Latest News from Gazette Online

Who is Edward Lampert: the billionaire survived kidnapping and Kmart, then came Sears

Billionaire investor and former Sears chairman and CEO Edward “Eddie” Lampert, 56, seemingly had a golden touch before presiding over the storied retailer’s descent into bankruptcy.

A Yale graduate whose college roommates included future U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Lampert cut his teeth at Goldman Sachs and started his successful hedge fund, ESL, while still in his 20s.

In 2003, he took control of a bankrupt Kmart and made it profitable — until he combined it with Sears two years later in an $11 billion deal that eventually sunk both retailers.

But Lampert has had to overcome more than just the tumultuous attempt to turn around Sears, surviving the early death of his father, the arrest of his first boss and a fortunately bungled kidnapping.

Father’s death

The son of a lawyer and a stay-at-home mom, Lampert grew up in relative affluence on the North Shore of Long Island, N.Y.

But everything changed at age 14, when his father died of a heart attack, putting the family’s finances on shaky ground.

Lampert’s mother went to work as a sales clerk and he pitched in with summer jobs.

Lampert attended Yale on financial aid, where his roommates included Mnuchin, whose father was a senior partner at Goldman Sachs.

Lampert landed an internship at Goldman before his senior year and a full-time gig after graduation.

Goldman Sachs

Lampert worked in the risk arbitrage department at the investment firm for four years, where colleagues included former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

He reportedly made the decision to strike out on his own after the 1987 arrest of Robert Freeman, head of stock arbitrage at Goldman, on insider trading charges.

Launching ESL

In 1988, Lampert started his own hedge fund, ESL Investments, with financial backing from former Goldman Sachs bigwig Richard Rainwater.

His strategy was long-term investing for the well-heeled, with a minimum investment of $10 million for five years.

Investors included David Geffen, Michael Dell and Mnuchin, among others.

Big investing wins

Lampert’s investing acumen scored some big wins at ESL, including large stakes in auto parts retailer AutoZone and car dealership AutoNation, that helped the firm achieve annual returns north of 20 percent for years.

ESL took a similarly large stake in Kmart, guiding it out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003 and turning annual profits that only burnished Lampert’s reputation as a savvy investor in retail.

Bungled kidnapping

In January 2003, as Lampert was working on Kmart’s reorganization plan, he was forced into the back seat of a Ford SUV at the garage of his Greenwich, Conn., office building by four men, who held him hostage at a motel for 28 hours.

The kidnappers brandished a shotgun, used Lampert’s credit card to buy pizza and attempted to negotiate the terms of his release. They freed Lampert after he agreed to pay a $5 million ransom.

He never paid and all four men were arrested within days.

Sears downfall

Despite all the investment wins, Lampert perhaps is best known for overseeing the inexorable demise of Sears.

In 2005, his discount retailer, Kmart, acquired Sears in an $11 billion deal that formed what Lampert hoped would be a formidable rival to Walmart.

Instead, the Great Recession hit, the age of Amazon dawned and Sears Holdings Corp. saw years of revenue declines and mounting losses before filing for bankruptcy in October.

Being funny at work can hurt women: study

Over Jayna Fey’s 15 years in the workforce, she’s been called too assertive, too comfortable, too “frowny,” too familiar. Accurate or not, she used to make self-deprecating jokes about these traits.

Not anymore. The 30-year-old consultant says she’s done making cracks about who she is: a pixie-cut, septum-ring-wearing leader with a brash sense of humor.

But that doesn’t mean Fey — who’s also managed restaurants and dabbled in standup comedy — is done being funny at work. There are too many benefits.

“I don’t want to have any job or be in any environment long term,” she said, “where we can’t make each other laugh.”

A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology that showed being funny at work can hurt women and help men sparked a conversation about how women professionals fare when dropping jokes in the office.

Women who were interviewed for this article said perceptions of their wisecracks vary from workplace to workplace, from conversation to conversation.

What’s consistent is that good things can happen for women who use humor at work, such as sprinkling a presentation with puns to make others comfortable or easing tension with a sarcastic one-liner.

Jonathan Evans, the study author and a doctoral student in management at the University of Arizona, said that while the results suggest women can’t benefit from using humor in the same way their male colleagues do, the goal wasn’t to tell women to tone it down.

Instead, people should use the report to recognize the prejudice.

“When we evaluate others, let’s be aware there tends to be this negative bias,” he said, “and let’s pay more attention to that so we can reduce it.”

Researchers had two actors, a man and a woman, deliver presentations as if they were managers of a retail store. Both presented two reports, one funny and one not.

The researchers avoided humor that could be risky for women — no sardonic jabs, no making fun. They opted for conversational wit that was more light and self-critical.

More than 300 participants watched their presentations, rating whether they found the boss “functional” or “disruptive.”

When the male actor was funny, he was rated as more functional. When the female actor was funny, she was rated as more disruptive.

But plenty of funny women haven’t seen their careers play out that way. Mina Llona, aka radio host Mina SayWhat on Sirius XM’s the Heat and Boom 103.9, is sure that humor helped her as a Latina working in urban radio.

“There’s a stigma that comes with being a woman in a male-dominated field. Sometimes, they think we’re too serious or we’re too focused,” she said. “There’s these stereotypes that come with being that kind of woman. I think that being comical or being witty kind of breaks down some of those stereotypes.”

Brittnie Knight, a program associate at the Knight Foundation who’s hosted a podcast called “Black Girls Laughing,” knows how to adapt her humor to the audience at work. Knight, a biracial black lesbian who lives in West Philadelphia, can’t remember ever being told that a joke of hers was inappropriate. And she cracks jokes all the time. Her sarcasm, she said, “is always on.”

Her last boss, she explained, was a white man who was also sarcastic. She thinks when she was up for her current job, he liked that they shared that quality.

“But normally, I don’t think people respond to my sarcasm as well as he did,” she said.

Some of her peers in the not-for-profit world, she explained, have read her as aggressive and sassy. If she wasn’t a black woman, she doesn’t think that would happen.

As with many professionals, she uses humor to broach tough conversations — such as using sarcasm to call out everything from casual racism to institutional biases.

That approach gets the conversation rolling, she said, but “hasn’t worked with seeing action followed up with that.”

She’s been thinking about her sense of humor recently, talking about it in therapy.

“I feel like I use it as a shield for other people,” she said. “And it really sucks when I think about that that’s what I feel like I have to do.”

A 2000 study in the Journal of Managerial Psychology noted that women and people of color across genders in the workplace historically were discouraged in professional development guides to avoid humor altogether.

But in diverse settings, people might be using jokes as a means to cope. Evans said that while they didn’t evaluate how race would shift reactions, that merits further study.

Researchers say humor improves work relationships, but funny comments can be ambiguous and humor styles vary, especially in cross-cultural conversations.

Also, how people hear humor is influenced by stereotypes.

Cecily Cooper, an associate professor of management at the University of Miami who’s researched humor in workplaces, said those differences even can cause anxiety during conversations that should be fun. She added that the study says more about gender than humor.

“We still have these pervasive gender differences in terms of how women are evaluated compared to men,” she said, “and in initial reactions, women never fare as well, and that’s been shown over and over again in a lot of different contexts.”

Since the experiment captured only first impressions, the study’s authors acknowledge that other factors could offset a poor reception to jokes. For example, the researchers wrote in the Harvard Business Review, a funny woman boss with “a reputation for arriving early, staying late” could skip the costs that other women pay for trying to get laughs.

The problem, they wrote, is this shows women must “meet a higher performance standard before benefiting from the use of humor.”

SayWhat said there are pluses to using humor as a woman in radio — using it makes you more likable and brings levity to news or commentary.

Still, she’s noticed women can’t seem to use sexual humor the way men can, without risking the consequences or being oversexualized.

When she’s discussing R-rated topics on her show, she’s careful about not going too far.

Navigating this, she said, is about balance. And learning not to put women in boxes.

“God forbid I’m smart and I’m pretty,” she quipped, “and I have a sense of humor.”

Retired officer seeks ‘greater purpose’ of policing

CEDAR RAPIDS — A horrible crash early in his career changed Joe Schmitz’s perspective as a police officer from “getting bad guys off the streets” to wanting to know why crimes happen — why people become those “bad guys.”

The head-on collision, which involved an infant without a car seat, was “just messed up” because both drivers shared blame for the crash, said Schmitz, 48, a retired police investigator and accident reconstructionist.

The wreck, he said, made him look for a “greater purpose to policing,” a revelation that continued to evolve during his 27-year career with the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

Schmitz joined the department at age 19 and retired in 2017, when he moved to Kirkwood Community College to teach others about police work.

“Over my years as a police officer, I realized the justice system wasn’t going to change unless we started looking at these offenders like humans, just like us, but something happened to them in their lives,” said Schmitz, an instructor and coordinator of Kirkwood’s criminal justice program.

Schmitz, who grew up in the small Benton County community of Van Horne, said both of his careers have been a perfect fit for him, given his goal of just wanting to help people.

The impulse also led to him to join the Iowa National Guard after graduating from Amana High School — now Clear Creek Amana High School in Tiffin — where he served 16 years, combining that work and training with his law enforcement work.

He recalls a 2004 fatal crash in his career that led him to become an accident reconstructionist. A male driver, under the influence of drugs, hit and killed a young woman crossing a street in downtown Cedar Rapids. The impact split the woman’s body in two.

He remembers having to explain to the victim’s family what had happened, calling it a “traumatic” event. Initially, he was angry and wanted justice for the family.

Later, he said, he wanted to know what brought the male driver to such a place in his life.

The justice system needs to be more than just putting offenders in prison. It’s also necessary, he said, to figure out why a woman becomes a drug addict, why a man kills someone, why another man sexually abuses a child.

Schmitz said part of his job at Kirkwood is helping students find what’s right for them, even if that takes them away from a criminal justice career.

Not everyone is cut out to be a law enforcement officer, he said, but the criminal justice field has many other job possibilities including victim advocate, correctional officer, forensic science technician, lawyer, fish-and-game warden and private investigator.

As part of his criminal investigation class at Kirkwood, he sets up a mock crime scene to give students hands-on experience. He enlists Cedar Rapids police officers and investigators to run the mock crime scene like a real one.

During such an exercise earlier this month, the investigators took small groups of students through a “murder” scene. The students looked at the evidence and asked questions to solve the crime.

“This is always a fun, creative way to get the students to think about different scenarios and try to find out what happened,” Schmitz said. “I loved my job as a police officer because I loved helping people, and I want to help these kids find what they are passionate about.”

Schmitz, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice administration at Kaplan University while he was a police officer, said he always enjoyed teaching.

During his 10 years as an accident reconstructionist, he would go to Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids and teach vehicle safety, physics and set up a mock crash scene. He taught at the Cedar Rapids Police Academy and was an adjunct instructor at Kaplan University.

Cedar Rapids police Capt. Brent Long said he wasn’t surprised Schmitz went into teaching after retiring from the force.

“When he came in to talk to me, I knew it was hard decision for him to make,” Long said. “He might have done both if he could.”

Long said Schmitz was good about explaining the forensic computer work he did as an investigator with the Iowa Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

The multijurisdictional task force investigates internet child pornography, sexual exploitation and other cybercrimes. It takes a “special person” to keep up with the technology and also not carry what he sees home with him, Long said.

Schmitz, who worked as an investigator with the task force from 2008 until his retirement, said he enjoyed analyzing computer forensics. Although it was difficult to review thousands of images of child pornography, he found it “intriguing” because it reinforced his belief that — right now — the criminal justice system lacks solutions to such crimes.

“What leads a person to do these horrible things?” Schmitz asked. “I think we have to try to figure that out in order to help these people. I’m not excusing what they’ve done or saying they don’t deserve to go to prison, but nothing changes if we don’t figure it out.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Pharma company reports 20,000 opioid-related deaths to FDA

As Emily Walden watched her son struggling with addiction to the opioid Opana, one place she turned to for help was the company that made it — Endo Pharmaceuticals.

She wrote to them in 2011. She heard back a year later.

The corporate email arrived “one month after I buried my son,” Walden said.

His name was T.J., he’d served in the Kentucky National Guard, and he was first prescribed painkillers at age 11, after a surgery. He became addicted at 17.

Endo, which now has U.S. headquarters in Malvern, Pa., thanked Walden for contacting them the previous year to “discuss or report an adverse event(s)” from taking Opana.

The company wanted more details on what she’d observed, so it could report the information to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Five years later — and engulfed in nationwide lawsuits and investigations about the marketing of opioids — Endo began to tell the FDA about a tidal wave of fatalities associated with Opana, and painkillers made by other companies.

From November 2017 through August 2018, Endo reported 20,115 deaths to the FDA, a review of the agency’s public database of adverse events shows.

Before 2017, the company reported approximately 250 deaths, over a 10 year stretch, in which Opana was a suspect drug.

The thousands of deaths span roughly two decades, and entries for individual fatalities, in some cases, list more than a dozen different opioids.

Endo began submitting the reports two months after it voluntarily pulled Opana ER, a top-selling painkiller, from the market — following a 2017 request by the FDA to do so, because of abuse. Together, Opana and Opana ER, first launched in 2006, generated more than $2 billion in sales.

The batches of reports represent some of the information being pried loose amid roughly 2,000 lawsuits against opioid makers and distributors.

Native American tribes, labor unions and individuals and state Attorneys General across the country have filed suit. Both Endo and the FDA acknowledged the increase in reports, and attributed the spike to the litigation.

‘An abysmal job’

Reports don’t necessarily mean there’s a causal link between the product and the outcome. Endo said it submitted the reports out of “an abundance of caution,” even though in most events reported it wasn’t clear whether its own products allegedly caused harm.

The influx of reports also highlights shortcomings of how the United States tracks safety risks and outcomes for FDA-approved drugs.

The FDA itself cautions that the database, known as FAERS, can reflect underreporting and overreporting of events, as well as duplicates, and incomplete information about what happened.

In 2017, the agency put an interactive version of the data online, in hopes of attracting more detailed reports from consumers and doctors.

Drug manufacturers have to tell the FDA about adverse events — if they learn of those outcomes.

But they don’t have to actively look for them, said Thomas Moore, a senior scientist at the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in Horsham, Pa.

When it comes to therapeutic drugs, including opioids, “we do an abysmal job of monitoring deaths related to drugs in the country,” Moore said.

As municipalities have filed lawsuits, some have included allegations about the number of people who died in connection with opioids. Endo said more suits started coming in 2017, and the company reviewed them for potential adverse event reporting to the FDA.

“For a period of time, in an abundance of caution, Endo’s pharmacovigilance department reported each complaint to the FDA, even though most of the complaints did not identify or distinguish between harm allegedly caused by Endo products and harm allegedly caused by other manufacturers’ products,” company spokesperson Heather Zoumas Lubeski said in an emailed statement.

“It is this practice which accounts for the observed spike in adverse event reporting.”

The company, Zoumas Lubeski added, “is vigorously defending these lawsuits, denies that it has any liability to the plaintiffs, and continues to work with the FDA to submit appropriate reports.”

‘A turnaround plan’

Walden’s correspondence from the company in 2012 is referred to in a Kentucky attorney general suit against Endo.

“What bothered me so much about this email, is ... why weren’t they reporting these issues to the FDA?” she said. “It shouldn’t take over a year for that to happen.”

The company declined to comment on the litigation.

Endo — which also makes the opioid Percocet — has publicized other changes in light of the opioid crisis: It got rid of its U.S. sales force for pain products, and says on its website that it “discontinued the research and development of new opioid products.”

The opioid litigation is but one of the challenges Endo is facing, amid what CEO Paul Campanelli has deemed a “multiyear turnaround plan.”

Its annual revenue fell 15 percent last year, to just under $3 billion, and the company has forecast that 2019 revenue will stay about the same.

Meanwhile, it is carrying substantial debt, north of $8 billion, after a string of acquisitions — one of which, American Medical Systems, later saddled the company with costly product liability claims over implanted vaginal mesh.

A Morningstar analyst note last month said the combination of the company’s high debt, settlement payments for the mesh cases and potential liability from opioid suits made bankruptcy “a plausible scenario.”

The FDA said drug companies are required to report adverse events for their products if they become aware of them through lawsuits, and if the reports meet the bar for a minimum amount of data.

“The majority of the recent reports submitted by Endo Pharmaceuticals with a fatal outcome are from lawsuits, including multiple class action lawsuits from across the U.S.,” said FDA spokesperson Amanda Turney. The reports, she said, describe the deaths as a result of both prescribed and “non-medical” opioid use.

Asked if the volume of reports raised any concerns at the agency, Turney said: “FDA does not solely focus on the volume of adverse event reports received for a particular drug as a measure of risk; we also rely on the quality of information.”

The reports contain few details, observed Moore, whose group analyzes adverse event data submitted to the FDA.

Using ISMP’s own database, he looked at a collection of 15,475 reports for oxymorphone, the opioid in Opana ER, for the 12 months ended in the third quarter of 2018.

“Ninety-one percent of them are vague, meaning it lacks age or gender,” Moore said. Such reports wouldn’t meet ISMP’s quality standards for a “minimally complete” report.

“It’s indicative of poor-quality industry reporting, of which there are many examples,” he said.

ISMP previously has raised concerns to the FDA about how deaths are reported, and, in a 2015 analysis, critiqued FAERS for suffering “from a flood of low quality reports from drug manufacturers.”

Companies also might be afraid of getting caught in a regulatory violation if they don’t report.

“The way regulations work now, we’re getting the worst of both possible worlds — a burden on manufacturers to report patient deaths where the drug may not have contributed, and on the other hand, a lack of adequate information on deaths we should really be concerned about,” Moore said.

Opioids are their own special case.

“With opioids,” he said, “we pretty much know from all our other sources, that this is a very serious problem, but sometimes we don’t.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, between 1999 and 2017, nearly 218,000 overdose deaths were related to prescription opioids.

Drugmakers do have to create written procedures for monitoring adverse experiences, the FDA said. But the agency also said it’s revising post-marketing safety reporting requirements, for drugs in general, and that it is “very interested in improving the quality of information reported to FAERS.”

In 2014, the city of Chicago became one of the first local governments to sue opioid makers. The suit accused Endo and others of downplaying the risk of addiction, even as they had access to data — including adverse event reports — that “demonstrated the widening epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction.”

The Chicago suit has since been consolidated with about 1,600 opioid cases in federal court in Cleveland, where the first trial is scheduled to start in October.

‘Pseudoaddiction’

Endo allegedly gave millions of dollars in grants, and used speaker programs and front groups, to spread the message that Opana had a low risk of addiction.

In 2016, the company reached a $200,000 settlement with the New York Attorney General’s Office, which found that Endo trained its sales reps to “distinguish addiction from “pseudoaddiction” — a concept that “has never been empirically validated.”

Endo’s history with oxymorphone dates back to 1959, when it launched the painkiller as Numorphan. Problems with abuse surfaced the following decade. The company stopped marketing a tablet version in 1971, and officially withdrew it from the market in 1982, citing “commercial reasons,” according to the FDA.

“Of note, there were anecdotal reports of abuse by injection of Numorphan tablets in the 1960s and early ’70s,” an FDA official testified at a March 2017 advisory committee meeting, where members were weighing the abuse risk of Opana.

By that time, intravenous abuse of Opana ER had been linked to cases of a blood disorder, and to what another FDA official described as an “unprecedented” HIV outbreak in rural Indiana.

The committee voted that the benefits of the drug no longer outweighed the risks, and the FDA later requested its removal from the market.

Walden provided testimony at the 2017 advisory meeting, as well, and she asked Kentucky’s now-attorney general — while he was running for the office — to investigate the company. She’s on a mission, she said.

“Endo is the only company that had this drug on the market previously, and knew what was going to happen,” she said, referring to Numorphan’s history.

“Profits came before human life.”

LearningRx franchises aid memory, learning skills

Besides improving their learning skills, Patrick and Courtney Axline’s younger clients often receive a life lesson.

“We don’t do what you’re good at, we do what you’re bad at,” Patrick Axline said. “Because if you’re good at it, it’s not going to improve you. We want to focus on your weak areas and improve those.”

Patrick and his wife Courtney have operated the LearningRx’s Cedar Rapids franchise since 2011. While traditional tutoring helps students master a specific academic subject, usually in response to poor grades, the “brain training” techniques practiced at Learning Rx and its competitors seek to improve clients’ comprehension and analytical abilities — essentially making them smarter.

The Axlines’ clients aren’t only struggling students. They’ve worked with older clients seeking to overcome memory loss, mild cognitive impairment, traumatic brain injury or the effects of aging.

“We know you don’t have to have memory problems when you get older,” Patrick said. “You can exercise your brain.

“It’s come a long ways even since we opened up nine years ago, just knowing that you can strengthen those skills and improve yourself.”

Courtney’s experience as a Learning Rx trainer at a West Des Moines center led them to open a location in Cedar Rapids. They opened a satellite location in Coralville in early 2018 and employ six trainers between the two sites.

“I always had the thought in the back of my head that I wanted to own a business, and Courtney loved what she was doing,” Patrick recalled.

“I knew I wanted to work with kids and with people, trying to help change their lives, and I just saw the changes my clients had had going through the program,” Courtney said. “We just decided to move over here and open our own center.”

The LearningRx approach is built around “game-like activities to help enhance the brain,” Courtney explained. “It’s all one-on-one exercise for the brain, just like you would go to the gym and get a personal trainer, so it’s not your traditional tutoring.”

The program begins with an initial set of cognitive-thinking tests followed by a consultation with the client — and their family, for younger clients.

“From that information we put together a set amount of (program) hours that’s going to obtain that goal,” Patrick added.

Clients average two to five visits weekly for about six months, Courtney estimated. Most sessions last about an hour — the center is especially busy from about 3:30 to 8 p.m. weekdays.

There are some online exercises clients can do at home, “but here at the center it’s all one-on-one,” according to Courtney.

Trainers stay with clients throughout their program.

“They build that rapport, and the trainer can say, ‘Just to this three more times and we’ll move on to the next thing,’” Courtney said.

Older clients may be recent retirees or professionals seeking to sharpen their skills for a career change.

“What we’re finding with adults, especially after retirement, is that they want to keep their brain active so they don’t have to go into an assisted living as quickly,” Courtney said.

“Somebody who doesn’t feel like they’re struggling but they want to keep their brain sharp, they can come in here once or twice a month and just maintain that,” Patrick said.

The Axlines have seen the changes wrought by smartphones and social media, technologies just beginning to spread as they launched their business.

“With GPS, lots of kids don’t know what a map is,” Courtney said. “With kids, it’s just needing that immediate feedback because everything is so readily at your hand.”

“You don’t use your brain as much because of the technology,” Patrick said. “Ask a kid, ‘When was the last time someone typed in a phone number?’ Can you even remember somebody’s phone number because now you just click on a picture?”

LearningRx techniques can help build those neglected skills, the pair said.

“Even just learning how to talk through that process and figure out what the answer is, instead of immediately just Googling it,” she said. “That’s a lot of the logic and reasoning, being able to say, ‘Hey, this is the task that I have, can I break that down into smaller pieces to get to that end?’”

The Axlines’ clients may see better grades, but that’s not the main goal of the program.

“Increased memory, and even parents being able to say, ‘I always had to give them one task at a time. Now I can give them four things to do and they remember it and follow through,’” Courtney said. “Self-confidence is one of the biggest improvements that families see because you fail a lot here. You’re not going to make changes if you don’t fail.”

• Know a business that has the potential to be an interesting “My Biz”? Let us know at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a Glance

• Owner: Courtney and Patrick Axline

• Business: LearningRx of Cedar Rapids

• Address: 5815 Council St. NE, Cedar Rapids, and 2461 10th St., Coralville

• Phone: (319) 393-0067

• Website: www.learningrx.com/cedar-rapids-north

At Cedar Rapids church, a journey to togetherness

CEDAR RAPIDS — On recent Sundays, musicians and singers at New City Church have searched for the right balance of full gospel harmonies, hymns and contemporary Christian anthems.

Finding the sound of a congregation born out of the merger of a black church and white church in Cedar Rapids has been one of many challenges New City has welcomed in its first year.

“At some point, we will stop that conversation and we will have a sound of New City that we know fits our culture,” said Pastor Rod Dooley, whose former church, the Oakhill Jackson Community Church, was mostly African American and thrived on gospel. “We’re on that journey.”

New City co-pastors Dooley and Daniel Winn — formerly of Cedar Rapids Family Church, where most worshippers were white — believe they were called to combine their churches in January 2018 to become an authentically diverse place of worship.

“Christ cares about this stuff. He cares about unity, obviously — John 17, his final prayer, is all about being one,” Winn said. “But this is not the driving force of this. As we’ve merged, so many people think it’s all about diversity, and it really isn’t. It’s about Christ, and yes, He cares about everyone coming together.”

As the nondenominational Christian church in the city’s northwest quadrant celebrates its second Easter, its leaders and many of its members are intentionally seeking out friendships across otherwise polarizing racial and ethnic divides.

“In a culture, and in an America, where different ethnicities do not trust each other, we trust each other,” Winn said. “And we make the choice to do it.”

A shared faith, Worship Pastor Peter Rambo said, has allowed New City to become one of only a few places where people of various upbringings have been able to overcome cultural differences.

“No matter your history or your past, we can lock in on that,” said Rambo, who is white and leads many of the choir and worship team rehearsals. “That’s the central piece, the navigator. We all serve the same God.”

MERGER ‘SHOULD HAVE BEEN MORE DIFFICULT’

It takes a great deal of humility to weather a successful church merger, said Paul Alexander, an Arizona consultant with the Unstuck Group, which specializes in religious organizations.

It’s one of the reasons church mergers in the United States remain unusual despite a general decline in churchgoing.

“It’s not something you hear every single day,” he said. “Most churches would rather decline and die and have their property go back to their denomination or become a 7-Eleven or some convenience store as opposed to change their approach and reach new people.”

Only about 35 percent of Americans attend religious services at least once a week, according to the Pew Research Center, though most are certain about their belief in God.

Churches like New City, which hired Unstuck while preparing for their merger, have helped Alexander remain optimistic about the direction of the Christian church writ large.

“The optics on it — it should have been more difficult than it was,” he said, adding Winn and Dooley’s willingness to defer to one another was key. “Not a lot of great leaders are willing to do that, in either the marketplace or church world.”

Most mergers of any two organizations, religious or secular, are unsuccessful, said Arturs Kalnins, an associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa.

In the secular realm, such joinings most often falter because of an inability to integrate corporate cultures or because one company is more interested in acquiring the other, and overpowers its norms.

“The only possibility (a church) would have for success is the opposite approach” of an acquisition, Kalnins said. “Success is a matter of finding a balance between respecting everyone’s perspectives, delivering on what the church is to all the different parishioners from two groups, and at the same time saving enough money that this thing will remain viable in the era of shrinking attendance.”

When churches do merge, Alexander said, it’s often because one or both organizations are trying to “prolong death.”

“New City’s case is something completely different,” Alexander said. “This really started as a friendship between Rod and Daniel. These two guys built a friendship and felt a sense of calling and purpose that the city needed a church like New City.

“That’s a completely different reason — both churches were doing just fine and thought they could do more for the city together than they could apart.”

Now that the churches are merged, the former Oakhill Jackson church may become a community outreach center.

NO LONGER ‘US’ AND ‘THEM’ BUT A TEAM

Differences at New City Church do arise, leaders said, and unity is a work in progress.

During rehearsals, black singers have quoted “Coming to America” to dumbfounded looks on the faces of white members of the choir. Those moments are met with laughs — and offers to share the DVD of the movie — said Daryl Moore, who was a music minister at the Oakhill Jackson church and now assists Rambo at rehearsal.

More substantial differences, like disagreements over how to sing a particular harmony, have been learning moments.

“We had to have a sit-down talk among the group to say — hey, we’re no longer Oakhill and no longer Cedar Rapids Family,” Moore said. “Something all of us have to come to understand is we really are no longer ‘us’ and ‘them.’ We are a team.”

Moore and Rambo, like Dooley and Winn, use a friendship as the foundation of their work with New City’s singers and musicians.

While people of all ethnicities, Dooley said, can be tempted to shut down during tough conversations — out of fear of being seen as racist or an angry black man, for example — members of New City are encouraged by their pastors to lean into those interactions.

“A lot of the white people from Cedar Rapids Family Church are beginning to understand maybe there is something to white privilege,” Winn added. “We didn’t come out of the gate with that, but they’re starting to be understanding. Those who committed to this vision are starting to really listen to each other.”

With some 500 members, the church has seen growth since its founding, further blurring the line between the original, separate groups of worshippers.

“When you look across the congregation on a Sunday morning, you have a sense of this is what church is supposed to look like,” Moore said. “This is what heaven’s going to look like. It’s not going to one culture over there and one other there, really. It’s going to be worshipping together. Why not start now?”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Time Machine: What happened to Iowa’s 100th county?

For those who like round numbers, this fact is comforting: Iowa once had 100 counties. Actually, twice. But only briefly.

Iowa became a state in 1846, and the third General Assembly of Iowa on Jan. 15, 1851, passed a bill creating 52 counties to add to Iowa’s already organized 48, for 100 total.

Among them were two counties in north-central Iowa — Kossuth, named for a Hungarian patriot, and Bancroft, north of Kossuth, named for renowned historian George Bancroft, a diplomat and author.

Bancroft’s county seat was designated as Greenwood Center. Kossuth’s county seat was Algona.

At the time, Bancroft County was not hospitable to settlement, given its marshes and wetlands and the vast prairie between Algona and Blue Earth, Minn. It was easy to get lost without an experienced guide, and few, if any, pioneers chose to settle there.

In 1855, Bancroft County was eliminated and its land added to Kossuth County, directly south of it. In addition, the northernmost 12 miles of Humboldt County also was added to Kossuth, making it the largest county — by land area — in the state.

EFFORT FOR 100

That’s where things stood in 1857 — 99 counties — when Iowa’s Constitution took effect.

The constitution included an article saying no new county could be created if it had less than 432 square miles. It also prohibited taking land from an established county to create a new county — except in Worth County and the counties west of it — about half the state.

That meant that, even with the constitution’s restraints, it would be possible to split Kossuth County into two counties.

After the Civil War, settlers began to arrive in the northern part of Kossuth County, first building sod houses and then settlements. The people who settled in the former Bancroft County area began exploring how the area could again become its own county.

The settlers asked their representative in the Iowa General Assembly, H.G. Day, to propose creating a new Crocker County, named for Col. M.M. Crocker, who died in the Civil War, with Greenwood Center as its county seat.

When no opposing views surfaced, Day consulted with Judge Asa Call of Kossuth County. Call said he didn’t think anyone in the county seriously objected to splitting off Crocker County.

In April 1870, the General Assembly took land from Kossuth County to create Crocker County. With that, Iowa again had 100 counties.

COURT RULINGS

By the end of 1871, though, the whole effort was sidelined by an Iowa Supreme Court decision, L.K. Garfield vs. R.I. Brayton.

The lawsuit was a friendly one that intended to prove Crocker County had been legally established, even though it had less than 432 square miles, as the Constitution required.

A justice of the peace ruled Crocker County wasn’t legal, as did an Emmet County circuit court judge. The caes was appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The justices also concluded Crocker County had been created illegally.

“We have approached this case with a strong desire to sustain the constitutionality of this county and have reluctantly yielded to the necessity of doing otherwise,” the justices ruled. “In the eloquent language of appellee’s counsel (O’Connor), we hoped ‘that Crocker Co. might endure as long as the name of brave men shall be dear to the hearts of the people of Iowa.’ But law is inexorable and to its stern behests sentiment must yield.”

The decision eliminated Crocker County and returned its land to Kossuth County, bringing Iowa back to 99 counties.

LARRABEE COUNTY

In February 1913, state Rep. James McHose of Boone led another attempt to divide Kossuth County. He proposed naming the new county in honor of Iowa’s 13th governor, William Larrabee.

This time, residents of northern Kossuth County sent a delegation to Des Moines asking that the county not be divided.

The issue was put to a vote in the 1914 November election. The proposition lost, 3,599 to 920.

bancroft name

The name Bancroft, however, continued to live on as the name of a village in Kossuth County. Its population is now 732.

George Bancroft was delighted to learn he had a village named for him.

Bancroft, who served under President James K. Polk as secretary of the Navy, had established the Naval Academy at Annapolis. He was a diplomat to Great Britain and later to Prussia. He also wrote a 12-volume history of the world, beginning with his “History of the United States,” in 1834.

When he learned about the Iowa village bearing his name, he donated a page of handwritten manuscript to the Iowa state historian, Charles Aldrich. The framed page is in the state’s archives.

• Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

Cedar Rapids firefighters respond to a second fire in Riley’s Cafe and Broken Spoke

Cedar Rapids, IA — At 8:03 p.m. Friday night, firefighters responded to a fire alarm and sprinkler flow alarm at Riley’s Cafe.

The Cedar Rapids Fire Department and Hiawatha Fire Department both responded to the scene, where an official release says they found a light haze inside Riley’s Cafe. Using thermal imaging, firefighters reportedly checked the ceiling in an area already impacted by a fire Thursday afternoon. After discovering hot spots, the firefighter reportedly began removing ceiling tiles and identified burning insulation and falling embers. Firefighters reportedly discovered multiple instances of burning insulation above both Riley’s Cafe and the neighboring Broken Spoke, both of which had already been closed because of Thursday’s fire.

According to the report, potable and fire suppression systems were damaged. Riley’s Cafe was impacted by a broken line in the ceiling and Broken Spoke reportedly had an impacted hot water line.

The report states both Thursday and Friday’s fire have been ruled unintentional. Thursday’s fire is reportedly the result of radiant heat exposure that ignited wood behind the stainless steal surrounding the stove in Riley’s Cafe kitchen, and Friday’s fire was reportedly the result of an electrical fire.

Elizabeth Swanson continues to contribute

Through dedicated leadership and hours of service, Elizabeth Swanson has advanced the causes of many local and statewide organizations.

Swanson — who has a bachelor of science in nursing, master of arts in nursing and a Ph.D. in education from the University of Iowa — served as associate professor and director of alumni and external relations at the University of Iowa College of Nursing until her retirement in July 2018.

Not only has she made significant contributions to the nursing profession, she has donated her time and skills to numerous not-for-profit organizations throughout her career and continuing after her retirement.

“It’s important for me to give back and give as much as I can,” she said.

Swanson’s passion for community service began when her two children were young and taking music lessons at Preucil School of Music in Iowa City. Through her work as a board member for the school, Swanson helped with the organization’s successful capital campaign while growing her own skills.

“It’s where I learned fundraising,” she said. “I didn’t have fundraising experience, but my husband was with the University of Iowa Foundation, and I learned vicariously through him.”

Later, on the board of Shelter House in Iowa City, Swanson developed successful fundraising strategies for the organization and provided workshops on fundraising for staff, board members and development committee members.

She also used her nursing background to support the organization’s nurse’s clinic, establishing protocols and developing medication and incident reports. In recognition of her contributions and support, the clinic is named Elizabeth’s Clinic.

“I still volunteer there in my capacity as a nurse,” she said. “I read incident reports as an outside reviewer.”

Other contributions in her professional capacity include Swanson’s continuing work with the University’s Center for Nursing Classification and Clinical Effectiveness, which has involved developing a comprehensive, standardized classification of outcomes for evaluating the impact of nursing interventions. She also was involved in developing and implementing the 100 Great Iowa Nurses program, now in its 15th year, which recognizes and celebrates 100 outstanding nurses throughout the state each year.

Swanson’s influence has extended beyond the state of Iowa. Her work to develop a family medicine program in St. Petersburg, Russia, helped spread family medicine services throughout Russia.

Most recently, Swanson has become involved with TRAIL of Johnson County, joining the board of directors in January. That organization provides tools and resources for active independent living.

“We recruit volunteers to help older residents with things like driving them to the grocery store, changing a light bulb or even decorating their Christmas tree,” she said. “The intent is to keep people living in their own homes.”

One of the efforts about which Swanson is most passionate is her long-time association with Iowa Women’s Foundation. As chairwoman of the foundation’s development committee, Swanson is working to establish a legacy fund of at least $3 million, which will be used to support the organization’s mission of removing barriers to women’s economic advancement in Iowa, including access to child care.

With three young granddaughters of her own, that mission is personal to Swanson.

“I know how important child care is,” she said. “I want a better life for the women in my family. I want them to be able to do whatever they choose to do.”

• Once a month, Business 380 will spotlight one of HER magazine’s Women of Achievement, published by the Gazette. The awards were sponsored by Farmers State Bank.

2020 Democrats strive to be leader of the pack

DES MOINES — By the time U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California announced he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he was the 18th person to do so.

Or maybe he was the 17th, since Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., did not formally transform his exploratory committee into an all-out presidential campaign until days later. Or he might have been the 19th, if recent announcements of candidacy by 88-year-old former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska can be taken seriously.

Swalwell was not even the first candidate to announce his run on CBS’s “Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York did the same thing in mid-January. But Colbert nevertheless had a mock campaign sign drawn up just for Swalwell, a blue sign with white lettering and hints of red with a catchy suggested slogan:

“Eric Swalwell: One of your top 20 choices”

The joke, like most, is rooted in an uncomfortable reality. For candidates like Swalwell and others who lack the track record of former Vice President Joe Biden or U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the name recognition of U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California, or the recent swell of support felt by Buttigieg and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, the gigantic Democratic field is varied enough to make it hard to stand out, vast enough to spread donor money too thinly and liberal enough that few platforms — or even parts of platforms — qualify as unique.

But for the isolated perch of Sanders, I-Vt., as a democratic socialist, other political categories are densely trafficked.

For every moderate or liberal, another moderate or liberal is touting similar credentials. For every single-issue candidate, a many-issue candidate is advocating similar policies. For almost every type of candidate — even, for the first time for a woman — there is another woman trying to become the first to win the presidency.

Even so, the field of candidates continues to grow. But those candidates who entered the race with lower profiles are being forced to craft creative ways to raise them. Most have not yet been successful.

As Swalwell made his first trip to Iowa as an official presidential candidate last weekend, he was not the only candidate trying to be distinguished in the state whose first-in-the-nation caucus signals the fates of so many candidacies.

Once there, however, he did the same things everyone else does: He held a town hall at Iowa State University. He held a meet-and-greet at a nearby brewery where he could shake some hands while holding a beer. The 38-year-old, most distinguishable because of his youth and best known for an unflinching Twitter presence, employed no gimmicks and took no shots at his fellow candidates.

But he is trying to separate himself on the issues, building his campaign around gun control — universal background checks and buying back all 15 million assault weapons at large in the United States.

After formally announcing his campaign on Colbert’s show, he held a town hall meeting the next day in Sunrise, Fla., not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The shooting deaths of 17 students and school staff in February 2018 at the Parkland school pushed young survivors to national prominence as leaders of the movement for stronger gun safety laws.

His campaign is operating on the assumption that Swalwell simply cannot be like the other candidates, so he should not try. Instead, he will be himself — a white male from the Bay Area suburbs at a time when the energy of the party seems headed elsewhere.

Asked how much time he spends thinking about how to make himself different, Swalwell did not hesitate.

“Zero,” he said, and immediately launched into his sales pitch: “I feel comfortable about being a candidate who was the first in the family to go to college, is paying off student loans today and is raising two kids. I think I can connect with people.”

The trouble with separating oneself with an emphasis on one issue, of course, is that voters often worry about more than one thing.

In a campaign-opening Q-and-A session with so many pointed questions it might as well have been a congressional hearing, Swalwell received just one question about gun control — and it came from a supporter of gun rights, a 39-year-old Iowan named Jeff Shady.

Shady asked Swalwell how he will sell gun reforms to Iowans, who have a lower murder rate in their state than that of Swalwell’s home state, California, where guns are more regulated.

After Swalwell’s answer, Shady said he felt the congressman was mistaken about the facts: “If this is his big policy,” Shady said, “he should know about it.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, meanwhile, is tying his campaign to the issue of climate change. He argues that the problem will not be solved unless it is a top priority and that combating climate change is a broader platform than some might think.

Building a more sustainable economy creates jobs, improves public health and allows for new ways of thinking about higher education as part of an economy moving away from some of its traditional manufacturing and fossil fuel staples, he argues.

Inslee has traveled to towns razed by California’s wildfires. Last weekend, he visited brownfields in South Carolina. Before that, he traveled to Hamburg, Iowa, where historic floods devastated a town where many residents’ families had lived since its founding in 1858.

Vice President Mike Pence was in Iowa that day, too, which gave Inslee a chance to employ another of his signature tactics: attacks on the administration.

“He needs to open his ears and listen to the scientists who say this will become a bigger threat in the future,” said Inslee, who invoked Pence’s name repeatedly in the course of a tour that included climate activist John Davis and a handful of reporters.

Inslee previously appeared on “Fox and Friends” — President Donald Trump’s favored morning show — to release his tax returns and challenge the president to do the same.

Inslee’s campaign said part of the governor’s shtick is not shtick at all, just a fact of his personality. He is not, they argue, using those moments to differentiate himself from the rest of the pack, but rather just to be himself.

His track record as Washington’s governor, his staff believes, should be enough to make him singular.

But Inslee is not the only governor running for office, nor the only candidate who makes combating climate change a staple of his stump speech — just as Swalwell is not the only Democrat running with ”common sense” gun control as a part of a platform.

Another governor running for president, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also was recently in Iowa trying to stand out. Hickenlooper bounced in and out of coffee shops and local restaurants, delivering a stump speech that makes clear he was an entrepreneur before he was a politician, that eschews the hunt for “ideological purity” over “pragmatism” and casts himself as a more reasonable option in a field loaded with lofty ideas that will not surmount the nation’s partisan divides.

“I like him because I think we need a moderate to convince all these Midwest workers who voted for Trump last time,” said one woman who crouched on a mini-fridge at a coffee shop in Burlington, to ease her arthritic knees as she nodded approvingly through Hickenlooper’s stump speech. But she was not entirely sold.

“For example, if Biden runs,” said the Burlington woman, “I’ll be voting for him.”

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also was in Iowa recently to tout her agriculture credentials (the Minnesotan is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee) as a way to build credibility in the Midwest states she says the Democrats must take back from Trump.

Klobuchar leans on the fact that in her 2018 Senate race she won 40 Minnesota districts that Trump had won in 2016 and trumpets that she has introduced 34 bills Trump signed into law, interpreting both as signs she can appeal to both parties.

It is only slightly different from the argument Hickenlooper makes to boost his campaign.

Many voters say they are waiting for someone to emerge from the pack — but national bursts of energy do not usually arrive in a noisy Iowa coffee shop, like the Beancounter in Burlington that Hickenlooper visited.

“There’s just so many right now,” Nathan Unsworth, 34, a county conservator, said in Burlington. “I think it’s going to take a debate to start narrowing it down a bit.”

Teen charged after scuffle with Waterloo school police officer

WATERLOO — A 16-year-old was charged after he allegedly fought with a police officer who was attempting to escort him from the West High School cafeteria following a disturbance.

The teen was charged with assault on an officer causing injury and released to his parents, according to Waterloo police.

West High staff asked for the school liaison officer’s assistance in the cafeteria Thursday, and while the teen was being led out, he resisted and took the officer to the floor, police said.

The officer handcuffed the teen with the help of school staff, and he was removed from the building.

Another student captured the video on Snapchat, which was then shared to Facebook Thursday.

The officer received medical treatment for injuries.

'I'm going to help some kids' Cedar Rapids school resource officers look to be positive influence

 

Cedar Rapids police Officer Drew Tran has an open-door policy in his office — a converted storage closet between Jefferson High School’s administrative and counseling offices.

Several students stopped by one Thursday afternoon: one to show him a certificate he’d earned from the principal, another to grab a candy from Tran’s desk and another to ask for help rescheduling a job interview.

It took time for Tran to become a trusted mentor to many of the teenagers at the school on the city’s west side. Many, he said, at first saw him only as his uniform.

 

“I tell kids this every day … I don’t get dressed in the morning, look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I’m going to go bust some kids,’” Tran, 39, said. “My motivation is I’m going to go help some kids. I’m going to go teach some kids to stay out of trouble.”

Nearly a decade since the Cedar Rapids Community School District and the Cedar Rapids Police Department started positioning officers in public high schools, the “school resource officers” have become integral — even beloved — members of the schools.

But while building relationships is the primary goal of Cedar Rapids’ School Resource Officer program, officers maintain the authority to issue citations and arrest students if necessary.

“SROs have made arrests, and the arrests are made when they feel it’s necessary to effect an arrest, but there are other avenues,” Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said. “I know SROs explore other avenues outside of arresting a student for whatever the offense may be. Having an armed and sworn police officer in the school to effect arrests or to be used in disciplinary matters — is really a misconception.”

Since August, the start of this school year, about 180 police reports have been filed over incidents at Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area high schools, according to records obtained from police departments in Cedar Rapids, Marion, Iowa City, Mount Vernon, North Liberty and Hiawatha as well as the Linn County and Johnson County sheriffs’ offices.

 

About 90 percent of those reports were made at a high school with a school resource officer: Kennedy, Washington, Jefferson and Metro in the Cedar Rapids Community School District; Prairie High in the College Community district; Linn-Mar High and Marion High.

Police reports are coded as an arrest, law enforcement officials said, but typically they do not involve taking students into custody.

At Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Officer Charity Hansel has written some 60 reports this school year — the most of any school resource officer in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City metro areas. The statistic, she said, is an indication of her and the police department’s success in positively intervening in students’ lives. The bulk of citations at Kennedy are for disorderly conduct, which Hansel said she has issued for as little as squaring off in the hallway for a fight.

To avoid further legal action and maintain a clean record, students who are cited for disorderly conduct by Cedar Rapids school resource officers are able to complete a diversionary writing assignment. Most are one-time offenders, Hansel said.

“We run a little bit tighter ship because we can. ... Every school has a different dynamic,” she said. “We try to be consistent, but the reality is we have completely different stats and we have completely different kids. I have what I would think is the least amount of criminal issues and violent issues.”

Parents worry as Iowa City reconsiders

Civil liberties groups and some parents in Iowa have raised concerns about officers’ presence in schools.

On Thursday in the Waterloo Community School District, a video was posted online of an altercation between a school resource officer and a student.

A cellphone video captured a school resource officer, two other adults and a 16-year-old student on the ground. The student, according to reporting from the Waterloo Courier, resisted while being led out of West High’s cafeteria.

The student was restrained on the ground, the video shows, when the officer struck him in the face twice before placing him in handcuffs.

 

WATERLOO - A 16-year-old was charged after he allegedly fought with a police officer who was attempting to escort him from the West High School cafeteria following a disturbance.

Continue Reading

The video surfaced days before the Iowa City Community School Board plans to consider at its 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting placing school resource officers in all of its secondary schools.

It’s a proposal that concerns Tammy Nyden, the mother of a 16-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder and Tourette syndrome.

She started home schooling last year out of fear he would be “brought into the school-to-prison pipeline” in public school, she said.

“I’m terrified of having police officers there because I know my son and other kids like him who are never violent at home or in the community, but in the school environment become violent,” Nyden said. “Because you have people who don’t understand, who get in their face, and keep pushing, pushing, pushing.”

Having an officer in schools also troubles LaTasha DeLoach, a mother and former school board member. Children of color already are disproportionately disciplined compared with white Iowa City students, she said.

“Children feel like they’re under surveillance when they have to live under that type of pressure,” said DeLoach. “If this is all about keeping white kids safe, then we’re doing a really great job. This is the way to go. If this is about keeping all our kids safe and feeling like school is a refuge, ... then we’re going backward.”

There are systematic issues, added Iowa City parent Sara Barron, that come with school resource programs.

“It’s a mistake to frame this issue as a referendum about whether or not some police officers are good people,” she said. “l have worked closely with many officers throughout Johnson County, I know they want to do great work and many of them are concerned about youth in our community. The issue isn’t whether or not an individual officer is a good person. The question is, as a system, how do we invest our resources and what outcomes are we trying to achieve for our students?”

A report from the American Civil Liberties Union published last month found many U.S. schools are investing in police officers at the expense of mental health professionals, and that students of color are more likely than their white peers to be arrested at school.

In Iowa, the report found, black girls are more than eight times more likely than white girls to be arrested at school, one of the highest rates in the nation.

“Schools are different these days,” said Iowa American Civil Liberties Union Communications Director Veronica Lorson Fowler. “Something years ago that would have been disciplined at school, now there are school resource officers and security guards where something that might have been dealt with internally is turned over.”

‘Personality is a key piece’ for the job  

Despite concerns in neighboring districts, the Cedar Rapids district and Cedar Rapids Police Department continue to have a strong relationship and mutual support for their program. They evenly split costs for school resource officers, Chief Jerman said.

On the district’s part, especially as arrests at Washington High School have doubled this school year over last, staff are cognizant some families have had negative past experiences with police and school staff alike, Associate Superintendent Noreen Bush said.

“We have to help create a different narrative for those experiences, which takes a lot of intentionality, a lot of proactive conversations and a lot of support,” Bush said. “ … We have to try and say, I know that’s what you’ve experienced, but we’re going to try and create a different narrative for your child.”

Not every police officer has the makings of being a school resource officer, Jerman said. All of his officers in schools are veteran officers who go through an application process to be placed.

“I think all of our SROs are tremendous SROs,” he said, “as well as great cops to boot.”

 

Jamie Cummins, a guidance counselor who works closely with Tran to address student issues, said the officers she has worked with at Jefferson have added value to the school’s community.

“Personality is a key piece of that SRO role, and maybe there are some officers who wouldn’t be as effective as Officer Tran is,” she said. “But to watch him interact with kids, no one could ever second-guess his intentions or that his approach isn’t with the students’ best interest in mind.”

For Tran, who became Jefferson’s officer two years ago after more than a decade with the department, every day is relationship building.

“It’s the interactions. It’s me,” Tran said, after escorting a late student to class one afternoon. “Simple things like that, sitting down with them at lunch, having that open-door policy.”

Students come to him with personal issues and he’ll trade stories. One student, Tran said, said she decided to get sober after he told her about a family member’s struggle with drug addiction.

“I’ve had these conversations with parents who are concerned: I’m not here looking to get your kids in trouble,” he said. “My role is to keep them out of trouble, I’m here to help support them. It’s a very unique role and it’s been so rewarding — I hope that they see it that way, too.”

| Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Iowa connection turns up in Mueller report

A staffer for a committee led by Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in 2016 worked to unearth emails deleted by Hillary Clinton, former U.S. secretary of state and presidential candidate, according to the special counsel report released this week to the public.

Barbara Ledeen, a longtime Republican operative, searched for the deleted emails at the behest of Michael Flynn, who told special counsel Robert Mueller he was acting on the request of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

At the time, Trump faced Clinton in the presidential election and Ledeen was working for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which Grassley chaired. The committee was investigating alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Ledeen had attempted to discover Clinton’s emails before being asked to do so by Flynn, the report said. She reported her progress to Flynn throughout 2016.

In September 2016, Ledeen claimed to have found a batch of emails on the dark web recovered from Clinton’s private email server. A tech adviser determined they were not authentic, the report says.

Grassley’s office said Ledeen’s efforts to recover the emails were conducted on her personal time and were not authorized by the Judiciary Committee.

Grassley’s staff did not learn of her efforts until she had completed her search, and she was instructed not to continue, Grassley’s office said.

Ledeen’s work on the Judiciary Committee dealt only with nominations, never oversight, the office stated.

Ledeen has never been a Grassley employee, the office said. She was on the Judiciary Committee staff while Grassley was chairman.

The Guardian first reported Ledeen’s efforts in 2017.

Ledeen still works for the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to the federal government affairs database LegiStorm.

After the election, Flynn became Trump’s national security adviser. He resigned 24 days later, after reports surfaced he had lied about his contact with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

He later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators as part of the special counsel’s investigation; he has not been sentenced.

l Comments: (563) 383-2492; erin.murphy@lee.net

$28 million apartment complex at Loftus Lumber site could transform entrance to NewBo district

CEDAR RAPIDS — A planned apartment complex with large retail spaces, a courtyard above covered parking and even a dog spa could bring back to life a long vacant block on the main street connecting the core of downtown and the New Bohemia District.

Developer Richard Sova of Illinois-based Landover Corp. presented his vision for the Loftus Lumber site — which now includes a series of deteriorating warehouses, a worn parking lot and unmaintained lawn, and has sat largely unused for more than decade — during a meeting with the commission for the Czech Village NewBo Self-Supported Municipal Improvement District, or SSMID, on Thursday.

The $28 million project, which doesn’t yet have a name, would take up the full square block between 10th and Ninth Avenues SE and Third and Fourth Streets SE.

The property is on the northern edge of where revitalization has occurred in NewBo.

“It’s a fairly large project,” said Kyle Martin, president of Martin Gardner Arch and an architect. “It’s the whole block, but we still want to maintain the life that’s been developing in the NewBo district with streetlights and pedestrian engagement and just extend that experience up closer to Eighth Avenue.”

The building structure would form a ring around the perimeter of the property, while a parking lot covered by a courtyard with grilling stations, firepits and water features would fill in the center.

Balconies and street level retail patios would line Third Street.

“The courtyard concept, the amenity package, the enclosed parking, that’s all part of what’s considered a Class-A project,” Sova said. “Frankly, in Cedar Rapids, it’s kind of a new thing.”

He predicted rates would be at the high end of the local rental market.

“We’re very sensitive to, ‘Can the current workforce afford this type of project?’” he added, noting he believes it can.

The specs include 91,600 square feet of building space, 138 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, commercial retail space and 173 on-site parking spaces.

The structure functions as a single three-story building, which allowed the designers to eliminate some duplication, such as stair towers, elevators and garbage shoots.

The project will go before the City Planning Commission at 3 p.m., Thursday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE. Commissioners will consider whether to grant a major design exception for the proposed frontage length to allow the project to proceed.

The footprint would be four-times the size allowed in the code, according to supporting documents for the commission meeting.

City Council would get a final say.

“I am very supportive of progress at that site, but there have been several variations of the design that have been working through the process, and I am leaving my decision until the final design is presented to City Council,” said Council member Dale Todd, who represents that area.

Sova had attempted to address concerns about the aesthetics by creating more variety in the facade, he said.

At the SSMID meeting, commission members were largely supportive, particularly for a plan that would eliminate one of the neighborhoods biggest eyesores and glaring holes in the resurgence of the area.

The family behind Loftus Lumber, the O’Connells, still own the land and will have a stake in the development.

“That’s always been the discussion that’s always occurred: ‘What’s going to happen to the Loftus site, and now we know and it’s exciting,” Jim Piersall, a commission member, said. “I think it is very exciting and it will be a great asset.”

“It’s a big, big project,” said Doug Neumann, Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance executive director. “It’s a transformational project at the gateway to the district.”

Commission member Ana McClain added, “We are excited for this project. I think it will bring a lot of new people and growth to the neighborhood.”

Some had some questions and concerns, notably about parking.

While the complex provides parking for residents and staff, retail visitors would have 27 street parking spots to share with other local businesses, said Pamela Lewis, a commission member.

“You’re not going to provide any new parking spaces at all,” Lewis said. “I’m really concerned that retailers will not be able to function down there with 27 spaces. I mean, one good bar will take more than 27 parking space.”

Commission chairman Craig Byers noted planners have designed the area to encourage walking.

“What we are trying to create in this district is, ‘park your car and get out and walk,’ and that’s why the city has been so easy to work with in providing a parking variance because that’s exactly what we want people to do,” Byers said.

Vern Zakostelecky, the city land development coordinator, noted 10 to 20 additional street parking spaces could also be added to the immediate surroundings of the building.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Document: UI got Children’s Hospital records it says it didn’t get

IOWA CITY — A Cedar Rapids contractor sparring over millions for work on the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital said it on multiple occasions already provided construction documents it believes it contractually owes the UI — despite university assertions the UI never got them and won’t pay until it does.

Records obtained Friday by The Gazette appear to show that Gilbane Building Company — a Chicago firm hired to manage construction of the 14-story Children’s Hospital — reviewed and signed off on 136 pages of documents labeled “as-builts” in September 2017 — seven months after the hospital first started treating young patients.

Gilbane confirmed reviewing the documents again in January 2018, according to the records, and the project’s design professional Heery International signed off on the “as-builts” with “no exceptions taken” on June 6, 2018, the documents indicate.

In addition, Modern Piping shared “building information model” files — along with other project files — with a UI attorney in April 2017, according to an image of the file provided Friday to The Gazette.

And an Oct. 25, 2017, email from Modern Piping to Gilbane states the firm provided “all of our as-built drawings.”

At stake in the dispute over the construction documents is nearly $18 million that Iowa courts repeatedly have ruled the UI must pay to Modern Piping — as well as the UI’s capacity to deal with construction defects or emergencies emanating from within the walls of the tower that holds 190 pediatric beds.

UI President Bruce Harreld and Iowa’s Board of Regents in comments Thursday accused Modern Piping of extortion by refusing to provide the documents that show what is behind the walls of the towering hospital — like electrical wiring, valves, gas pipes and other things — until the UI pays even more than what the courts have already ordered.

Harreld — and the regents — at one point questioned whether Modern Piping did its due diligence in documenting its work and whether the documents even exist.

Harreld raised the prospect that patients are at risk since administrators and security personnel don’t know in detail what lies behind the hospital walls.

Modern Piping executives have said they’ll provide the “as-built” documents again — even before the university pays what it owes or signs a settlement — if the university publicly admits to having had them all along and retracts the extortion accusation.

“If they agree to this, even before they sign it, we will deliver the additional copies,” Modern Piping Chief Executive Officer Ken Brown said Friday. “We are going to go over and above everything they asked for. All they have to do is say, ‘We made a mistake. We did have them. We are thankful they’re going to give us additional copies and provide these additional resources for us.’

“Then just wire us the money sometime this weekend, and we’re done,” Brown said.

But the UI dug in Friday, providing emails from the design firm in January 2018 requesting the construction details in a specific form.

“We have not seen these nor has Gilbane or Capital Management,” Heery Vice President Scott Hansche wrote to Gilbane and UI officials in January. “What Modern has submitted as record drawings is their shop drawings and the model. Not one set of drawings showing changes made in the field.”

That message, though, was written months before the records obtained by The Gazette indicate the firm signed off on the documents with “no exceptions taken” on June 6, 2018.

Still, in an email Friday to the UI, which was provided to The Gazette, Hansche maintained that not only has it not received “corrected Modern as-built drawings,” it hasn’t received “any as-built drawings” from another contractor that also sued the UI over its Children’s Hospital work — Merit Construction of Cedar Rapids.

Nonetheless, the university issued a statement Friday reporting it’s in the process of paying Merit the $9.4 million it owes the firm, “which will be complete by the close of business today.”

Both Merit and Modern Piping won hefty awards for unpaid work on the Children’s Hospital, which was plagued by mismanagement, thousands of design changes, cost overruns, and schedule delays, as reported by The Gazette.

In its statement Friday, the UI said it’s placing the award ordered for Modern Piping in an escrow account with U.S. Bank with instructions to pay “as soon as we have the as-builts.”

The statement included an email showing one reason it was important for the UI to have the drawings. The UI ran into an issue in January “where there is a strong sewage smell that our engineering services and design team are having difficulty tracing the source of.”

“I would like to request that Modern assist us in the resolution of this by allowing us trace the as-built … to see what’s going on,” a UI executive wrote.

“The email also shows the importance of receiving the as-builts from Modern Piping to deal with any necessary repairs,” UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck told The Gazette on Friday. “The university has done work to mitigate the sewage smell, however as future issues arise, we need the documents in order to make repairs as quickly as possible.”

The UI did not immediately respond to a number of questions from The Gazette, including why it intended to pay one contractor but not the other if it faces the same issue with both.

Also unexplained is whether the UI, in its quest for the disputed documents, is retreading ground already decided by the court.

“The Iowa District Court for Johnson County expressly prohibited the University of Iowa from not paying the judgment based on the as-built drawings,” Modern Piping attorney Jeff Stone said. “The University of Iowa’s withholding or offsetting of moneys due to Modern Piping based on as-builts is in direct violation of a court order from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

Martinko investigator subject of new ‘Inside Cedar Rapids’ podcast

CEDAR RAPIDS — One of the key investigators involved in a recently closed 39-year-old cold case will be featured in a new Cedar Rapids podcast expected to be released early next week.

Matt Denlinger, a Cedar Rapids Police Department investigator, is expected to discuss how the department made an arrest in the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko, whose body was found in 1979 in her parents’ 1972 Buick Electra in the Westdale Mall parking lot.

Absent a weapon and fingerprints, detectives leaned on modern science and technology, including DNA genetic genealogical research, to zero in on Jerry Lynn Burns, 64, who was charged with first degree murder late last year.

“The podcast will talk to him a little more about what it’s like to work on cold cases, what motivates him, how technology has changed how he does his job, and how the public can help,” said Maria Johnson, the city’s communications division manager who’s been involved in the effort.

The podcast is the second installment in a new monthly audio series called “Inside Cedar Rapids.” The podcast series will feature interviews with city staff, who will provide an “insider’s perspective” on a variety of topics within their area of expertise that goes beyond what is offered through city newsletters and other channels of communication.

The new initiative is an attempt to “foster conversation and bring the workings of the city closer to your neighborhood by highlighting the people, projects and programs of the local city government.”

The hope is to provide valuable insight on what the city does to help the general public, Johnson said.

“With the growing popularity of podcasts, we thought it would be a great opportunity to share information with residents, and help them get to know some of the people who work for them each day,” Johnson said.

Public Works Director Jen Winter was interviewed in the first episode, which was released last month and covered spring flooding, flood control and how her team responds to flood scares.

Bill Klaproth served as “pod-host.” He works for a third-party agency called Doctor Podcasting by RadioMD.

The city hired Amperage, a Cedar Rapids marketing firm, to serve as consultant for the project. The contract run from March 1 to Aug. 31 and is valued at $6,900, or $1,150 per episode.

The “Inside Cedar Rapids” podcast is available at cityofcr.com/podcast and on iTunes and other podcast services.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

The On Iowa Politics Podcast: collusion delusion, Loebsack retirement, and campaign money

This week On Iowa Politics talks about the Meuller report, Dave Loebsack’s retirement, and campaign money. On Iowa Politics is a weekly news and analysis podcast that aims to re-create the kinds of conversations that happen when you get political reporters from across Iowa together after the day’s deadlines have been met.

The show features The Gazette’s James Lynch, Bret Hayworth of the Sioux City Journal, Ed Tibbets of the Quad City Times, Thomas Nelson of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courrier, and Gazette Columnist Todd Dorman.

The show was produced by Stephen Colbert and music heard in the podcast is courtesy of Scarlet Runner.

Cedar Rapids man sentenced to 15 years in Federal Prison for meth-making conspiracy

A Cedar Rapids man was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in federal prison after he allegedly conspired to manufacture methamphetamine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa.

According to a news release, Justin M. Cinkan, 28, received the prison term after a jury convicted him of conspiring to manufacture five or more grams of methamphetamine near a school and possessing pseudoephedrine for the purpose of manufacturing methamphetamine.

The evidence at trial showed Cinkan purchased more than 25 grams of pseudoephedrine between September 2015 and May 2016 for the purpose of cooking meth, according to the USAO. Additionally, Cinkan was barred from purchasing pseudoephedrine four other times during that same time period, as a result of the state’s electronic pseudoephedrine tracking system. There was also evidence that showed Cinkan had other individuals purchase pseudoephedrine and other materials used for manufacturing meth.

In the days leading up to May 1, 2016, the USAO said Cinkan and a woman stockpiled materials to cook meth at a home in Marion.

While in the home, the news release states Cinkan and the woman got into an argument and he threatened to blow up the female by lighting an active one-pot meth lab on fire.

The woman’s brother notified the Marion Police Department after he found an apparent one-pot meth lab in the house, according to the release. When police arrived, they found lab and other meth-making materials in the house.

Cinkan was sentenced to 180 months in prison followed by an 8-year term of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.

At sentencing, United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand in Cedar Rapids found that Cinkan had recruited others into his meth making scheme and that Cinkan had testified falsely at trial.

The court also noted that Cinkan had gone on a “crime spree” in May 2016, according to the release. Cinkan was convicted of three felonies after he stole and then abandoned three cars in the week following the discovery of his meth lab on May 1.

Cinkan has also previously been convicted of a felony crime of possessing methamphetamine precursors. He is currently being held in the United States Marshal’s custody until he can be transported to a federal prison.

• Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Pier 1 Imports considers closing at least 45 stores

Pier 1 Imports is the latest retailer to announce it is considering store closures following a disappointing financial report.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company announced it might close up to 45 of its 970 stores nationwide in fiscal 2020 as their leases expire, according to a Friday investor relations report.

The company closed 30 stores in fiscal 2019 and says in the report it could close up to 15 percent, or 145, of its remaining stores if it is unable to boost its sales performance.

Pier 1 did not respond immediately to a request as to how many of its Iowa locations might be considered for closing.

Among the company’s Eastern Iowa locations are stores in Coralville, Marion and Dubuque.

This story is being updated. Please check back for more information.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

Prosecutors ask judge to sentence former coach Greg Stephen to 180 years for video recording naked teen players

CEDAR RAPIDS — Federal prosecutors will ask a judge next month to sentence a former youth basketball coach, convicted of video recording naked teenage players and “catfishing” boys online to send him explicit images, to the maximum prison term of 180 years.

Prosecutors, in a sentencing memo filed Thursday, said Greg Stephen built an organization “designed to feed him a steady, replenishing stream of victims.” These were drawn from a pool of boys who were eager to play basketball for him, and he had control and authority over the teens as members of the Barnstormers, of the Amateur Athletic Union.

“The families of these victims sought out the defendant, paid for his expertise and connections, and entrusted him with the safety and futures of their sons,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Clifford Stone, of the Southern District of Iowa, said in the court document. “Defendant used his positions as founder and a coach for an elite youth basketball organization to access, manipulate and groom these victims so he could sexually exploit them.”

Greg Stephen, 43, of Monticello, pleaded guilty last October in U.S. District Court to five counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count each of possession of child pornography and transportation of child pornography.

A plea agreement detailed sexually explicit videos that Stephen took of the boys and other details of the investigation, including Stephen posing as teen girls on social media — a practice known as catfishing — to persuade teen boys to provide explicit videos and images to him.

Stephen, in the plea, admitted to engaging in sexually explicit conduct to produce videos with five former basketball players under the age of 18. According to the plea agreement, Stephen persuaded four of the boys to provide explicit images or videos but had no physical contact with them. He did have physical contact with one victim, who traveled to tournaments and games with Stephen on several occasions and went to Stephen’s cabin in Delhi.

Stephen also admitted in the plea to possessing child pornography and to transporting an external hard drive that contained videos or images of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct. He said he carried the device across state lines from Illinois to Iowa.

The Barnstormers cut ties with Stephen when the investigation became public in February 2018. Stephen was arrested in March and remains in jail pending sentencing.

Stone, in the sentencing document, said the number of Stephen’s victims exceeded 400 by the time he was arrested in 2018. Stephen violated his victims by covertly recording them while they were naked, tricking them into sending explicit images and videos to him and photographing himself touching victims’ private parts while they were asleep.

The advisory sentencing guideline range is 2,160 months or 180 years in federal prison, which is necessary based on the nature and circumstances of the offense, the harm caused to the victims and community and Stephen’s “level of dangerousness,” according to the document.

The sentencing issues left to resolve are several enhancements for elements such as pattern of activity and physical contact, which both increase prison time or warrant the maximum sentence prosecutors have recommended, according to the document.

Stone said, at this time, none of the victims have said they want to address the court or have their victim impact statements read aloud during sentencing.

The prosecution is also asking the court to order Stephen pay two $5,000 special assessment penalties for the offenses of possession and transportation of child pornography.

According to the sentencing document, Stephen has the means to pay the fines. He has a net worth of $113,133, owns two houses and continued to receive a salary for over a year, as a loan, from his former employer, Stephen Motors, pending resolution of this case, the document shows.

Prosecutors, in the document, said the defense tries to claim Stephen as just a voyeur who is mainly a consumer of child pornography, and therefore, less dangerous. But the evidence establishes Stephen is a “longtime child molester and producer of child pornography.”

In 2003, Stephen founded the Iowa Mavericks Basketball Club, where he spent over 50 hours a week with 60-65 young, male basketball players, according to the document. Which coincides with the earliest computer folder containing child pornography recovered — August 3, 2003. From that time until 2018, Stephen “ingratiated” himself into the youth basketball community, co-founding the Barnstormers in 2005.

Stephen also looked for opportunities to spend time with players away from their families, Stone said. Players spent the night at his homes and he invited the boys to attend tournaments and professional basketball games out of town, where he would share a bed with a victim in hotel rooms.

The prosecution relied on the child pornography recovered and victims who reported instances of touching but due to “shame, embarrassment and a variety of other reasons,” many victims may not have reported Stephen physically touched them, Stone said.   

In contrast, Stephen’s attorney is asking the judge to run his client’s sentences concurrently for a total of 20 years in prison. Stephen disputes some of the enhancements for offenses, which increase prison terms. The defense also argues the production of child pornography was “non-coercive and non-commercial conduct without dissemination.”

Mark Meyers, Stephen’s lawyer, also argues that Stephen has no criminal history and the guideline sentencing range is “disproportionally harsh,” regarding the child pornography charges and other previous cases have encouraged judges to use discretion, based on each individual case.

Sentencing is May 2 in U.S. District Court. 

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Pages