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Cedar River forecast raised again, now at 17.3 feet on Tuesday

The Cedar River at Cedar Rapids is expected to reach major flood stage on Monday and continue to rise until it crests on Tuesday afternoon at 17.3 feet.

This crest is a reforecast from yesterday’s projection of a 16.5 foot crest.

You can continue to monitor levels in real time by visiting this site.

City officials are well versed in mobilizing protections at this point. Following the previous flooding scare in early September the city mobilized protections for a flood reaching 18 feet.

Yesterday, city officials said they were going to watch the river forecast closely and make protection decisions today.

“We are going to wait to make the call on the level of protection we will enact until we see where the crest predictions land tomorrow,” Maria Johnson, communications division manager for the city of Cedar Rapids said Thursday. “We can quickly build to the appropriate level of protection if needed, but we would like to make the determination based on updated river projections tomorrow.”

According to a media release Friday, the city has protection measures already in place for flood waters up to 16 feet, which includes installing plugs in the underground storm sewer system and stationing pumps to be used as needed. Underground plugs prevent water from backing up into the storm sewer system and flooding roadways, according to the release.

City staff are also staging equipment and will evaluate protection levels this weekend based on updated crest projections, according to the release. The release states that city employees can quickly build protection up to 18 feet as needed, which includes some above-ground measures such as installing HESCO barriers in low-lying areas.

Moody’s blesses Cedar Rapids’ flood spending plan

CEDAR RAPIDS — A leading investor service has given a mostly positive review to a $342 million borrowing package to pay for Cedar Rapids flood protection through bonding and corresponding tax increases.

The plan approved Sept. 11 by the City Council included issuing $20 million per year in general obligation bonds for 10 years, from 2020 to 2029, and an additional $8 million in bonds from 2022 to 2029. Taxpayers are expected to see a 22-cent annual property tax rate increase during this period, although the amount could vary from year to year based on a number of factors.

“While the project will modestly increase the city’s debt burden, it is credit-positive because it will reduce the city’s primary environmental risk and costs associated with potential future flooding,” Moody’s Investor Service wrote in a report Wednesday.

The city’s debt burden — or full debt as a percentage of full value over the next five years — is projected to see a “modest increase” to 2.6 percent by 2023 from its current level of 2.4 percent, according to Moody’s.

The report notes the heavy investment that has been made for flood protection and response. This includes $820 million in the past 10 years on emergency protection measures and recovery efforts related to the 2008 flood. While state and federal grants covered the lion’s share — 94 percent — the 6 percent borne by the city “is still considerable compared to the city’s annual general fund revenues of around $107 million,” the report stated.

“It is reassuring to know that Moody’s evaluates the decisions communities make to determine the overall impact on finances,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said in a statement. “It is fair that Moody’s concluded the plan will modestly increase the city’s debt burden but notes it will also reduce the city’s exposure to economic and financial disruptions caused by flooding.”

The report also noted the project still could face a $78 million funding shortfall at the end of 10 years, which the city said it plans to fill with a mix of local debt and other funding, according to the report.

Cedar Rapids is working on a 20-year, $750 million plan to protect properties on the east and west sides of the Cedar River in the downtown area.

The council unanimously approved the spending plan, saying now is the time to get it done given recurring flooding threats and the likelihood of limited state and federal support.

“As we look at the impact of natural disasters across the country, as well as what Cedar Rapids has experienced from flooding, it is clear that the plan we are putting in place is critical to the long-term economic health of our community,” Pomeranz said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Watch Replay: Marion Police hold news conference regarding attempted murder arrest

The Marion Police Department is holding a news conference regarding the arrest of Juny Rodriguez

Rodriguez was arrested in relation to a shots fired incident in Marion on Thursday. Rodriguez and an unnamed female driver then fled the scene and took officers in a pursuit that ended in Rodriguez being taken into custody.

Authorities are expected to release portions of the 9-1-1 call that prompted this event, as well as some of the in-car camera footage captured during the pursuit.

Iowa City’s cyclocross World Cup races draw top European, American riders to Midwest

IOWA CITY — The best of the best international cyclocross racers are expected to ascend Mount Krumpit once again next weekend.

For spectators it’s a special opportunity to see world class athletes, said Josh Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City, the local tourism bureau, and one of the race organizers. Cyclocross is a bike sport in which racers encounter various terrains, such as mud and sand, obstacles and, in Iowa City, a daunting hill dubbed Mount Krumpit.

“There’s not too many opportunities here or Eastern Iowa to see athletes that are truly the best in their field, not just in the nation but the world,” Schamberger said. “It’s just special. It’s pretty incredible to see athletes of this caliber.”

For the third year in a row, Iowa City is hosting Telenet UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup as part of the three-day Jingle Cross Festival at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Dozens of races will take place Sept. 28-30, including a men’s World Cup race at 2:30 p.m. and women’s World Cup around 4 p.m. both on Sept. 29.

Admission is free.

In addition to the World Cup races, professional-level races for men and women are scheduled for 7:45 p.m. (women) and 9 p.m. (men) on Friday and 3:30 p.m. (women) and 4:45 p.m. (men) on Sunday. Amateur races for all age groups also are scheduled that weekend.

Other highlights include a free concert by the Pork Tornadoes after the races starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and a “doggy cross” event in which dogs and their owners race the course for three laps at 1:15 p.m. Saturday.

A new focus this year is junior racing for ages 9 to 18 with competitions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including a Junior’s Devo Cup at 11:40 a.m. Saturday. Kids races for those 9 and younger are also Saturday at 12:20 p.m.

An expo will feature bike-related vendors, Deschutes Brewery will have beer tents and food vendors also will be on hand. A new event this year is a Wine Walk with stops throughout the grounds throughout the day beginning at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

“We have a lot of events for non-racers to participate in this year,” said Tricia Brown, another event organizer.

The World Cup is part of an international circuit, primarily in Europe. The only other race in the United States is in Waterloo, Wis., this weekend. The riders, many from Europe, will arrive in town on Tuesday and begin training on Johnson County roads, Schamberger said.

Heavy rains in the past week, with more in the forecast next week, could create a muddier course for racers, Schamberger said. Participants love those conditions, he said, but it has added some wrinkles to planning and staging the event.

The event drew 15,000 to 17,000 people the first year, and 12,000 to 15,000 last year — a lower number because it was an Iowa home football weekend — but this year’s event should see similar numbers, Schamberger said.

The crowd lines the hill and the fences guarding the course to cheer on the racers.

“It is pretty electric,” Schamberger said. “It’s just fast paced, cowbells, music ... it’s a raucous, high energy crowd. You are not cheering against anybody. You are cheering for everybody, for these athletes to squeeze every ounce of energy out of their bodies.”

More information is online at jinglecross2.com.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Days after opening, Mount Trashmore trails, overlook closed due to vandalism and wet conditions

CEDAR RAPIDS — Days after a new overlook and trail network at Mount Trashmore, which officials spent more than $700,000 to construct, opened it has been closed due to vandalism and erosion.

Vandals spray painted new benches, terraced seating, pillars, and a wall at the scenic overlook a top the former landfill, said Joe Horaney, a spokesman for the Cedar Rapids Linn County Solid Waste Agency. It occurred overnight Wednesday into Thursday, Horaney said.

Approximately four inches of rain recently has saturated the new trails — a biking “flow” trail, hiking, and multiuse trail — prompting their closure, he said.

“We’re waiting for them to dry out, then we can address some of the ripples caused by the rain on the walking trail and the flow trail,” he said. “Some spots will need to be repacked. They are still wet, so that may take some time. We’ll have to regrade the trail head area at the bottom and the multiuse trail.”

Horaney said the vandalism incident has been reported to police. They don’t know who the vandals were or why they did it, but they have security footage and that will be turned over to police in hopes of prosecuting the trespassers, he said.

Fencing surrounds the entire perimeter of the facility, and the area is monitored by security cameras, he said. The agency is evaluating other security options to ensure site safety, he said.

Greg Buelow, a spokesman for Cedar Rapids police estimated the damage at $3,000. He said no arrests have been made and the incident is being investigated.

They are getting quotes on cleanup and benches may need to be replaced, he said. “The plan is to reopen when the trails are ready and vandalism damage is fixed,” Horaney said.

After more than 16 months of construction, the new feature just opened on Sept. 13. The overlook budget was $590,000 and included four levels of terraced seating, a curved retaining wall, a stone walkway, posts and markers and demolition of the old scale house. The agency signed a $145,920 contract with McGill Trail Fabrication, a bike trail specialist from Silverthorne, Colo., to build the trails.

The site is regulated and still is used as a composting facility. The trails and overlook are only open during hours of operation.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Shots fired in Marion turns into lengthy police chase, man ultimately charged with attempted murder

The Marion Police Department responded to a shots fired incident around 6 p.m. on Thursday.

The 9-1-1 caller, who initiated the request for assistance, was reported as the individual who was being shot at.

When Marion Police arrived, they interrupted the shooting while it was in progress, and initiated a pursuit of a vehicle thought to be involved in the shooting.

According to a news release from the Marion Police Department, a lengthy pursuit ensued, and they received assistance from the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Hiawatha Police Department, and Iowa State Patrol.

The agencies ultimately disabled the fleeing vehicle using a tire deflation device near I-380 and County Home Road.

The car was driven by an unnamed female who has since been released, while her passenger, 18-year-old Juny Rodriguez, was arrested on an outstanding warrant and faces multiple charges.

Rodriguez has been charged with domestic assault while displaying a dangerous weapon, two counts of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and three counts of attempted murder.

At 2:30 p.m. Marion Police Chief Joe McHale will be holding a news conference at the Marion Police Department where he will release portions of the 9-1-1 call, and the in-car camera footage captured during the pursuit.

Trump questions credibility of Kavanaugh accuser, lashes out at Democrats

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday pointedly questioned the credibility of the woman who has accused Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers, contending that she or her parents would have reported the attack to law enforcement at the time if it were as bad as she has said.

Trump’s tweet marked a sharp break from the days after the accusation first surfaced, during which he refrained from attacking Christine Blasey Ford, a professor in California, and said she deserved to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents,” Trump said in the tweet, which was his first to mention his Supreme Court nominee’s accuser by name.

“I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!” Trump said.

Ford told The Washington Post in an interview published online Sunday that Kavanaugh drunkenly pinned her to a bed on her back, groped her and put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams at a house party in the early 1980s.

Ford said she told no one at the time what had happened to her. She was terrified, she said, that she would be in trouble if her parents realized she had been at a party where teenagers were drinking, and she worried they might figure it out even if she did not tell them.

She said she recalled thinking: “I’m not ever telling anyone this. This is nothing, it didn’t happen, and he didn’t rape me.”

In other early-morning tweets from Las Vegas, Trump contended that Kavanaugh is under assault by “radical left wing politicians” who are not interested in finding the truth about the allegation but instead “just want to destroy and delay.”

“Facts don’t matter. I go through this with them every single day in D.C.,” Trump said.

Trump also took aim at “radical left lawyers” who are seeking to get the FBI involved, saying: “Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?”

Democrats have called for the FBI to reopen its background-check investigation into Kavanaugh, rather than a criminal probe.

The FBI has said it has no plans to do so unless the White House asks for such an investigation. And a Justice Department spokesman said earlier this week that Ford’s allegation “does not involve any potential federal crime.”

Trump’s tweets came as lawyers for Ford continued negotiations with Republicans about conditions under which she might testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In his tweets, Trump continued to strongly defend Kavanaugh as “a fine man, with an impeccable reputation” as he voiced mounting frustration with the roiled confirmation process.

The tweets came a day after an attorney for Ford said that it is “not possible” for her to appear at a planned Senate hearing on Monday to detail her claims but that she could testify later in the week.

Debra Katz, Ford’s lawyer, relayed the response to top staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, seeking to negotiate the conditions under which Ford would be prepared to testify later next week.

The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said through a spokesman late Thursday that he would consult with colleagues on how to proceed.

On Thursday, Ford also dismissed a theory advanced by a prominent Kavanaugh friend and supporter that she was instead attacked by a Kavanaugh classmate.

“I knew them both, and socialized with” the other classmate, Ford said, adding that she had once visited him in the hospital. “There is zero chance that I would confuse them.”

Though he did not mention Ford by name, Trump raised questions Thursday about the timing of the allegation in a television interview with Fox News before his appearance at a political rally in Las Vegas.

“Why didn’t someone call the FBI 36 years ago?” he asked.

Samantha Guerry, a friend and former classmate of Ford, expressed exasperation at Trump’s question during an interview Friday morning with CNN.

“The idea that someone would have told the FBI 36 years ago is ludicrous,” she said, noting that many women who are assaulted “are extremely unlikely to tell anyone.”

“This is a deeply personal, traumatic experience that has a lot of psychological complexity to it,” she said. “Anyone who looks at this thoughtfully will see that women who make these claims are often belittled, told they are mistaken, bullied and shamed.”

A 2015 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of current and recent college students found that 88 percent of women who experienced unwanted sexual contact did not tell police or university authorities about the incidence.

This result was the same among both women who reported sexual assault by force or threat, as well as those who were incapacitated and unable to give consent.

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The Washington Post’s Emma Brown, Scott Clement contributed to this report.

Organic farms get lost in bureaucracy

Small family-run farms that raise organic foods, without genetically modifying crops or by reducing or eliminating their use of pesticides and antibiotics, are such a small part of the official definition of a family farm that they often are lost in the crowd when it comes to government and industry support.

Some of these non-conventional farms lack enough of the support that goes to larger farms to survive, an IowaWatch review found.

“In my heart I’d like to be in one place right now in terms of having a more sustainable or regenerative farming operation,” said Earl Canfield, owner and operator of Canfield Family Farm in Northeast Iowa. “I’m having to grapple with the reality of what does it take to actually get there.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture sets an industry definition for family farms. That definition doesn’t take acreage size into consideration and can include operations where the family may not own the land, or even farm it. It defines what a family farm is for a consistent technical term in research and policy — which includes farm subsidies.

Under its definition, 79,550, or 89.7 percent, of Iowa’s farms can be considered family farms.

But lost in that, particularly when it comes to the research and policy, is that according to an estimate done by IowaWatch, less than 7 percent — 5,636 operations — of Iowa’s farms are on small or medium acreages and run and owned by one family. The breakdown for bordering states s similar.

“What we’ve found is that the definition of family farm is being stretched ...,” said Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, which describes itself as an organization of family farmers and ranchers, advocates and consumers committed to promoting family agriculture in Iowa. “The public in general wants to see what they think of as a family farmer succeed, and oftentimes we see that image distorted to include operations that indeed are much more corporate in nature.”

The government definition has become the overriding one for industry professionals when networking and marketing farm products and influencing public policy.

“When they talk about small farms they mean small conventional farms … not organic or alternative farms,” said Dave Peters, a professor of sociology at Iowa State University.

Canfield farms about 300 acres northeast of Waterloo near Dunkerton. His production is a combination of non-GMO, natural and organic feed, grain, hay, straw, produce and eggs.

“If we don’t succeed … we’re not even going be here down the road to continue improving or doing what we’re doing,” Canfield said.

ORGANIC FARMING BEING SQUEEZED

Non-conventional or alternative producers cultivate organically and reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics, pesticides and GMO products. They’re often independent farmers with as few as 250 to 500 acres, and up to 1,200 to 1,400 acres, and they don’t contract with corporations or larger companies.

But no distinction for them is made in the USDA family farm definition, and the effects of that can be felt beyond the farm.

“We feel most small- to medium-size farms tend to be the operations that are extremely important to their rural communities,” Lehman said. “They tend to shop, buy and sell locally. Some of the larger operations in that category tend to support their local institutions less.”

Lehman is a fifth-generation family farmer raising organic and conventional corn, soybeans, oats and hay in Polk County.

The USDA does not have data on the number of these non-conventional family farms, but IowaWatch came up with an estimate by looking at 2012 Census of Agriculture data on farm ownership by size of operation.

IowaWatch defined “small, independent family farms” as those with full-owner status between 260 and 999 acres. The USDA’s family farm definition includes part-owner and full-owner operations, and makes no distinction based on size.

The USDA includes under its definition of a “full-owner operation” farms where the operator is a manager hired by a corporation, rather than an independent owner-operator. Because of this, IowaWatch’s estimate, while closer to the actual number of non-conventional family farms, is not perfect.

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship spokesman Dustin Vande Hoef said the state agriculture department uses the USDA definition when referring to family farmers in an official basis.

The Iowa congressional delegation used the term in a March 7 letter to President Donald Trump, urging him not to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum for fear of setting into motion a “chain of retaliatory measures, hurting Iowans from the family farm to the family-owned manufacturing plant.”

IowaWatch reached out to the offices of each Iowa congressional delegate for comment on te use of “family farmer,” but received a response only from the office of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. He used the term in a December 2017 opinion piece published on his website and distributed to newspapers in commenting on the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Grassley’s communications director, Michael Zona, said Grassley uses the USDA definition in speeches, news releases and announcements, but “wouldn’t call general partnerships or joint ventures family farms.”

SUPPORT LACKING FOR ALTERNATIVE FARMS

Daniel Prager, a USDA economist in Washington, D.C., said two federal definitions of a family farm have existed since 1988, with the most recent change in 2005. However, the change in definition wouldn’t impact the USDA’s reports on how many family farms exist in the United States, he said.

“I think it’s just a way to make a universal definition that extends across the different types of farms,” Prager said.

Lehman said the Iowa Farmers Union’s definition of a small family farm matches sometimes with that of the USDA, but more often does not. Stretching the definition in this way takes the focus off small, non-conventional family farms, interviews showed.

While broad definitions by policymakers and the USDA effectively make small, non-conventional family farms invisible in research-based policy discussions, commodity interest groups like the corn growers, soybean and pork producers associations do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to maintaining and expanding markets for conventional producers.

An Iowa Corn Growers Association’s 2016 filing shows the group spending spent more than $18 million from September 2016 to August 2017 in the name of “creating opportunities for long-term Iowa corn grower profitability.”

The association lobbies for Iowa corn farmers’ interests at the state and national levels. The association says its “pro-farmer” legislative and policy priorities focus on renewable fuels, decreasing regulatory burdens on Iowa’s livestock industry, improving Farm Bill programs and promoting trade policies that benefit Iowa corn farmers.

Lisa Cassady, a corn growers spokeswoman, said the organization works to maintain existing markets and open new ones for Iowa corn farmers at all levels by supporting market development, exports, ethanol and Iowa’s livestock industry.

“With the promotion or the market development education research we don’t target assistance to individual farmers — it’s more to help the overall industry,” Cassady said.

Groups like the Iowa Farmers Union and Practical Farmers of Iowa are more concerned with providing support and resources to individual farmers, but operate using a fraction of the corn growers’ association budget. For instance, in 2016, the Iowa Farmers Union’s total expenses came in under $90,000.

The Iowa Farmers Union’s 2018 legislative policy priorities mirrored its 2017 priorities of improving water quality, promoting family livestock farms, growing local food systems and protecting farms from pesticide drift.

According to its website, the union works to support independent family farms “through education, legislation and cooperation and to provide Iowans with sustainable production, safe food, a clean environment and healthy communities.”

Ames-based Practical Farmers of Iowa said it tries to connect producers of all products, sizes, backgrounds, management methods — both conventional and alternative — who are dedicated to sustainable farming. In 2016, Practical Farmers of Iowa spent $1.7 million.

Practical Farmers of Iowa publishes podcasts and newsletters and holds field days, conferences, and “farminars” with the goal of connecting farmers and helping them learn from one another.

The dearth of marketing support for alternative or alternatively-produced commodities leaves a lot of legwork for each individual non-conventional producer.

“It’s taken us three years of a lot of intentional effort to carve out a market for ourselves,” Canfield said. “Between web-based advertising and Craigslist and hanging up business cards (and) flyers all over the place and just talking and networking with people, we’re starting to get more and more regular buyers for our products. But it’s a lot of work.”

Like many non-conventional farmers, most of Canfield’s business is local. His grain and feed are purchased by farmers and non-farmers largely for the animals they raise to butcher for themselves. The farm’s produce and eggs are sold to individual buyers.

However, finding a place to sell alternative agriculture products stops many producers from even exploring non-conventional farming.

“They run headlong into the wall of no place to sell it. They’ll very quickly get discouraged and just not do it again,” Canfield said.

The market for alternative agriculture exists, but without the marketing assistance of larger organizations, connecting with consumers is an ongoing challenge.

“I continue to find people that I would’ve thought I would’ve reached by now,” Canfield said. “And they maybe live within 10 miles of here and they say, ‘I just didn’t know you were here.’”

FIGHTING AGAINST ‘BIGGER IS BETTER’

The smaller farms face another matter, too — business decisions made by those seeking agricultural products.

Iowa Farmers Union board member and education coordinator Ron Tigner said advocates of an economy of scale farming model often argue larger operations are more efficient than smaller farms, but that claim is misleading.

“This economy of scale is skewed because we have policies that … make it look that good,” Tigner said.

Tigner, who lives in Webster County in Northwest Iowa, once grew corn, soybeans and alfalfa on 175 acres in north central Iowa, but that was about 20 years ago. He no longer is a full-time farmer but he has continued to work in farming.

Sometimes large companies that buy agricultural products in bulk give larger farmers preferential treatment, Tigner said.

“They’ll give breaks to certain farmers who are larger just to get their business,” he said. “For many, many years the types of crops that got the most share of the commodity support was corn, soybean, wheat, cotton and rice. When you support that you’re actually manipulating the economy to drive it that direction. Diversified types of operation have been left out for many, many decades.”

This article was produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch.org, a nonprofit news website that collaborates with Iowa news organizations to produce explanatory and investigative reporting.

Man spits “bloody loogie” at police during Iowa City altercation

A Rockford, Illinois man faces multiple charges stemming from a drunken altercation with police in Iowa City.

According to a complaint from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Darwyn A. White, 23 was seen by deputies “running around in traffic” near a road and alley on Highway 13 in Iowa City on September 20, at 3:15 p.m.

When deputies approached White, they observed that he had slurred speech, was acting irrational, and had the odor of alcohol on him. White was placed in handcuffs, at which time he began pulling away from the deputies.

White was placed inside of a squad car, and he began throwing his body into the squad car door, causing damage to the door in excess of $500.

During this interaction, White also allegedly head butted a deputy, as well as spit a “bloody loogie” on a deputy’s leg, and spit a large loogie inside of the squad car.

During a subsequent search, deputies found: a large brown bong, a blue pipe, a black grinder with a small amount of marijuana, and pink and hwite mushrooms.

White now faces multiple charges stemming from the incident. He has been arrested on one count of 4th degree criminal mischief, one count of felony assault on a peace officer, one count of assault by inmate with bodily fluids or secretions, one count of public intoxication, one count of interference with official acts, oe count of possession of a controlled substance and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Iowa City man accused of repeatedly sexually abusing young girl

An Iowa City man was arrested Thursday after a juvenile female told police he had sexually abused her on multiple occasions in 2015.

Jeffry Brian Waite, 55, faces two counts of third-degree sexual abuse and one count of lascivious conduct with a minor.

The criminal complaint states Waite inappropriately touch the child and forced her to have intercourse on multiple occasions.

The complaint states the abuse is believed to have spanned multiple years.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

Day Two of the Iowa Ideas Conference is underway

The Iowa Ideas Conference is in day two.

You can follow along live by tweeting with #IowaIdeas2018 and check out a variety of awesome sessions listed here.

Also, if you are looking to catch up on what happened during day 1, you can read some of the coverage from the event.

Iowa Ideas Day 1 Stories:

Audit of Iowa's privately run Medicaid expected soon New models may change how Iowa's children are protected Iowa Ideas: IEDA director says state's future rests on recruiting workers Iowa water quality work needs more money, emphasis

 

 

Rare and remarkable become commonplace at Rivertown Fine Books & Antiques in McGregor

Step through the doors of Rivertown Fine Books & Antiques in McGregor and immerse yourself in the aroma of old books — difficult to describe, but adored by many, especially book lovers, who will no doubt find a piece of paradise at this family-owned-and-operated bookstore.

Owner John Malcom opened the shop 17 years ago, finding his niche in rare, scarce and specialty books in a town of a little more than 900 people.

“McGregor is a charming little town with a very interesting history,” Malcom said. “It looks very much now like it did in 1872.”

What started as a hobby — collecting books while he traveled the country in his former career as a corporate pilot — eventually became his ideal career.

Despite warnings from other booksellers against opening a shop with fewer than 125,000 books, Malcom launched Rivertown Fine Books with a handful from his personal collection — about 3,500 books. Now, 17 successful years later, he estimates he has around 40,000 books in his shop — a significant number of them rare.

“Traveling all over the country, finding bookstores, it just so happened that my favorites were those that dealt in unusual and hard-to-find books,” he said. “When it came time to take a chance on opening our own store, I wanted that to be a part of it. That’s part of the passion of the business. … It’s truly amazing what’s out there.”

While most old books are “just old books,” he continued, “it’s amazing what comes in the door now and then. We’re fortunate to have some pretty special stuff.”

Malcom didn’t want to reveal specifics, considering the value of some especially rare items, but among them are signed books, documents, early 19th and late 18th century maps, pages from books as old as the mid-1400s and more.

In the beginning, Malcom said he and his wife looked all over for inventory. Yard sales, library sales, “anywhere we could think of,” he said.

“We did that for two or three years, maybe, and advertised that we buy books and pay well for the scarce and rare,” he continued. “People starting bringing books in. … In the last 14 or 15 years, almost everything in the shop came in the front door.”

While the condition of the book is certainly a factor in its value, Malcom said scarcity is his highest priority.

And for that, people are willing to travel to get to his shop.

“The thing about people who like books is they have a few favorite bookstores and will travel long distances to them,” Malcom said. “We have a good solid local and regional clientele who always visit, and we’re fortunate to have a solid number of people who travel a long distance just to come to our shop.”

Malcom noted many newcomers stop in because a friend or family member told them about the shop.

“There are people who walk through and maybe don’t buy anything, but that never bothered me,” he said. “If the shop makes a good impression, as I believe it does, they might come back when they’re looking for books and may tell somebody and then somebody else may come. We’ve gotten calls many times over the years saying uncle Joe or cousin Ann was here and mentioned what a nice store it is.”

“My wife and I just love to come down here,” said Jon Romelton, a regular customer from Decorah, 50 miles to the northwest. “It’s therapeutic to wander around and be surrounded by books. I can’t get enough of this place.” He said he and his wife make a point to go into small, private bookstores in any town they visit, but that Rivertown Fine Books is “far and away the best.”

“It’s just a very relaxing place to come down to, due in no small part to [the owners],” Romelton said. “John and Diane are here to answer any questions and you come away impressed with the amount of knowledge and research they’ve done. … They’re so much fun to talk to, and we all have the same interests. It’s just nirvana. I’m like a kid in a candy store.”

Cultures come together at Schera's Algerian-American Restaurant in Elkader

With a population just over 1,000, Elkader probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking of cultural diversity. But not only is this northeast Iowa town named after a famous Algerian, Emir Abdelkader, it is also sister cities with Mascara, Algeria, and home to Schera’s Algerian-American Restaurant.

Opened in 2006 by native Iowan Brian Bruening and French-Algerian Frederique Boudouani, Schera’s has become a staple on Elkader’s main street and a regional cultural and culinary destination.

Bruening and Boudouani met while attending college in Boston, later marrying and moving back to Iowa to escape the bustle of the city. The couple were immediately drawn to Elkader due in part to its ties to Algeria but also because of the town’s vibrant downtown, Bruening said. When the opportunity arose to open a restaurant, they jumped at it, despite their lack of formal culinary training — Bruening earned his master’s of fine arts in creative writing, Boudouani a Ph.D. in computer engineering

With Schera’s, Bruening and Boudouani developed a menu that incorporates “modern interpretations” of traditional Algerian, North African and Mediterranean cuisines as well as classic Midwestern favorites.

“We wanted to give people an option to have something they normally don’t have access to,” Bruening said.

Although Boudouani left the restaurant in 2011 to open a beer distribution company, Bruening carries on in the kitchen, but said he doesn’t prefer to be called “chef.”

“I’m more comfortable being called a cook because I draw a lot from family cooking,” he said. “Some of the best meals I’ve had have been in someone’s house, so we try to recreate that here.”

In fact, Breuning said he especially draws inspiration from Boudouani’s mother, Fettouma, who still lives in Algeria and doesn’t speak English.

“Despite significant language barriers,” Bruening said, “cooking is one way we can talk.”

Cooking with Fettouma, Bruening said he was impressed by her ingenuity in the kitchen and her ability to cook with “whatever is in front of her.”

Applying a similar philosophy at Schera’s, Bruening tries to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible to create hearty, fulfilling and often vegetable-heavy dishes seasoned with a core of Algerian spices, including cinnamon, cumin, black pepper and others. Their signature dish, for example, is the couscous royale, a hearty vegetable stew with potatoes, carrots, zucchini, onions and tomatoes served over couscous.

“You’ll never get bored of the menu,” said Peggy Osmundson, another bartender and server. “It’s like a small taste of a bigger perspective.” Also on the menu, you’ll find traditional tagines, shawarma, falafel, samosas, even a camel burger topped with housemade harissa mayo.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m used to bar food,” said bartender and server Gabrielle Lenth. “This allowed me to try something different.”

Those looking for something more mainstream can find refuge in pork tenderloin, pulled pork, paninis, ribs, or a flat iron steak, for example.

The tap list boasts a variety of craft beers, wines, signature drinks and classic cocktails.

“I’m a firm believer that food is a good bridge builder,” Bruening said. “We’re opening people up to a different culture, different flavors and different experiences.”

 

If you go

WHAT: Schera’s Algerian-American Restaurant

WHERE: 107 S. Main St., Elkader

DETAILS: (563) 245-1992, scheras.com

7 Hills Brewing Company offers beer and a bite in Dubuque

At 7 Hills Brewing Company, history and modernity go hand in hand.

“Seven Hills” is one of Dubuque’s oldest nicknames, said general manager Megan Carter, and the brewery’s founders wanted to pay homage to that. After all, their brewery, which opened in August 2017, is in a building built in 1916. Originally a lumber warehouse, the 10,000-square-foot space was most recently used as a parking garage.

Now, with exposed brick, skylights, a rolling garage door and gleaming brew tanks lined up near the entrance, 7 Hills fits right into Dubuque’s trendy Millwork District, where the city and businesses have been coming together to bring new life to this part of town near the Mississippi River.

“It’s just a great area, up and coming. They’re revitalizing this neighborhood, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Carter said. “We see things only going up in this area.”

Inside, long wooden tables fill much of the space, with multiple parties meant to sit at each table.

“We just wanted a big beer-hall-style restaurant,” Carter said. “We have a come-as-you-are attitude.”

The German beer hall feel also is reflected in menu items like giant pretzels and a housemade beer brat. The kitchen also serves appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and pretzel crust pizzas. A stage hosts live music on the weekends, and outdoor seating is available in the summer.

7 Hills’ brew lineup features traditional styles like pilsner, red ale, IPAs and others, along with a cherrywood imperial stout, a gluten-free ginger beer and a kettle-soured American pale ale. Seasonal brews accompany the original seven beers on the lineup, along with 7 Hills craft soda. They also serve specialty cocktails and wine.

The brew house has a 15-barrel system, brewed at least twice a week. They have a bottling machine, but haven’t added that to their repertoire yet. However, they have started distributing kegs, and customers can take growlers or crowlers to go.

Brewing is both an art and a science, Carter said.

“We don’t make beer. We make sugar water, and the yeast makes the beer.”

Carter and her husband. Sean Carter. helped open the brewery, along with chef Tim Cogan and owner Keith Gutierrez. Sean Carter was head brewer but has since left the venture; his assistant brewer Brian Zeimet now holds that title.

“A few friends got together and said, ‘Let’s do this!’ We saw a gap in Dubuque and wanted to fill that need,” Megan Carter said.

She has worked in restaurant management for 20 years and enjoys interacting with both the regulars and newcomers who come in for a beer and a bite.

Iowa water quality work needs more money, emphasis

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa is making incremental progress in improving the state’s water quality, but the funding being dedicated to the problem is woefully inadequate to reduce the nitrate and phosphorus levels in the state’s lakes and waterways, according to a panel of experts at Thursday’s Iowa Ideas Conference in Cedar Rapids.

Speakers on a water quality panel were split on whether voluntary or regulatory approaches are more effective in gaining landowner compliance. One suggestion was to tie federal crop insurance to the use of conservation practices as a carrot-and-stick provision of the farm bill.

“Clearly, we’ve made progress. A lot is happening, but it’s just nowhere near the scale to measure change,” said Jim Jordahl of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance. “There are pockets of really good things going on. So, from our standpoint, we need to both celebrate the successes and the incremental progress but, at the same time, recognize the monumental challenge that we have left.

“And that’s a difficult message to maintain, but that’s the space that we’re in.”

HYBRID SYSTEM

However, Chris Jones, a University of Iowa research scientist who monitors water quality with sensors at about 70 Iowa locations, said Iowa is not moving quickly enough to meet its multiyear goal of reducing water pollutants by 45 percent.

The state, he said, could easily remove incentives that have encouraged farmers to plant corn and soybeans on hundreds of thousands of marginal and low-lying acres in flood plains rather than discouraging practices like fall tillage and livestock manure runoff into waterways.

“We have this hybrid system that’s not producing the environmental outcomes that we want, and it’s really not producing — at least right now — the economic outcomes that the farmers want,” Jones said.

Iowa’s GOP-led Legislature passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law last spring intended to provided an estimated $270.2 million for water-quality projects over the next 11 years, according to the state’s nonpartisan data agency. There will be $4 million in new funding this budget year, another $8 million the following year and $27.3 million to $30.2 million annually through June 2029, according to the agency.

The funds will support projects designed to filter nutrient pollutants out of Iowa waterways and to decrease soil erosion and pollutant runoff into waterways.

“It all helps,” Jordahl said. “It’s beneficial, but over time we’re going to need significantly more investment to meet the challenge because the scope of it really is enormous.”

Jones argued the appropriated funds won’t go very far in addressing the overall problem, but Dustin Miller, a Des Moines attorney and lobbyist who helped formulate the 2018 water quality legislation, said “it’s unrealistic for state to invest $4 billion to $5 billion” that experts say would be needed to address Iowa’s water-quality concerns.

TOUGH FARM YEAR

Adam Rodenberg, director of the Middle Cedar Watershed Management Authority, said he is working with farmers to spread the word about federal and state cost-share money available to them to invest in cover crops, buffer strips and other edge-of-field conservation practices.

However, he said, the current sluggish farm economy is making it hard for landowners to have money available for water-quality projects when they’re facing financial pressures like loan or rent payments and low commodity prices — all exacerbated by an international trade war.

Taking cropland out of production hurts their bottom lines, he said.

“Our farmers aren’t really going to make any money this year,” Rodenberg said. “You’re not seeing a lot of investment from them because of that because they have other things they’re paying off. It’s difficult right now.”

Jones said the “jury is out” whether farmers would invest voluntarily, regardless of whether there’s cost-share money available.

regional approach

But in the meantime, he said, water-quality problems persist and call for some type of government involvement or participation by entities that benefit from cheap food policies to spur improvements.

That may require some type of regional approach among states contributing to the pollutants causing a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

“If we could do a few things, we would see a very immediate result of the water quality of our streams, but we lack the fortitude to do these things,” Jones said. “I reject this idea that this is going to take forever. If it takes forever, it’s because we want it to take forever.”

BUILD ON SUCCESS

Miller said many cities, industries and rural associations are working collaboratively to address water quality issues that follow standards established in the 1972 Clean Water Act.

He viewed options — like a state-funded revolving loan funds to finance projects with multiple benefits — as a better approach than a regulatory “hammer” to force cooperative action.

“The success of the Clean Water Act of 1972 means now we don’t see rivers changing colors every day, we don’t see rivers catching fire,” Miller said. “But to get to the success that we have now in the Clean Water Act, it has cost a lot of money and it’s taken a lot of time.

“I think that’s the key — the framework is there, the bones are there, to have success. We are seeing success. It’s just a matter of what kind of time can the parties that differ on that — what will they ultimately see as success?”

Given there was major work on water quality this past legislative session, Miller was skeptical much would happen in 2019 but that could depend on the outcome of November’s general election.

“Once you act on something, it takes quite a bit of effort to do something different,” Miller said, noting it took decades for lawmakers to make changes to commercial property tax and corporate income tax laws. “Anytime you address something, it is difficult to mount up the momentum to do it.

Added Jones: “I hear people say that politics is the art of the possible. And what we’re doing here in Iowa right now is the possible.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

Both rivals for congress wary of poll with big lead for Finkenauer

CEDAR RAPIDS — Polling over the past two days by the New York Times shows Democratic state Rep. Abby Finkenauer with a 15-point lead over U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, but the candidates aren’t putting much stock in the results.

“First of all, it’s the New York Times and most people know and understand their bias,” Blum said after seeing results from the first day of live polling in Iowa’s 20-county 1st District.

“I could commission a poll tomorrow that shows me with a 15-point lead based on the turnout model and who they poll,” he said. “So it’s meaningless to me.”

Finkenauer’s campaign manager, Kane Miller, called the poll a part of a bigger picture.

“This is just one poll and we expect this to be a competitive race all the way to Election Day,” Miller said.

“Abby’s been running a personal campaign that’s focused on the issues and values of this district, and she’ll continue to do that,” he said.

Political handicappers have predicted Democrats are likely to pick up the seat this November.

Other polls also have shown Finkenauer leading Blum. According to an Emerson College poll, she leads by 5 points. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll showed a 6-point lead and Public Policy Polling showed it as a 1-point race.

Asked if the second day of polling had showed him leading, Blum laughed and said, “I won’t take anything away from that either.”

What the polling does show, Blum said, is the impact of millions of dollars of attack ads over the past 20 months from Finkenauer and groups supporting her.

Despite Finkenauer’s lead in this poll, Blum has confidence. Polls in his previous races for the seat also showed him trailing Democratic opponents — but not by double digits.

“I wasn’t supposed to win in 2014. I wasn’t supposed to win in 2016. This is a Democratic district,” he said. “At this point in time in those races, I was never ahead in the polls. I won against all odds.”

By Thursday night, the New York Times poll had him trailing by 15 points — 52 percent to 37 percent, with 11 percent undecided.

After two days of polling — 17,716 calls and 502 responses — the poll results show 1st District voters giving President Donald Trump a 39/55 percent approval/disapproval rating and favoring Democratic control of the House by a 49 to 40 percent margin.

Majorities support the North American Free Trade Agreement and oppose Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. A plurality favor Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and the northeast Iowans were evenly divided — 46 to 46 percent — on the GOP tax cuts.

Blum doesn’t think the poll is a harbinger of a Democratic blue wave.

“I think that has been exaggerated somewhat,” he said. “The left is energized. But the right’s energized as well. The right doesn’t tend to go out and do protest. I personally believe that on Election Day the silent majority will do its job by showing up and voting.”

Finkenauer said the enthusiasm among her supporters is “palpable,” but doesn’t want to predict a wave election.

“I’m not from the coast so I don’t know anything about waves,” she said. “But there’s something happening. People are excited and paying attention. People are ready for some change.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

Audit of Iowa’s privately run Medicaid expected soon

CEDAR RAPIDS — The head of Iowa’s Department of Human Services said Thursday there has been progress in delivering services to Medicaid members through a privately managed system and he believes a soon-to-be-released audit will show the program in place since April 2016 has saved the state money.

“I’m confident it’s going to show there was a savings. I think the question is not does it save money, the question is how much,” Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven told a discussion group at the Iowa Ideas Conference that focused on challenges facing Iowa’s privatized Medicaid program.

The assessment was met with skepticism by the other panel member — Kirk Norris, chief executive of the Iowa Hospital Association. He said his 118 member hospitals still are having issues getting reimbursed by the two managed care organizations that now contract with the state. A third company, a subsidiary of Centene, will begin administering coverage in July 2019.

Norris said association members tell him “they’re still dealing with first-day issues that they were dealing with two years ago” and they’re spending $3 instead of the $1 it previously cost them to process claims.

He said research shows the privatized Medicaid model does not work in mid-size states like Iowa.

“You don’t save money. In fact, it costs you more,” said Norris. “Our argument is what we’re doing now is not sustainable. If you look at the trend line relative to the expenditures, relative to these three companies, it’s off the charts. We’re not getting any value for the money we’re spending.”

Foxhoven countered that the focus is making sure that the 742,000 Medicaid members in Iowa get the quality services they need, not whether the hospitals are getting “more in their pockets.”

Foxhoven appeared at the panel after Iowa Medicaid Director Michael Randol withdrew Wednesday as the department’s representative at the conference.

While acknowledging “bumps” in making the transition to managed care, Foxhoven said, “I would like to hope that most people think it’s better today than it was a year and a half ago.

“We still have a ways to go, but we think we have made progress and improvement,” he added. “I think most people would say that it’s getting better, that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Norris did not see it that way, however. Referencing Foxhoven’s “bumps” comment, he told conference participants “we would say that a more correct analogy would be, when you think of bumps in the road, you think of a vehicle hitting a bump and moving on or having a fender bender. From our perspective, the car has careened off the road,” he said.

The privatized Medicaid program, which offers care for poor and disabled Iowans, has received vocal criticism from members who assert their services were unfairly cut and from providers that say their insurance claims are not paid in a timely manner.

Last month, Human Services officials announced the state had agreed to a $102.9 million increase in Medicaid funding to two private insurance companies providing Medicaid coverage in fiscal year 2019. That is a 7.5 percent increase from last year.

Amerigroup of Iowa and UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley have signed contracts to continue as managed-care organizations within the $5 billion Medicaid program. The contract states the insurance companies will receive a 8.4 percent overall increase in payments — which includes state and federal funding — from the past fiscal year, totaling up to $344.2 million. The state previously had agreed to a 3.3 percent increase for state fiscal year 2018.

He said the rates are lower than the average 8.5 percent increase Iowans are being charged for private health insurance premiums.

State Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, has asked State Auditor Mary Mosiman, a Republican, to conduct an audit of the privately managed Medicaid system to determine if the approach is saving the state money or costing taxpayers more. Foxhoven said he expected to see the adult results “any day now.”

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, who attended Thursday’s discussion, said she was struck by the stark difference in opinion between Foxhoven and Norris. She said she was “disheartened” that lawmakers had to seek out an audit on the program because the department was not able to adequately answer those questions.

Ethics board dismisses complaints regarding Governor Kim Reynolds’ flights with donors

DES MOINES — The state’s government ethics board on Thursday dismissed two complaints against Gov. Kim Reynolds’ reporting of flights on private jets provided by donors.

One of the complaints against Reynolds, the state’s Republican governor, was brought by Gary Dickey, a Des Moines attorney and former staff member for former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack.

Reynolds has reported nine flights as “in-kind” donations, a term used to describe services offered to candidates in lieu of money donation.

Reynolds recently has come under scrutiny for accepting flights on private jets from business leaders who have business before the state: a casino owner and an executive from a company that processes workers’ compensation claims for state employees.

The ethics board on Thursday ruled that accepting the flights as in-kind donations is permissible under state campaign finance laws.

It also rejected a specific complaint from Dickey that the Reynolds campaign undervalued the flight to Memphis, Tenn., for the Iowa State University football team’s bowl game in December.

The Reynolds campaign reported an in-kind donation for $2,880 from David North, of Bellevue, president and CEO of Sedgwick Inc. The figure was calculated by the company’s legal counsel, North told the Associated Press.

Megan Tooker, the board’s legal counsel, said Iowa law states the contributor is to provide fair-market value to the campaign, that the campaign is not required to verify that figure, and that federal law has strict tax rules about reimbursements.

“So I don’t think it’s unreasonable for either the board or the campaign to assume that those flights are being properly paid for in the case of a corporate owner,” Tooker said.

Dickey after the board’s ruling said he maintains the Reynolds’ campaign undervalued the flight to Memphis by at least half.

He said he thinks Sedgwick reported how much the flight cost the company, but state law requires the campaign to report fair-market value. Dickey said in his research the lowest bid he could find was $2,800 per seat.

Reynolds attended the game with her husband and two other family members.

“The fair-market value would be how much it costs per seat for an individual to fly charter on a Gulfstream G200 (private jet) from Des Moines to Memphis, Tenn.,” Dickey said. “I’ve yet to find a charter service that provides that affordable of transportation.”

Dickey said he will consider whether to appeal the board’s ruling or file a subsequent complaint with more details and legal analysis.

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

King challenger J.D. Scholten calls for economic development, immigration reform

DES MOINES — When he came back from Seattle in 2016 to help run the family farm in western Iowa, J.D. Scholten was dismayed by his job search.

“For about a month I was trying to find a job, and the best job I could find was $16 an hour (with) no benefits,” Scholten said. “And I was working in one of the best economies in the world out in Seattle ...

“That’s how,” he said, “I started thinking about running for office, ‘I’m not accepting that that’s the best Sioux City can offer.’ ”

Scholten, the Democratic candidate for Congress in western Iowa’s 4th District, appeared Thursday at the federal candidate series hosted by the Greater Des Moines Partnership, a coalition of central Iowa chambers of commerce and business leaders.

Scholten, 38, is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, 69, who is seeking an eighth term in Congress. King is not scheduled to appear at the Partnership’s candidate series.

Libertarian Charles Aldrich also is running in the 4th District.

Scholten said in order to boost western Iowa’s economy, he advocates more government investment in technology infrastructure and education, more equitable business investment between population centers and rural areas, and immigration reform.

“There’s just a need. We’re way behind in some of the areas (in western Iowa), and it’s extremely frustrating because how are we supposed to compete with other states and other countries,” Scholten said of the region’s technology infrastructure. “That is a way for us to allow our children and the next generation to stay in Iowa.”

Scholten cited figures that show a large portion of venture capital dollars are invested in concentrated areas across the country. He said rural areas need more investment.

A recent report from PwC and CB Insights suggests roughly $4 out of every $5 of business investment is spent in just four states.

“People in Sioux City, if we want to be entrepreneurial, there’s not always the money,” Scholten said. “That’s what we need, is more balance as a nation.”

Scholten said immigration reform could help bolster western Iowa’s workforce. He said he supports a modernization of work visa programs, a pathway to residency and citizenship, and border security.

“If we want to increase the economy in that district, those are things we’re going to have to deal with,” Scholten said.

Scholten said he is just beginning his third 39-county tour of the district.

King, who has represented the conservative district since 2003, leads Scholten by 6 percentage points in a poll made available last weekend by Scholten’s campaign.

The poll was conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Expedition Strategies. The poll surveyed 380 likely voters and found King with support from 43 percent of likely voters, with Scholten at 37 percent.

l Comments: (515) 422-9061; erin.murphy@lee.net

Officials consider options for GO Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS — City officials held a key meeting with the interim director of GO Cedar Rapids about the future of the financially strapped tourism bureau this week.

Neither city nor GO Cedar Rapids officials would discuss specifics of the meeting, but Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz issued a statement describing the meeting in general terms Thursday.

“On September 19, city officials met with Jim Haddad, interim CEO of GO Cedar Rapids, who provided an update to the city and discussed possible options for the organization moving forward,” Pomeranz said. “Haddad continues to work with others in the community to develop plans for the organization.

“Once a plan is presented to the city, we will access all of our options before presenting a recommendation to City Council.”

Haddad declined to comment.

At the meeting were Haddad, on behalf of the GO Cedar Rapids, Pomeranz, Mayor Brad Hart, City Council members Tyler Olson and Scott Overland, who is also on the GO Cedar Rapids board, Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, and Angie Charipar, assistant to the city manager and city liaison on the GO Cedar Rapids board and an executive committee member.

The city has been the main financial backer of the organization for years, providing $1 million annually through hotel-motel tax revenues. GO Cedar Rapids’ annual budget increased recently from $1.6 million to $2 million.

City Council members have said previously they are leery of providing the organization additional money. The nonprofit is at least $1.8 million in debt to the bank and vendors after losing $2.3 million on a first-time festival called “newbo evolve” on Aug. 3-5.

The GO Cedar Rapids president and community events director were both fired in the days after the festival.

The nonprofit has vowed to conduct an independent audit of the event and make the findings public, after suggesting board members were misled about spending, ticket sales and sponsorships.

Council members want hotel-motel tax revenue to go toward the mission of attracting people to Cedar Rapids, not repaying the organization’s debt, several council members have said.

The organization is expected to seek money, or at least flexibility in repaying a $500,000 hotel-motel tax advance the city made last year. The advance was for a zip line that never panned out and to book acts for newbo evolve.

The city plans to withhold $500,000 — or the first two quarters of the allocation of hotel-motel tax to repay itself this year — and had intentionally not committed the remaining $500,000.

The decision of what to do with that money, which is earmarked for GO Cedar Rapids but could be used elsewhere, is expected to come some time later this fiscal year, which runs until June 30. l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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