly submerged. Emergency personnel lined the river, between the College Drive bridge and the Fifth street bridge, and also called for additional assistance.

The body of the drowning victim, identified as 25-year-old Matthew Lundt of Decorah, was found shortly after 10:30 p.m. by Decorah Fire Department personnel, in the river near Dunnings Spring in Decorah.

(Reporting by Roger King, KOEL, Olewein)


Former editor of Newton paper files complaint over firing

The former editor of the Newton Daily News has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Forty-one-year-old Bob Eschilman and his attorney held a news conference Wednesday where he claims his constitutional rights were violated because he was fire from the newspaper for his religious beliefs.

His firing in early May came one week after he wrote a personal blog criticizing gay organizations for trying to rewrite the Bible to be more gay friendly to make their sinful nature “right with God.” He used words like “Gaystopo” “Flaming Homo” in the blog “It wasn’t for publication, it was for a personal blog that maybe 30 people a day were looking at, mainly family and friends,” Eschilman says.

The blog appeared on April 28th and the newspaper put Eschilman on paid suspension two days later. He was fired the following week. “To be fired for basically on my own time expressing my personal and deeply held religious views, it’s shocking,” Eschilman says. In an editorial published in the Newton Daily News the day after Eschilman was fired, the president Shaw Media the parent company of the paper, wrote Eschilman was entitled to his opinion — but his public airing of it compromised the reputation of the newspaper and his ability to lead it.

Eschilman is being represented by Des Moines attorney Matt Whittaker, who says the firing was against the law. “I think Bob was expressing his deeply held religious beliefs, which are mainstream Christian beliefs quite frankly, and that is what is protected,” Whittaker says. Whitaker is a volunteer attorney with Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal organization focusing on religious liberty issues.

Jeremy Dys,is a senior lawyer with Liberty Institute. “You cannot be fired for your religious beliefs or for your faith,” Dys says. “If anything you have to be accommodated while you are at work for your religious beliefs. Shaw media did not even offer that to Bob, instead they just summarily fired him.” If the commission rules in Eschilman’s favor, it could order Shaw Media of Dixon, Illinois to give him back pay and damages.

(Reporting by Randy Van, KCOB, Newton)


State board questions principal about altered student test scores

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners has wrapped up a three-day hearing about suspiciously high test results from a Davenport elementary school.

Former Madison Elementary School principal Sara Gott has been charged with misrepresenting or falsifying information along with one count of unethical practice, charges that could end her education career. Gott denies the charges. Gott told the board this week that she didn’t believe anyone at her school would have altered the answers on the yearly “Iowa Assessment” test — until she was shown the answer sheets during the investigation.

“The eraser marks were all in the same vicinity on the answer sheet,” Gott testified, “and I knew then that I was starting to see what they were talking about. And then the next student had 35 eraser marks.”

According to Gott, another principal in the district warned her just before she took the job at Madison Elementary in 2011 that the school’s test results were skewed.

“She has been concerned for years and has talked to the district office about elevated test scores at Madison,” Gott told the board. “Not just test scores, but when those students get to J.B. Young, there’s always been a very high concern that their abilities are not what they’re showing.”

J.B. Young is a junior high school in Davenport. Gott admitted during this week’s hearing that she shared copies of the previous year’s tests to help students prepare for the annual standardized tests, but Gott says it was her understanding the practice was commonplace in the district.

Gott no longer works at Madison Elementary. She was reassigned last year to serve as principal at another school in Davenport. It will likely be several weeks before the Board of Education Examiners issues its decision on the case.

Search underway for suspect after Coalville home invasion

The search for a suspect is underway in north-central Iowa after a home invasion Wednesday in the town of Coalville. The incident happened shortly after 12 noon when a female reported a male inside her residence.

The individual described was a bald white male with a stock build wearing a white tank top. He forcibly entered the residence. A news release from the Webster County Sheriff stated that a struggle ensued and the homeowner was able to retreat to a back bedroom where her firearm was located. She discharged the weapon at the suspect when he then ran from the residence.

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Conference helps veterans find opportunities in farming

A two-day conference this week in central Iowa aims to help veterans and active-duty members of the military overcome obstacles and find opportunities to start farming. The Midwest Conference for Farmer Veterans is planned for tomorrow  and Saturday in Des Moines. Ed Cox is one organizer of the gathering which helps take soldiers from the battlefield to the farm field. “It’s open to the public and free for any farmers or veterans,” Cox says. “Mostly, it will be veterans of all eras but a lot of them are going to be recently-returned veterans that are looking to get into farming, whether that’s returning to a family farm or starting a new farm of their own.”

Cox is chairman of the Farmer Veteran Coalition of Iowa and is staff attorney for the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University. He says you don’t often hear about soldiers coming home from Afghanistan, for example, and becoming farmers. “You don’t and a lot of people don’t, but it makes sense,” Cox says. “There’s a lot of similarities between the military and agriculture. It takes that same mindset in terms of a lot of self-reliance, adaptability and using a lot of technology as well.”

Studies have found more than 40-percent of veterans are from rural areas, so Cox says it’s vital for rural development to help veterans put down roots and grow a career in agriculture. He expects at least four-dozen attendees at this weekend’s conference. “We’ll have a farm tour Friday morning of a diversified farm operation that has corn and beans as well as livestock and specialty crops for local markets,” Cox says. “We’ll come back to Drake University for seminars, those will be based around land access, business development, legal issues.”

They’ll also discuss how to access various U.S.D.A. programs and others through the V-A that target farming. Cox notes some returning veterans are looking for a continued sense of service and purpose, and with farming, they can get that by helping to feed their communities and their country. Learn more at: iowafarmerveteran.org

U.S. Attorney seeks information from victims in DeCoster egg case

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa is looking for people who may’ve been impacted in the Quality Egg case in Wright County. Spokesman Peter Deegan explains what they are seeking. “We’re looking to contact anyone who believes they were sickened from eggs that were distributed by Quality Egg, LLC from about the beginning of 2010 to August of 2010, due to eggs that were contaminated with Salmonella,” Deegan says.

Deegan says they are looking for information to use in the sentencing of the two owners of the egg company. Seventy-nine-year-old Austin “Jack” DeCoster of Turner, Maine, and 51-year-old Peter DeCoster of Clarion each pled guilty to one count of introducing adulterated food into into interstate commerce in federal court in Sioux City.

Deegan asks anyone who believes they ate some of the bad eggs should contact them.”Visit our website at the U.S. Attorney’s office that’s at: www.justice.gov/usao/ian, or contact our victim witness coordinator, Shari Konarske at 319-363-6333,” Deegan says.

He says they will take the needed information when you contact them. “Right now we are asking anyone who believes they were sickened to go ahead contact us, and we’ll gather the information and take the process forward from there,” according to Deegan. The information provided by victims will be used to help determine the sentences given the DeCosters.