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Siouxland success story
GALLAGHER: 'With a little help from my friends' Sioux Cityan earns ISU degree

AMES, Iowa -- 'Tis the season for the pomp and circumstance of graduation day.

Circumstances surrounding the life and times of Henry Zimmerman left him doubting he'd make that walk in cap and gown, striding toward the receipt of his diploma, events that transpire on Saturday when the 24-year-old secures a bachelor of science degree from Iowa State University in Ames.

Zimmerman faced bigger obstacles in life than what a pair of final exams and papers presented this finals week. He dropped out of high school in Sioux City, following in the path of older siblings, not that he blames them.

"Maybe I was predestined," he says of his days at West High, days cut short after a string of absences resulted in a pile of missed assignments he couldn't see completing.

Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University 

Sioux City native Henry Zimmerman is shown on Wednesday in the KURE Radio studios at Iowa State University in Ames. Zimmerman graduates on Saturday with a degree in journalism.

"I was living with my mom and I had some issues in the household," he says. "It led to not going to class often. And when that happened, there wasn't much hope in salvaging the year."

Zimmerman was 18 when his dad died in October 2012. He doesn't mince words about it. "My father's death certificate says it was excessive drinking," he says. "Maybe they wouldn't call it suicide, but that's what I would call it."

His parents had divorced before Henry ever traipsed off to kindergarten. His mother suffered from depression and a multiple-personality disorder, he says. She committed suicide on Mother's Day three years ago. By that time, her son had obtained his GED and was fully immersed into a course of study at Western Iowa Tech Community College.

Zimmerman started at WITCC because the school offers instrument repair, a discipline the young man could see taking him places other than a factory. A product of a working-class family, he didn't envision a career in meat processing or air-conditioner repair, for example. Fixing horns, on the other hand, promised allure. After all, he'd been in band during school.

"That was the fall of 2013, the same fall I began working at KWIT," Zimmerman says of the public radio station on campus.

KWIT professionals Steve Smith, Gretchen Gondek and Mark Munger took an avid interest in the student, introducing him to journalism and public radio programming. Zimmerman left instrument repair. Perhaps he'd found a calling.

"I decided to get an associate's degree, which would be more broad," he says. "It would give me more of a chance to get my 4-year degree."

Mike Brown, who works with student activities at WITCC, stayed in Zimmerman's ear, saying, "You gotta get your 4-year degree!"

Zimmerman transferred to Iowa State as a junior in August 2016. He showed up at the radio station on campus and begin doing deejay work. He was encouraged to apply for a news/talk director position and landed the job.

"I do more talk-related things," he says. "I manage the talk shows and talk programming. I help students plan, train and then support them once they get on the air."

Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University 

Sioux City native Henry Zimmerman is shown on Wednesday in the KURE Radio studios at Iowa State University in Ames. He graduates on Saturday with a degree in journalism.

He's hosted a news magazine called "Ames Matters." He's also worked to build a pipeline connecting Iowa State's Greenlee School of Journalism & Communications and radio station, KURE 88.5 FM. He's visited classes in an attempt to have student-produced projects grace the airwaves. He hosts a podcast.

And, he's endured additional heartbreak with the loss of someone close. One of his two roommates, Vyacheslav Zinchenko, the first friend he made at Iowa State, was killed in a motorcycle accident on Sept. 11, 2016, one week after he and Zimmerman enjoyed a Labor Day holiday weekend camping in Afton State Park.

"Vyacheslav, who we called 'Steve,' was from Ukraine," Zimmerman says. "He was a super student, just brilliant. He and his roommate, Seth Mumford, a philosophy major, had a room available and I moved in. They were risks as they were strangers, but we ended up being great friends."

While Zinchenko's death left Zimmerman heartbroken, it also drove he and Mumford closer. They remained roommates and found a place for non-traditional students. Mumford graduated in December. He returns this weekend to watch his pal don cap and gown.

Zimmerman has spent part of his senior year working as an ambassador for the journalism school, offering tips and encouragement to high school seniors and community college transfers who doubt they can cut it here.

"It's a big jump, being away from home," he says. "I thought the same thing."

Zimmerman asks students to look deep within themselves and ask point-blank: Can I do this? "I tell them that if I can do it, they can do it," he says.

He's done it and then some. Henry Zimmerman has interviewed for a position with Iowa Public Radio. And, he's traveling to Washington, D.C. in three weeks to interview before officials representing the Kroc Fellowship, which serves National Public Radio.

"One of my goals since being at Siouxland Public Media was to be a Kroc Fellow," he says. "And now, here I am, a semifinalist. Three of 10 will be picked."

Until then, Zimmerman takes a wait-and-see approach. He told his Iowa Public Radio interviewers about his Kroc Fellowship application. He plans to keep his ear to the ground for other opportunities. He will not limit himself geographically. He's willing to go about anywhere for a job in public radio.

No matter where he lands, Zimmerman says he'll always remember the people at KWIT, Western Iowa Tech and Iowa State, pros like Gondek, Munger, Brown and others. People like Jason Wiegand, his ISU academic adviser, and Iowa State's Tracy Lucht, who challenges the senior when he needs it.

Zimmerman says friends and former roommates, plus his girlfriend, Tara Efobi, folks from Los Angeles to Des Moines and parts in between will converge on Ames on Saturday to join him in a a good walk savored. He reflects on the journey and says, "A lot of people have played a role."

Ever the radio enthusiast, Zimmerman cites a Beatles song and lyrics made famous by Ringo Starr. He chuckles and says, "I get by with a little help from my friends."

GOP senators seek to end state payments

DES MOINES -- Cities, counties and schools would gradually lose about $150 million in yearly state money intended to “backfill” lost commercial property tax revenue under a phase-out plan that Senate Republicans called “fair and reasonable” Thursday but minority Democrats decried as a breach of trust by breaking a 2013 bipartisan deal.

Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said the annual state appropriation to local entities was not envisioned to be a permanent feature and majority GOP senators had devised a two-tiered plan to begin with the 2020 fiscal year that would phase out payments over three years for growing local jurisdictions where property tax valuations have topped a five-year statewide average and would extend the state money for six years in places where growth in valuations have lagged below the statewide average. The phase-down would reduce the state’s payments – beginning in fiscal 2020 -- by $24.5 million during the first four years of the backfill phase out and $10.8 million in the final two fiscal years.

Schneider said the backfill would remain unchanged for the fiscal year than begins next July 1 because local budgets already have been certified for fiscal 2019 and state officials do not want to cause local disruptions by withholding money cities, counties and schools have built into their spending plans.

“No one realistically envisioned the backfill going on forever,” said Schneider, who also is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The provisions contained in Senate File 2081 was the committee on an 11-8 party-line vote but not before Democrats blistered their GOP counterparts for altering terms of a deal whereby the state compensated local governments for lost revenue when commercial property tax rates were lowered by 10 percent. The 2013 bipartisan plan was hailed at the time as historic property tax reform by phasing in several changes in the way local governments could tax property with the idea that the tax cut would spur development that would then result in greater property tax revenue.

“The Republican caucus has had a lot of bad ideas this session and this might be one of the worst ones,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, ranking committee member. “This is a huge broken promise to local governments,” he added, noting that many cities and counties will be forced to raise taxes on homeowners and farmers to make up for the declining state payments.

By reneging on the state’s part of the bargain, Bolkcom said, “the must-heralded historic property tax cut of a few years ago is now going to be known as the historic property tax increase to Iowa property taxpayers.” He said the losers would be farmers, seniors, property owners and people who rely on local services and amenities.

“This is breaking a deal,” added Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, one of the architects of the 2013 legislation. “I think this is a huge, massive break of trust. There is absolutely no way you can defend the indefensible.”

Schneider said the state held the backfill “harmless” in two years of budget cuts due to lagging growth in state tax collections which has meant a “big shift” from property taxes to income and sales taxes under a plan that “hasn’t worked well,” so legislators are trying to come up with a workable way to “unwind” the backfill.

“No matter what we pass, local governments certainly won’t be happy about this,” Schneider said. “I think the approach we’re taking here today is fair and reasonable and gives local governments time to adapt.”

However, Bolkcom said the answer is not to shift tax burdens back on property owners.

“It’s disappointing to see you try to get your fiscal house in order on the backs of Iowa property taxpayers. People are going to need that income tax cut (Republican plan to pass Saturday) to pay for their property tax increase,” he said. “The Republicans are basically pushing off the state’s responsibility onto property taxpayers to pick up somewhere around $150 million worth of backfill money.”

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said she and other Republicans in the House are interested in phasing out these payments, but are still considering various options for accomplishing that goal.

“We’re being very cognizant that they’ve got their budgets filed so we’re not doing it for this year,” Upmeyer said Thursday. “We’ll probably phase that out kind of slowly, not in two years or something. We’re going to be approaching this is a very thoughtful way.”

Trump: Repayment not campaign-related

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump insisted Thursday his reimbursement of a 2016 hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels had nothing to do with his election campaign. But the surprise revelation of the president's payment clashed with his past statements, created new legal headaches and stunned many in the West Wing.

White House aides were blindsided when Trump's recently added attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said Wednesday night that the president had repaid Michael Cohen for $130,000 that was given to Daniels to keep her quiet before the 2016 election about her allegations of an affair with Trump. Giuliani's revelation, which seemed to contradict Trump's past statements, came as the president's newly configured outside legal team pursued his defense, apparently with zero coordination with the West Wing.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she first learned that Trump had repaid the hush money from Giuliani's interview on Fox News Channel's "Hannity." Staffers' phones began to buzz within moments. Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, who had pre-taped an interview with Fox News earlier Wednesday evening, was suddenly summoned to return for a live interview.

While Giuliani said the payment to Daniels was "going to turn out to be perfectly legal," legal experts said the new information raised a number of questions, including whether the money represented repayment of an undisclosed loan or could be seen as reimbursement for a campaign expenditure. Either could be legally problematic.

Giuliani insisted Trump didn't know the specifics of Cohen's arrangement with Daniels until recently, telling "Fox & Friends" on Thursday that the president didn't know all the details until "maybe 10 days ago." Giuliani told The New York Times that Trump had repaid Cohen $35,000 a month "out of his personal family account" after the campaign was over. He said Cohen received $460,000 or $470,000 in all for expenses related to Trump.

But no debt to Cohen was listed on Trump's personal financial disclosure form, which was certified on June 16, 2017. Asked if Trump had filed a fraudulent form, Sanders said: "I don't know."

Giuliani said the payment was not a campaign finance violation, but also acknowledged that Daniels' hushed-up allegations could have affected the campaign, saying: "Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton."

Questions remain about just what Trump knew and when.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is seeking to be released from a non-disclosure deal she signed in the days before the 2016 election to keep her from talking about a 2006 sexual encounter she said she had with Trump. She has also filed defamation suits against Cohen and Trump.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One several weeks ago, Trump said he did not know about the payment or where the money came from. In a phone interview with "Fox and Friends" last week, however, he appeared to muddy the waters, saying that Cohen represented him in the "crazy Stormy Daniels deal."

Sanders said Thursday that Trump "eventually learned" about the payment, but she did not offer details.

For all the controversy Giuliani stirred up, some Trump supporters said it was wise to get the payment acknowledgement out in the open.

Said former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: "You know, there's an old saying in the law, 'Hang a lantern on your problems.' ... So the fact is that Rudy has to go out there now and clean it up. That's what lawyers get hired to do."

Daniels herself weighed in via Twitter, saying: "I don't think Cohen is qualified to 'clean up' my horse's manure. Too soon?"

Her attorney, Michael Avenatti, who engaged in his own press tour Thursday, slammed both Trump and Giuliani.

"The admissions by Mr. Giuliani as to Mr. Trump's conduct and the acts of Mr. Cohen are directly contrary to the lies previously told to the American people," he said. "There will ultimately be severe consequences."

Trump is facing mounting legal threats from the Cohen-Daniels situation and the special counsel's investigation of Russian meddling in the election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

Cohen is facing a criminal investigation in New York, and FBI agents raided his home and office several weeks ago seeking records about the Daniels nondisclosure agreement. Giuliani has warned Trump that he fears Cohen, the president's longtime personal attorney, will "flip," bending in the face of a potential prison sentence, and he has urged Trump to cut off communications with him, according to a person close to Giuliani.

The president's self-proclaimed legal fixer has been surprised and concerned by Trump's recent stance toward him, according to a Cohen confidant. Cohen was dismayed to hear Trump marginalize his role during an interview last week with "Fox & Friends" and interpreted a recent negative National Enquirer cover story as a warning shot from a publication that has long been cozy with Trump, said the person who was not authorized to talk about private conversations and spoke only on condition of anonymity. Cohen also had not indicated to friends that Trump's legal team was going to contradict his original claim that he was not reimbursed for the payment to Daniels.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and U.S. attorney, joined Trump's legal team last month. He told CNN on Thursday that the announcement of Trump's repayment of the hush money was a planned strategy, saying: "You won't see daylight between me and the president." He was quickly backed up by Trump, who said on Twitter that he had repaid Cohen.

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Sioux City Assessor's Office sending appraisers to review residential properties


SIOUX CITY -- In an effort to refine the process of setting its biennial property valuations, the Sioux City Assessor's Office has begun sending teams of appraisers to review the city's residential properties. 

The office aims to review each of Sioux City's approximately 27,000 residential parcels once every six years, which city assessor John Lawson said is in line with a guideline set by the International Association of Assessing Officers.

"They're going to go from neighborhood to neighborhood looking to see if the information we have on the house or property is correct," Lawson said. "They're looking for anything maybe that's been added that we did not get a permit for, if there's new construction -- a garage added or a deck or something like that."

Four city appraisers began the process Wednesday and will continue through the end of the summer. Lawson said they will travel in pairs, driving marked city cars and carrying city IDs. He said appraisers may knock on doors to obtain permission to take measurements or ask property owners questions. 

If homeowners decline to allow an inspection, Lawson said appraisers will estimate the information, which likely will affect the accuracy of the assessment. 

Lawson -- who entered the position last year after serving as the assessor in Clay County, Iowa -- said he decided to start the new process after finding the city for several years has not had a regular cycle of checking up on the properties. 

"Things change, both good and bad," he said of properties. "Some people do a lot of upkeep on their properties, some people don't do a whole lot." 

In Clay County, Lawson said his office drove by each of the approximately 5,000 residential properties each year. He said he hopes the city can cycle through each property in Sioux City over a six-year period, but he will monitor how this year's process goes to see if that is a realistic time frame. 

City and county assessors are required by state law every two years to reset valuations, factoring in local sales, new construction and changes to individual parcels. The valuations are used to calculate local property taxes. 

The Sioux City Assessor's Office last spring released new valuations on the property, with residential values climbing an average of 11 percent. Nearly 1,000 Sioux City property owners appealed their valuations. The office will release updated valuations next year.

Upon the retirement of former city assessor Al Jordan last year, the Sioux City Council decided to keep the position of city assessor rather than combine it with the Woodbury County Assessor's Office, as proposed by the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors.  

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's Brad Streeter sets up the area ahead of the opening night at Battery Park. The venue's new stage, more substantially-built than the old one, will be better-able to accommodate big lights and video elements.