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Siouxland students plan walkout over school gun deaths

SERGEANT BLUFF -- Seeking to make sure the public doesn't forget about victims of recent school shootings, many Siouxland students plan to walk out of classes Wednesday.

Students at most metro Sioux City schools plan to participate in the #Enough National School Walkout to End Gun Violence. At 10 a.m. Central time Wednesday, organizers have called for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 students and staff members killed in Parkland, Florida, by a lone 19-year-old male shooter on Valentine's Day.

As many as 1,965 schools and organizations across the country are scheduled to join the protest, where students will express their views on gun control and school safety.

Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School senior Kaia Cullenward said she wants to remember the victims and show solidarity with survivors from the shootings in Florida and other states. She also likes the message that gun violence in schools will no longer be tolerated.

"This has hit everyone really hard," Cullenward said. "School shootings are becoming too common."

Cullenward said she she doesn't know how many SB-L students will participate, but estimated it will be the majority.

"A lot of people are passionate about it," Cullenward said.

While some school administrators have taken a hard line, promising to suspend students who leave classes, metro school leaders say they have no plans to quash local walkouts.


"Sergeant Bluff-Luton students will not be disciplined for their involvement in the planned March 14th walkout. We are working with our students to make sure the walkout is organized and safe for all involved," SB-L Superintendent Rod Earleywine said.

Sioux City school superintendent Paul Gausman said district officials will express their support for any students who chose to participate in Wednesday's walkout. The district followed that same policy when a group of West Middle School students staged a protest during school hours to advocate for stricter gun laws, a week after the Parkland shooting.


"When a collective group, like our student body, takes interest in national politics to help make a difference in the world, we as a district support them and want to work with them to do so in a positive and meaningful manner," Gausman said in a statement. 

Gausman added the "demonstrations must remain respectful," and that oversight by school employees will be given to ensure student safety. He said students must remain on school grounds, and "they are expected to return to class with little disruption. If students comply with our requests to administer respectful demonstrations, there will be no negative consequences given to students."

A public Facebook page was created to share details about the planned walkout Wednesday at North High School. As of midday Monday, 93 people said they planned to participate.

One post on the Facebook page says, "This is a peaceful, student-led walkout to protest Congress’ inaction after mass shootings. We want to see definitive action that will insure safety in our school...We want to show that students’ voices matter! Using the hashtag #enough raise your voice about the issues surrounding gun violence in schools."

Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder for fatally shooting students and adults with an assault-style rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in an open letter Monday, urged public school officials to "allow students to demonstrate peacefully without punishment ...and ensure that policies regarding on-campus speech allow ample room for public discussion."

South Sioux City School District Todd Stromm said there will be events, including assemblies, at South Sioux schools for many grade levels, to make sure the day plays out in a safe manner.

"Our administrators are working collaboratively with students, counselors and teachers to plan events that day," Stromm said.

Cullenward noted there are SB-L students on both sides of the debate over whether additional gun control measures would help curb school shootings.

"I personally believe there should be restrictions on the types of guns that people can get," Cullenward said, adding that lawmakers also should expand background checks for those purchasing firearms.

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A celebration of oratory
Wayne State students speak up for World Speech Day

WAYNE, Neb. -- Check out any social media site and you might reach the conclusion that no one is shy about sharing an opinion.

The likes of Twitter and Facebook are filled with comments about the big issues of the day or things much more insignificant.

But ask someone to actually stand up in public and speak, giving a real voice and face to that opinion? Most people would probably opt to remain cloaked in the anonymity of posting a message online.

On Monday, a number of Wayne State College students grabbed a microphone in the Kanter Student Center and shared what they thought about topics great and small in observance of World Speech Day, a three-year-old international observance aimed at celebrating speeches and speech-making and their ability to cause change.

"It's great that we can get out and express what we want to. I think this event is great for college campuses. It's a way for students to come out and have their voices heard," said Cortney Reuter, a junior from Martinsburg, Nebraska, who talked about why books are better than movies.

Reuter was one of many members of Teresa Morales' persuasion class to speak at the event. An assistant communication professor, Morales had students take part in the inaugural World Speech Day in 2016 at the Oklahoma college where she was teaching. Since coming to Wayne State last year, Morales has continued to encourage students to take part.

Morales sees public speaking as a way to encourage people to not only speak out, but to listen to another person's opinion and engage in a discussion.

"People are afraid to speak up nowadays," Morales said. "We're afraid to step on people's toes if they don't like what we think."

According to the World Speech Day website, events in more than 90 countries will involve people of all ages. The day, created by an English speech writer and novelist, is observed on March 15. Morales chose to have Wayne State's event a few days early in conjunction with the Undergraduate Communication Research Conference taking place on campus.

Monday's speakers hit on topics serious -- Why President Trump's upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a good thing -- to the not-so-serious -- Why you shouldn't take cats for a walk. Some of the students read from note cards or a transcript; a couple decided to wing it, not deciding on a topic until they stood up to speak.

One of the more enthusiastic speakers, Reuter's continual hand motions added emphasis to her points.

"I love public speaking," she would later say.

Other members of Morales' class who were required to speak Monday seemed a little less at ease, giving a huge sigh of relief when finished. Austin Gubbels, a senior from Randolph, Nebraska, volunteered to go first, speaking on why college athletes should be paid. His calm delivery hid any trepidation he might have had about speaking in front of classmates and strangers.

"It wasn't as bad once I got talking and got it over with," Gubbels said.

Students passing by gave a few curious glances toward those who were speaking, but none of them accepted Morales' invitation to stand up and speak.

Morales seemed unfazed by those who were unwilling to speak. To hear what those who did speak had to say was more important.

"It's really hard for students to speak out," she said.

Days like World Speech Day hopefully will encourage more people to say something, anything, if it will get more public dialogue flowing. Today's world could use more public discussions, Morales said, especially among its younger people.

"We've taught an entire generation how not to engage," she said.

For a few minutes at a time Monday, students shared their opinions. Once finished speaking, a few carried on a discussion of their topic with classmates.

There were no fights, no immediate dismissals of differing opinions as stupid or misinformed, as one might see on Twitter.

Everyone's got something to say. World Speech Day might help people once again politely listen to what's being said.

In stunner, Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix quits

DES MOINES — Hours after a video was posted online appearing to show Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix kissing a female lobbyist, the senator shocked his caucus Monday by immediately resigning — leaving the GOP to quickly find a new floor general who could usher through tax cuts and other conservative priorities.

Dix, R-Shell Rock, an 18-year veteran of the Iowa Legislature, quit both his leadership position and his District 25 seat. In a short statement, he resigned effective at 2 p.m. Monday.


“This has taken everybody by surprise,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Jerry Behn, R-Boone, a past leader of the Senate GOP caucus.

“I’m shocked. I think everybody is, but we’ve got a job to do,” said Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, who filled in for Dix as the floor leader, calling up bills during Monday’s Senate debate. “That’s why people elected us — to come here and do a job and we’re going to stay focused on that job.”

Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, declined to comment after a closed-door GOP caucus. But his office issued a statement later.

“I believe he made the right decision for himself and for his district, but most importantly, I believe he made the decision in the best interest of his family,” Whitver said in his statement.

“Senate Republicans will continue to move the policies Iowans elected us to pursue,” he added. “After discussions with the Republican caucus this afternoon, an election to fill the position of Iowa Senate majority leader will be held on Wednesday.”

Dix, a third-generation farmer who was born and raised on his family farm near Janesville, met with fellow Republicans for about 15 minutes behind closed doors in a Senate committee room. Staffers had placed a large white board in front of the glass window to keep TV cameras, reporters or others from seeing inside the room.

“It was somber. It was sad,” Schneider said of the mood in the meeting, where Dix indicated he would stop down. “There was anger as well.”

Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, who attended the meeting, said Dix “did the right thing for himself, for his family and for Iowans today and I think as a caucus we’ll move forward.”


Dix’s departure came only a few hours after the Iowa Startling Line website posted a video it said it had obtained of Dix and the lobbyist sitting at the bar March 1 at the Waveland Tap. The video, which was taken by a customer at the bar the website did not identify, shows the two flirting and kissing.

The lobbyist in the video, Lindsey McCune, did not respond to messages by phone and text from The Gazette. One of the clients she represents, the Iowa League of Cities, issued a brief statement: “We are taking what we believe are appropriate actions, but because this is a personnel matter we cannot comment further.”

Behn, Schneider, Bertrand and others declined to speculate on who might emerge as the next Senate majority leader, calling it “the will of the caucus.”

But Behn said Monday’s distraction would be short-lived as lawmakers push toward Friday’s funnel deadline and next month’s expected adjournment.

“Everything we did, we did as a caucus,” Behn said. “We weren’t following what Bill said. We all worked together on this. I think the process will proceed pretty much on schedule.”

Earlier in the day, Gov. Kim Reynolds expressed “extreme disappointment” and told reporters at her weekly morning news conference she planned to meet privately with Dix.

“With what little I know, I’m certainly disappointed in what I’m hearing,” Reynolds told reporters.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 


“I think Iowans holds their elected officials to a high standard. They expect us to lead and I expect to lead,” the governor said. “I want to know the facts. I’m extremely disappointed in what I’m hearing but until I have an opportunity to hear the story I’m not going to comment yet.”

But by early afternoon, Dix had made the decision to end his Senate stay in the final year of his second term.

He previously served in the Iowa House for five terms and was elected to the Iowa Senate in 2010 and became majority leader after the 2016 election. He represented Butler, Grundy, Hardin and Story counties.

Sen. David Johnson, an Ocheyedan independent who left the Republican Party in 2016 over differences with now-GOP President Donald Trump, said he had not seen the video but noted he had heard similar reports about Dix before Monday, telling reporters “this is nothing new.”


“We don’t need this ongoing story about where Senate Republican leadership is on these issues dealing with women,” said Johnson.

Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines issued a statement calling the video “a serious matter” that follows Dix’s failure to take responsibility for the $1.75 million settlement that resulted from a sexual harassment brought by former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson.

Anderson asserted she was fired in 2013 after complaining of a toxic work environment in the Senate. A jury last year found in her favor, and the state later agreed to the payout in exchange for it dropping its appeal.

Dix faced pressure for initially refusing to release a review of sexual harassment at the Statehouse, let later relented.

Dix’s resignation, Petersen said, gives GOP senators an opportunity to “finally get it right and change a culture at the Iowa Capitol.”

“Republican senators have an obligation to elect a new leader who will take responsibility for the sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation against former Senate Republican staffer Kirsten Anderson by Republican senators and staff. After footing the bill for a $1.75 million settlement in Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit against Senate Republicans, Iowa taxpayers deserve nothing less,” she said.

“It is shameful that the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim,” Petersen added.

Reynolds said she hoped the majority party leaders could “move on” with the 2018 session in pushing plans to cut taxes, balance the budget and address other GOP priorities.

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

Heelan's Elijah Hazekamp shoots as Le Mars' Gabe Eckstaine defends during basketball action at Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday, February 23, 2017. (Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal)

Sioux City stockyards area receiving odor complaints

SIOUX CITY | Sioux City has received nearly a dozen odor complaints related to a location in the former stockyards area, city staff said Monday.

City Council members during Monday's meeting declined to specify the offending location but encouraged anyone experiencing rotten smells to report the odors to the city.

"We can't do a lot of things until we have a certain number of complaints," Mayor Bob Scott said. "But it certainly was rancid on Saturday night." 

Scott brought up the issue during the time allotted for council concerns and said the city was working with the industry. Utilities Director Mark Simms told the council the city has received 11 complaints so far, and he said the location has been visited by other government entities and Sioux City Fire Rescue in addition to city staff. 

Under city code, Simms said, the city can take steps in response to the complaints but is limited in the enforcement action it can make until a location receives 21 complaints. 

"I'm not advertising for more complaints," Simms said. "But certainly if there are concerns we need to hear about it and have the appropriate information given to us so that we can respond to that."

After the meeting, Simms said the city has been moving forward with the  applicable odor control steps laid out in city code and has set a March 31 date to receive an odor abatement plan from the industry. Simms said the facility has admitted it has a problem but has indicated it may currently be limited in ways to fully mitigate the odor. 

Odor complaints and abatement plans are reviewed by the city's Odor Control Committee, which includes up to four business representatives and four community representatives. 

Under the city's code, the city can take more enforcement action once a location is designated as a "significant odor generator." Such a designation requires a location to receive seven complaints within a 30-day period three times -- for a total of at least 21 complaints -- during a six-month period. Locations with offending odors that fail to take remedial action can be found guilty of a municipal infraction.

Sioux City residents can report foul odors anytime by calling the city's 24/7 odor hotline at 712-202-3160 or by filling out the odor complaint form on the city's website. 

Ian Richardson / Provided