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Sioux City begins Lent with on-the-go ashes

SIOUX CITY | For some people, the season of Lent began Wednesday not at a church, but at the Courthouse, or at Morningside College, or at the Warming Shelter, or even at Hy-Vee. 

A number of them didn't even leave their cars to get an ash cross drawn on their forehead. 

Rev. Jeff Swanson, pastor at St. John Lutheran Church, said about 100 people took advantage of the on-the-go ashes available through the "Ashes 2 Go" initiative, at seven locations around town on Wednesday. 

"I think it was well-received through the community," Swanson said. 

At the Warming Shelter, where ashes were offered from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., Swanson said he heard nearly everyone took some ashes. 

"I did speak with one woman who said that she hadn't been marked with ashes for many years, and felt it a necessary and important way to begin her Lenten journey," he said. "Now, what that meant for her personally, I don't know what kind of journey she's anticipating." 

This was the second Ash Wednesday where Sioux City congregations offered mobile ash services. Swanson sees it as a good thing for churches to be more active in the community, and interact with those who don't attend services as often. 

"I think people are wanting for the church to be outside of the building, and I think the church is learning to be more engaged in peoples' lives outside of the structure of, 'This is the way we've always done it, inside these walls, behind these doors,'" he said. "I'm encouraged by that." 

Nonprofit agency reaches tentative settlement with former Argosy owner

SIOUX CITY  | A Sioux City nonprofit agency and the owners of the former Argosy Sioux City riverboat casino have reached a tentative settlement of a lawsuit seeking nearly $1.8 million in unpaid revenue-sharing funds.

Finalizing the settlement could still take time while attorneys decide the best way to do so.

Attorneys for Community Action Agency of Siouxland and the Belle of Sioux City, which operated the Argosy, and Penn National Gaming Inc., the Belle's parent company, notified U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Mahoney last week of the tentative settlement.

Community Action Agency sued in November 2016 for $1.93 million in monthly revenue-sharing payments that Belle and Penn withheld from Missouri River Historical Development Inc. The nonprofit agency is seeking the money on behalf of itself and as many as 54 other nonprofit groups that in the past have received grants from MRHD, the state-licensed nonprofit gaming group that collected and distributed a portion of Argosy gambling profits to charitable and civic organizations.

The amount being sought has been reduced to $1.79 million after it was discovered Belle had made one more monthly payment than initially believed.

Both attorneys in the case -- Terry Giebelstein, of Davenport, Iowa, who represents Community Action Agency of Siouxland, and Mark Weinhardt, of Des Moines, who represents Belle -- declined to comment.

In an order filed last week in U.S. District Court in Sioux City, Mahoney said the settlement is complicated by the class-action allegations involving the numerous nonprofits. The case has yet to be certified as a class action, a sometimes lengthy process. Mahoney said attorneys believe that a more efficient option could be to obtain a declaratory order from the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, which regulates state gambling activities.

Mahoney did not move the scheduled June 11 trial date.

It's not yet know if involving the IRGC is possible.

IRGC administrator Brian Ohorilko said Wednesday that the commission has been informed of the tentative settlement, but no formal request for action has been made by either side.

"We're aware of it and the ideas that have been presented to us with no formal request," Ohorilko said.

If and when such a request is made, Ohorilko said the IRGC would need to consult with the Iowa Attorney General's Office for advice on whether the IRGC can take whatever action might be sought.

In order to be placed on the agenda of the IRGC's next meeting March 6, a request would be needed by Feb. 22, Ohorilko said.

Belle stopped making the revenue-sharing payments -- 3 percent of the boat's adjusted gross revenues -- to MRHD in May 2013, seven months after it had sued MRHD for breach of contract.

The monthly payments ceased two months after the IRGC awarded Woodbury County's first land-based gaming license to MRHD and developers of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which opened in downtown Sioux City on Aug. 1, 2014, two days after state regulators ordered the Argosy to close because its state gaming license had expired.

Though it is not a party to the Community Action Agency lawsuit, MRHD executive director Mark Monson said he was happy to hear that a potential settlement had been reached.

"I hope this is over," he said. "It's time to move forward."

The breach of contract lawsuit involving MRHD is pending in Polk County District Court. MRHD has countersued in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial in September in Des Moines.

Sergeant Bluff considers legalizing fireworks discharge in July

SERGEANT BLUFF | Revelers in Sergeant Bluff could have a new reason to rejoice when Independence Day rolls around. 

Sergeant Bluff is considering legalizing fireworks discharge for its residents for four days in July and one day in December. The move comes a year after the state Legislature handed cities and counties the power to allow fireworks discharge for the first time in eight decades.

The City Council on Tuesday approved the first reading of an ordinance that would allow fireworks discharge on July 1 through 4 and the evening of Dec. 31. 

Hours would stretch 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the three days leading up to July 4, with an hour extension on July 4 itself. New Year's Eve would start at 4:30 Dec. 31 and extend until 1 a.m. Jan. 1.

City administrator Aaron Lincoln said when the state Legislature last May gave cities the power to allow fireworks discharge, it was difficult to respond in the short window of time before Independence Day. He said the City Council that year opted to keep discharge illegal but to show leniency to those shooting them within reason. 

"Technically it was still banned, but basically our police --- at the direction of the council -- were told don't be writing tickets unless there's something obvious, like minors shooting them off or someone who's drunk," Lincoln said. 

Lincoln said this year, city staff and the council looked for a way to balance displays of patriotism with respect for neighbors. 

"There's a patriotic part of doing it, family tradition," he said. "But at the same time people need to be respectful of others." 

Lincoln said a Facebook poll of community members last year showed about a 50-50 divide on whether fireworks should be banned, with many of the problems being discharge while people were trying to sleep. City staff are hoping the proposed limitations on the hours will help keep discharge from going too late for residents, he said. 

Tuesday, the council made tweaks to a previous draft of the ordinance, clarifying language about which July dates were included and shortening the discharge window on New Year's Eve to one night.

"It's only the first time that we're allowing it, and I just don't like to see something get out of hand and then you take it away," Councilman Ron Hanson said Tuesday regarding New Year's Eve discharge. "I'd rather, if it goes good, add to it." 

The proposed ordinance also prohibits people under 18 or people who are intoxicated from shooting fireworks. 

If the second and third readings pass during the City Council's March meetings, Sergeant Bluff will allow two more days of discharge in July than Sioux City.

In mid-December, the Sioux City Council shortened July fireworks discharge from 10 days to two. Sioux City's current hours are 1 to 11 p.m. July 3 and 4 and from 1 p.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1. Sioux City was among several cities tweaking their ordinances after the first year and is currently the largest city in Iowa that will allow fireworks discharge within city limits. 

Lincoln said the Sergeant Bluff City Council will likely take up the next reading of the ordinance during its March 13 meeting. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the end time for fireworks discharge on Jan. 1. The story has been updated.