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Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds talks to the Sioux City Journal's editorial board during a meeting Jan. 25.


State-and-regional
State weighing whether to pursue legal options against fired agency director

DES MOINES --- State leaders are discussing whether to pursue financial recompense from a former state agency director charged with sexual harassment.

The state Appeal Board on Monday approved a $4.15 million settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by two women against former Iowa Finance Authority director David Jamison.

Gov. Kim Reynolds and attorney general Tom Miller are discussing the state’s options, including whether to pursue action against Jamison, Reynolds and Miller’s staff said Tuesday.

State auditor Rob Sand, the lone appeal board member to vote against the settlement Monday, suggested Jamison should be held financially accountable for his alleged harassment, not Iowa taxpayers.

“I don’t think we should ever lose sight of the victims. Let’s just start there,” Reynolds said. “We’re consulting with the AG’s office to consider what our state’s options are once the settlements are finalized.”

The approved settlements bring to nearly $6 million the amount the appeal board has agreed to pay out over the last 15 months to settle allegations from state employees who say they were subjected to sexual harassment from superiors.

In October 2017, the board approved a $1.75 million payout to Kirsten Anderson, a former Iowa Senate Republican staff member who said she was fired the day she lodged a sexual harassment complaint.

Reynolds said no policy can eradicate sexual harassment, but said her administration is working constantly to create a safe working environment in state government.

“Unfortunately you can’t legislate morality (and) giving people respect,” Reynolds said. “But what you can do is say that you have a zero-tolerance policy, you do everything you can to change the culture, you make sure that employees know that the expectation is for them to come to work and have every expectation of working in a safe environment, that they know what the process is if they see or experience sexual harassment, they know who they report that to, and they know that those allegations will be heard, and if they’re substantiated, action will be taken. And I did that.”

ABORTION AMENDMENT

Reynolds said she supports a proposed constitutional amendment that would state the Iowa Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion.

A subcommittee meeting on the proposed amendment is scheduled for Wednesday. Changes to the state’s constitution must be passed by consecutive General Assemblies and then Iowa voters.

Reynolds said she has not yet decided whether to appeal the recent district court ruling that struck down legislation passed in 2018 that banned abortions after a heartbeat can be detected.

JUDICIAL NOMINATING

Reynolds expressed her support for and defended legislation introduced Monday that would overhaul the makeup of the commissions that nominate judges to Iowa courts.

The governor appoints judges from a list of nominees created by commissions that are comprised equally of governor’s appointees and members elected by attorneys. Each commission is headed by a current judge.

Under the legislation, the attorneys would no longer elect any commission members. Instead, commission members would be nominated by the governor and legislative leaders.

Half of the members would be required to be attorneys, but those attorneys will be chosen by politicians, not their peers.

The proposal gives weight to the political party in power. For example, on the statewide commission the party in power would nominate 12 commission members and the party out of power only four. The legislation says nominees should be chosen regardless of political affiliation, but there is no mechanism to guarantee that. Other state boards, for example, are required to be politically balanced.

Reynolds said the changes are to ensure commission members are elected in a more representative fashion by removing attorneys from the process.

“We want it to be fair and we want to make sure that all Iowans are represented in the process,” Reynolds said.


Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Sergeant Bluff-Luton's Nate Curry, front, wrestles Central Lyon/George-Little Rock's Cody Kramer at 120 in Sergeant Bluff on Tuesday. 


State-and-regional
Woodbury County non-union employees in line for 3% raises

SIOUX CITY -- Non-union employees working in Woodbury County departments are in line to receive pay raises of 3 percent next year, after the county board of supervisors talked through other potential wage amounts Tuesday.

After two weeks of discussion, the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors in the weekly meeting settled on the 3 percent raises to go to the 36 non-union county employees for fiscal year 2019-20.

One week ago, the supervisors deadlocked in a 2-2 vote on a proposal to give a 2 percent raise. In that meeting, Supervisor Rocky De Witt said non-union employees should get raises of 3 percent, while Keith Radig favored 2.5 percent and Matthew Ung supported 2 percent.

Most of the 400 county employees are union members, and have raises coming for 2018-19 roughly in the 2.5 to 3 percent range. The supervisors in recent years have the practice of giving raises to non-union personnel which are in line with those negotiated by union workers.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Jeremy Taylor opened the discussion with a proposal for a raise of 2.75 percent, although it didn't advance to a vote.

De Witt returned to his 3 percent recommendation, saying he is mindful of keeping "quality" employees in a time of low unemployment. Ung spoke against that, saying it is "overdue" to have pay be based on performance by employees, as he said is done with private sector businesses.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Matthew Ung, candidate for Woodbury County Supervisor in District 4, is shown Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, during a meeting with the Sioux City Journal editorial board. Sioux City Journal photo by Tim Hynds

The 3 percent amount was set on a 3-2 vote, with Ung and Radig voting against it, and De Witt, Taylor and Marty Pottebaum voting affirmatively.

By comparison, one year ago the supervisors passed a budget motion to give raises of 2.75 percent to non-union employees, which includes some department heads.

The raises for non-union employees, like every element in the 2019-20 budget, won't officially be set until the county supervisors approve the final version, which is slated to take place after a public hearing on March 12.

Over six meetings since the beginning of January, the supervisors have worked through issues related to a county budget that was proposed at $56.9 million, or $2.3 million more than the current year, when talks began.

Going into the Tuesday meeting, county Finance Director Dennis Butler's projection showed the property tax rates at $7.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for city residents and $9.77 per $1,000 for rural residents. The tax rates in the current year are $7.29 per $1,000 for city residents and $9.53 per $1,000 for rural residents.

The budget covers the period from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.

Also in the meeting, the supervisors approved a $1,000 mileage expense to travel to Minneapolis, in order to meet with federal agency officials to discuss a possible revenue source for the county.

Radig said it is a small amount to pay, because much more money could come back to the county in future revenues from that for-now unnamed federal agency, which could be put toward jail improvement costs.

County officials three years ago discussed more than $10 million in improvements in the Woodbury County Law Enforcement Center jail wing, which opened in 1987. Then Sheriff Dave Drew in January 2018 said the expansion was not needed, due to fewer inmates in the facility.

Now, county officials want see if the federal revenue sources could be a financial stream for any jail modernization projects that ultimately come back in the future. The trip will include a few county officials, plus a consultant from the Goldberg Group Associates, who has given input on jail needs in recent years.

Radig said the name of the agency will be released once a concrete proposal is settled.


Briefs
top story
Voters easily approve $24.9 million Sioux Center school bond referendum

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa -- Voters in the Sioux Center Community School District on Tuesday approved a $24.9 million bond referendum that would ease overcrowding in the district's three schools in addition to financing construction of a new high school.

According to unofficial results from the Sioux County Auditor's Office, 1,312 votes (76.37 percent) were cast to approve to bond referendum while 404 votes (23.63%) were cast against it.

Sixty percent support was needed to pass the measure. 

Unlike other Iowa school districts, the Sioux Center student population has been steadily increasing, superintendent Gary McEldowney said.

For a number of years, the schools have been adding 50 new students per year. If this growth continued, Sioux Center would go from a school district of 1,300 students to a school district of 1,800 students in 10 years.

That would mean overcrowding will only increase over time. 

The district had been reaching out to parents, business owners, community members, educators and students for possible solutions.

Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal 

Aaron Schmidt, an eighth-grade teacher, center, talks with superintendent Gary McEldowney in a hallway at the Sioux Center Middle School in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Presently, Sioux Center's elementary school has 572 transitional kindergarten through fourth-grade students, its middle school has 401 fifth-through-eighth-grade students, and the high school has 393 ninth-through-12th-grade students.

If Sioux Center could reconfigure its existing facilities while building a new high school, McEldowney said the district could alleviate capacity issues while allowing future enrollment in all grades. 

By 2028, the elementary school would be able to accommodate 438 transitional kindergarten-through-second-graders, the current middle school would accommodate 438 third-through-fifth-graders, while the current high school would accommodate 438 sixth-through-eighth-graders. 

The proposed high school would be able to accommodate 584 ninth-through-12th-graders in 2028.

Since the $24.9 million bond referendum passed, the debt service tax levy will increase by a maximum of 37 cents per $1,000 of taxation valuation. This comes out to a $40 per year cost impact for the average household and 52 cents per year cost impact per average acreage.

"The school district isn't merely addressing a want," McEldowney said a few days prior to the vote. "We're addressing a need that will benefit the district in the long term." 


Jamison