SIOUX CITY | After 42 years as leader of Woodbury County's parks system, Rick Schneider is five days away from retirement but remains busy.
"There is no slacking to the end, I'll tell you that much," Schneider quipped, citing his ongoing work on two possible land acquisition projects.
"I told my wife, 'It is like a roller coaster that keeps going around and around and around to the end.' I suppose I'll just get flung off," he said.
A retirement reception for Schneider will be held from 1-4 p.m. Friday at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park. That will the 65-year-old's final day at work.
In April 1975, at age 22, Schneider began his career as director of the Woodbury County Conservation Board.
"I've spent a lifetime here...I guess that's why it is time for me to go," he said, with a laugh.
It was Schneider's first job after graduating from South Dakota State University. He had thought of steering towards a city recreation department and had a few years of summer internships at Wheat Ridge, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.
A native of Huron, South Dakota, Schneider also interviewed for Iowa county parks jobs in Montgomery and Lyon counties. He is glad the Woodbury County hiring went his way.
"For a kid at that time, (the salary) was $10,000, more money than I'd ever dreamed of," Schneider said.
He was pleased with the job offer, but added that beginning the work gave him an "Oh, my god, what have I done?" moment. Schneider said he felt comfortable with the complexity of the job relatively quickly, within a few months.
Schneider said he doubted a twentysomething with limited experience would be hired to lead the Woodbury County park system today. After all, the county system is much bigger than in 1975 -- growing from seven park areas to 16 and from a combined 750 acres to 5,665 acres. The director now oversees 17 full-time employees, plus another 20 summer seasonal workers, up from only five employees in 1975.
Schneider said the county has great public hunting areas, campgrounds, swimming pits, hiking areas and places to watch birds and hunt for mushrooms. The county conservation board oversees 16 outdoor options, including wildlife areas, nature preserves and parks such as Little Sioux Park south of Correctionville, Southwood Conservation Area near Smithland, and Brown's Lake-Bigelow Park and Snyder Bend Park, both near Salix.
Many of the conservation areas were in their infancy when he arrived. Cabins available for rent have been added to the parks in the last 10 years.
He put the introduction of cabins among the main achievements of his career, along with launching Southwood and Oak Ridge conservation areas, adding the Owego Wetland Complex, adding a trail and Little Sioux River bridge in Little Sioux Park and building the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, which Schneider said many people know about but don't realize it's a county property.
Schneider said his director job has been enjoyable, given the high degree of cooperation from employees, conservation board members and the county supervisors, who provide money for the parks budget annually. Schneider said he worked with 28 of the 33 conservation board members who have served the county since 1961.
Woodbury County Conservation Board member Christine Zellmer-Zant, of rural Sioux City, said Schneider was great to work with.
"When I came on the board, Rick was going full steam ahead improving our parks and increasing our public said," Zellmer-Zant said.
She added that Schneider had strong plans for equipment replacement and to get enough revenue for projects.
"He is passionate about his career and, more importantly, the quality of service and resources Woodbury County has to offer. Yes, he will be sorely missed," Zellmer-Zant said.
Schneider said the "semi-autonomous" nature of the county conservation board system in Iowa made for a pleasing work arrangement.
"You don't have the city (department) politics involved most time, you don't have the state (agency) whims," Schneider said.
Faced with the first director vacancy in four decades, the Woodbury County Conservation Board hired Daniel Heissel, of Clay County. Heissel has 27 years experience as a conservation director, 12 years with Pocahontas County and the last 15 at Clay County.
Heissel began working in the county on Nov. 1, in order to give some overlap training time with Schneider.
In retirement, Schneider said he will have more time for gardening, reading and visiting four grandchildren in Minnesota. He also plans to continue to enjoy the outdoors, and mulled a question on which county area he would visit on a free day for fun.
"I would probably go to Oak Ridge and hike. There are so many nooks and crannies...There are some absolutely beautiful areas out there," he said.
SIOUX CITY | Iowa 4th District Rep. Steve King on Friday twice declared that diversity is not an American strength and endorsed a European leader's view that "mixing cultures" leads to a lower quality of life.
In a tweet, King linked to a Voice of Europe story that quoted Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban as saying, 'Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.' "
King, a conservative Republican and leading critic of U.S. immigration policies, followed with a second tweet, "Assimilation has become a dirty word to the multiculturalist Left. Assimilation, not diversity, is our American strength."
The social media posts were King's latest take on the cultural shifts happening in Europe and how they intersect with U.S. culture.
The Kiron Republican has long contended that immigrant groups are best served by blending in strongly, or assimilating, into American culture. It was a topic he raised again in March, during the time after he tweeted about culture again.
King drew widespread criticism after a March 12 tweet in which he said America "can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies." The post was in support of a Dutch politician who opposes immigration and has spoken against Islam. King tweeted that Geert Wilders "understands that culture and demographics are our destiny."
King followed the controversial Tweet with several interviews on national outlets where he defended his comments. Critics accused King of racism and condemned the support the tweet received from some white nationalist leaders.
King also took to Twitter to address other immigration issues. In September, he blasted Republican President Donald Trump over reports of a potential immigration comprise with congressional Democrats.
King, who represents 39 counties in Northwest and North Central Iowa, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2002. One Republican, four Democrats and one Libertarian have announced plans to challenge him in the 2018 election.
SIOUX CITY | Sioux City plans to soon have the necessary contracts in place to transition management of two venues and its food services over to a Philadelphia-based firm at the start of next year.
City manager Bob Padmore told Sioux City's Events Facilities Advisory Board during a Friday meeting that he anticipates the city will have agreements with Spectra Venue Management in place by year's end to finalize the transition of management of food and beverage services and operations at the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre.
"Spectra's been on the ground in Sioux City almost constantly since the middle of November," Padmore said. "Our goal is to have everything done and in place so that everything flips over to Spectra Jan. 1."
Over the past few weeks, Spectra has been working through the hiring process, offering jobs to current employees and working through the on-boarding process. It has offered the position of general manager of the venues to current Events Facilities director Erika Newton, who said Friday she plans to accept the position.
Newton said that about 200 employees are in the process of transferring to either Spectra or to Kinseth Hospitality, the North Liberty, Iowa-based company taking over management of the Sioux City Convention Center, also on Jan. 1. Spectra has agreed to prioritize the hiring of current city employees.
To finalize the transition with Spectra, the Sioux City Council will consider two separate contracts over the next two weeks, Padmore said. The council will vote Monday on a food and beverage agreement and vote next week on a venue management agreement.
The contract up for a vote Monday will cover food and beverage services at the Tyson Events Center, Sioux Gateway Airport and IBP Ice Center. It must go into effect Jan. 1 because the city's contract with its current caterer, Centerplate, expires at the end of the year.
The Sioux City Convention Center's food services will fall under the separate management of Kinseth Hospitality Inc., which will on Jan. 1. also take over management of that city-owned venue as it prepares to begin construction on a brand-new adjoining hotel.
Centerplate employees are in the process of applying and receiving offers to work for either Spectra or Kinseth.
Pam Plageman, a regional vice president with Spectra, said the company is working through the on-boarding process with five current full-time food service employees and also met with 40 current part-time employees at a recent job fair about working with them. It is also receiving applications for a food and beverage general manager.
Representatives of Werner Park in Omaha, Nebraska, will be assisting with the transition of food services, Plageman said.
Plageman said as part of its opening steps, Spectra will purchase Sioux City's existing concession inventory and gradually introduce new items at the various venues.
"It's going to be small, subtle changes," Plageman said. "It's not going to be a big 'push the green light and everything's different.' That will happen, but that's the 90 and 120-day plan."
Newton said she's excited that Spectra plans to bring more of a Sioux City feel into the venue.
"What Spectra is really doing is executing a strategy that we've really wanted to execute for a long time," she said. "Going out to local restaurateurs or local business owners and infuse more flavor into the Tyson Events Center, so that it feels more like a Sioux City experience."
Under the terms of the contract up for a vote Monday, the city will receive a percentage of gross revenue for sales at the venues. The commission includes the following percentages:
--Forty percent for all concession food sales up to $750,000 and 45.5 percent for all sales above $750,000.
--Thirty percent for all concession alcohol sales up to $500,000 and 35 percent for all sales above $500,000.
--Thirty percent on all catering sales up to $150,000 and 35 percent for all sales above $150,000.
--Ten percent of all off-premise catering sales.
--An amount to be decided on merchandise sales at Sioux Gateway Airport.
In addition, Spectra will invest $300,000 for design services, leasehold improvements and capital equipment for food and beverage services. Part of that will go toward upgrading the kitchen at the Tyson Events Center, Plageman said.
Sioux City began exploring private management as a way to reduce the annual subsidy paid by taxpayers to operate its venues. Spectra believes it can lower the city's subsidy by $500,000 in three years.
The 10,000-seat Tyson has been owned and run by the city since it opened in 2003. The Orpheum is independently owned and jointly operated with the city.
The council voted 4-0 on Oct. 16 to enter contract negotiations with Spectra, which runs Wells Fargo Center, home to the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers, and Citizens Bank Park, home to the Philadelphia Phillies, following a long consideration of proposals that also included the Ames, Iowa-based management company VenuWorks and a comparison proposal from city staff to maintain city management.
The first event Spectra will have a hand in will be the CNOS Foundation Basketball Classic Jan. 4-6 at the Tyson.