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Govt-and-politics
Downtown hotel project divides challengers, incumbents in council race

SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City Council's decision to allow a developer to build a five-story hotel on the current Sioux City Convention Center parking lot drew ire from several residents when the project passed in June.

It has remained a sore subject for some leading up to Tuesday's election, and the candidates challenging the three incumbent City Council members looking to retain their seats say they would have taken a different approach to the vote.

At the same time, incumbents stand by their votes, saying they believe the project was the best move given the circumstances and will be a vital step in moving the community forward. 

On June 5, The Sioux City Council voted 4-1 in favor of entering into a development agreement with Kinseth Hospitality Inc., a North Liberty, Iowa-based developer, for construction of a hotel adjoining the Sioux City Convention Center on Fourth Street. Mayor Bob Scott cast the lone dissenting vote. 

As part of the agreement, the city will grant Kinseth up to $6 million in tax rebates to construct the $20.2 million hotel, as well as spend more than $5 million -- using mostly state funding -- to upgrade the Convention Center and build an adjacent 140-space parking garage to serve hotel guests. 

Provided 

The above design from Ramaker & Associates Inc. shows the new configuration of the proposed downtown parking structure, as well as the new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel and additions to the Sioux City Convention Center. The City Council approved the above configuration during a meeting last month. 

The hotel serves as a cornerstone piece of the Sioux City Reinvestment District, a project that includes five large-scale development projects that will receive $13.5 million in state funding through the Iowa Economic Development Authority. The IEDA's award will be repaid through the state's portion of hotel and sales taxes on the properties over a 20-year period.

Candidate Doug Waples, who has voiced his beef with the council's decision on the hotel project several times throughout his campaign, said several people he has talked with have taken issue with the city's decision on the location. 

Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

Waples

"Not one person I've talked to has come up to me and said, 'Boy, that hotel downtown is a really good deal,'" he said.

Waples said he would have rather pursued an alternate location for the project, such as the former Riviera Theatre site. He said he also takes issue with how the current hotel designs provide a narrow path for trucks backing in to access the back of the convention center. 

"I personally think it’s going to kill the back of the convention center because you won’t be able to load in and out of that overhead door," he said.

Denny Quinn, another challenger, referred to other empty buildings downtown and said he would have liked to have seen the council look into another option.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Quinn

"I don't know why we're building a hotel that will take up that area of parking," he said. "I would have probably looked for other alternatives."

Candidate Jake Jungers has said he supports the Reinvestment District project as a whole but would not have voted for the hotel as is. He said he wishes a refurbishment of the existing Howard Johnson hotel, which is connected to the Sioux City Convention Center via skywalk, would have been possible, although city officials have been adamant that such an avenue had already been explored. 

Ian Richardson / Provided 

Jungers

"I think they should have done a better job of educating people first instead of rushing into it," Jungers said. 

City Council members have said they believe the hotel in its current location provides the best option to boost downtown's appeal for hosting conventions and thus reducing the annual subsidy paid by the city.

Councilman Dan Moore said he wishes the city would have been able to find a way to rehabilitate the nearby Howard Johnson, but that when those expectations were found to be unrealistically expensive and did not interest developers, a new hotel became the best choice. 

Moore

"Do I wish that things might have worked out a little different with the city with the other hotel? Sure," Moore said. "But the money wasn't there. There were a lot of factors that the stars didn't line up for that to happen." 

Moore said while he understands people's issues with losing the surface parking lot across the street from the convention center, he believes the city will be able to find alternative locations elsewhere to lessen the impact. 

Moore also said he wants the council to ensure the logistics of how trucks will back in and out will be feasible for drivers. 

Like Moore, Councilman Pete Groetken said he has heard the arguments against the project, including from within the local hotel industry. Groetken said he would have been receptive to plans to renovate the Howard Johnson had they been feasible. 

Groetken

"What I mention to a lot of people is you don't understand is that the hotel is owned by a corporation that has the ability to upgrade if they wanted to. They've chosen not to," he said. "If they would be, I would be willing to work with that hotel." 

Watters

Councilman Alex Watters said he spoke with developers about the Howard Johnson renovation, and the numbers came back too high. He said he believes the hotel will give the Convention Center a needed boost and create more of a market for that space. 

"I wish, I really do, that the Howard Johnson renovation was more feasible, but when you crunch the numbers it wasn't," Watters said. "It would have been irresponsible of taxpayer dollars to go down that road."

Work could begin as early as this fall on the hotel site. While the vote has passed, the next City Council will oversee construction of the new hotel as well as renovations to the convention center and the new parking deck, including the necessary decisions associated with them. 


Ian Richardson / Provided 

Above is a rendering of the Courtyard by Marriott hotel planned for construction next to the Convention Center in downtown Sioux City.


Crime-and-courts
Fugitive finders
Siouxland's Most Wanted nets 500th fugitive

SIOUX CITY | Siouxland's Most Wanted had its 500th outlaw snagged last month.

Chad McCormick, who leads the U.S. Marshals Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force effort in Sioux City, said the weekly media push is so successful because of Siouxland.   

"I think a lot of it has to do with where we live," said McCormick. "The Midwest folks, they aren't very tolerant of criminals. If the town is small enough, a lot of times people know the victims. Any crime is considered close to home because it is such a small town. I think the Midwest values play a huge part in it."

The Marshals' Siouxland's Most Wanted started in 2009. The federal law enforcement entity sends the Journal and local TV station KMEG photos and information about wanted fugitives that are featured in weekly posts asking for the public's help in obtaining clues to their whereabouts. 

"We'll go through the warrants that have been recently issued and we will pick out a final warrant: Burglary, robbery, sexual assault, murder, sex offenders, parole violations with a violent charge, escapes. We will just pull those types of warrants out and start looking for them," McCormick said. "That’s the process. There is no rocket science behind it. We just look for violent fugitives."   

The task force consists of officers from multiple area agencies. A lot of the fugitives they seek do not make it to the public eye.  

"We always don’t just throw somebody onto the Most Wanted, typically if we can quietly work somebody -- and for lack of a better word -- sneak up on them, that’s what we prefer doing," said Joe Bukovich, who is a Woodbury County Sheriff Deputy assigned to the task force. "Usually, when somebody goes on (Siouxland’s) Most Wanted we kind of start running out of leads and need the public’s help for more information."

About 70 fugitives on the wanted list get caught each year, the two said. However, the entire U.S. Marshal's Northern District of Iowa (which consists of the upper part of the state divided by Highway 30) arrests about 400 criminals with warrants out for their arrest. McCormick estimates about half of those are caught in Siouxland. 

The task force office, located in the Federal Building in Sioux City, is constantly working about 15 files and often solicits help from other U.S. Marshal Districts around the country if a tip tells them a fugitive is in their jurisdiction.

Once the notice of a fugitive's warrant is made public, tips often come to the rescue.  

"It has really helped in a lot of cases when we were dead in the water and we didn’t have anything," Bukovich said.  

Tips have come in from as far as the southern tip of Mexico to New York, McCormick said. 

Mitchell Meyer, of Correctionville, Iowa, was on the run for 10 years. 

"And in the words of the investigating deputy sheriff, he was a prolific sexual offender," McCormick said.

The task force took to Siouxland's Most Wanted for what seemed like a cold case. 

Shortly after it was published, "We got a call that (Meyer) is in this town at this address in Mexico. We had him arrested down there and we basically had him deported as an undesirable. That’s how we ended up catching him," McCormick said. 

"Criminals are really 1 percent of the population. (By) using media, interviews, the more eyes we can get out there the better," McCormick added. "It's not just us. Every (law enforcement agency) relies on the public. This entire area has not let us down."

McCormick, a 16-year veteran in the Marshal's Service, said taking a violent criminal off the street is rewarding. 

"We live here. We want our kids, our community to be as safe as we can leave it when we retire," McCormick said. "We work very hard to make sure this city is safer than it was yesterday."

If residents have any information on any wanted fugitive they can call the Northern Iowa Fugitive Task Force at 712-252-0211 or email siouxlands.mostwanted@usdoj.gov


Gallagher
GALLAGHER: Rossie mayor makes but one promise

ROSSIE, Iowa | Mayor Matt Starkson of Rossie makes zero campaign signs, conducts no campaign outings and has nothing to show in the way of a media blitz.

His campaign amounts to a five-word pledge: "I'll serve if I'm elected."

Starkson, a two-time incumbent mayor serving this Clay County town of 70 residents, follows a tradition observed here, a community where true democracy springs from the grassroots: He doesn't file papers or place his name on the ballot.

In Rossie, others follow suit. This is one town where everyone who wins on Tuesday will triumph via write-in.

Triumph? The term may depend on your viewpoint.

"It's a lot of work and responsibility," said Starkson, 35. "It's something like community service."

Starkson and his council members aren't getting rich. He makes $200 per year as mayor. Council members Beth Starkson (the mayor's mother), Barb Trierweiler, Colleen Lundquist, Eric Kreiger and Jack Tewes earn $15 per council meeting, gatherings that occur about 10 times per year.

"We meet during the even months (February, April, June, etc.) and for something like the budget," Matt Starkson said. "We'll also meet in January to swear in the new council."

That's what happened in January 2013, when Starkson transitioned from his position on the city council to the mayoral post. He was joined by council members, who, like him, earned their titles quietly, via write-in. Matt Starkson joined the city council after earning eight write-in votes in November 2011. He tied his mother as top vote-getter that fall.

TGallagher / Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

Rossie Mayor Matt Starkson sits outside his home at Rossie, Iowa. For the third straight election, Starkson, 35, was elected on Nov. 7 as mayor as the candidate with the most write-in votes. In at least eight other Northwest Iowa towns, mayors were elected as write-in candidates this year.

Beth Starkson once told me she recalled one person campaigning for the mayoral position in Rossie by driving a hay wagon through town with a sign bearing the candidate's name. That was it.

"I don't remember the last time a mayor or a council member had their name on a ballot," Matt Starkson said.

Rossie isn't alone this election cycle. There are a few Northwest Iowa towns that have blank lines next to "Mayor" and "City Council" on their ballots. In Ashton, for example, the city ballot appears blank, although the mayor and three members of the city council do seek re-election.

Mayor Pat DeVries said he and his fellow council members simply didn't get their nomination papers returned to the Osceola County auditor by the filing deadline.

"It was our fault," DeVries said.

DeVries, who, like Starkson, has zero campaign signs, hopes to win re-election, allowing him to continue some of the work he and the current council have done in their community.

TGallagher / Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

For the past several years, ballots for the Rossie city election have been devoid of candidates' names. The mayor and members of the city council have been elected via write-in. This ballot is taped to the window of the former grocery store in Rossie, Iowa. 

"I think everyone should do some sort of public service," said DeVries, mayor the past six years.

Donna Shaw, mayor in Mapleton, agrees with DeVries. In fact, her belief that everyone should take a turn in the public service sector played a role in her keeping her name off the ballot this election. Shaw is currently in her third stint as mayor in the Monona County town.

"I was having a little attitude at the time, so I didn't turn my (nomination) papers in," said Shaw, who laughed about it.

Shaw, who has since let voters know she's a write-in candidate for mayor, said she grew weary of the criticism that often accompanies wielding the gavel. Thinking that others who were vocal in their critiques might step up and place their name on the ballot, Shaw stood back to give them the opportunity.

When nobody filed papers, the Monona County auditor published a ballot featuring a blank spot in the mayor's race.

"I'm a write-in for mayor," Shaw concluded. "We'll see if anyone else is."

Moorhead, Paullina, Mattlock, Arion, Oyens, Deloit, Westside and Webb are some of the towns that have no names for mayor on the ballot. Several communities have council positions that appear the same way.

Contrast that with Buck Grove, a hamlet of 42 residents in Crawford County, where two men vie for the mayor's post while seven residents, one-seventh the town's population, seek city council seats.

Back at Rossie, where the blank ballot is posted at city hall and the gas station across the street, Starkson said, "Nobody has said a word about our election."

That doesn't mean there aren't issues in this community nine miles from the county seat, Spencer. Starkson said he and the council have worked with Northwest Iowa Planning and Development to update city ordinances in their effort to address properties in need of repair.

Other properties, though few in number, have nuisances such as old vehicles that have sat, neglected for years, once valuable assets that have become eyesores and health hazards.

"Northwest Iowa Planning and Development is an independent company that will take pictures of properties that need improvements or have nuisances," the mayor said. "They bring those photos to the city council and the council goes forward with what they need to have done with them."

In a small town, where everyone knows everyone else, it can become personal.

"It's a touchy subject," Starkson said. "Everyone knows everyone else and there are people who sometimes feel like they're being singled out."

TGallagher / Tim Gallagher, Sioux City Journal 

The minutes of city council meetings in Rossie, Iowa, are placed in a case on the east side of Rossie City Hall. The council meets once every other month. Matt Starkson currently serves as mayor.

Starkson said that, while difficult, these are the necessary steps to take in making his hometown the best place it can be. And, really, that's his motivation as the head of city government.

"If people elect you, you do it because you want to make the town you live in better," he said.

So, if elected, Mayor Matt Starkson will again make good on his only campaign pledge: He'll serve.