Latest News from Gazette Online

Reynolds: Now it’s time to fulfill opportunities

In her maiden Condition of the State address a year ago, Gov. Kim Reynolds shared a vision of Iowa as “a place to call home that unleashes opportunity at every turn.”

Toward that end, Reynolds pushed a pro-growth agenda of policies intended to provide predictability and stability for businesses, historic income tax cuts and workforce development and mental health measures that won unanimous support in the Iowa Legislature.

This year, Reynolds, who will deliver her Condition of the State speech at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Capitol, says her focus is on implementation.

“I think we’re implementing the opportunities we unleashed last year,” she said in an interview ahead of the legislative session that begins today.

“Last year we put in place a lot of the infrastructure and policy that between workforce and mental health and opioid reduction will really help to continue to move the state forward,” Reynolds said. “Now we’re really moving into the implementation stage, which ensures we’ve got the funding there to sustain and implement the priorities we talked about last year — as well as some new ones.”

Reynolds, 59, who served in local government, the Legislature and as lieutenant governor, became governor when the nation’s longest-serving governor, Terry Branstad, resigned in May 2017 to become ambassador to China.

While acknowledging that some of her efforts in the 2018 legislative session were to complete proposals Branstad initiated, Reynolds rejected suggestions her first 20 months in office were an extension of the previous administration. She was elected to a full, four-year term in November.

“I think I owned it last year,” she said. “I mean some of that was fulfillment. Water quality would be one. But mental health was something that I personally am invested in and really drove.”

The affordable health care options she backed were in response to Iowans telling her they couldn’t afford a 57 percent increase they faced under the Affordable Care Act. The Future Ready Iowa workforce development was her answer to pleas from employers who said they couldn’t find workers with the necessary skills.

If there were any doubts about whose water Reynolds was carrying, GOP legislative leaders say the results of the 2018 session and the election dispelled them.

“I think she’s worked hard to step out of that shadow even before election,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said. “I think she was clear about places where she would do things differently.”

Reynolds, Upmeyer added, “was able to move forward and bring forward her own ideas — Future Ready Iowa, empowering rural Iowa, some of those things — those were her initiatives, building on things she cares about.”

“She laid out an agenda that was hers, not Terry Branstad’s,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said.

Her 50-47 percent victory over Democrat Fred Hubbell gives Reynolds “the formal opportunity to stake out her own turf,” Upmeyer added.

It wasn’t just her victory, Reynolds said, but voters “gave sent me a majority in the House and Senate” that tells her they support what she and the Republican-led Legislature accomplished last year.

“They like the direction the state is heading,” Reynolds said. “They appreciate that we do things differently and we are able to get things done … and not get caught up on who gets credit or getting everything that we want.”

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, hopes the governor means that.

“I certainly would hope the governor will reach out to Democrats,” she said. “I think there’s a number of issues where we can come together and come up with bipartisan solutions.”

Reynolds believes there “is opportunity again to see great bipartisan support” for funding initiatives launched last year to address mental health and workforce development.

“Every single legislator is hearing what I hear as a travel the state: ‘My business is doing great. I could hire more people if I could find the people,’” the governor said. “What a great opportunity for Iowans who are struggling or working two jobs or who are unemployed to invest in them and help provide that support system and network to get them the skills to match up with a job. We need to put the funding into that.”

Lawmakers appropriated about $3 million last year to “build the infrastructure” for Future Ready Iowa, but Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend said about $18 million will be needed to implement the plan.

Similarly, this is the year for Reynolds and lawmakers to fund the mental health initiative they unanimously approved last year. She’s saving the details for her Condition of the State address, but Reynolds said funding likely will be a “process.”

“We can’t do it overnight because there isn’t a system now,” she said. “When we did mental health reform with the regions, we started with county-by-county delivery systems. It would be a similar process.”

A big part of what Reynolds hopes to accomplish is establishing a children’s mental health system. Last year, she issued an executive order bringing key interests together to make recommendations on what such a system should look like.

And Reynolds isn’t done working on Iowa’s privatized management of Medicaid, which has come under criticism not only from Statehouse Democrats but many patients and providers who say care and payments were denied or delayed.

“We took a lot of steps last year to start to stabilize the system,” she said. “We need to follow that through.”

Although a recent state audit showed the arrangement saved Iowa $126 million last year, Reynolds said she’s done talking about savings because “people get so hung up on that.”

“It’s a component of (Medicaid), but we have to look at making sure we have a sustainable system in place,” she said. “I need to make sure I have a system in place that when I look parents in the eye I can assure them it will be here today, tomorrow and into the future.”

To a large degree, Reynolds said, that describes her overall goal, her vision as governor.

“Opportunities,” she said. “This is about helping Iowans recognize their full potential. Making sure we have an environment where everybody has an opportunity to succeed. We want to put in place something that will help them do that.”

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

Gov. Kim Reynolds eager for Democrats’ caucus parade

Over the next year, Iowa Democrats face the daunting task of starting to winnow what most expect will be a gargantuan field of candidates running for president.

Kim Reynolds, the state’s Republican governor, said she welcomes all of those candidates.

And she said she’s glad to be watching this one from the sidelines.

There was a definite and relaxed, “been there, done that” vibe to Reynolds’ response to a recent question about the 2020 Iowa caucuses and what promises to be an endless parade of Democrats coming to Iowa between now and next February.

More than 20 Republicans sought the party’s presidential nomination during the 2016 caucuses. The number of Democrats who run in 2020 is expected to reach, if not surpass, that.

“I hope they have to have debates that cover two nights. I think they will. We lived through all of that, so it’s going to be kind of interesting to see this take place on the flip side,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “We had the onslaught in ’16, so it will be interesting to see.”

Ever the state’s cheerleader and good soldier, Reynolds also gave the traditional defense of Iowa as the leadoff state in the presidential nominating process. She said Iowa caucus-goers are knowledgeable on the issues and engaged in the process, and said candidates without much money can still come here and test their message.

“We are blessed to be the first-in-the-nation caucus, and I’m proud of that,” Reynolds said. “And I’ll take every opportunity that I can to make sure that we secure that and maintain it.”

While there is certain to be a crowded field of Democrats running for president, it’s also possible there could be a Republican or two running, if someone decides to present a primary challenge to President Donald Trump.

Reynolds said she could not predict whether any Republican will run against the president, but said even if someone does, she will support Trump.

“I’m going to support the president,” Reynolds said, heaping praise on the administration’s accessibility, particularly on federal issues like ethanol and water regulations. “He’s the president, and that’s who I’m going to support.”

Reynolds said she is looking forward to the caucuses and the extensive campaigns that will precede them.

“Don’t you love politics? I mean, I love it,” Reynolds said. “That’s what’s great, right? It’s America.”

And Reynolds said she does hope for one thing to come out of all those Democrats coming here over the next year.

“I hope they spend a lot of money while they’re in Iowa,” she said.

Warren goes West

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate — her campaign is in the exploratory phase — was notable in part for its geography.

Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts who is considered one of the potential field’s more progressive candidates, spent most of her trip in conservative-leaning western Iowa before working her way back to Des Moines.

Warren this past weekend made appearances in Sioux City and Storm Lake, both in Iowa’s deep-red 4th Congressional District, as well as Council Bluffs on the state’s western border before finishing up in Des Moines and one of its suburbs, Ankeny.

I asked Warren why she chose to start, and spend much of, her first visit to Iowa in Republican country.

“You gotta start somewhere, and this is a great part of the state. And it gave me a real opportunity not only to be in cities but also in small towns in rural areas,” Warren said. “I think we’ve got to reach out and talk to everybody.”

There has been much discussion after the 2016 and 2018 elections about Democrats’ mounting losses in rural Iowa. Perhaps Warren’s nascent campaign has tuned into that discussion.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government for Lee Enterprises. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @ErinDMurphy.

Regents tie tuition to state aid ahead of session

Iowa regents last fall unveiled tuition “guardrails” for the next five years that clearly hitch the rate of annual increases to the level of state appropriations — making an overt statement about where they believe the burden of student rate hikes rests: on the backs of lawmakers.

And some legislators who’ve advocated higher appropriations amid tight budgets said they’re glad to carry that load.

“I think it’s high time the Board of Regents points out to Iowans that they manage the resources they’re given,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, whose district includes the University of Northern Iowa.

“They’re very limited if legislators and the governor shortchange the universities and don’t provide the necessary resources,” he said. “The regents’ only tool is to raise tuition and fees, and then that extends back to students and Iowa families.”

As a Democrat, Danielson is in the minority in the GOP-controlled Iowa Legislature, which convenes Monday for its 2019 session. Republican leaders say it’s more complicated than that — and that university officials themselves have been calling for higher tuition rates to be more on par with their peers.

“To circle back and blame the Legislature for having to raise your tuition seems plain disingenuous,” said Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake.

Declining state support has been the biggest and most impactful legislative issue across Iowa’s higher education landscape in recent years, with midyear cuts and appropriation decreases in the 2017 and 2018 budget years slashing more than $40 million in general university support.

Legislators for the current budget year restored a fraction of that — $8.3 million — and regent university heads have asked for another $18 million in reinstated general education appropriations for fiscal 2020.

If lawmakers come through on that, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University would each take $7 million more, and UNI would snag $4 million more.

Regent and university leaders in the fall argued they need to bring the UI and ISU tuition rates closer to those at peer institutions, but they promised to hold increases to 3 percent annually over five years — as long as lawmakers meet their appropriation requests.

If they don’t, the board will implement higher bumps at the UI and ISU, using an equation that adds the projected Higher Education Price Index to the base 3 percent.

As for the levers at UNI, regents agreed to start treating it differently as that regional university has lower-cost peers and boasts majority in-state students.

Because Iowa students pay lower rates, UNI generates less tuition revenue than its ISU and UI counterparts, but can’t make it up in rate increases because its peers — that is, competitors — don’t cost as much.

Enacting increases at the rate UI and ISU plan to would price UNI above its peers and hurt its ability to compete.

“They need a greater investment, relative to the other two,” Danielson said about appropriations for UNI. “UNI has gotten a better percentage and a higher dollar amount relative to the other two, and I think that needs to continue.”

UNI President Mark Nook gave a briefing Friday on his school’s 2019-2020 legislative priorities. He announced plans to “maintain tuition costs essentially at current levels” if lawmakers approve the school’s request for a $4 million more in appropriations.

“Although UNI students already graduate with less debt than the average college student, the university is committed to making education even more affordable,” he said.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said after two straight sessions of midyear cuts that prompted campus cost-cutting, he expects regent universities will escape de-appropriations from their already-approved fiscal 2019 budgets this year.

But the projection for the fiscal 2020 state budget, which lawmakers will set this session, envisions tighter growth.

Net tax revenue growth is estimated to be 1.8 percent — or just $140 million more for the $7-billion-plus state general fund.

With student debt rising and wages relatively low across Iowa, Bolkcom said he hopes to keep tuition increases as modest as possible — even while some university administrators and lawmakers have said costs at the UI and ISU have a long way to go before abutting peer rates.

It was only a few years ago that the universities were able to freeze resident undergraduate rates because of robust appropriations. Now with the question not being whether there will be a rate increase but rather how big, those days appear to be over.

“I honestly never thought that was a great idea,” Upmeyer said. “I think having a stable, predictable, small increase with some regularity makes some sense.”

Upmeyer voiced qualms with blaming the Legislature for tuition increases, asserting the regents will “raise tuition no matter how much money we give them.”

“When presidents from the universities come in and tell me they are priced below their peer group and ask us not to make too much noise when we increase our tuition because we should be competitive, there’s a part of me that says, ‘If you’re going to a Big Ten or a Big 12 school, the expectation is that you’ll probably be in that ballpark,’” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, also cited the universities’ desire to bring tuition on par with like institutions — regardless of state funding — and said his understanding is the Legislature “wants to keep tuition down as much as possible.”

“So you have a disconnect between the Legislature that wants to keep tuition really low and the universities wanting to increase them,” Whitver said, adding he’d like more transparency around how the regents spend the millions in state support.

“We don’t have a lot of control,” he said.

Although projections from the state’s revenue estimating conference for the upcoming budget year are more optimistic than in the recent past, Gov. Kim Reynolds in an interview this month did not apologize for the 2017 and 2018 de-appropriations, nor make promises about the future.

“It was less than 2 percent,” she said of the $11 million regents cut last year. “Businesses are doing that on a daily basis … We make tough decisions. I don’t get to print money. I have to live within my budget.”

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

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

6 issues to watch in the 2019 Iowa Legislature

Here are six issues to watch in the 2019 Iowa Legislature, which begins Monday:

TRAFFIC CAMERAS

With Cedar Rapids preparing to turn back on its automated speed cameras after a nearly two-year hiatus, officials — and drivers — will be looking to see if the Iowa Legislature adopts stricter regulations or bans them all together.

Competing proposals were in play up until the end of the 2018 session. The Iowa Senate voted to ban them. The Iowa House voted to enact regulations that, when met, would allow them. But the Legislature adjourned without making a final decision.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who championed a ban, said last year he wouldn’t be satisfied “until they are all gone.”

The competing House version, managed on the floor by Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, would require a public hearing over the placement of each camera and mandate the revenue generated go to streets, roads and public safety, among other limits.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said he expects there will be bills this session about automated traffic cameras, though that issue was not discussed in Senate Republicans’ first group meeting since the election. Democratic Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City, the House minority leader, said he hadn’t heard the matter being discussed for this year’s agenda, either.

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that the state Department of Transportation does not have the authority to regulate the cameras; that instead is up to local governments — unless the Legislature decides otherwise. With Democrats and Republicans on each side of the issue, it’s impossible to predict what — if anything — will happen this year.

But, said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, as long as Zaun is around, “we will see legislation proposed on traffic cameras.”

The speed cameras in Cedar Rapids have not been issuing tickets since April 2017 when a dispute between cities and the Iowa DOT was in court. Although the cities won the dispute, the Cedar Rapids speed cameras have not resumed issuing tickets. The city has said it will give the public ample notice before that happens. Proceeds from the cameras would go toward hiring 10 more police officers.

But the city was working on straightening out another big wrinkle first.

In the past, ticket recipients who did not respond to mailed notices were considered liable by default and the debt was sent to a collection agency and eventually, the state’s income offset program. The state Supreme Court ruled last August that process sidestepped state municipal infraction procedures.

Under the city’s new proposal, motorists who don’t pay automated traffic tickets or wish to contest them would receive municipal infractions to be handled in small claims court.

But, Linn County courts note, that has the potential to overwhelm the court system. Linn County courts in 2017 handled 6,889 total small claims cases, including 132 municipal infractions. Add in unpaid citations from traffic cameras and that number could spike to more than 10 times as much.

The City Council has not yet voted on the plan.

IOWA SUPREME COURT

When it comes to ideas for changing the way Iowa’s Supreme Court justices are chosen, a legislative forum held last week in Des Moines underscores that Republicans and Democrats disagree on whether there’s even a problem to fix.

At issue is an idea to evaluate and potentially change the state’s 17-member nominating commission, which now is made up of appointments by the governor and Iowa lawyers.

Proponents of a change say the public needs more input. Critics of a change argue that Iowa has a model system that keeps politics to a minimum in the process.

Whitver, the Senate majority leader, last Thursday argued for a review of the system that he asserted has produced “dozens and dozens of activist rulings.”

“Over the last 20 years, there’s been more and more judicial activism where the Supreme Court justices are trying to legislate from the bench,” he said. If “they want to be legislators, run for the Legislature. Otherwise they should be interpreting the laws and the constitution that we’ve given them.”

In April 2009, the court ruled that banning same-sex marriage in the state was unconstitutional. Three of the justices were up for retention votes the next year, and all three were removed by voters after a campaign by social conservatives to oust them.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 in 2015 to uphold same-sex marriage nationwide.

Prichard, the leader of the House Democrats, said accusations of judicial activism are “unfounded.”

“The worst thing that we can do is politicize our judiciary … I think this is a slippery slope and an issue that’s not really a problem. We have a merit-based system in Iowa. We need to maintain and defend that system,” Prichard said.

No specific legislative proposals have been outlined, but Republicans say they are focusing on ways to make changes without triggering a requirement to amend the state constitution.

One possibility Republicans have floated is sharply limiting the role of lawyers in forming the 17-member judicial nominating commission.

The commission now is made up of eight lawyers elected by licensed peers, eight members of the public appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate and a chair who is the most senior member of the Iowa Supreme Court who is not the chief justice.

The commission interviews candidates for a justice vacancy and forwards three to the governor, who must pick from among them.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has said she supports reviewing the commission’s makeup, said Thursday that some may think “maybe the process right now is political” and “we want to make sure that the process is fair.”

IPERS

As the gubernatorial campaign last year between Reynolds and Democratic challenger Fred Hubbell was in full swing, the potential of changes to the state’s public employee pensions became a hotly debated political issue.

Republicans say there’s no plan change the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System.

Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, chair of the committee through which such legislation would need to pass, said “there never was a plan” to alter IPERS, calling that message a “manufactured scare tactic.”

“It unequivocally will not happen,” Kaufmann said, noting that House Speaker Linda Upmeyer. R-Clear Lake, has also taken the same position.

At a news conference last year, Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price said Reynolds had sent “mixed messages” over IPERS, leading to the possibility that it would institute 401(k)-style plans or move toward other privatization in the future.

In an op-ed in the Des Moines Register, Upmeyer rejected what she called “absurd” misinformation from Democrats.

“I would like to set the record straight: There are no planned changes to IPERS or any other public pension system. We will continue to keep our promise to IPERS members. IPERS members are in no danger of losing their pensions.” she wrote.

About 350,000 Iowans are members of IPERS.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

In the wake of several sexual harassment allegations in state government — including in the Senate Republican caucus, the Iowa Finance Authority and against Sen. Nate Boulton, Des-Des Moines, before he was elected — lawmakers in 2018 created a new position of human resources director to handle complaints in the Capitol, updated sexual harassment policies and bolstered training for all legislators and staff.

“Last session we took deliberate action, meeting with experts, changing our rules, hiring the HR director to make sure that we have a better work environment here in the Iowa Capitol. And I think those steps have produced results already,” Whitver said. “But we’re going to have to always continue to monitor our work environment here to make sure that it’s conducive for all employees.”

Legislative leaders said they do not expect any measures about Statehouse sexual harassment in the 2019 session, Petersen, the Senate Democratic leader, said her caucus may introduce a bill that would address sexual harassment in the workplace outside the Capitol.

Petersen said details were not yet available.

REDISTRICTING

Whitver, the Senate GOP leader, said majority Republicans have no plans to change Iowa’s redistricting process ahead of the 2020 census.

The census will inform the legislative process of redrawing political boundaries for the next 10 years.

Lawmakers in some states have wide authority to draw their own political boundaries. In Iowa, lawmakers vote only on proposals drafted by the state’s legal services agency.

“The only people talking about (Republicans possibly) changing that are liberal bloggers,” Whitver said. There have been “zero conversations in our caucus in changing redistricting, period. Right now I think the system works fine. Unless there’s evidence that says there’s a problem, I don’t see the need to.”

MEDICAL CANNABIS

House Speaker Upmeyer said House Republicans are content with the state’s medical cannabis program and have no plans to entertain legislation to make changes.

The newly expanded program allows cannabidiol to be produced and sold in Iowa, and increases the number of ailments for which the products can be used.

The state’s first licensed manufacturing facility, MedParm in Des Moines, produced the first round of products, which are on sale now. A second manufacturing plant, operated by Iowa Relief, has broken ground in Cedar Rapids.

Advocates for further expansion say the cap on cannabidiol’s THC content should be raised to make it more useful for those with debilitating conditions.

The new program created an advisory board that could make such a recommendation to legislators. The board is considering a petition to raise the THC limit.

“The rules that they write really give them a lot of opportunity to do the expansion that (the advisory board members), as professionals, feel is appropriate,” Upmeyer said. “So I think we’re pretty comfortable with having that advisory board do its work and bring forward what they think is the right way to go on this topic.”

James Q. Lynch of The Gazette contributed to this report.

Operation Quickfind: Taylor Bell

An Operation Quickfind has been issued for 16-year-old Taylor Bell.

The Cedar Rapids Police Department is looking for information about Bell after she was last seen January 12 in Cedar Rapids.

An Operation Quickfind had previously been filed for Bell on Jan. 7. She was located shortly after but a new Quickfind has been issued as of Jan. 13.

In this Operation Quickfind document, Bell is listed as being a white female, five foot, eight inches in height, with an unspecified weight. The document also describes Bell as having an also unspecified medical condition that requires medication.

Bell is described as being last seen wearing a long “puffy” black coat, a white “hoodie” and boots.

According to the previous quickfind document, she has multiple piercings in her ears.

Anyone with information regarding Bell or her whereabouts should call the Cedar Rapids Police at (319) 286-5491.

‘Black Klansman’ author to visit Iowa City

IOWA CITY — The story of a black Colorado Springs detective who in the 1970s infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his partner as a surrogate enraptured movie audiences and wowed Hollywood critics last year in its telling through the biopic “BlacKkKlansman.”

That movie, directed by Spike Lee, was based on the 2014 memoir “Black Klansman,” written by Ron Stallworth, who lived the story as the first African-American police officer and detective with the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Stallworth, who today is 65, will visit Iowa City later this month to talk about his experiences — including his methods for infiltrating the infamous American hate group. He’s scheduled to speak at The Englert Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23. The event, hosted by the University of Iowa Lecture Committee, is free and open to the public.

His visit comes at a time of raised racial tension across the country, within both political and law enforcement realms. The University of Iowa, like many of its peers, has been public about its efforts to increase diversity on campus and improve the cultural climate.

A fall Board of Regents enrollment report indicated its largest ever racial and ethnic minority numbers in 2018 — with 11,729 students across its three public universities, or 15.3 percent of the total.

But the University of Iowa continues to receive complaints about racial discrimination among its community members, and it remains on the hunt for a permanent chief diversity officer, after Georgina Dodge more than a year ago resigned.

During his visit later this month, Stallworth is expected to expound on details from his memoir, which tells of his groundbreaking undercover work infiltrating the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. He collaborated with his white partner to sabotage the group’s cross burnings, expose white supremacists in the military and combat domestic terrorism.

Stallworth, who was raised in Texas and educated at Columbia College, also befriended KKK leader David Duke and later led an undercover investigation into anti-KKK protesters with the Progressive Labor Party.

The Spike Lee movie, produced by Jordan Peele, came out in August 2018. It’s received numerous awards and recently was nominated for high-profile honors, including best picture, director, actor and supporting actor at the Golden Gloves.

Stallworth has received awards himself, including the 1998 Outstanding National Leadership Lifetime award. After his talk in Iowa City, Stallworth will sign books that will be available for sale.

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

Friends miss slain bondsman who was witty, smart and caring

Adam Santi said he was frustrated that April morning when his friend Jon hadn’t responded to his text for an hour — it was unlike him.

“I drove by Lederman (Bail Bonds) about 11 a.m. April 23, 2017, and saw the open sign, so I know Jon was there,” Santi, 36, of Coralville, said. “I’m so glad now I didn’t stop.”

Santi has his 3-year-old daughter, Lila, in the car, so he decided not to stop. She was going to be the flower girl in the wedding of his friend, 34-year-old Jonathan Wieseler. Santi drove home and soon got a call from another friend who told him Jon was dead.

Just moments earlier, Brian Vakulskas, 43, a Sioux City lawyer, received a text from his mom. “Jon was murdered last night,” he said the text read. “I couldn’t understand. … I was like, ‘What?’”

Vakulskas was driving at the time and tried to call his brother Dan, also friends with Wieseler, but couldn’t reach him. The three had grown up together in Sioux City, Wieseler’s hometown and where his mother still lived.

Brian Vakulskas decided to go to his parents’ house in Sioux City, where he knew Wieseler’s mother, Linda, would be.

Dan Vakulskas had called Santi and asked him to drive by Lederman again to see if this was true. Santi drove to the Lederman office in Iowa City about 12:30 p.m. Police were everywhere, and then he saw the crime scene tape.

“I asked what was going on and the cop wouldn’t tell me,” Santi said. “He finally told me it was true. He was killed. I just couldn’t believe it.”

“We were all in shock by this time,” Brian Vakulskas said, “and Linda was on the phone in my parents’ kitchen talking to someone at the scene.”

Santi said he wished it would have been a car accident — not something as tragic as being shot. “I can’t think about what pain he went through,” he said.

Wieseler, a bondsman, was died the night of April 22, 2017, at Lederman Bail Bonds in downtown Iowa City. Police say he was shot five times during a robbery sometime between 10:20 and 10:32 p.m. Curtis Jones, 42, of Mount Pleasant, is charged with first-degree murder in Wieseler’s death.

His trial starts Monday in Polk County District Court, moved from Johnson County because of extensive pretrial publicity.

Jones was previously convicted of first-degree murder by a Scott County jury in November for the fatal June 2017 shooting of Ricky Lillie, an Iowa City cabdriver.

Santi and Brian Vakulskas both said they hope Jones gets a fair trial and that he will be convicted if he is the person who killed their friend.

Little information has been released about what happened that night, so Santi is going to the trial, even though he knows it will be difficult to hear and see graphic details of his friend’s death.

Santi and Vakulskas know it won’t change anything. The man who was the “astute observer” — like a character out of a Woody Allen film with a witty sense of humor, and the biggest “movie buff ever known” — isn’t coming back.

Santi, an administrator at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said Wieseler was almost “obsessive” about movies, especially, those nominated for Academy Awards. Wieseler made a commitment to see all the award movies — going back to the 1940s.

“It was like his Super Bowl — the Oscars,” Vakulskas said. “He was a big sports fan, too, but he loved movies. He ran a pool each year and got all his friends involved but somehow, he always won.”

Wieseler was also an avid reader, from classics to best-sellers. He loved history and thrillers. Vakulskas hosts a radio show in Sioux City where he interviews authors from all over, “Having Read That on KSCJ Radio, and Wieseler became the segment producer. He would also read many of the books.

Santi said their friend also loved the obscure books — “Something nobody else would read. He read anything to make sense out of the world.”

“Wieseler would have been a professional student if he could,” Vakulskas said.

Wieseler graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in political science, then got his law degree and ended up back in school at the University of Minnesota, where he got a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Wieseler never wanted to practice law, Vakulskas said. He loved living in Iowa City, and Vakulskas put him in contact with the manager of Lederman.

“I think he loved the fact of working on the fringe of the court system,” Vakulskas said. “He was comfortable in his job. He had a lot of freedom and independence. He did a lot of extra things for the company. He didn’t have to go out looking for people who didn’t show up for court. He was getting them out of jail.”

“He was the good guy — the savior for them,” Santi added. “He really cared about the clients. He would call to remind them about court and treated them with respect.”

Wieseler was happy as a bondsman and his main focus was getting married and having children.

The weekend after his death, Santi and others had planned to take him to Las Vegas for his bachelor’s party. Wieseler and his fiancee were getting married in June.

“I really miss him every day,” Santi said. “Something happens and I pick up the phone to text him. I forget it for a moment. What happened to him was horrible, and I will carry it with me the rest of my life.”

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

Democrat Delaney sees big ideas as path to toppling Trump

CEDAR RAPIDS — An Iowa audience Saturday gave Democratic presidential hopeful John Delaney high marks for an upbeat, solutions-oriented platform that includes universal health care, a carbon tax and reversing Republican tax cuts for the wealthy.

Delaney, a Maryland businessman, also said he favors lowering the national debt and called for optional national service.

However, the audience at his campaign field office at 2701 1st Ave NE in Cedar Rapids wondered whether good ideas by themselves will be enough to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.

“I don’t know how you with your calm demeanor and your reasoning can go against a blustering blowhard,” Anne Salamon of Cedar Rapids told Delaney, who retired from Congress after three terms in the U.S. House. “You don’t excite people.”

“After two years of being excited every day I wake up — for not good reasons — you are a breath of fresh air ... a professional politician in a good way,” Bob Hamill of Cedar Rapids, a Maryland transplant of more than 35 years, told Delaney.

Despite weather conditions that delayed his arrival — “So this is caucus weather?” Delaney joked — his speech attracted more than 50 people. Many expressed excitement that, as Linn County Democratic Party Chairman Bret Nilles said, “Caucus season has officially begun.”

“People are interested to see who will step up,” he said.

Delaney was the first to step up and declare his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. He’s made 21 trips to Iowa and visited all 99 counties.

And despite his placid personality, he has a plan for defeating the “current occupant.”

The way to defeat Trump and to build a new majority, Delaney said, is to produce big ideas, such as addressing climate change.

“We also have to be the party that attracts everyone, a big-tent party,” he said. “Big ideas, showing them how we can make it happen and being the party the American people are looking for.”

Americans, Delaney said, want to restore the country with citizenship, service and shared sacrifice.

“People have to re-engage in their democracy,” Delaney said. “They have to commit themselves to some level of service to this country and they have to believe in this concept of shared sacrifice. And we have to believe in something better.”

Bernard Clayton of Cedar Rapids was impressed by Delaney’s plans. He said they made him think of President Franklin Roosevelt’s approach to governing in the mid-20th century.

“That’s what we need,” he said later. “But I’m still shopping.”

A sign in the Delaney office says 387 shopping days remain until the caucuses.

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

How an annuity improves a retirement plan

In response to a recent column of mine, a reader wrote, “Your article on annuities did not demonstrate that an annuity always improves a retirement plan.”

True, Warren Buffett’s retirement plan would not be improved by an annuity because he will not face the mortality and investment risks of a retiree with limited resources.

Retirees with limited resources face the risk that if they live too long, and/or their assets earn less than expected, they will run out of spendable funds.

There is also the risk that if they die too soon, and/or their assets earn more than expected, they will leave financial assets to their estate that they would have preferred to spend on themselves.

Retirees exposed to these risks can reduce or eliminate them in only one way — by using some of their assets to buy an annuity, which pays them as long as they live.

This is a core feature of the Retirement Income Stabilizer, or RIS, which I have been developing with Allan Redstone.

With RIS, the retiree uses some of her assets to buy an annuity, payments from which are deferred for a period ranging from five to 25 years.

The remaining assets are used as the primary source of spendable funds during the deferment period, with the amount drawn each year adjusted based on earnings during the year.

In this column, I will compare retirement plans with and without an annuity for a hypothetical retiree of 65 who has $1 million in her 401(k), half of it in common stock and half in intermediate-term government securities. She is deciding between the following options:

l A RIS-based withdrawal plan that includes a 10-year deferred annuity

l Following the four percent withdrawal rule, which is advocated by many advisers

With the RIS alternative, part of the $1 million purchases an annuity deferred 10 years. During the first 10 years the retiree draws on the assets remaining after the annuity purchase.

At the end of the 10 years, those assets are gone and the annuity kicks in.

With the four percent rule alternative, the retiree makes monthly withdrawals equal to .04/12 of the initial balance, plus an annual inflation increase.

I applied a two percent inflation adjustment to both schemes.

I am going to compare the monthly spendable funds that could be drawn by the retiree using these options, on two assumptions about future asset yields.

One assumption is that yields are those expected, which I define as the median return during 1926-2012 among periods of the same length as the option.

For the four percent rule, which must support the retiree until she dies, the period runs to age 104, or 39 years.

The median return over 577 39-year periods was 9.4 percent. For the deferred annuity option, the relevant period is 10 years.

The median return over 925 10-year periods was 8 percent.

Despite the higher expected rate over the longer period relevant to the four percent rule, spendable funds are consistently higher in the annuity case.

The first month draws are $4,363 and $3,333, and the difference widens as the retiree ages.

The likely rejoinder of a four percent rule advocate is that the retiree in my example could break from the rule to increase withdrawals if necessary.

At a return of 9.4 percent, the retiree’s assets using the rule increase over time, whereas in the annuity case the assets are gone after 10 years.

The problem is that the four percent rule itself provides no guidance on how much extra can be safely drawn, and when.

Further, the bias of advisers managing client assets is to avoid shrinking those assets.

In any case, projections based on expected returns have limited value.

Retirees must be more concerned about a worse case because if one happens they cannot begin their careers again.

I define a worse case rate of return as the return earned during less than two percent of the relevant periods.

When the rates of return for all 925 10-year periods during 1926-2012 are ranked, highest to lowest, the worst-case rate is 0.7 percent. The worst-case rate over 39-year periods is 2.6 percent

Despite the lower worst case rate during the shorter period, the annuity case works fine, generating larger spendable funds than the four percent rule except during ages 69-74. Furthermore, the worst case under the 4 percent rule runs out of money completely at age 92.

In sum, using part of the retiree’s nest egg to purchase a deferred annuity improved the retirement plan.

l Jack Guttentag is professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left at mtgprofessor.com.

Closs’ escape from captor provides hope for other families

When an abducted 13-year-old girl escaped to safety in northwest Wisconsin, relatives of other missing people expressed relief for Jayme Closs and her family.

And while Jayme’s story can provide hope, it’s also bittersweet for people who have been searching for answers for years.

“I’m happy to hear that Jayme is found alive and well, I’m happy for that,” said Koua Lee, the brother of Hang Lee, who disappeared from St. Paul in 1993 when she was 17 and never has been found. “I also have to concentrate on my own sister, and it hurts that we don’t have closure.”

Roseanna Marie Forcum last was seen in St. Paul in 1998 when she was 15. Her father still marks her birthday Dec. 3 each year. Last month he got a cake that read: “Happy Birthday Rose” for her 36th birthday.

“There’s always hope for Rosie, I never give up,” John Daniel said Friday.

But Lee and Daniel also express frustration with the investigations into the disappearances of their loved ones.

In Jayme’s case, law enforcement received more than 3,500 tips, but the town of Gordon, Wis. — where the teen was found and a 21-year-old man was arrested Thursday — was not on their radar, according to the Barron County, Wis., sheriff.

“In cases like this, we often need a big break and it was Jayme herself who gave us that break” when she was able to escape from the home where she was being held, said R. Justin Tolomeo, FBI special agent in charge of the Milwaukee division.

Gone for an interview, no return

Hang Lee was a Highland Park High School senior when she left her family’s St. Paul apartment for the last time in January 1993. She told her brother she was going to a job interview with a friend’s boss, later identified as a convicted sex offender. While dubbed a person of interest in Lee’s disappearance, he never has been arrested or charged.

St. Paul police say they have asked the public for information on a regular basis.

Koua Lee and his family have been trying to raise money for a reward.

“I hope someone finds it in their heart to do something about it and come forward,” he said Friday.

Two women vanished after St. Paul party

Roseanna Forcum and her friend, 21-year-old April Nicole Geyer, disappeared after attending a party in St. Paul in mid-August 1998.

In 2000, an informant told St. Paul police that the young women were strangled. He said he and the killer took the bodies to farmland outside Wadena, in west-central Minnesota, and buried them.

The area has been searched, including with cadaver-sniffing dogs, but Forcum and Geyer weren’t found.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and police in St. Cloud — Forcum’s hometown — have asked anyone with information to come forward, even if the information is provided anonymously.

Hope for relatives of other missing people

The discovery Thursday of Jayme “does provide hope for those who are still looking,” said Alison Feigh, director of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. “These are days to celebrate.”

When a missing person is found safe, families of other missing individuals often reach out to the Wetterling Resource Center.

“When you’re trying to find pieces of a puzzle, you’re always looking for information and they may want to know, ‘What worked in this case? Is there any part that will work in my family’s case?’ ” Feigh said.

Iowa officials intently watching federal shutdown

With no end in sight to the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, state officials are watching closely to see if they will need to act — somehow — to help Iowans.

Iowa’s leaders insist state programs are not in immediate danger.

However, states rely on federal funding for food assistance funding for low-income people, and the economic viability of farmers — already beset by trade wars — could suffer further as federal ag offices are unstaffed and unavailable to deal with requests for trade bail outs.

Congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump are at an impasse over his instance on adding more than $5 billion to the budget for a southern border wall.

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds said her administration has processes in place to monitor and react to a federal government shutdown, drawn on experiences. The process is overseen by state Department of Management Director David Roederer, and Reynolds’ staff remains in contact with its legislative liaison in Washington, D.C.

“This isn’t the first government shutdown that we’ve experienced. (Roederer) is very familiar with the processes that we have in place,” Reynolds said. “He reaches out almost every day with the various agencies that are impacted to see where we’re at, what they think, how long they think they’re going to be able to provide especially the essential services. So we continue to monitor that on a daily basis, and we’ll make sure that we can find a way to provide the essential services that Iowans are counting on.”

Myriad issues could arise because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the departments shuttered during the partial shutdown, which affects about a fourth of the government that had not yet been funded by Congress.

The food assistance program known as SNAP — or food stamps — is funded through the USDA. So is the program popularly known as WIC, which helps provide food and necessities for mothers and infant children.

The USDA sent states enough funding to carry those programs through February. But with that only weeks away, low-income Americans will lose access to those programs if the shutdown lasts much longer.

More than 333,000 Iowans received SNAP benefits in September, the most recent data available. In fiscal 2016, the USDA provided more than $55 million to Iowa under the WIC program, which said that about 28,000 Iowa women and children were eligible.

“I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t assure Iowans that we’ll make sure that they can put food on the table if things in D.C. are still going horribly wrong. Iowans deserve to know that they’ll be able to feed their families,” said Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, the Democratic from Des Moines.

Iowa farmers counting on federal assistance offered to offset financial losses from federal trade negotiations may find themselves in limbo.

The Trump administration has been renegotiating multiple international trade deals with some of the country’s biggest trading partners, including Canada, Mexico and China. Those negotiations — and the retaliatory tariffs the disputes spawned — have contributed to falling crop prices. Soybean prices still are below the cost of production.

The administration announced it would make direct payments to farmers — with soybean farmers earmarked to get the most — to help offset the losses.

But with the USDA temporarily closed, new payments and new applications are in danger.

The department recently extended beyond this Tuesday the deadline to apply for payments — a deadline in flux and dependent on just how long the department remains closed.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said he asked the administration to extend the deadline for farmers to certify their crop production and qualify for the bailout funds before USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the delay.

About $5.2 billion in checks have gone out across the nation since the program began — including 360,000 payments worth $3 billion since the government shut down, according to a USDA spokesman. But farmers who did not certify their crop production before the shutdown began cannot do so until the government is running again since offices of the Farm Service Agency, which is administering the bailout, are closed.

Iowa’s state leaders implored federal representatives to work past their disagreements to end the shutdown.

State leaders from both major political parties said federal representatives should look to Iowa as a model for how government can work.

“Washington, D.C., probably needs to take a lesson from Iowa on how to actually serve its citizens in getting things done,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, the Republican from Clear Lake. “Elections are over. It’s time to get to work. ... We need people to get busy and solve their problems, find solutions, compromise and get this job done.”

The Washingon Post contributed.

For progressives, first step proves to be hardest

Sometimes, it’s good to know there are people and messages that don’t change — especially when they were right all along.

Indivisible Iowa and Americans for Democratic Action Iowa hosted a joint activist winter workshop last weekend in Waterloo.

I was invited to lead a session on crafting and submitting letters and guest columns to local newspapers, an offering I’ve extended to any Iowa group. Although my session was scheduled for late in the day, I arrived at the beginning and remained throughout.

I did so because the underlying theme of the day, bridging the gap between urban and rural, is of interest to me and should be of concern to any Iowan paying attention to the influx of money in politics, the culture of personality surrounding campaigns and recent election results.

Our state continues to be guided by politicians who campaign on one thing — or, worse yet, avoid issues and public scrutiny during their campaigns — and then arrive in Des Moines as the lap dogs of special interest groups.

When people wonder why things don’t change — why, for instance, the state hasn’t addressed its shrinking rural economies or its burgeoning prisons — the reason can be traced to all the time and talent expended on pet projects intended to mobilize a specific segment of the population for the next election, instead of developing policies to combat the state’s most thorny problems.

For a prime example, look no further than the recently passed “sanctuary cities” bill — used as a campaign fundraiser before it had gained approval in the Legislature, supported by only one nationalist lobbying group and objected to by every law enforcement agency statewide.

When the base needs to be motivated, long-standing concerns about loss of local control, stagnant population and workforce decline apparently can be suspended. Mythical crisis averted, and local governments and groups are left with less power and authority to act in their own best interest.

The workshop in Waterloo began with a conversation led by John Norris, one of several Democrats who competed in last year’s gubernatorial primary. In the interest of space, I won’t rehash the full Norris resume. But it’s worth noting that Norris was involved in the Obama campaign that carried 53 of Iowa’s 99 counties. (In contrast, the Clinton campaign carried six — all encompassing the state’s three largest metro areas and public universities.) And, as I’ve said before, when I talked with small-town residents during the 2018 primary, Norris was the candidate people wanted to discuss.

And for Norris, who has long advocated for policies to address the multifaceted economic and cultural issues facing rural Iowa, the message hasn’t changed.

“The first thing,” Norris told workshop attendees, “is showing up.”

Implicit within his directive is showing up to listen, not in some misguided bid to win back a geography, which is what political consultants often push.

“This isn’t about the message; the message doesn’t change,” he said. “But we do need to understand that the mind-set in rural areas is different, and we are unfamiliar with that mind-set because we aren’t showing up.”

But even within this group of geographically diverse activists, Norris’ simple advice seemed to get lost. Questions centered on topics more likely to appear in the New York Times than in a small-town weekly — farmer suicides, “factory farms.” Perhaps that’s a byproduct of our social media-driven society, where everything seems to be placed on some national pedestal.

Or maybe it is a byproduct of living in a state that’s already hellbent on debating the 2020 presidential election instead of focusing on who will lead local school districts and governments at the end of 2019.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

Lonely? Tech firms hope you’ll use an app

The post-internet era has ushered in generations of socially awkward adults who’ve long leaned on technology for their social kicks.

But as millennials age out of college, many adults have found themselves ... well, painfully lonely.

And tech companies have taken note.

Technology titans and fledgling start-ups alike are all stepping up, each with different ideas about how to get people talking in real life again.

But can apps and new tech platforms really help our social angst?

Tech companies have tried in the past, and most have failed to earn our attention. Yet the opportunity to address our collective loneliness persists — and grows year after year.

Technology may have started the problem. Now they’re trying to fix it

Meeting new friends — and then maintaining those friendships as a busy adult — is not a problem unique to younger generations, said Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher at McGill University, in Montreal.

It’s something most adults experience after college.

“Once we’re no longer in school, we aren’t surrounded by a group of people who are going through similar life experiences, or perhaps have similar interests or schedules,” Kirmayer said.

“As adults, we become busy with work, romance, children, careers and aging parents. Even if we do have time to meet new people, where can we look?”

Social isolation

Although not a new problem, there’s a good chance the modern lifestyle is contributing to an uptick in social isolation.

Social media allows users to keep in touch with friends and family without ever picking up the phone or inviting anyone to dinner.

E-commerce takes the small talk out of shopping. Convenience apps such as Uber, PostMates, and Instcart allow city dwellers to order groceries, a cab, and dinner without looking anyone in the eye.

Research on loneliness and isolation has shown many adults struggle with forming and maintaining meaningful friendships.

A new study conducted by UC San Diego researchers, published last month, found that three out of four Americans experience “moderate to high levels of loneliness.”

Older studies found loneliness rates of 17 percent to 57 percent and that younger generations are among the loneliest of all.

Harvard psychology professor Matthew Lieberman says our need to connect with other humans is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.

“We’re more connected than ever, but we’re also more alone and isolated than ever,” Kirmayer said.

“That’s a problem, because scientific research has shown we benefit from friendship and being socially connected. We used to think that was a luxury, but now we’re realizing it’s essential for health.”

treating — or curing — loneliness

When a widespread problem is unaddressed — and growing in need by the year — companies generally rise up with solutions. And so they have in the loneliness arena.

Some of these new services border on the bizarre, such as New York City-based Cuddlist, which sends out “professional cuddles” to hold, stroke, and embrace lonely people in a non-sexual way for $80 an hour.

Then there’s HearMe.app, which allows users to share their thoughts with an attentive stranger — online employees called “listeners” — for $10 a week.

Their tagline? “Not everyone needs therapy, but we all need someone to talk to.”

These apps treat symptoms of loneliness, but there’s a wave of tech companies attempting to treat loneliness at its core — by helping people make real in-person, human connections.

Some of the bigger players in this space are dating apps that viewed platonic friendships as a secondary market.

Users can meet new friends the same way they find new dates. By sharing their interests, ages and lifestyle details online, and letting an algorithm match them with potential friends to meet in person.

Failure abounds

The graveyard for meetup and friendship apps is depressingly expansive, indicating the problem is a tough nut to crack.

Tinder, a popular dating app best known for facilitating hookups between strangers, launched a friendship feature in 2016 called Tinder Social, which allowed users to organize group meetups with strangers in hopes of linking up with new friends.

A year later, that feature was disabled and abandoned.

Tinder said the feature had “modest adoption,” but the idea didn’t “fit cleanly with (their) future direction.”

If a feature is successful, it’s rarely abandoned.

Tinder’s rival, Bumble, also launched its friendship feature Bumble BFF in 2016. Instead of coordinating group meetups, Bumble BFF tried to match friends one on one. So far, this one has stuck around.

“We’ve had a lot of user adoption on BFF, especially with women,” said Bumble’s chief brand officer Alex Williamson.

However, the company was not willing to share numbers on how many of its users signed up for the friendship feature, or if it’s been as popular as the dating app.

Despite the challenges in this space, new players keep diving in.

When it comes to friend-making apps, there’s Hey! VINA for women, Atleto for sports lovers, Meet My Dog for animal lovers, and Cliq, We3 and Squad for those looking to meet up in groups.

In San Diego, for example, tech start-ups such as Frendli, DoWhop and Beekn are all trying to get people out in the real world to make new friends.

But none of these apps have reached mass user adoption, as Tinder did with dating or Facebook did for social media.

Their staffing remains small, and their app downloads are unimpressive. And all are facing a massive barrier to success.

Real friendship?

To be clear, there are many reasons tech companies fail, not the least of which is poor planning when it comes to revenue generation.

Founders often succumb to the Field of Dreams fallacy: If you build it, they will come.

But most often, users don’t come and apps die when resources dry up.

Setting aside this common mistake, founders of friendship apps have bigger problems to tackle, such as social stigmas, inadequate algorithms, and — perhaps most troublesome of all — a fundamental misunderstanding of how friendships are formed.

Friendship experts say tech founders will likely need to address these hangups if they ever hope to reach mass user adoption.

Shame and embarrassment

Kirmayer, the friendship researcher, also works as a consultant for technology companies building social apps. She said one of the biggest obstacles to apps such as Bumble BFF and Frendli is user embarrassment.

“The loneliness people experience stokes an incredible sense of shame,” Kirmayer said. “People are hesitant to put themselves out there and acknowledge the fact that they don’t have many friends.”

Williamson said Bumble is acutely aware of this obstacle, and the company is working to normalize the behavior.

They’re posting blogs on topics like friendship and vulnerability, hosting events, and trying to cultivate a community centered on trust and openness.

She said online dating faced the same issue in its early days, but that social stigma has faded in recent years thanks to work done by Tinder and Bumble.

Dishonesty

Karen Dobkins, a University of California-San Diego researcher who studies deep human connection, said existing friendship apps have a major flaw in their design.

Users get to create profiles just like dating apps, which means dishonesty can proliferate.

“You edit yourself,” Dobkins said. “You present things you think other people will like, but it’s often a false representation of yourself.”

If users aren’t presenting their real selves, the matching algorithm is dead in the water.

False profiles aside, Dobkins said the matching algorithms are also too simple. Shared interests are not what inspires deep human connection, she said, and filling out profiles with generic questions won’t satisfy users.

“Answering those questions makes us all feel a little depressed,” Dobkins said.

“They don’t capture who you are. They capture your preferences.”

Lack of vulnerability

The main appeal of friendship apps (and dating apps for that matter) is that they remove much of the vulnerability that comes with social interactions. Introductions are made for you, and rejections aren’t face to face.

But vulnerability is also the key to real human connections, according to Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability and shame.

In her book “Daring Greatly,” she writes that “true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.”

Dobkins said users of friendship apps might sense a superficiality to the technology, as the apps fail to capture the vulnerability that comes with in-person interactions.

And while friendship apps might ease the burden of making new friends, they also might perpetuate social struggle.

“As a society, we might get out of practice experiencing early vulnerability,” Kirmeyer said.

“And that’s dangerous. Perhaps you want to approach a fellow mom at a Mom & Tots group, or you’re hoping to date someone you see at a coffee shop.

“You might not have the social skills to approach them.”

Where do they go from here?

Robert Swisher, the founder of friend-matching app Frendli, said the obstacles facing this field haven’t cowed him. Instead, he sees the struggle as an indicator of a remaining need in the market.

“That’s why I started Frendli,” he said.

“I tried a bunch of things, and I didn’t like any of them.”

And Dayton Mills, the founder of the Beekn app for impromptu social meetups, said it’s a waiting game.

“Younger generations look to technology to solve their problems, and when technology hasn’t solved a big problem ... well, then it’s only a matter of time.”

School districts depending on sales tax extension

As lawmakers return this week to Des Moines, the state’s school districts are banking on the Iowa Legislature to extend a sales tax they rely on to pay for building projects — and hope changes to the tax code don’t dampen other sources of K-12 funding.

Lawmakers came close last year to extending the tax — the House approved a 20-year extension 95-3 in April — but the Senate did not take up the measure in the final days of the 2018 legislative session.

“It was a huge disappointment,” said Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “There’s no doubt about it.”

The 2029 sunset of SAVE, which stands for Securing an Advanced Vision for Education, has put districts “under a time crunch,” Piper said, as most issue bonds against 20 years of the tax’s projected revenue.

A 20-year extension of the existing 1 percent sales tax is expected to provide more than $16 billion to school infrastructure projects and property tax relief.

The Solon Community School District holds an example of what can happen without it.

The district opted to build just two-thirds of a new school building that opened this academic year. Solon Intermediate was supposed to have the third, fourth and fifth grades — but instead opened to only grades four and five. The land meant to be the third-grade wing still is an empty field.

The pause in construction, Solon Intermediate Principal Zach Wigle said, has put the district in an undesirable spot.

“We could really end up spending a ton more money on the same exact stuff,” Wigle said. “And it’s really hard to swallow for the school board, and it should be for our community. We should have that being built right now.”

Without a 20-year timeline, Iowa districts can no longer borrow against SAVE funds, said Dave Wilkerson, government relations director of School Administrators of Iowa.

“That is a priority for everyone,” Wilkerson said, adding that without sales tax revenue more districts are turning to property tax-funded general obligation bonds for construction — if voters approve the bond issues.

“ … It’s really a priority if you’re a district that’s growing — like a Linn-Mar over there — those SAVE funds are just critical to meet demands of growth.”

The Cedar Rapids Community School District, where enrollment has dropped, also is relying on SAVE to pay for a sweeping 20-year facilities plan that would close eight elementary schools and build or renovate 13 larger elementaries.

If lawmakers do extend SAVE, school districts could have access to a growing pool of funds thanks to changes passed last session that broadened which goods, especially those sold online, the state collects sales tax on. The Legislative Services Agency estimated tax changes will increase SAVE revenue by more than $20 million by fiscal 2020.

“That definitely is going to increase SAVE dollars,” said Shawn Snyder, associate executive director of government relations and school finance of the Iowa Association of School Boards.

But how cuts to other tax revenue will impact Supplemental State Aid — schools’ primary funding source — remains unknown. Net tax revenue growth for Iowa is estimated to be about 1.8 percent, or $140 million more, for next fiscal year, according to the Iowa Department of Management.

The current fiscal year, which ends June 30, n the other hand has an estimated growth rate of about 4.7 percent, almost $345 million.

The growth rate for fiscal year 2020, the year legislators will set a budget for this session, “isn’t really very robust,” Snyder said. “But I still think potentially the legislature would have some room to provide some funding for Supplemental State Aid.”

“We’re not just talking K-12 schools,” School Administrators of Iowa’s Wilkerson added. “When you talk about all the services the state budget has to provide, (it) isn’t a lot. And we’re all going for the same dollar.”

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has said there will be enough money to fund her priorities, though she noted challenges could arise because “people want more money in education.”

She is expected to outline her priorities for the state’s $7 billion-plus budget Tuesday during the Condition of the State address to lawmakers.

K-12 education typically is the budget’s largest line item, netting more than 40 percent of available state dollars. Last year, more than $3.1 billion was allocated to public education.

Although some education groups have not set a preferred growth rate for K-12 funding this session, most agree a 3 percent increase would let most school districts “break even.”

“The money, as it has been in the last few years, the money is going to be an issue,” Wilkerson said.

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

Davenport broker has run 3 miles every day for 10,000 days

DAVENPORT — Clients who walk into James Shrader’s financial services office in Davenport might not notice the pair of bronzed running shoes sitting on a side table.

Shrader certainly wouldn’t mention them.

But if clients looked, they would see the shoes are a testament to his having run at least 3 miles a day — usually twice that — for 10,000 consecutive days. This took 27 years, four months and 15 days.

Not that Shrader gave it much thought.

He just knew that in the summer of 1991, he needed motivation to keep up his running routine, so decided to “see how many consecutive days I might be able to run in a row.”

As his life unfolded, he tracked his miles, but not so much the time. Presidents came and went; he and several others left their investment firm to open a new office of Robert W. Baird & Co.; he married, had children.

The financial world weathered the dot.com bubble and the Great Recession. He became the office’s managing director, specializing in wealth management, greeting clients in a three-piece suit, bow tie and white long-sleeved shirt with cuff links.

Through it all — snow, sleet, heat and humidity — the Assumption High School graduate whose dad was a longtime senior vice president of Davenport Bank & Trust Co. kept on running.

“It’s just part of my day,” he said.

Running has been a routine part of the day of some other Iowans for even longer. Dean Shultz of Clayton, a retired teacher and coach, has run daily for more than 32 years. John Liepa, a retired professor from West Des Moines, has run every day for more than 42 years.

This past summer as Shrader was sharing a beer with colleague Joe Verdi on his backyard deck, he happened to mention that he was coming up on an anniversary of when he had started his streak. Intrigued, Verdi consulted an app on his phone that calculated the days and was totally bowled over when he realized the milestone Shrader was approaching.

He began plotting with Shrader’s assistant to have a pair of his running shoes bronzed, to be presented at the company Christmas party. One of Shrader’s children helped by sneaking out a pair, and he didn’t miss them because he gets a new set every month.

Shrader said he was totally surprised by the presentation. “I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know how many days it was.”

Verdi first heard about Shrader’s running several years ago when someone mentioned he was having wisdom teeth pulled, so had gone for a run at midnight.

But the significance of that didn’t sink in until the day of a big blizzard when Verdi came to work, not expecting anyone else to be there. “And here he comes, trotting around the corner. I asked him what he was doing running and he said, ‘Oh, I never miss.’ I’ve come in here and found him sleeping under his desk with a pillow because he had the flu. That’s insane.”

The totality of the accomplishment, “is the greatest display of discipline I’ve ever seen,” he said.

An example of Shrader’s commitment was the time several years ago when he had a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder and his doctor recommended surgery.

Shrader asked if he’d still be able to run. His doctor said, “‘I won’t tell you you can’t run, but you won’t want to run. Your arm will be strapped to your side for 10 days to two weeks and the pain of it will keep you from running.’ ”

Shrader decided to test this by strapping his arm to his side to see how it would go. After a couple of days, he gave up. Running that way was too cumbersome. So he never had the surgery.

At the start of what has become his streak, he ran 8 miles a day. In time he dropped to 7, then 6. The last two years, it’s been 5 miles.

“With all that running and pounding, at 64 now, I’ve slowed down considerably,” he said, his silver hair curling at his collar.

His normal daily routine is to get up at 3:30 a.m. and be out the door by 3:45. He always runs outside and always alone, mixing up his route among neighborhood streets, the Duck Creek recreational trail and the paths in cemeteries. And he doesn’t listen to music as he runs.

Even more than the benefit of running to stay in shape, the “ultimate benefit has been more mental,” he said.

“I think, and think a little more, and think a little more. I spend time alone and all of a sudden, you’re a couple of miles into the run.”

After his run he’ll return home, shower, get dressed and be in the office by 5:35 a.m.

“The only cheat day I’ve ever had was three or four years ago when we had a bunch of consecutive very cold January days. One day the wind chill was literally 32 below and the wind was straight out of the west. I had one of the other brokers take me to the west end of the bike path so that I had the wind at my back and he picked me up at Duck Creek Park.”

If for some reason he can’t run before work, he’ll take a break and run midday. That’s why he had a shower put into the building.

And, yes, he’s still running.

“I don’t see a reason to stop,” he said. “I’m not mentally prepared to miss.”

Do other people do this?

Yes, there exists a U.S. Running Streak Association Inc. based in Mendham, N.J., that maintains a website of certified running records at runseveryday.com.

The No. 1 name on the list is that of a 67-year-old writer from California who has run every day for 49 years.

To be certified, one needs to run at least 1 mile and it can be outside, on a track or on a treadmill.

Is Northeast Iowa rolling in it?

IOWA CITY — Beneath the hills and valleys, cliffs and woodlands that bejewel the landscape around Duluth, Minn., scientists have discovered a figurative gold mine in the form of actual mineral mining potential — and Iowa researchers believe something at least as valuable could be hiding in this state’s northeast corner.

The prospect has University of Iowa-based geologists consumed with answering the question of whether an underground formation spanning 10 Iowa counties is similar to the geologic complex beneath the Duluth area — which analysts say contains minerals worth up to $1 trillion.

If the UI-based Iowa Geological Survey finds the Northeast Iowa Formation is roughly the same age as its Minnesotan counterpart, researchers believe the Hawkeye state could be harboring economically-valuable deposits of copper, nickel, platinum and other minerals.

“The more data we collect, the better picture we can paint,” said Ryan Clark, a geologist with the Iowa Geological Survey. “If it’s promising, then a mineral company could come in and do its own testing.”

Researchers are basing their optimism on analyses by the U.S. Geological Survey, which has been assessing the country’s mineral resources in response to rising global demand for the materials used in industrial, medical and technology products.

The government’s interest in the billion-year-old Midcontinent Rift System — a formation stretching from Kansas to Michigan — led it to Iowa, where airborne assessments produced evidence of economically valuable geology.

Specifically, USGS findings signaled underlying geology in the form of a horse shoe-shaped complex in Decorah and similar rings in the area of Elkader, Manchester and Vinton.

“There are a lot of minerals up there,” Clark said. “From what I’ve been told by the USGS, if one or a few of these anomalies do end up being similar to the Duluth Complex, what we have is larger.

“It could be a significant find, if in fact it turns out,” he said. “But we are still a long way from proving that.”

‘A needle in a haystack’

Right now, only one window into the region’s mystery mineral prospects exists — a core drilled near Elkader by a mineral company in the 1960s. UI researchers are pulling rocks from that core and testing the age of minerals found within.

“We have used modern techniques to try to find a needle in a haystack,” Clark said, noting colleagues “have been going through with fine-toothed combs for anything we can find that could possible yield an age.”

The Iowa Geological Survey could seek funding to drill a second core for further research in the hilly region. The USGS had a plan to do just that before its budget was cut last year.

“We are sitting and waiting to see if the funding is restored or not,” Clark said.

If it is, Iowa could pursue financing for underground monitoring. If it’s not, the state could take the helm in creating a new core, or a mineral company could come in and pay to drill.

“But their purpose might be different from ours,” Clark said. “Our job is to get a better understanding of what the whole formation is.”

Should Iowa geologists achieve adequate access to the untapped trove, Clark said, “I really believe we would get the information of what this rock formation is, and prove that it’s similar to the Duluth Complex.”

Public vs. private land BIG FACTOR IN BENEFIT

One known difference between the Duluth and Northeast Iowa complexes is ownership of the land under them.

Much of the Duluth Complex is on public property, managed by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

That includes “School Trust Lands,” which is property the federal government granted Minnesota at statehood for schools, according to Minnesota’s DNR. The state today boasts 2.5 million acres of School Trust Lands, along with another 1 million acres of severed mineral rights, which occurs when the state sells the land but retains the rights to subsurface materials.

For revenue generated from the School Trust Lands, Minnesota established a permanent school fund for the benefit of K-12 public schools, according to Peter Clevenstine, assistant director of minerals in Minnesota’s Division of Lands and Minerals.

Leasing land to mining companies has produced hundreds of millions in revenue for the K-12 and public university trusts, according to Clevenstine.

Although the mineral-rich public property has been known about for decades, Minnesota only now is pursuing its mining potential.

“We have three deposits of nonferrous metals that are not producing,” he said. “If they do start producing, we could put another $2 billion into the permanent school trusts for K-12 education.”

Mining operations must complete environmental reviews and jump through permitting hoops before that can happen. But one company is close to meeting its requirements — recently landing a permit from the state and waiting on its last from the federal government, according to Clevenstine.

“We have the opportunity now in the next 30 years from three operations to have $2 billion added to that trust,” he said.

Iowa’s situation is different. Most of its underground potential sits under privately-owned land, according to Clark. That means any company — or state or government entity, for that matter — must negotiate with individual landowners over access and royalties.

“The lack of public land has been an issue,” Clark said.

He’s found a defunct limestone quarry that owns land in the target area and is willing to provide access for research.

“That is the closest thing I’ve found to being able to drill this next research hole,” Clark said. “If it does go to the exploration phase, where a company can come in, they would have to enter into an agreement with whoever owns the land.”

That commercializing side is where the economic potential for Iowa lies. Arriving mineral companies would create jobs and generate revenue through taxes, fees and the like.

‘Balance and protect’ NATURAL RESOURCES

But Clark and Clevenstine stressed this work requires care in protecting the land while also exploring the potential benefits.

“It’s our job to balance and protect those natural resources and also provide economic opportunities for the wide use of these resources,” Clevenstine said.

So long as Iowa maintains that bilateral view, Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, said he’s OK with further research and even exploration into the hidden potential of the region he represents.

“I think it’s important that no matter how you use your resources, you need to be thoughtful,” he said. “It’s always exciting to see new potential for job opportunities, and you need to look at those things. But you always want to be respectful to the environmental as well.”

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

Hemp’s moment finally here, proponents say

Proponents of industrial hemp are hopeful that state lawmakers soon will sign off on a profitable alternative crop for Iowa farmers.

“I’m very optimistic,” said Christopher Disbro, president of the Iowa Hemp Association. “We’ve been in contact with a great group of bipartisan legislators.”

Sen. Kevin Kinney, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Industrial Hemp Program Study Committee, also is optimistic about the future of hemp.

“It’s going to be an industry that’s going to grow,” Kinney said. “There’s a lot of potential — everything from makeup to fiber to clothing to food.”

Legislation that would enable an industrial hemp program in Iowa passed the Senate 49-0 last session but died in the House.

“I have put in a bill request that would be identical to the last time,” Kinney said last week ahead of the new legislative session that starts Monday. He expects Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, to co-sponsor.

“We’re going to work together,” Kinney said. “We’ve worked together for three years, and we don’t want to lose our place.”

Effectively banned under federal law since 1937, hemp cultivation in closely monitored pilot programs became legal under the 2014 farm bill. The new farm bill passed late last year further eased restrictions, allowing hemp-derived products to be transported across state lines and removing restrictions on their sale, transport or possession.

Amid those changes, interest in industrial hemp is running high, said Angela Rieck-Hinz, an Iowa State University Extension field specialist based in Clarion.

“I’ve probably had four or five dozen phone calls since the farm bill was passed,” she said. “We’ve had some pretty low profit margins on corn and soybeans the last couple years, and they’re always looking for that third crop. People are looking to see if they can get in on the ground floor.”

Hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant. Under federal law, industrial hemp can’t contain more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient. Recreational marijuana typically contains 40 percent THC, while medical marijuana derivatives are limited to 3 percent THC in Iowa.

Hemp backers have argued for years that the eight-decade federal ban on any hemp cultivation stalled development of a useful resource. They say hemp and its derivatives processed for fiber, seed and oil can be key ingredients in everything from cattle bedding to cloth, insulation, high-protein feed, fuel and biodegradable plastics.

With the end of federal sanctions, Disbro and others say that deferred potential is about to be realized, although the kind of markets farmers are familiar with are just starting to develop.

“With a new commodity like this there’s going to be a little wiggle room,” said Disbro, a medical doctor who learned of hemp’s properties through the debate over medical cannabis. Products containing cannabidiol, or CBD, the cannabis compound with claims to significant medical benefits, already are on store shelves in some markets. “I know a lot of people who were growing for CBD and are now growing for fiber and grain. I think there is plenty of market. We’re going to be able to move this forward.”

States have the option of developing their own hemp programs — the federal law requires states’ chief law enforcement officers be included — that must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers still could plant hemp without a state program, but they’d be subject to direct federal regulation. Iowa is one of just 11 states without its own program.

“My biggest sense is that we’re going to try to run it through the state,” said Kinney, who met last week with state Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig to discuss the issue. “That’s what most of the legislators I’ve talked to are leaning toward.”

Acting quickly after the 2014 farm bill, Minnesota launched its Industrial Hemp Pilot Program in 2015. Last year, 51 participants cultivated 710 acres of hemp. Costs averaged about $500 an acre, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

“It’s not a low-input crop if you’re looking at a return on investment,” Rieck-Hinz said. “Managing for weed control or from an insect or pathogen standpoint, it remains to be seen.”

The new farm bill allows states to bypass pilot programs and move directly to commercial production. With quick action, Disbro thinks Iowa farmers could plant hemp yet this year.

“The hope is we can get our legislation passed and the rules finished this year so the USDA can approve those rules,” he said. “We could move quickly enough, if the government is open, for a few farmers to get familiar with the crop this year.”

Kinney, who’s visited hemp producers and processors in Canada, said transporting raw hemp is expensive, so processing plants are best located near hemp sources.

“It would be more cost-effective to bring the processing jobs to where the plant is grown,” he said. “It would be an economic engine for a lot of small towns.”

Still, the market for industrial hemp is in its earliest stages. Last year’s Minnesota hemp growers reported no profits “since no one had received any money for their harvest,” according to the state’s ag department. “It is unknown what, if any, price the hemp fiber can fetch in the current market.”

“If you’re going to grow hemp for fiber or seed or CBD, I would strongly recommend you have a signed contract in hand,” Rieck-Hinz said. “We have very well-established corn and soybean markets. We have a very well-established infrastructure. We don’t have that (for hemp) right now in Iowa or in the United States for that matter.”

Once Iowa’s program is underway, Disbro expects his group to link farmers, processors and end users to develop a hemp market.

“It’s an early stage of innovation,” he said. “People are looking to get involved with Iowa farmers.”

Occupants displaced after Cedar Rapids home fire

Cedar Rapids firefighters responded to a fire in a single-family home on Saturday morning.

According to a report from the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, firefighters were dispatched to responded to smoke coming from the outside of a home located at 245 21st St NW Cedar Rapids, and a fire in the attic.

Firefighters quickly brought the fire under control and cut a hole in the roof to assist in smoke evacuation from the home. The damage is reportedly extensive and the family has been displaced and received assisted by the red cross. The report states and ambulance was dispatched, but no injuries were reported and no medical treatment was required.

Smoke alarms were reportedly not working. The Incident is under investigation.

Snow, winter advisories are in effect, slick road conditions expected

Iowa is experiencing snowfall across the state, creating hazardous road conditions. Snow began to accumulate in the early morning, and much of Cedar Rapids has seen accumulating between dusting and 2 inches.

According to the National Weather Service, Winter storm warnings and winter weather advisories are in effect across Northeast Iowa until this evening. Light snow will continue to accumulate throughout the day at a rate of 1/4 to 1/2 inch per hour. The report says to expect 2 to 4 inches of snow from around highway 30 south to the Interstate 80 corridor, and as much as 5 to 9 inches south of Interstate 80. Areas south of Highway 34 are expected to see the greatest snowfall.

The National Weather Service reports that roads will be completely or partially snow covered and warns drivers to use caution, especially when stopping and turning. The Linn County Secondary Road Department began running priority snow routes at 7 a.m.

Cedar Rapids man eludes police, results in standoff where “pepper balls” were deployed

Cedar Rapids police responded to an incident that led to a standoff negotiation this morning.

According to a report issued by the Cedar Rapids Police Department, officers reported to the 4100 block of 31st Ave SW at 6:27 a.m. on Saturday, January 12 where a driver was allegedly attempting to elude officers.

The report states that the driver — Austin Pieper, 30 — did not cooperate with the officers’ requests to yield and at one point told the officers to “shoot him.”

The officers attempted a standoff negotiation which was unsuccessful, and led to the officers deploying “pepper balls,” which are pepper spray filled pellets.

Pieper then attempted to drive away and officers proceeded to deploy “stop sticks” which disabled the vehicle.

Pieper ultimately drove through grass, and stopped after striking a cement pillar, the report states.

Pieper has been arrested and faces charges of operating while intoxicated, attempting to elude, failure to maintain control, and interference with official acts.

Pages