National Playground Safety Week is wrapping up with experts asking you to take a good look at the places where your kids play. Donna Thompson is the director of the National Program for Playground Safety at the University of Northern Iowa. She says the last assessment showed Iowa’s playgrounds about the same, while nationwide, playground safety went from a “C” to a “C-plus.” Thompson says one of the biggest concerns is the landing area below play equipment. She says we need to be sure that the surfacing is in the right place, that it’s the right stuff and thick enough. She says there shouldn’t be any cement or grass or dirt, but instead, pea gravel, rubber chips, wood chips or rubber mats. Thompson says the playground equipment has gotten safer. She says she feels pleased about the manufacturers and the work they’ve done to make the playground equipment safer. Thompson says there’s one good key to knowing if your playground may be dangerous. She says if the equipment is older than 20 years, “I would seriously consider getting rid of it.” She says equipment that old would likely not meet the safety requirements. For more information on playground safety, surf to www.playgroundsafety.org.
Archives for April 2005
As gas prices bounce back up to their highest levels yet, Iowans increasingly are turning to ethanol blend fuels, which can be several cents a gallon cheaper than plain gasoline. Christi VanderVoort is Iowa coordinator for a group that promotes the high-ethanol blend known as “E-85.” She doesn’t hesitate to say the alcohol fuel has its drawbacks. She explains the science: there are fewer BTU’s British Thermal Units, in a gallon of ethanol, so you have less energy than in gasoline. Still, she’s seen prices 20- to 30-cents lower at the pump which means it’s still a better value. She says that offsets the mileage difference and you “still have a few pennies left in your wallet.” You may already be driving a “flexible-fuel” vehicle that’s capable of burning high-ethanol “E-85” fuel. “It’s flexible,” she explains, saying she’ll fill up at home in Orange City at one of the state’s E-85 pumps, but when she’s driven to Des Moines, where there’s no high-ethanol fuel, she can fill up the same Chevy Suburban with E-10, the standard ethanol blend at most gas pumps. It’s no problem, she says, because a computer module in the engine reads the oxygen level of the fuel and adjusts the timing and injection all by itself. Other models of everyday vehicles from many top manufacturers are flexible-fuel ready, and to find out if yours is one, surf to the groupo’s website to find a list or find out how to check your VIN number for a code that tells if it can burn high-ethanol fuel. www.e85fuel.com
In a controversial move, Scott County supervisors have given the initial approval to rezone 460 acres of farmland near the town of Parkview from agriculture to ag preservation. The agricultural preservation designation will prevent development on the property. Supervisors says it’s prime farmland and they want to preserve it, but some of the people who own the land, including 25-year farmer Tom Diericks, are not pleased. Diericks says “None of the landowners requested the change and, like one of the supervisors mentioned, nobody likes being told that there’s going to be changes forced upon them.” Parkview is just a few miles north of Davenport. Supervisors say they want to stop urban sprawl and preserve what they consider prime farmland, but Diericks says it’s anything but prime. Diericks says the land is very fragile and prone to erosion, calling the supervisors’ definitions and actions “flawed.” A second reading and vote on the issue are planned for next week — May fifth.
This past week Maytag reported an 80 percent loss in the first quarter and the company’s stock dropped to about 10-dollars-a-share — the lowest level in 14 years. St. Ambrose business professor Bill Lynn says the high costs of steel and energy are hurting the Newton-based company. Lynn says a lack of brand-loyalty is taking its toll as consumers now shop for the bargain rather than the brand. “It just makes it tougher and tougher for companies to keep prices up,” Lynn says. The professor says moving more jobs to Mexico may not be the answer. Lynn says sometimes companies discover that low-priced labor is not cheap labor. “They find out that these workers are not quite as productive,” Lynn says. Lynn, who also serves as a consultant to businesses, expects Maytag to survive after making adjustments.
An appeals court has upheld a state law that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or daycare. The U-S Circuit Corut of Appeals says the restriction does not violate a sex offender’s rights. The ruling cited a U-S Supreme Court decision that said while such residency restrictions do infringe on a sex offender’s personal life, it’s narrowly tailored to serve a “compelling public interest.” State Senator Chuck Larson, a Republican from Cedar Rapids, hails the ruling.”This is an important decision for public safety and for the state of Iowa,” Larson says. “This decision will be looked to at a national level as well.” Other states and cites have adopted similar rules which bar those who’ve been found guilty of a sex crime from living near schools or day care centers. “The (Iowa) legislature had a reasonable justification for this law, for health and public safety,” Larson says. Last year, a district court judge struck down the law, though, agreeing with those who said the law made it too difficult for some sex offenders to find a place to live. As a result, legislators had intended to enact a new law that would establish a 1000 foot zone around schools and day care centers where sex offenders could not live. Now, with this latest federal court ruling, that plan has been scrapped because the 2000 foot barrier has been reinstated with the court’s decision.”Two-thousand feet is the appropriate standard and I do believe that it is functional,” Larson says. “There were experts who testified to the court that the greater the effort to keep these sex offenders away from our children will help remove the temptation or reduce the temptation for them to re-offend.” Iowa lawmakers are working on a bill that cracks down on sex offenders, an effort that began after a convicted sex offender was accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl. That bill is in limbo, though, as the two sides on the death penalty issue feud over whether the Senate should debate capital punishment for child killers.
The Iowa House quit work late yesterday (Friday) afternoon and won’t return to Des Moines until the state Senate makes some decisions. The Senate is evenly-divided between Republicans and Democrats and has been unable to agree on a state spending plan. The Co-Leaders of the Senate intend to sit down behind closed doors over the next few days and hammer out a compromise. “It’s kind of like if you’re, you know, trying to bargain on buying a car. You hae one price. The salesman has another price and you’re trying to meet somewhere,” Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Dows, says. “That’s kind of this whole process, only with much bigger numbers.” House members passed their version of the state budget and adjourned on Friday evening, the 110th day of the 2005 Legislative session. It’s the target date for ending since it’s the day legislators’ daily expense money dries up. Iverson isn’t concerned. “I think more people are interested in having us do our job properly than having us get out on the 110th day,” Iverson says. The other Senate Co-Leader, Democrat Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, says if he and Iverson can agree on a sticker price, the rest of the Senate will return Monday to haggle over the extras. “This little roller coaster of this process where all 150 people all have to come collectively to the same conclusion — that’s not easy to accomplish,” Gronstal says. He says decisions won’t come easy, or quickly. “I think it’s certainly possible that we could, on Tuesday or Wednesday, come to a framework for an agreement…and then executive that by Friday, maybe Saturday,” Gronstal says. “That’s possible.” In addition to spending items, the Senate is still deadlocked over the death penalty. At least 17 Republican senators want to debate the issue. Gronstal — the Democratic leader — vows to stifle any attempt to debate capital punishment. That impasse could kill a bill that takes other steps to toughen Iowa’s laws dealing with sex offenders.
April went from a month where you could sleep with your windows open to one where you had to turn on the heater. State Climatologist Harry Hillaker says the official weather readings confirm the extremes. He says the first three weeks of the month were extremely warm and Iowa was on a pace to have it warmest April ever. He says we were 11 degrees ahead of normal with every day of the first 21 days of the month averaging about normal. The last nine days, though, all finished below normal for temperatures. Hillaker says once the figures are all in — this April will go down as one of the top ten warmest. He says at the very least it will be the warmest April since 1985. There should be plenty of May flowers as Hillaker says the April showers were abundant. “Basically the rainfall kind of followed the temperatures. We had quite a bit of rain during especially the second and third weeks when it was quite warm,” Hillaker says. “When it turned cooler the rainfall hasn’t been quite as heavy or frequent.” He says overall we averaged about six inches of rain — about a quarter inch more than usual. Hillaker says the rainfall varied widely. Some parts of western Iowa were very, very wet, such as Harrison County. He says other parts of the state, like the northeast and north-central, were very, very dry. Hillaker says 2005 is turning out to be a little damper than normal. Overall precipitation for the first third of the year is running a little ahead of average, while temperature wise it’s been a pretty mild year thus far.
The sixth annual “White Privilege Conference” is going on at Central College in Pella. Organizer Eddie Moore, Jr. is Director of Intercultural Life at the College, and he says the name raises a lot of eyebrows and might even be misconstrued as a gathering of people who favor racism, instead of aiming to abolish it. He says it’s an educational conference and it’s about dealing with “some ugly historical things in our country” and making sure those things aren’t still going on today. Professionals have come from all over to the annual conference, and Moore says there are also a lot of students. One of the biggest things gonig on is the “High School Institute,” and around a hundred kids from schools in several states are learning about white privilege. There’s also entertainment, theatrical tributes to notable people including Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks. There are comedy and musical performances as well as workshops on things like teacher education. It’s not all lecture-style learning, as Moore says everyone was invited to a dinner last night that was partly a Passover event. “Sometimes the best way to learn is breaking bread with your neighbor,” Moore says. He says the Shabbat dinner was a good way for people to learn about Jewish history and celebrations while they enjoy some fun and music. The conference continues through today (Saturday), and Moore says he thinks it will be an annual event — on the 25th conference he says he’ll assess and see if they should keep on going. Read more by surfing to http://www.whiteprivilegeconference.com.
Police in Ottumwa have charged one person in an attack last week that sent two people to the hospital with serious injuries. 44-year-old Lynn Nathaniel of Ottumwa is being held in the Wappello County jail on 52-thousand dollars bond, on charges of attempted murder and violation of a restraining order. Investigation into a stabbing on April 21 reveals that Nathaniel confronted two people on the city’s south side. 36-year-old Christi Barwick and Guadalupe Martinez of Ottumwa received life-threatening knife wounds. When officers went to Nathaniel’s house, he began stabbing himself in the chest. Barwick and Martinez continue to recover at University Hospitals in Iowa City, while Nathaniel was treated at Ottumwa Regional Health Center.
A former state trooper has been formally charged with second-degree sexual abuse. 39-year-old Karl Kluender (rhymes thunder) was formally charged this week in Crawford County district court. The Huxley man was fired from his job with the State Patrol earlier this month, following an investigation into allegations that he sexually abused his 7-year-old niece at his parents’ Denison apartment back in 1993. Kluender’s free on bond though he’s restricted to Story County, where he lives, except for trips to Des Moines to see his attorney and to Crawford County for future court appearances. Kluender’s scheduled to be arraigned in Crawford County District Court on May 16.