The Hawk Eye. Sept. 14, 2014.
Penalty to pay: Washington County case shows public officials can't dismiss the constituents who pay their salaries
A Washington County attorney said he was too busy to follow the state's public records law and now faces a $1,000 fine for his negligence.
That was the essence of the first paragraph of a story on the front page of Friday's newspaper. The $1,000 fine is the minimum he could face. It should be more.
A public official who says he was too busy to abide by the law shouldn't be a public official, and Larry Brock no longer is Washington County's attorney.
That's good for the citizens of Washington County.
Brock was asked in March for emails between him and the county conservation board regarding former park ranger Robert Bellmer. It's a legitimate public-records request.
Brock responded to the request in June, four months after the initial request.
Iowa law doesn't stipulate a specific deadline for public officials to respond to open records request, but says it should be done in a timely fashion. State law requires Iowa officials to provide access to public records within 10 business days or provide the person seeking the record with a justifiable excuse for the record to remain secret.
Brock didn't do that. Instead, he said he was too busy doing other things to tend to Bellmer's request.
The newly created Iowa Public Information Board correctly ruled Brock was thumbing his nose at the law and suggested at least a $100 fine. Administrative Law Judge Margaret LaMarche said that wasn't a strong enough message for Brock and other public officials to compel them to abide by the state's sunshine laws, no matter how inconvenient it may be. She's recommending a $1,000 fine. It could have been $2,500.
This is the first case of the information board recommending a fine for a blatant violation of the sunshine laws, and a perfect example of the necessity of the new state agency.
It took more than six years and that many legislative sessions to get it created, but this is why the people of Iowa should be grateful it exists.
It's public information. And it's public officials' obligation to respond when the public asks for it.
Brock didn't do that. And now there's a cost to him for ignoring the public, and ignoring the law.
Telegraph Herald. Sept. 12, 2014.
What did NFL think domestic assault looks like?
Here's a question for all the talk-radio hosts, National Football League executives and others who are shocked, sickened and outraged now that they have seen the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in the face:
What did you think domestic violence looks like?
Now that the video taken from inside that casino elevator is out, Rice's punishment went from a two-game suspension to firing and vilification. It's not that Rice doesn't deserve it. But where was the outrage before?
NFL officials knew that Rice delivered a blow that knocked Janay Palmer unconscious. They had seen the security-camera video of Rice dragging her limp body out of the elevator and standing over her. They knew all that when they assessed a punishment of a two-game suspension and one game's pay. Then the second video surfaced — the one showing Rice delivering a powerful punch to Palmer's head. Her head bounces against a handrail. Her body goes slack.
Now everyone is outraged?
Before the second video surfaced, one had to imagine what it looks like when a man who makes his living in a violent sport cold-cocks a woman — a woman he allegedly loves — and drops her. Without the graphic images we can pretend there was something else going on?
But this is what domestic violence looks like. It is brutal. It is horrifying. And it happens all the time, all over the country.
What happens to the victim when the man who assaulted her gets a slap on the wrist and gets to continue in the role of superstar athlete? Well, in the case of Palmer, she did what a lot of domestic violence victims do. She married the guy. She blamed herself for suffering the blow. In May, at a press conference with Rice, she was the one who apologized. "I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night," she said. This week, she is still defending him. At the press conference, Rice, who didn't even go to trial, offered no apology.
That's how this chapter would have ended had the website TMZ not posted the video from inside the elevator. Did the NFL ask to see the video? Did police or prosecutors? Or did the word of an NFL star and his supportive victim take the place of a real investigation? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that at the time the NFL asked about, but did not receive, additional video. (TMZ and The Associated Press say otherwise.) But even so, did he really need to see it to understand the level of violence that took place? A woman displaying facial injury, unconscious on the floor, wasn't enough?
When powerful people don't call out domestic violence as a brutal act worthy of stiff punishment, every victim suffers, not just Janay Palmer. Goodell's actions help feed the cycle of domestic violence that keeps victims blaming themselves and returning to their abusers.
Being soft on domestic violence was the worst message the NFL could send to its young fans in a sport that celebrates rough physical behavior. The NFL needs to see this moment as a wake-up call and start making changes. It should become a leader in raising awareness about domestic violence. It should ratchet up its penalties so that no act of domestic violence is tolerated. Though it is late to the game, it is commissioning an independent investigation of his (mis)handling of the Rise case.
These changes won't rectify past damage, but it's a place to start building toward a better future.
The Des Moines Register. Sept. 13, 2014.
Iowa's collection of courthouses will remain at 101, at least for now
It appears Lee County will continue to have two county seats and a courthouse in each. After several months of discussion and debate, the Lee County Board of Supervisors this week dropped a proposal to consolidate the county functions in Fort Madison.
As every schoolchild in this state knows, Iowa has 99 counties. But pupils who paid close attention in geography class might recall that it has 100 county seats and 101 courthouses. Here's why: In addition to the 99 seats of government in each county, Lee has county seats and courthouses in both Fort Madison and Keokuk. Pottawattamie County's seat of government is in Council Bluffs in the southwest corner of the large county and a second courthouse is located in Avoca in the northeast corner.
The siting of the county seat in Lee County has been hotly debated almost ever since the county was carved out of the territorial wilderness in 1836. According to LeRoy Pratt's seminal 1977 history of Iowa counties, a special election held in 1845 created "bitter arguments, torchlight parades, 'a few fist fights,' and 'enough flaming jealousy to set the river afire.' "
The Legislature finally stepped in and by a special act in 1848 created dual courthouses and county seats in Fort Madison and Keokuk. The debate still simmered, however, and the question of whether there were really two county seats has been the subject of several Iowa attorney general opinions and decisions of the district court and the Iowa Supreme Court.
County officials again recently brought up the idea of consolidating county offices in Fort Madison, and a citizens committee recommended moving the whole works to Montrose, located between the two cities.
So the supervisors' decision to drop the issue is probably not the end of the discussion. The county officials deserve credit for wanting to eliminate duplication in government, but they will have to make the case to people of southern Lee County that it is in their best interests, too. And avoid the fistfights and torchlight parades.
Sioux City Journal. Sept. 14, 2014.
Cellulosic ethanol production holds promise for nation
In a ceremony fit for a king (King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands was in fact, in attendance, joining city and state dignitaries), leaders of Poet, a South Dakota-based ethanol company, and Royal DSM, a Dutch biotechnology company, celebrated the start of a new chapter for the ethanol industry in Iowa on Sept. 2.
The event was a grand opening for the state's first commercial cellulosic ethanol plant, a $275 million facility in Emmetsburg. The plant will produce 25 million gallons of ethanol each year from corn plant residue left in the field such as cobs, leaves, stalks and husk.
Last week, Quad County Corn Processors opened a $9 million cellulosic expansion of its ethanol plant in Galva, Iowa. A $225 million DuPont Danisco cellulosic ethanol plant is under construction in Nevada, Iowa.
For the industry, this state and, indeed, the nation, cellulosic ethanol production represents a significant, if not historic advancement and holds substantial future promise.
"This is the very tip of the iceberg," Jeff Broin, Poet founder and chairman, said in Emmetsburg. "What we see today is a symbol of what can be accomplished through the miracle of nature, the work of the farmer and the power of human ingenuity."
The reality of cellulosic ethanol production — in the face, we might add, of skeptics like Patrick Kelly, a policy adviser at the ethanol-foe American Petroleum Institute, who called cellulosic ethanol a "phantom fuel" — provides more evidence of the need for continued federal support (including no reduction in the Renewable Fuel Standard) of what remains a young industry undergoing groundbreaking change through science. To, in effect, pull the rug from under ethanol and its potential at this key moment in its evolution not only would devastate the industry and corn states such as Iowa, but would be short-sighted and counterproductive with respect to national priorities like reduced greenhouse gas emissions and energy independence.
As we have said before, if the federal government wishes to reduce or end support for renewable fuels like ethanol, then it should reduce or end support for all energy producers, including oil. Tax writeoffs for the oil industry amount to billions of dollars each year.
Because we wish to see this nation become energy independent, we in principle are comfortable with the idea of federal support for all forms of domestic energy production.
As the nation's leader in ethanol production and as one of the nation's leaders in the production of wind energy, Iowa stands in a key position as America moves toward energy independence, as do Nebraska and South Dakota, who also rank among America's ethanol leaders.
Regardless of political party or philosophical differences on other issues, it's imperative for state and federal officials in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota to continue staking out common ground in robust support for ethanol and spirited opposition to those, including influential oil interests, who would stop its momentum.