Latest News from Gazette Online

'Labor of love' Perkins House seeks local historic status

 

CEDAR RAPIDS — Eric Gutschmidt didn’t know precisely what he was getting into when he bought an old 5,024-square foot mansion on Third Avenue SE known as the Perkins House, except that he loved it.

The two-and-a-half-story house is unmistakable from the street with a tower on the front and a portico porch, but is badly run down and has been split into eight apartments. He initially envisioned fixing it up to be a transitional home for Burmese refugees.

That didn’t pan out after he discovered the house had more problems than he had realized — including, he said, that some of the units didn’t even have heat.

Gutschmidt’s sights now are on doing a full historic renovation and having the Perkins House anchor a residential revitalization in the MedQuarter Regional Medical District.

“I bought this on a whim because I thought it looked really cool,” said Gutschmidt, 34, who has remodeled 35 properties in 10 years. “And in the grand scheme of things it is a super cool house, but it will be a labor of love to complete.”

Gutschmidt and Friends of Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation have requested the Cedar Rapids City Council grant the Perkins House, 1228 Third Ave. SE, a local historic landmark designation. It would be just the fifth property recognized as such since the designation was created in 1999 and the first since Grace Episcopal Church, 525 A Ave. NE, in early 2018.

 

“This offers protections on the house not only now but in the future,” said Lauren Freeman, Cedar Rapids community development program coordinator.

She explained to the council Jan. 8 the designation requires the property owner gain approval for modifications to the exterior of the building, although not the interior.

The city is encouraging more property owners to seek the designation to provide enhanced protections for the city’s oldest structures, she said. Two others are in the pipeline, she said.

The council voted initial approval for the designation and is expected to make the two final votes needed on Jan. 22.

“With the unique architecture and detailing, I think it will be very exciting to see it brought back to the original condition or close to it,” said Scott Overland, a City Council member. “I think it will be a real boon for the neighborhood and I’m very supportive of the landmark process.”

Council member Ann Poe added, “This is a strong way for us to hang on to those important historic structures. Let’s get as many of them designated on local, state and national — on the registries — and get those designations in place. It’s a good way to protect them.”

 

The property previously was approved for the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. While the national designation opens doors for historic tax credit opportunities, it has less clout for protecting the property than the local designation.

The 1897 Queen Anne-style Victorian house was designed by prominent architect Charles A. Dieman for Charles and Nellie Perkins, according to the 2002 application.

Overland said the house likely was one of the first in that area as the city expanded east.

By 1928, the house had been converted into an eight-plex and has been so ever since, the application noted.

The architectural detail was the basis for the national designation.

A tower rounds to a peak in the front, a prominent brick chimney climbs the facade, a portico porch has round-arched brick columns and the east side has a Palladian window.

Gutschmidt, who purchased the house in 2017 from Kent and Jackie Fowlkes for $150,000, said his first focus is the exterior. He already invested $80,000 on a new roof and this spring plans a full paint restoration with a palette of seven colors including creams, browns, whites and blues.

The interior is adorned with arched entryways and built-in features. But wood floors have been painted over and water leaks have eaten through plaster. So that will take longer.

Gutschmidt is planning to restore units, only three of which are occupied, over the next two years. Given the challenge of finding someone to take on such a large home, he said he plans to keep the Perkins House as apartments.

He estimates the remodel could cost $750,000 and will follow historic preservation guidelines. Given rundown properties in the neighborhood and the cost of the investment, he expects bank financing will be a challenge to get.

Still, Gutschmidt said he is committed to restoring the house to its old glory and hopes the local historic landmark pressures neighboring property owner to invest in their properties.

He thinks the Perkins House could be workforce housing, providing walking distance accommodations for professionals at the nearby hospitals or clinics.

“The Perkins house when I bought it was arguable the worst house on the block, and it is in the MedQuarter, which I know the city has put a lot of effort into revamping,” Gutschmidt said. “My hope is over time this will be the best house on the block, the nicest one with the highest valuation ... That neighborhood really shows a lot of promise to come back.”

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

 

Linn County sees $1.6 billion in construction since 2016

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County metro areas have seen more than $1.6 billion in construction since 2016, according to a review of public and private sector projects by the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

The growth includes 125 projects of $1 million or more, said Ron Corbett, business retention and expansion strategist for the Economic Alliance and former Cedar Rapids mayor. Development has been strong and widespread, primarily locally generated, and housing has been a key ingredient, Corbett noted as three take-aways from the review.

“There’s an untold story of all the development that has taken place in our community,” Corbett said. “Maybe this is a new normal to see these take place in our community.

“It is really quite impressive.”

Corbett made his comments during a presentation last week to the Cedar Rapids Thursday Noon Optimists club, which meets weekly at Waypoint Services. Earlier in the week, Corbett gave a similar presentation at the Cedar Rapids Downtown Rotary.

On Feb. 5, Corbett is scheduled to present to the Ex Club, a men’s business club, at the Cedar Rapids Country Club.

Corbett said investment has occurred across all sectors including commercial, industrial, financial and manufacturing. While existing business reinvestment has accounted for much of the growth, one example of new industry is Acreage Holdings’ $5 million medical marijuana manufacturing plant.

In same cases, projects have been in the works for years, such as the seven years it took Collins Community Credit Union to pull the trigger on a $46 million headquarters last year, he said.

“You can’t take this stuff for granted,” Corbett said. “Sometimes these projects take years in the making before they actually come to fruition.”

The review did not compare the pace of development compared to other cities, but Corbett said for Cedar Rapids it is the strongest is has been since the late 1990s,

In responding to questions from the lunchtime crowd, Corbett said developer Steve Emerson’s $72.9 million, 25-story downtown structure — with a grocery store, condos, apartments, rooftop patios and more on city land at 101 and 109 Third Ave. SE and 312 First St. SE, adjacent to the Paramount Theatre — still is on track for a fall 2019 ground breaking.

“He didn’t get a brownfield grant, so he still is looking for a few (ways to fill) funding gaps right now,” Corbett said.

On another front, Corbett said Jim Happel’s Ellis Landings 27-unit housing project on the Cedar River, in partnership with Emerson, has most of the condos sold. But the project hit a snag working with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One attendee asked why private companies have the expectation of getting public incentives to help fund their projects. In Cedar Rapids, most high profile projects, particularly those in downtown area, qualify for some form of public assistance.

“It struck me Cargill, being one of the largest companies in the world, why do we need to help them?” the woman asked of the corporation seeking a $429,800 state grant and $367,700 in local tax breaks over 10 years as a match for the state grant to support a $37 million investment in its soybean plant.

Corbett defended the public aid, noting that Cargill would not qualify for state aid if the city did not chip in, and that it’s a competition to get large companies to invest when they have plants all over.

The project would allow Cargill to protect the 48 existing jobs, but does not call for adding jobs.

“We compete for plant improvements for these larger companies,” Corbett said. “The match the city put together is minuscule compared to the benefit of the $37 million investment.”

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

Rally at Capitol supports IPERS

DES MOINES — Groups representing public employees and Democratic-leaning organizations rallied Monday at the Capitol in hopes of fending off any changes to the public employee retirement program that covers nearly 1 in 10 Iowans, known as IPERS.

“We want to remind our elected officials of the strong promises they made during their campaigns to stay away from IPERS,” Yvonne Hogan said at a news conference organized by the Progress Iowa group.

Although Republican legislative leaders have said they have no intention of making changes to the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System, speakers said they were skeptical.

“You’ll pardon us, however, for being a little leery of election promises as we have been tricked before,” said Hogan, a retired schoolteacher.

She was referring to sweeping restrictions the GOP-controlled Legislature made to public employee collective bargaining rights in 2017 after saying they planned only to “tweak” the law.

A spokesman for House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said it was “fake news” that the GOP majority is planning to change IPERS from a defined benefits plans to a defined contribution plan as some have suggested.

“This news conference is simply an attempt by Democrats and their allied organizations to generate a news story and continue to spread misinformation to Iowans,” Colin Tadlock said.

Upmeyer and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, both called talk of changes to IPERS a “scare tactic.”

“The unions are telling people that,” Whitver said. “The state leaders that actually make that decision aren’t telling people that. We’re not going to do that.”

In the past, changes to IPERS have been made after being suggested by the system’s board, Upmeyer said.

“We were very clear from the very beginning that we didn’t have any IPERS initiative on the burner that we’re working on,” she said.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, a member of the IPERS Investment Board, said she has been assured by Republican House leaders they have no intention of making changes to IPERS.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Catholic Worker House holds “sleep in” on Pedestrian Mall

By Madison Arnold, The Gazette

IOWA CITY — The Catholic Worker House held a “sleep in” protest Monday in hopes of persuading city leaders to reconsider the new Pedestrian Mall bench design.

Representatives of the nonprofit say the new benches, which include armrests in the middle to divide seating, is a “hostile design” that does not allow people who are homeless to comfortably lie down on the benches.

The new benches were installed as part of the first of a two-season construction project to improve the Ped Mall’s underground utilities and streetscape.

Scott Sovers, senior civil engineer for the city, said the design simply was meant to increase seating on the Ped Mall and make people feel more comfortable sitting on a bench with another person.

He added that the bench plans were included in public meetings about the Ped Mall construction before they were installed.

But the new benches “don’t add seating,” according to a Catholic Worker House memo.

“The bars running through them actually take away seating and divide families and close friends from each other,” the memo continues.

“The new benches don’t help disabled people stand up or sit down. Many homeless people are disabled and have no place to lay their head and rest their back and legs.”

During the protest, dozens of attendees lay on the old painted benches, which remain on half of the Ped Mall and are scheduled to be replaced next year.

Geoff Fruin, city manager, said staffers are gathering information on cost estimates and replacement options if the City Council chooses to act. That information will presented to the council in a public information packet Thursday.

Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Iowa Democratic leader urges sex crime, harassment reforms

DES MOINES — Iowa Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen broke through the usual opening-day fare of the Iowa Legislature with a call Monday for lawmakers to better address sexual assault and harassment — both inside and outside the Iowa Capitol.

Petersen, a Democratic from Des Moines, made the plea during session-opening remarks by legislative leaders.

She said she was quoting author William Paul Young when she said, “I don’t think there is anything that is the equivalent of sexual abuse that tears apart the fabric of the human soul. It empowers the lies of shame.”

She called on legislators to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault charges, saying the limit “puts the rights of serial predators ahead of survivors.”

Petersen said Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers, plan to introduce measures that would eliminate limitations on sexual assault charges and lawsuits involving alleged sexual assault victims younger than 18.

“We can fix this for the children and adult abuse survivors in this state,” Petersen said.

She also called for a review of. and possible changes to, ethics rules that govern legislators.

The Iowa Legislature has been dealing with the fallout from multiple incidents of sexual harassment or misconduct. A former Senate Republican caucus staff member was awarded $1.75 million to settle a lawsuit over her allegations of sexual harassment at the Capitol. And Sen. Nate Boulton, a Democrat from Des Moines and former candidate for governor, was accused of sexual misconduct in incidents in 2015, before he was elected.

A legislative ethics panel ruled Boulton was not subject to punishment because its guidelines don’t apply to actions by lawmakers outside the Capitol or by people before they’re elected to the body.

“I renew my commitment ... to continue working in a bipartisan manner to make the Iowa Capitol a safe environment for everyone,” Petersen said, with Boulton sitting feet away. “That includes making appropriate changes to the Senate Code of Ethics and harassment prevention policy to ensure better pathways to justice.”

Petersen has called for Boulton to resign but he won’t. He’s up for re-election in 2020.

Petersen originally stripped Boulton of his committee assignments. But after the ethics committee ruling and a pre-session meeting, she appointed Boulton to three committees.

As the result of the 2018 elections, significant turnover came to each chamber although the GOP remains in control of both. The Senate has nine new members — nearly 1 in every 10 senators — and the House has 22 new members among the 100 representatives.

“It’s fresh ideas, fresh faces. I think that’s great,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who was first elected in 2002. “I believe there were 19 new legislators elected the year I came in … Any time you see a big influx there’s a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. I’m looking forward to it.”

While freshmen making up nearly a quarter of the House brings challenges, “the opportunities we have before us to make generational changes should not be taken lightly or passed by,” said House Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley.

The election also produced a new majority within the House Democrats’ caucus: 24 of the 46 are women.

Many leaders made calls for and promises of bipartisan cooperation.

“As elected officials and leaders of our state, we have a responsibility to bring people together,” said Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines. “The time for drawing contrasts is over. The time to govern has arrived. We are all Iowans. We are all here to make our state a better place for our families, neighbors and communities. Now is the time to come together and focus on Iowa’s future.”

Upmeyer said she has served in divided government and under one-party control by both Republicans and Democrats.

“However, during all these changes, one thing has remained constant,” she said. “After the election, no matter who is in charge, Iowans expect us to move beyond the partisan gamesmanship and govern.”

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Urbandale, addressed House Minority Leader Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, and pledged to work with Democrats. Hagenow said nearly 9 in 10 bills passed in 2018 had support from both parties.

“I am hopeful we can move that number even higher,” Hagenow said.

“With the election behind us, it is time to set aside petty politics and get to work on improving the lives of all Iowans: urban and rural, affluent and indigent, young and old,” Prichard said. “If we take one lesson from the recent campaigns, it is that the public is weary of hyperpartisan politics.”

Iowa City school district set to keep most contract items

Despite drastic changes to state law since the last negotiation with its teachers union, the Iowa City Community School District is on track to preserve most items in its master contract.

The district, the fifth-largest in the state, is in the midst of its first contract negotiation with the Iowa City Education Association, or ICEA, since Iowa stripped down unions’ collective bargaining powers in February 2017.

“We’re going to leave our contract in tact, with all permissive language that could be included,” said Chace Ramey, the district’s chief human resources officer. “We’re not taking out any more than is absolutely required by law.”

The district and the union, the Iowa City Education Association, presented initial contract proposals last month, and negotiations are ongoing.

Ramey and Brady Shutt, the union’s president, declined to comment on negotiations beyond their initial proposals.

Shutt, though, said teachers should be encouraged by the proposals, which he noted do not have “significant differences.”

“For the teachers, it’s a sign that, yes, the state did change and it allows the district to do certain things, but it doesn’t mean the district has to do them,” said Shutt, who teaches at Liberty High School.

“It’s a huge statement about how the district trusts us and believes in us as teachers and as employees.”

Both initial proposals remove items prohibited by new law. ICEA proposed a 2.5 percent wage increase for the 2019-2020 school year, while the district proposed an increase of one percent.

Ramey said the district hopes to wrap up negotiations before summer, though the vast majority of school funding is decided by the Legislature, which opened the 2019 session Monday.

Maintaining all permissive items — which include wages, working hours and grievance procedures — has not been the norm for school districts since state legislators overhauled Iowa’s collective bargaining law nearly two years ago.

Of the more than 225 school districts that have settled a contract since, about 30 have left every permissive topic in tact, according a December report from the Iowa Association of School Boards.

“I hope this relationship and level of collaboration is a model across the state,” Shutt said. “You would be hard-pressed to find a situation or relationship that’s stronger than ours.”

Linn-Mar Community School District is the only Corridor district to have settled a contract that maintained every permissive item.

Four nearby districts — Cedar Rapids, Clear Creek Amana, College Community and Marion Independent — removed some permissive items.

Clear Creek Amana Community School District has the slimmest contract in the area, and includes only one permissive item, wages. The Cedar Rapids Community School District initial contract proposal last spring included only wages but, after public pushback, grew to include grievance procedures, hours, in-service training, and health and safety matters.

Districts in Mount Vernon and Solon have not yet negotiated contracts under the new law.

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

Mercy Health Network to change its name

Iowa health care system Mercy Health Network will rebrand itself next month to better unify its locations statewide.

Starting Feb. 1, Mercy Health Network will become MercyOne, according to a Monday news release.

Mercy Health Network includes 43 owned, joint-venture and affiliated hospitals and medical centers, and more than 230 clinics and similar facilities, generating more than $3 billion in revenue and employing more than 20,000 people. At present, the hospitals and facilities have a dozen different brand names, logos and messages.

“Over the past 20 years, Mercy Health Network has grown significantly, expanding our network of locations, clinical capabilities, services and geographic reach,” Bob Ritz, Mercy Health Network president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“Our unifying name and look are key steps in progressing from an individual location to a more visible, integrated health system working together to provide statewide access and expertise.”

All the network’s wholly owned hospitals and clinics will adopt the MercyOne name.

Mercy Iowa City, an affiliate of Mercy Health Network, will not change its name, officials said. Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids is unconnected to Mercy Health Network.

Mercy Health Network leadership or structure also will not change with the rebranding. Each network-owned facility will maintain existing leadership and boards.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

U.S. proposes to allow drone flights at night

The Trump administration on Monday proposed rules that would allow drones to operate over populated areas and end a requirement for special permits for night use — long-awaited actions that are expected to help speed commercial use of small unmanned aerial vehicles in the United States.

The proposals, drafted by the Federal Aviation Administration of the U.S. Transportation Department, come amid concerns about dangers that drones potentially pose to aircraft and populated areas.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the department was cognizant of drone safety issues.

“The department is keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones, concerning safety, security and privacy,” Chao said at a speech in Washington, D.C.

Two London airports have been disrupted by drone sightings in recent weeks and the British government is considering toughening laws that ban the use of drones near airports.

Alphabet Inc. and Amazon.com are among a growing number of companies hoping to make package delivery by drones a reality.

The FAA said that, in developing the proposals, its challenge was to “balance the need to mitigate the risk small unmanned aircraft pose to other aircraft and to people and property on the ground without inhibiting innovation.”

Chao noted there are nearly 1.3 million registered drones in this country and more than 116,000 registered drone operators.

The FAA is proposing ending requirements that drone operators get waivers to operate at night. Through 2017, the FAA granted 1,233 waivers and “has not received any reports of (drone) accidents,” it said.

The FAA would require that drones have “an anti-collision light illuminated and visible for at least three statute miles,” as well as testing and training.

Under the FAA’s proposals, operators would be able to fly small unmanned aircraft weighing 0.55 pounds or less over populated areas without any additional restrictions.

For drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds, however, a manufacturer would need to demonstrate that if an “unmanned aircraft crashed into a person, the resulting injury would be below a certain severity threshold.”

Those larger drones could not have exposed rotating parts that could lacerate human skin and could not operate over people if they have any safety defects, the FAA said.

The FAA would prohibit operations of the largest drones over any open-air assembly of people.

In 2017, President Donald Trump launched a program to expand testing of drones in what the White House said would “open the skies for delivery of lifesaving medicines and commercial packages (and) inspections of critical infrastructure.”

The FAA also said Monday it was considering moving ahead with additional rules in response to public safety and national security concerns as it works to integrate drones with airplane traffic.

Moreover, the FAA is proposing allowing discretionary waivers for operations over moving vehicles, for operations over people that would not otherwise meet the standards outlined in its proposal, and for those that do not meet its anti-collision lighting requirement.

Wisconsin kidnapper targeted Jayme Closs after seeing her get on school bus - prosecutor

By Todd Melby, Reuters

BARRON, Wis., Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Wisconsin man accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old girl after murdering her parents and holding her hostage for months, sometimes under his bed, told police he picked his victim after seeing her get on a school bus, prosecutors said on Monday.

Wisconsin authorities said Jake Patterson, 21, had confessed to killing Jayme Closs’ father with a shotgun while the teen and her mother hid in a bathtub, then killing the mother after forcing her to help duct-tape her daughter’s mouth shut.

The October discovery of the parents’ bodies in the family home in rural Barron, Wisconsin, with the door blasted open and their daughter gone, sparked a search by hundreds of police officers and thousands of volunteers that ended Thursday when Closs escaped after 88 days and sought help from a woman walking her dog.

At a brief hearing in Barron County Circuit Court on Monday, Patterson appeared via live video from jail, wearing an orange jumpsuit and glasses and offering brief yes-or-no answers to questions from the judge.

Patterson will be held on $5 million bail and is scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 6. He faces first-degree murder charges for the killings of James and Denise Closs, as well as kidnapping and burglary counts.

Closs’ public defenders, Charles Glynn and Richard Jones, told reporters on Sunday they understood the emotions surrounding the case but would rely on the judicial system to treat Patterson fairly.

WEEKS OF PREPARATION

Patterson told police that when he spotted the teen outside her home getting on the school bus while he was driving to a short-lived job at a local cheese factory, “he knew that was the girl he was going to take,” according to a criminal complaint.

He prepared for the abduction by buying a ski mask, shaving his head so as not to leave any hair evidence and replacing his license plates with stolen ones. Twice he drove to the house but was scared off after seeing lights on and people there.

On Oct. 15, Jayme Closs told police she was awakened when the family dog began barking and got her parents up as a car entered their driveway.

Dressed in black, Patterson shot James Closs through the front door while Jayme and her mother, Denise Closs, barricaded themselves in a bathroom, according to both Patterson’s and Jayme Closs’ accounts.

After kicking down the door, Patterson ordered Denise Closs to tape up her daughter, then shot her dead and dragged Jayme into the trunk of his car, he told police.

On the way to his cabin in Gordon, Wisconsin, about 66 miles (106 km) north of Barron, Patterson drove past several police cars responding to reports of the shooting, according to the complaint.

During her months in captivity, Patterson often trapped Closs under his bed for hours at a time when he left the house or people came over, using plastic boxes and barbells to make it harder for her to get out, he told police. He threatened violence to keep her from trying to escape.

Closs managed to push her way out on Thursday after Patterson said he would be out for a few hours, she told police. She put on a pair of his shoes and walked outside, where she encountered the woman walking her dog.

The two then approached a neighbor’s house to call police. While Closs warmed up inside, the neighbor, Peter Kasinskas, retrieved his gun and stood watch at the door in case her captor was searching for her, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Soon after, police stopped Patterson, who was driving nearby.

(Reporting by Todd Melby in Barron, Wisconsin, writing by Joseph Ax in New York; editing by Lisa Shumaker, James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman)

PG&E prepares bankruptcy filing

Pacific Gas and Electric Corp., owner of the biggest U.S. power utility by customers, said on Monday it is preparing to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as soon as this month amid pressure from potentially crushing liabilities linked to California’s catastrophic wildfires in 2017 and 2018.

PG&E, which provides electricity and natural gas to 16 million customers in northern and central California, faces widespread litigation, government investigations and liabilities that could potentially exceed $30 billion due to the fires, the company said.

The most recent fire last November killed at least 86 people in the deadliest and most destructive blaze in California history.

PG&E’s CEO was replaced on Sunday by General Counsel John Simon on an interim basis.

San Francisco-based PG&E is working on lining up roughly $5.5 billion in so-called debtor-in-possession financing to help operations during bankruptcy proceedings.

The utility said the bankruptcy process will not affect electric or natural gas services for customers. Company advisers expect that it may take up to two years to emerge from bankruptcy.

In theory, California politicians could avert PG&E’s bankruptcy with legislative action. Last year, the state approved a law helping utilities recoup costs from fires in 2017, but not blazes in 2018.

Both lawmakers and regulators may be constrained in how much more they can help PG&E, at least by allowing it to further raise electricity rates.

What happens to your store credit card when the retailer closes?

When a store leaves town — a scene that has played out thousands of times in recent years — it doesn’t take your store credit card debt along with it, even if the retailer closes all its locations.

“If the consumer has a balance on the card, they still would owe it to the issuer,” said Chi Chi Wu, a lawyer for the National Consumer Law Center who specializes in consumer credit issues.

When you own a store-branded credit card that works only at that specific retailer, it doesn’t mean the store itself offered you financing.

These type of “closed-loop” credit cards are still underwritten by a bank, which means your debt is owned by the bank and not the store itself.

So if that mall anchor closes, the bank still will be seeking to collect on what you owe. If the thought of your favorite store closing makes you nervous, consider opening a cash-back credit card instead.

Here are some common questions to consider if your go-to store goes under.

Q What happens to my credit card?

A It depends. There are three possible scenarios when the retailer associated with your card closes its brick-and-mortar locations:

l The account gets closed.

l The card can still be used for online or other purchases within that brand.

l The issuer will assign your line of credit to another retailer.

“All of that comes with notification, and as the consumer it gives you time to make a decision if you want to stay on for the ride,” said Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and external affairs for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

If you’re not interested in online shopping or making the switch to another retailer, you can opt to close the account.

Closing the account doesn’t erase it from your credit history, though. If your card is closed because a retailer goes out of business — or due to your own inactivity — it will still appear on your credit report.

Q If the issuer closes my card, will it affect my credit score?

A Yes. Even if you didn’t choose to close the account, it will still have an impact.

If you held the card for a long time, it can affect the average length of credit history, which is a factor in determining your score.

And depending on the number of cards you hold and the debt on each one, closing your store card can have a big impact on your credit utilization rate.

Let’s say you had a credit limit of $1,000 on your store card and $1,000 on a general purpose credit card. If you had no balance on the store card and a $500 balance on the other, you’d owe $500 out a limit of $2,000, giving you a utilization ratio of 25 percent.

Take away that store card and you’d now owe $500 out of a $1,000 limit, making your ratio to 50 percent.

Credit use counts toward about one-third of your overall credit score — so a big use jump can knock your score down.

If the issuer closes your account, get a copy of your credit report to make sure it’s reported as “closed” or “closed at lender’s request.” When the issuer closes the card, it has a smaller impact on your credit score than if you close the account yourself.

Q What if I stop paying my balance?

A As with any bill, there are consequences for not paying the balance you owe.

“You remain responsible for paying the debt. Any late payments or failure to pay would affect your credit scores just as any other debt you owe,” said Rod Griffin, direct of public education for the credit bureau Experian.

Aside from the effect on your credit score, you’d still be subject to the same bill collection process as with other debts.

Q What happens to my rewards?

A If the store disappears, so do any credit card rewards you’ve earned. When you hear a retailer is closing, make sure to call the issuer right away to find out how long you have to redeem rewards.

Q The store near me closed, but the company isn’t out of business. Should I close the card?

A After a store closes, it’s possible your retailer will no longer be conveniently located.

When you choose to close a credit card account, it can have a negative effect on your credit score. If you can no longer visit a physical store, you still may want to keep the account open and shop online.

Q What if my card gets sold?

A In the rare instance that the issuer sells your credit card, you’ll see changes on your credit report, but it won’t impact your obligation to repay.

“If the account is sold or transferred to another company, two things would likely happen in your credit report,” Griffin said. “First, the original debt would probably be updated to show ‘closed’ and that it has been sold or transferred to the new company. Second, the debt would appear under the new company’s name, usually with a notation specifying from whom it was purchased or transferred.”

Q Is it smart to open a store card?

A It depends. Do you pay your bill in full every month? Does holding this card give you access to deals and sales that you can’t get with another card?

Only if you answered yes to both questions should you consider it.

The average store credit card interest rate is typically much higher than a standard card rate. So although you may get free shipping or a discount on purchases with a store card, if you end up paying interest charges, the finance charges are likely to be higher than the value of the card’s perks.

You may want to consider a low-interest credit card or a rewards credit card instead.

Top Rank Staffing aims to be all-inclusive

CEDAR RAPIDS — Anthony Arrington, Karl Cassell, Nick Ford and Reggie Ward are four hometown guys trying to make a difference in their community.

While their careers and lives took them in different directions over the years, the four Cedar Rapids natives converged in July when they founded Top Rank Staffing, an executive job search and recruitment agency that focuses on diversity and inclusion.

Arrington, who has experience in the fields of not-for-profit fundraising and human-resources recruiting, was working for a national staffing agency when he observed the lack of diversity in the leadership ranks of the companies he supported.

“At every company I go talk to, nobody looks like me,” said Arrington, who is black. “There aren’t a lot of women, either, unless they’re in HR roles.”

Cassell, whose has spent his professional life working with underrepresented communities in Iowa and Maryland, most recently as president and CEO of Horizons in Cedar Rapids, shared similar concerns.

“One thing that always resonated with me serving on boards where I was the only African-American in the room was how to get more minorities on boards and engaged in the community,” he said. “It starts with having leadership roles in their companies.”

Last June, Arrington and Cassell discussed their shared concerns and what they could do to increase the representation of minorities and women in leadership positions. A few days later, Arrington got a call from Ford, a retired Navy officer, who said he was thinking about starting a recruiting firm.

“I said, ‘Man, Nick, have you talked to Karl, because I just had the same conversation with him three or four days ago,’” Arrington recalled.

The men then approached Ward, who recently had returned to Iowa after working in logistics, distribution and warehouse operations positions throughout the Midwest and on the West Coast.

“He fell in love with the idea,” Arrington said.

Top Rank Staffing aims to help businesses recruit high-quality, diverse talent for professional, mid-management, senior leadership and executive roles. The primary industries it serves include construction, financial services, logistics and transportation, not-for-profits, sports management, technology services and manufacturing.

“We looked at where we, as professionals, have expertise,” Arrington said. “It makes sense to recruit in industries that we are experienced in.”

The company also assists job seekers with resume-building and matching them to companies that fit their skills and career objectives.

While the company’s focus is on expanding the candidate pool for any given position with qualified people of color, women, military veterans, individuals with disabilities and other underrepresented professionals, Top Rank Staffing is all-inclusive.

“We want to market great talent to companies,” Arrington said. “We didn’t start our business to exclude middle-aged white men. That would be anti-diversity.”

• Know a business in operation for less than a year that would make for a worthy “Ground Floor”? Let us know at michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a Glance

l Owners: Anthony Arrington, Karl Cassell, Nick Ford, Reggie Ward

l Business: Top Rank Staffing

l Address: 2815 28th Avenue SW, P.O. Box 1241, Cedar Rapids

l Phone: (319) 533-2624

l Email: aarrington@toprankstaffing.com

l Website: www.toprankstaffing.com

Iowa gun rights amendment hits ‘monumental setback’

DES MOINES — For lack of a required legal notice, it’s back to square one for supporters of a “right to bear arms” amendment to the Iowa Constitution.

“This may be a monumental setback, but we are going to continue to press forward,” Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, said about a mistake he believes will make it impossible for Iowans to vote on the amendment in 2020 as initially envisioned.

Windschitl, a leading gun rights advocate in the Iowa Legislature, which began its 2019 session Monday, said the failure of the Secretary of State’s Office to publish a legal notification last summer means it likely will be 2022 before the amendment could be ratified by voters.

Amending the state’s constitution requires lawmakers approve the same language in two different sessions, and then have voters ratify that. The amendment was approved by lawmakers last year, and supporters believed it was on track again this year so it could go to voters in 2020.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, who floor managed the amendment in that chamber last year, said he was in disbelief over the setback.

“I have no words,” he said. “I’m disappointed. I’ll leave it there.”

Windschitl wouldn’t share his reaction upon learning that the process would have to begin again. “That wouldn’t be publishable,” he said.

The amendment would change the state constitution by adding:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.”

Also affected by the mistake is another amendment clarifying the line of gubernatorial succession, an ambiguity revealed after Kim Reynolds ascended to the governorship in 2017 after then-Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China. The amendment clarifies the position of lieutenant governor.

The failure to publish the legal notification required three months before the general election that seats the next General Assembly “puts us back into a realm of uncertainty because no one knows what the next general election holds,” Windschitl said.

Secretary of State Paul Pate attributed the failure to publish the required notice to “bureaucratic oversight.”

“I accept full responsibility for this oversight and offer my sincerest apology to the legislators and supporters who worked so hard on these bills,” said Pate, a Republican who was re-elected in November. “There is no excuse and I am instituting a system that will ensure an error like this never happens again.”

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. In 2004, former Secretary of State Chet Culver, a Democrat, failed to publish the required legal notice for an amendment to remove words such as “idiot” from the state constitution. The amendment eventually passed in 2010, Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, recalled.

Pate said he is a supporter of both the gun rights and gubernatorial succession amendments.

Although it has been Republicans — who control the House and Senate — who have pushed the gun amendment, Windschitl said it’s important to Iowans “across the spectrum.”

“I believe this is a priority for Iowans and this has been a priority that the Republican caucus of the House and Senate has demonstrated and we will continue to do what is right by Iowans to give them the opportunity to have this on the ballot and have their voices heard,” Windschitl said.

It may be possible to get the issue on a ballot before 2022, “but the last thing we want to do is go around the law on this topic,” House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said. Backers were in agreement that starting over was the most likely path forward.

“I would say we are looking at any remedy, but it would have to be following the rule of law,” Windschitl said, “I do not believe there is a remedy before us.”

The remedy will not be a mulligan, according to Democrats who oppose the amendment and its requirement for the high hurdle of “strict scrutiny” for legal review.

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, expects the bill will be opposed.

“I hope so. We have 22 new members who haven’t weighed in on this yet,” Mascher said.

“And we don’t know where the members of their caucus are,” added Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, noting there also are 12 new Republican representatives.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

How to watch Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State speech

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Condition of the State address to lawmakers will be shown live online and over the air Tuesday morning, then rebroadcast Tuesday night accompanied by insight and analysis from Iowa journalists.

When: 10 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Streamed live online at iptv.org/watch and broadcast live on Iowa Public Television, hosted by “Iowa Press” moderator David Yepsen.

It will be rebroadcast at 6:30 p.m. on Iowa Public Television. This time, Yepsen will be joined by James Q. Lynch and Erin Murphy of The Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau and Kay Henderson, news director for Radio Iowa, to analyze the governor’s priorities and preview the 2019 legislative session.

In addition, The Gazette’s Fact Checker team will be analyzing the governor’s speech at points throughout the day Tuesday at TheGazette.com.

Vinton hospital joins UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids as affiliate

Virginia Gay Hospital in Vinton announced it will join UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids as an affiliate, ending its previous agreement with the University of Iowa.

Officials announced Monday that “after many months of careful evaluation,” the 25-bed Vinton hospital has ended its affiliation with the UI Hospitals and Clinics and partnered with the Cedar Rapids health system effective May 1, according to a news release.

“This new affiliation agreement with UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids allows us to be better prepared to meet the challenges of the future and will strengthen our position as a community hospital,” said Mike Riege, Virginia Gay Hospital administrator, in a statement.

Critical access hospitals, a designation give to rural hospitals by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are required by law to maintain an affiliation with a larger health system with greater expertise and medical specialists.

Virginia Gay had been an affiliation with the Iowa City-based health system for 16 years, Riege said in an interview with The Gazette. He described the split with the university as one encouraged by “philosophical differences.”

“We feel that with our mission as a rural hospital, UnityPoint Health will help us fulfill that mission,” Riege said. “The University of Iowa has always been a good partner, but we think UnityPoint has more to offer us as a rural hospital.”

Riege said the Cedar Rapids organizations both emphasize value-based medicine, a concept in which providers encourage wellness and practices with patients to keep them out of the hospital. It differs from a fee-for-service model, which reimburses providers each time a patient visits a doctor’s office or emergency department.

The agreement between Virginia Gay and UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids does not involve any sale or exchange of assets “and will allow both organizations to maintain local governance through a local board of directors,” according to the news release.

Patients will still have first choice of hospital when being referred onto a higher level of care, Riege said.

“We are excited to welcome Virginia Gay Hospital into the UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids family,” said Michelle Niermann, UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

“This affiliation shows our commitment to enhancing services in Eastern Iowa and we are eager to work together as one team moving forward.”

The Cedar Rapids hospital is an affiliate of UnityPoint Health, the Des Moines-based health system.

NO EFFECT ON MEDICAID LAWSUIT

This past year, Virginia Gay officials filed a lawsuit against the three managed-care organizations that provide health care coverage for Iowans on Medicaid, alleging the private insurance companies had violated federal law by “illegally recouping patient revenue” from the emergency department.

The suit was filed against UnitedHealthcare of the River Valley and Amerigroup Iowa, current Medicaid insurers, and AmeriHealth Caritas, which left Iowa’s privatized program in 2017.

Riege said in a previous interview with The Gazette the unpaid claims from all three insurers resulted in a $91,000 loss for the facility between 2016 and 2017.

UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids Spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo said Virginia Gay’s lawsuit will proceed, and the announcement has no affect on pending litigations.

According to the lawsuit, the managed-care organizations were using an outdated medical classification list from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD). Health care providers use the list to classify and code diagnoses, symptoms and procedures to insurance companies for reimbursement.

The suit states Iowa’s managed-care organizations were “not using a complete and accurate list” of the ICD codes from Oct. 1, 2015 to about June 15, 2017.

The lawsuit further says that beginning in March 2017, the managed-care organizations started recouping a portion of reimbursements for patient services, claiming there had been overpayments.

“They were recouping or taking back money from us that should have been legally ours because they should have been abiding by ICD-10,” Riege said to The Gazette in October.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Fate of Iowa House 55 hopeful in lawmakers’ hands

DES MOINES — As 100 members of the Iowa House took their oath of office Monday, Jan. 14, Kayla Koether sat in the back row of the chamber hoping that before the day was over she, too, might be closer to joining them.

Her case for taking a seat in the Iowa Legislature will be heard later today when a House committee considers the fate of 29 mail-in ballots submitted without the proper postal markings for the House 55 race in the November elections.

The Democrat has lost efforts to far to have the ballots counted, so is appealing to lawmakers.

“It’s so inspiring to be in the chamber,” Koether said as she watched the lawmakers, including opponent Rep. Michael Bergan, R-Dorchester, take his oath. “It’s sort of amazing to sit through this process and hear people take these oaths.”

Bergan and Koether were separated by nine votes after the Nov. 6 election. She asked a District Court judge to order the 29 mail-in ballots counted, but he ruled the matter should be settled according to House rules.

Of 33 mail-in ballots that arrived after the election, postal officials examining bar codes determined that 29 had been mailed in time.

However, they arrived at the Winneshiek County Auditor’s Office without the required postmarks — either a postmark to prove it had been mailed in time or an “intelligent” bar code provided by the auditor’s office that allows the ballot to be tracked.

Koether is arguing that those 29 ballots, with or without a postmark, should be counted.

A committee appointed by House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, will hear the matter at 4 p.m. today.

Koether wouldn’t say if she was optimistic about the Republican-controlled House deciding in her favor. However, she called it “inspiring that this is a body that’s going to — in an open and transparent way — determine voters’ voices in House 55.”

The district includes parts of Winneshiek, Fayette and Clayton counties.

“I don’t really hold any expectations,” she said. “At this point, I just really want to work for folks who cast ballots in time to have their votes counted.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Protesters plan Ped Mall ‘sleep in’ today over new benches

IOWA CITY — The Catholic Worker House is planning a “sleep in” protest this afternoon in hopes of persuading city leaders to reconsider the new Pedestrian Mall bench design.

The nonprofit representatives say the new bench design, which includes armrests to divide up the seating, is a “hostile design” that does not allow people who are homeless to comfortably lie down on the benches.

To illustrate the problem, the Catholic Worker House is holding a “sleep in” from 1 to 2 p.m. today on the Ped Mall.

The new benches were installed as part of the first of a two-season construction project to improve the Ped Mall’s underground utilities and streetscape.

Scott Sovers, senior civil engineer for the city, said the design simply was meant to increase seating on the Ped Mall and make people feel more comfortable sitting on a bench with another person.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

Police shoot armed man at New Jersey UPS facility, no other injuries: local media

A standoff at a United Parcel Service Inc processing facility in southern New Jersey ended on Monday when police shot an armed man who had taken two people hostage, the company and local media reported.

The two hostages who had been held at a UPS mail sorting facility in Logan Township, New Jersey, were not injured and the wounded suspect was rushed to a hospital, NBC10 TV in Philadelphia reported.

“The matter has been resolved,” the station reported Gloucester County Prosecutor Charles Fiore as saying shortly after noon (1700 GMT).

Police had earlier dispatched a SWAT team to the location after the armed man fired shots and took a woman and another person hostage, authorities and local media said.

UPS praised the police for their handling of the situation and said all of its employees were safe.

“The incident is concluded and all of the employees are accounted for and being attended to by local officials,” the company said in a statement.

City High, West High battle for boots and comedy bragging rights

IOWA CITY — City High and West High “Battle for the Boot” on the football field, and they also battle for a “boots” trophy on the comedy stage.

The two schools are participating in what is being called a sports comedy fundraiser to benefit the North Liberty Food Pantry. Each schools’ improvisation team plan to square off in a “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” format.

 

“It is really a fun show,” said Virginia Muturi, 17, a City High senior. “The audience really interacts a lot. It’s not really serious. It’s comedic. Everyone is involved in it to make the whole show go well.”

The Battle For The Boots!: Improv Comedy Match to benefit the North Liberty Community Pantry is scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday at Opstad Auditorium in City High, 1900 Morningside Dr. Admission is $5, which will go to buy boots for Johnson County families, or attendees instead may donate a pair of gently used boots.

People also can donate at the pantry’s website, NorthLibertyCommunityPantry.org by clicking “donate now.”

Muturi, who also is involved in basketball, theater and speech, said they’ve been practicing improv on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons to prepare.

“It is hard to come up with things on the spot, so we practice things so we know something say when we are on the spot,” she said.

Troy Peters, City High’s drama director, is organizing the event for the third time. Lauren Darby at City High and Katy Nahra and Christina Carlson at West High also have been helping students practice their improve skills.

“We decided to try to get the fundraiser between the two high schools and really to have some fun together,” Peters said. “It really isn’t such a rivalry — we bill it as such — but really it is about having fun between the two high schools,” he said.

The event is presented as a mock athletic endeavor, Peters said.

“We found out the North Liberty Pantry was looking for winter boots for families,” Peters said. “We thought this would be a perfect idea that would help them. It would be a win-win.”

 

Wayne Neuzil — a veteran at performing at University of Iowa events and others — is scheduled to sing the national anthem. Iowa City Council member Mazahir Salih has been tabbed as a celebrity guest. Points are awarded for the various improvisation games.

A trophy with two boots has been designed for the winner. The trophy actually splits in two so both schools can claim bragging rights, Peters said.

“It’s a little bit rigged,” he joked. “The whole event is really intended to be tongue in cheek and a good time for a good cause.”

City High has a “ComedySportz” improv club, which is affiliated with the national “ComedySportz” organization for adults.

Call (319) 688-1040 for more information.

WHAT: Battle For The Boots!: Improv Comedy MatchWHERE: Opstad Auditorium, City High School, 1900 Morningside Dr., Iowa CityWHEN: 7 to 8 p.m.COST: $5 or a donation of gently used boots

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

MNG Enterprises offers to buy USA Today publisher Gannett

Newspaper chain MNG Enterprises Inc said on Monday it had offered to buy USA Today publisher Gannett Co Inc in a deal valued at $1.36 billion.

MNG said it will offer $12 per Gannett share, representing a premium of 23 percent to the company’s close on Friday.

In a letter sent to Gannett’s board, MNG said it had approached the company’s board and management on multiple occasions about a potential combination, but Gannett had not “meaningfully engaged”.

Gannett, whose shares rose 20 percent to $11.70 in trading before the bell, said it will review the proposal. MNG said it could also ask for changes to Gannett’s board composition.

Faced with declining advertising and circulation revenue in the print media industry, Gannett has made significant investments in the digital media sector.

The company is also in the middle of finding a successor for its current Chief Executive Officer Robert Dickey, who is slated to retire in May this year.

MNG, which has a 7.5 percent stake in Gannett, opposed the latter’s digital acquisition strategy and said a sale of the company is the best path forward. It also urged Gannett to hire an investment bank to conduct a review of options.

Also known as Digital First Media, MNG Enterprises is backed by hedge fund Alden Global Capital LLC and is the publisher of the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News.

(Reporting by Munsif Vengattil and Akanksha Rana in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

Pages