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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers


The Des Moines Register. Nov. 20, 2015

ARL should disclose euthanasia data.

The Animal Rescue League of Iowa doesn't consider itself a "no-kill shelter."

The organization says that's because the term is "unregulated" and is typically used to describe shelters that "pick and choose who they allow in, and close their doors when full."

That may be the ARL's definition of a no-kill shelter, but to the public a no-kill shelter is one that does not euthanize animals except for those that are sick or vicious. The ARL acknowledges that it does euthanize animals, and, let's face it, that's why it can't be considered a no-kill shelter.

But exactly how many how many animals are euthanized there?

Does an unwanted dog stand a better chance of survival if dropped off at another area shelter?

Those are legitimate questions, but as Des Moines Register reporter Lee Rood discovered, the ARL doesn't want to answer them. It won't disclose any meaningful data on the euthanasia of the animals in its care.

In its 2014 annual report, the ARL claimed that since 2011 there had been a "39 percent reduction of euthanasia" — but that reduction coincided with an 18 percent decrease in animals dropped off at the shelter. It's still not clear what percentage of the animals are euthanized.

In this same report, ARL officials say euthanasia is used "only when an animal is suffering or dangerous" and all other options have been exhausted. But on the organization's website, the ARL says that "as long as an animal's health and temperament are good, and as long as there is space, the ARL tries to find it a new home."

So, is space a factor in determining whether animals are euthanized, or not?

The organization's policy of refusing to disclose more information wouldn't be so problematic if the private, nonprofit organization wasn't engaged in work on behalf of the taxpaying public.

The city of Des Moines pays the ARL $588,000 annually to pick up, and provide shelter for, stray animals. Taxpayers have a right to know precisely what happens to those animals. It's disturbing that the city's own elected officials aren't asking for this information for their own decision-making purposes.

And while it's understandable that the city would want to privatize certain functions, the resulting loss of public accountability from the partnership with the ARL is intolerable. The city's contract with the organization actually includes a provision that says if any reporters start asking questions at City Hall that might "impact" the ARL, the city must immediately direct all of those inquiries to the ARL itself.

The contract also includes a separate, and much broader, self-imposed gag order that applies to inquiries by both the press and citizens. It requires city officials to "not release any information about the ARL" without the organization's express permission. The only exception is for information that's contained in paper or electronic records that under state law are required to be made public.

Who at City Hall thought these contractual provisions were in the best interests of the public? Apparently, everyone did, as the contract was signed by the city manager, city clerk and assistant city attorney before it was unanimously approved by the City Council.

It's tempting to say the Des Moines City Council should immediately ask the ARL to provide data not just on the euthanasia of animals, but on its operating expenses. As things stand now, the tax-exempt organization isn't required to tell the IRS how much its executive director, Tom Colvin, is paid annually or who at the ARL stands to collect a $182,000 deferred-compensation package listed on the ARL's tax return. (The ARL's treasurer said this week that Colvin was paid $133,000 in 2013, but he declined to say who the deferred-compensation package is for.)

Unfortunately, we can't really suggest that council members demand this sort of information from the ARL. That's because the aforementioned contract between the city and the ARL gives the city the right to request information, but specifically excludes requests for information about "ARL costs and expenses."

Thankfully, ARL officials say they are considering releasing euthanasia data in the years ahead. But they need to provide data for at least the past few years so city officials will have solid information to consider when the ARL contract comes up for renewal next year.

As for Des Moines' elected leaders, they need to stop surrendering "the public's right to know" when negotiating contracts for private entities to handle the public's business.

The Burlington Hawk Eye. Nov. 19, 2015

IUB head getting in the way of research.

Iowa lawmakers created a law in 1990 that assessed utilities in Iowa 0.1 percent of their annual operating revenues. The money was to be allocated to research centers at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. The money pays for research into such things as climate change. It's appropriated to the Iowa Energy Center at ISU and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa.

ISU's allocation this year is $4.4 million; Iowa is to receive $772,000. For 25 years, the transfer of the funds has been automatic each September. Iowa Utilities Board's role has been to collect the funds from investor-owned electric and gas utilities. It's the Iowa Board of Regents that govern the research centers.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Geri Huser earlier this year to head the IUB. She decided to ignore the statute.

She's sitting on the money, demanding the centers appear before the IUB next month. They're to provide an analysis of all grant awards over the last five years, the results and copies of programs and financial audits. That's the job of the regents, not the IUB. Nothing in the law provides for the IUB to withhold the funds.

Dave Osterberg, who helped write the law, told the Associated Press earlier this week: "We never intended for IUB to do anything more than pass the money on. I think she's way out of line"

Osterberg, a member of the advisory council for the center at UI, added: "It's not misreading the law. It's just not reading the law."

Osterberg implies there are political motivations behind Huser ignoring the statute. It wouldn't be a new thing within the Branstad administration. For example, it's well documented he likes to ride in SUVs that demonstrate little regard for speed limits — those same limits if we exceed them get us an expensive ticket and may spike our auto insurance rates — and though there is a law requiring the state operate four mental health facilities, he thumbed his nose at that and shuttered two of them anyway.

As the state's chief executive charged with ensuring Iowa's laws are followed within the executive branch, Branstad should place a call to Huser and tell her she's obligated to do just that, and she shouldn't obstruct the release of the money for what the Legislature intended. After all, it was Branstad who signed the legislation into law in 1990.

If Huser has a problem with the law, she should focus her efforts at the Capitol instead of being a roadblock to important research that will benefit Iowans who, by the way, provided through their utility bills the necessary financial resources for that research.

The Quad-City Times. Nov. 20, 2015

Festival of Trees a true celebration.

Consider these numbers:

3,500 volunteers, almost 650 designers, nearly 3,500 entertainers and more than 150 sponsors.

Add to that thousands of visitors from throughout the area who are delighted with the spectacle of creatively designed holiday trees, a gingerbread village, filled baskets donated by area celebrities and businesses, dazzling doors and hearths, student artwork and local entertainment. Oh, and lots of sweet treats.

It all adds up to one of the premier events in our community — the Quad-City Arts Festival of Trees, which opens to the general public this weekend at the RiverCenter after special events Thursday and today.

This is the 30th year for this annual ritual of community celebration that is a tradition for many families, particularly those who choose to visit after Saturday's Festival of Trees parade.

But the Festival of Trees represents much, much more than a feast for the senses.

The funds raised are targeted for year-round arts programming for residents of six counties in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. Evidence of the good these arts programs do is all around us. They include Public Art projects such as Art @ the Airport and a public sculpture program, a Visual Arts program for artists to display and sell their work at the Arts Center Gallery, a Visiting Artist Series benefiting schools, workplaces and senior facilities, among other places, and arts programming in the schools.

Art created during the summer in the Metro Arts youth apprenticeship program enhances our communities and provides employment and experience for young people.

We salute the thousands of people who plan all year to make this 10-day event happen.

If you've never experienced this community event, this year is the perfect time to go.

The Mason City Globe Gazette. Nov. 19, 2015.

Two projects mean good things for Floyd County.

Two projects ongoing on Floyd County will add to the quality of life opportunities for residents there, and it has to be satisfying to see them progressing.

One is McQuillen Place, an apartment-retail complex in downtown Charles City. The other is a parks project that will ultimately connect two parts of Nora Springs. We highlighted both in the Globe Gazette recently, and both speak well for their communities.

In Charles City, McQuillen Place, being constructed at the corner of Main and Clark streets where the historic Union House stood until being destroyed by fire in 1987, will offer additional residential and shopping opportunities with a projected springtime opening.

The $8.6 million project will offer 33 apartments on the second and third floors with retail stores at ground level.

Residential leasing will open soon - rent will range from $600 to $1,300 a month.

"We have a lot of people who have called" about apartments, said Charles Thomson of Amelia Management, the developer of McQuillen Place.

He also said developers are encouraged by the number of businesses leasing space in the complex, but that space remains. He said he was not yet at liberty to announce the names of businesses located in the complex.

This project resonates with us because a retail-residential complex is a segment of the River City Renaissance project proposed for downtown. It also shows how public and private entities can work together, again, similar to what is proposed in Mason City.

McQuillen Place developers purchased four lots of city-owned land for $58,478. A $3 million forgivable loan from the Iowa Economic Development Authority provided the financial "spark," Thomson said. And the development is eligible for tax increment financing approved by the city.

The result promises to be a first-class development in the heart of this bustling county seat community.

Thomson said job growth in Charles City spurred the project, adding, "It's been a long time coming."

If all goes as planned, it seems Charles City residents and visitors will find it was worth the wait.

In Nora Springs, a $75,000 grant from Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) has provided impetus for an ongoing park project. Make that parks.

The money will be used in the planning and engineering phases of the Mill Pond pedestrian bridge and trail extension project. The bridge in this scenic area will span the Shell Rock River dam and Mill Pond berm, connecting Shell Rock River City Park and Old Mill Pond City Park.

Emily Dykstra, chairwoman of the city's Parks and Recreation Board, said the project will allow greater walking access to natural resources and recreation areas. And it will connect the southwest and northeast sides of town, providing, among other things, a safer route for students to access the elementary and middle schools.

A 40-foot-long spillway bridge for pedestrians and cars was installed in Old Mill Pond Park, and volunteers even got in the act, removing dead trees and clearing overgrown brush.

This is another example of the good things REAP has done. It's a project that, again, will benefit residents and visitors alike for many years.

Two communities with great projects accomplished with public and private entities working together toward growth and prosperity. That's the kind of news we love to report.

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