October 21, 2014

Regents to consider tuition increase along with savings proposals

Regents-buildingThe board that governs the three state universities will discuss proposals from a consultant designed to save money along with a proposal for the first tuition increase in two years at their meeting next week in Iowa City. The Deloitte consulting firm told the Board of Regents there could be some staff cuts associated with what are called the “business practices” proposals they outlined in a meeting earlier this month.

The Regents have just completed hearings at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa to discuss the issue. Jeneane Beck with UNI says they’ll talk more about the proposals at this meeting. “The presidents of each institution will provide some general feedback that they’ve received on their campus, some overall feelings of any concerns people might have, or any support people might have for the recommendations made by Deloitte,” Beck says. “And then on November 14th at that special board meeting the board will vote whether to move forward with implementation of all if any of the eight administrative business cases.”

The cost of implementing the 8 recommendations has not been determined, and Beck says there are several variables that will determine the cost.

“There are some that maybe the universities believe they can implement on their own. There might be some that they believe they need assistance from an outside vendor,” Beck explains, “and that has yet to be determined. If you would move to using an outside vendor, those are costs that would have to be negotiated.”

The Board of Regents will also discuss a tuition increase of 1.75 percent for resident students at ISU and UNI and 1.74 percent at the U-I. Board spokesperson, Sheila Doyle Koppin, says the tuition was last raised in the 2012-2013 academic year and frozen in the next two years. The increase will add 116 dollars to the tuition bill at each school.

The board also proposes an increase in mandatory fees of 25 dollars at the U-I, $4.50 at ISU and $68 at UNI.


County official says Democrats ‘grasping at straws’ with conflict of interest allegation against Ernst

Bryant Amos

Bryant Amos

A county supervisor who voted to hire Culver Construction to work on county projects says everyone involved knew the business was owned by Joni Ernst’s father.

Ernst is now the Iowa Republican Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate. Democrats have been suggesting that while Ernst was the Montgomery County Auditor she failed to disclose her father’s firm was bidding for and getting county business. Bryant Amos, the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, says “everyone in the county” knew Culver Construction was owned by Ernst’s father.

“In a small community, that was common knowledge. I really feel that they’re really grasping at straws to find something negative here,” Amos says. “At that time, if there would have been anything at all that was not above the board and politically correct, we would have been put on the carpet right then.”

Culver Construction was awarded $215,000 worth of county contracts when Ernst served as Montgomery County’s auditor. Democrats have charged that’s a conflict of interest. Amos says Ernst had no vote on the matter because he and the other county supervisors opened the bids and voted to award the contracts.

Former Iowa Attorney General Bonnie Campbell — a former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party — last week said state law stipulates that a county official’s “immediate family members” — including their parents — are not to get county contracts. Amos says in a small county like Montgomery County, that could “cut out” a lot of potential low bidders on county contracts and cost taxpayers more money.

“Why would you refuse a low bid because there’s a relationship? I mean, how far does that relationship go? Could it be a fourth, fifth cousin, so that eliminates them?” Amos asks. “I realize this is a lot closer than that, but where do you draw the line?”

Amos says there were a lot of construction firms competing for the work and none complained when Culver Construction was the low-bidder and got the county contracts.

“If there would have been anything inappropriate, it would have been brought up at that time,” Amos says.

According to the Ernst campaign, Ernst does not have a financial stake in her father’s company and a spokeswoman for Ernst calls the allegations of a conflict of interest “frivolous.”

Ernst is running against Democrat Bruce Braley for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Iowa’s U.S. Senate debate partly focused on remarks behind closed doors

With yet another poll showing Iowa’s U.S. Senate race a virtual dead heat, the two candidates squared off in a high-stakes debate on live television tonight in Davenport. The Bloomberg/Des Moines Register “Iowa Poll” released late Saturday afternoon found Republican Joni Ernst had the support of 47 percent of those surveyed and Democrat Bruce Braley was one-point behind, at 46 percent.

At the end of tonight’s debate, Ernst accused Braley of having a “failed record.”

“I disagree almost completely with Congressman Braley and President Barack Obama on just about everything,” Ernst said.

Braley attacked Ernst for saying the EPA should be eliminated and for suggesting privatizing Social Security might be an option for younger workers.

“Senator Ernst is fond of saying things that sound good, but when you look at what they mean to Iowans, they don’t make Iowans better off,” Braley said.

Ernst shot back.

“When you talk about your words, behind closed doors at a fundraiser in Texas, you poked fun at Senator Grassley for being just a farmer without a law degree,” Ernst said, getting cheers and applause from her supporters in the audience.

Braley countered by bringing up the Oklahoma billionaires who made their money in the oil industry.

“You attended two secret donor meetings in California that were hosted by the Koch brothers. You called them ‘wonderful’ at that meeting,” Braley said, as Ernst laughed softly into her microphone. “You credited them with launching your senate campaign and these are the same Koch brothers who have seven different organizations attacking me right now in Iowa.”

The two candidates agreed on one issue during the hour-long forum. Neither would support an effort in congress to undo President Obama’s executive order which has granted temporary legal status to young adults who were illegally brought into the country when they were under the age of 16. They both said the U.S. must do more to stop Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, but Ernst questioned Braley’s commitment to the effort.

“Just earlier this year in June after Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, was taken by ISIS he voted against funding any combat actions in Iraq and yet now he’s asking that congress come back to reconsider that. I’m not sure where to go with that and I know that he twice voted to defund our combat troops while they were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ernst said.

Braley responded: “Senator Ernst knows that that’s just not true. What I voted for was to end a decade-long committment of US troops and I made it very clear that I supported pay increases for those troops and was not going to defund them and Senator Ernst also knows that the vote she’s talking about was a bipartisan vote where Republicans and Democrats had concerns about who we were going to be helping and what threat we were going to be addressing.”

The event was hosted by the Quad-City Times and KWQC TV and held at St. Ambrose University in Davenport. The third and final debate between these two candidates is scheduled for Thursday in Sioux City.

The two are competing for the first open U.S. Senate seat in Iowa for three decades. Long-time Democratic Senator Tom Harkin announced in January of 2013 that he would not seek reelection.

First Lady Michelle Obama campaigns in Iowa for Braley (AUDIO)

Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to a crowd of over 1,200 at Drake University this afternoon, urging students and supporters to “show up” and “get to work” to elect Bruce Braley to the U.S. Senate.

“And Iowa, we know how to do this. We’ve done it before,” Obama said. “We know how to do this, so if we keep stepping up and bringing others along with us, then I know that we can we keep making that change we believe in. I know that we can elect Bruce Braley the next senator from Iowa.”

A satellite voting station on the Des Moines campus remained open for 45 minutes after the First Lady’s speech ended and some in the crowd said they were planning to go vote.

During her 23-minute speech Obama reminisced about campaigning with her husband in Iowa for the 2008 and 2012 elections and she warned President Obama’s agenda would be stymied if Republicans win the U.S. Senate.

Michelle Obama at Drake University.

Michelle Obama at Drake University.

“Frankly, if we don’t elect leaders like Bruce to the senate, it’s going to be a whole lot harder to finish what we started — and we’ve been doing good — because if we don’t bring leaders like Bruce in, things will get even worse out in Washington,” Obama said. “We’ll just see more conflict and obstruction, more lawsuits and talk about impeachment, more votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act or even shut down the government — behavior that just wastes time and it definitely wastes taxpayers’ money.”

Obama mispronounced Braley’s name as “Bailey” seven times before the crowd got involved as she was reciting a campaign web address. As people in the crowd shouted “Braley.” Obama responded: “What did I say? I’m losing it. I am getting old.”

Obama laughed before adding: “I’ve been traveling too much.”

She then correctly and emphatically pronounced Braley’s name, adding: “I know where I am. I know what I’m doing.” The crowd cheered and applauded.

Within half an hour of the event’s conclusion Republicans had claimed the domain name “VoteBruceBailey.com” and linked it directly to the campaign website for Joni Ernst, Braley’s Republican opponent. The Braley campaign handed out cards at the rally, asking for more volunteers to sign up to canvas neighborhoods and turn out voters.

AUDIO of Bruce Braley & Michelle Obama, 37:00

Fayette County couple faces animal neglect charges

Horse found by Fayette County deputies.

Horse found by Fayette County deputies.

The Fayette County Sheriff’s Department says animal neglect charges are pending against an Arlington couple. Deputies executed a search warrant Thursday at a property owned by 49-year-old Duane John Landis and 48-year-old Margaret Ann Landis after receiving a tip about possible animal abuse.

Deputies searched the property with a local veterinarian and found five horses that were thin and malnourished. The couple gave up custody of four of the horses which they owned, and they were put in the care of volunteers. The fifth horse is owned by a family member and was turned over to the owner. Deputies also found animal carcasses on the property.

Deputies say charges for animal neglect and failure to dispose of animal carcasses are pending.

Photos courtesy of Fayette County Sheriff.


State regulators hire company to handle greyhound racing transition

State regulators selected a company Thursday to continue the process of cutting the number of greyhound tracks in half. State lawmakers created a deal last session that was signed into law by the governor that shuts down the Council Bluffs track and shifts the management of dog racing in Dubuque to the Iowa Greyhound Association.

The deal requires the casinos that are now running the tracks to pay into a retirement fund to get out of the dog-racing business. Iowa Racing and Gaming administrator Brian Ohorilko says Spectrum Gaming of New Jersey will decide who gets paid from that fund. “What this vendor will do is go through a public process and make a recommendation to the commission promulgating rules for this distribution,” Ohorilko says.

The company will use the next several months to come up with a plan. “The process for them to receive public input will go on throughout the winter. The report will be expected in late February with a public presentation at the March meeting.” Ohorilko says. The deal reached in the legislation has the Council Bluffs casino paying $65 million over the next seven years, and the Dubuque casino will pay one million dollars each year into the fund. Half of the fund goes to retiring greyhound breeders and the other half goes to those still in the industry.

Ohorilko says the paperwork is also in the works to shut down the two current dog tracks. He says both tracks have given the commission notice that they intend to terminate live greyhound racing. Ohorilko says December 31st is the last day the Mystic track can hold the racetrack license in Dubuque. The track is running simulcast races right now.

The western Iowa track has a little more time before it stops running the dogs. “Horseshoe over in Council Bluffs, the statute requires them to run through the 2015 racing season. They run year-round, so there will be one more year there,” according to Ohorilko.

As for the new track management, the Iowa Greyhound Association filed an application October 1st for a license to run greyhounds. “The commission is currently reviewing that application, the DCI is performing background checks on board members and key employees,” Ohorilko say. “A decision will need to be made by December 1st as to whether to grant that license. Should that license be awarded, they will be able to open on January 1st.”

He says the track would begin with simulcast racing in January if it is approved for the license. He says they plan to have public input before the final decision on the license with a special meeting later this month or early November to allow the Iowa Greyhound Association to present their application, and to get public input from those who support or are against the new license.

The Racing and Gaming Commission made the decisions on the greyhound issue at their meeting Thursday in Clinton.


DCI releases store video in Hot Lotto jackpot mystery

This is the person buying the mystery Hot Lotto ticket.

This is the person buying the mystery Hot Lotto ticket.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation released video from a convenience store today as they seek out more information from the public in trying to find the person who bought a multi-million dollar winning lottery ticket that ended up never being cashed.

The Hot Lotto ticket had the winning numbers for a $16 million jackpot in the December 29th, 2010 drawing.

Almost one year later just before the ticket was to expire, a lawyer named Crawford Shaw tried to cash in the ticket on behalf of a trust based in Belize known as Haxam Investments. Shaw eventually withdrew the claim on the ticket after refusing to give out more information on his clients.

DCI assistant director Dave Jobes says they still want to know the identity of the person who bought the ticket at a Quick Trip store along I-80 in Des Moines.

DCI assistant director Dave Jobes.

DCI assistant director Dave Jobes.

“We’ve developed a lot of good investigative information, its led us to pursue some additional leads in the Houston, Texas area. But before we can tie everything together and before we can really figure out the full story behind this case, we need to identify that ticket purchaser,” Jobes says.

Video from inside the convenience store shows what appears to be a man wearing winter clothes buying the ticket and a hot dog. Jobes was asked how he would describe the man and  says he won’t elaborate on a description as they don’t want to taint anyone’s impression when they see the video.

Jobes says Crawford Shaw is cooperating. “I can’t get into details of that. I can tell you that he has ultimately agreed to cooperate with us and continues to be in contact with us,” Jobes says. He was asked if they have focused on Houston because Shaw has many business contacts there. “I think that’s a stretch at this point, that’s beyond what we know today,” Jobes says. “We are still trying to piece everything together and that’s why were are seeking the public’s help in identifying this person.”

Jobes says it is important to find and talk to the person seen in the video buying the ticket to close the case. “We have not reason to believe that the original ticket purchaser has done anything illegal at this point,” Jobes explains. “We simply don’t know how they are. We don’t know if they are a victim, we don’t know if they are a participant, we just don’t know at this point. And we can’t answer those questions until we get some additional leads and we get a better understanding of who that person was.”

The video released today shows the person from a couple of angles inside the store. Jobes was asked if there is video outside the store that shows the person leaving, and possibly a vehicle. He says he can’t answer that. “There are certain aspects of the investigation we are keeping confidential to protect the integrity of the case,” Jobes says.

The money from the jackpot was eventually given away in another Iowa Lottery contest. Jobes was asked why they are still pursuing the identity of the ticket purchaser. He says there are two reasons. “First, a fraud was perpetrated when someone tried to redeem the ticket fraudulently. From what we know at this point, they didn’t have a lawful claim to that jackpot and attempted to claim it anyway. That may prove to be different as we progress in the investigation — but from what we know now, that would be the case,” Jobes says. “The other reason to pursue it is we don’t know if something happened to the original ticket purchaser. We simply don’t know at this point.”

Jobes asks as many people as possible to view the video and see if they can identify anything about the person purchasing the ticket.

He then asks that they fill out this on-line survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/7Z59VRZ-HOTLOTTO_TICKET_PURCAHASE_TIPLINE