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Trump’s call to one widow has dominated the news; here are the other US soldiers killed in Niger

President Donald Trump’s phone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson has dominated the news for the better part of a week, opening up a rift with the fallen soldier’s family, pulling White House Chief of Staff John Kelly into the controversy and raising uncomfortable questions about the president’s treatment of Gold Star families.

But the political debate that exploded over the call has overshadowed the other lives lost that day: the three other U.S. soldiers who were killed with Johnson on Oct. 4, when militants attacked them in Niger in West Africa.

Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, was a class clown who could quote just about any comedy movie; a short and chubby child, he grew up into a fearsome Green Beret and was preparing for a future with a girlfriend in Philadelphia.

Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, was a fierce competitor who spoke three foreign languages, including the local dialect in Niger; a father of two who excelled at medical studies, he was a Green Beret medic.

Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, has dedicated a decade of his life to military service, having earned a dozen medals, ribbons and badges.

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Here are their stories:

Though Wright had plans to move to Philadelphia to be closer to a woman he had started dating, the 29-year-old, who joined the Army in 2012, left for Africa in August, propelled by a sharp sense of duty, his brother Will said in a phone interview. It was his second assignment in Africa.

The third of four brothers in a military family, he was a bit of a gentle giant, his brother said, a short, chubby younger boy who grew into an offensive and defensive lineman on his high school football team. Known as the “big guy,” he could also recite the line to just about any comedy film.

“As he got older, he’s this massive rough and tough John Wayne kind of guy,” Will said. “But if you knew him and talked to him, he was just a lovable clown. He was the nicest, most gentle man you ever met.”

The boys’ parents were in the Army when they were growing up near Lyons, Georgia. Only about a year apart in age, the brothers were very close.

“We could finish each other’s sentences and usually it was some sort of comedy or movie quotes,” said Will. “Any cheesy comedy you can think of, we knew the lines.”

Wright loved the beach and boating, accompanying his brother and a friend on a 10-day trip sailing down the Intracoastal Waterway between Norfolk, Virginia, and Saint Simons Island in Georgia. This past summer, Wright had met the woman he started dating at a country music festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Will said. He had plans to move closer to her once he returned from Africa.

“They were set to start their lives together,” Will said.

Wright was buried last week at a family plot in a cemetery in Georgia. More than two-thirds of the family in the plot are veterans, Will said. His brother is the first to have been killed in action.

“He was doing what he was loved,” Will said. “ That was where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to be doing. We’re thankful.”

Black did not just speak English, French and Arabic; the 35-year-old had also learned Hausa, the local dialect in Niger, because he wanted to communicate directly with the people.

He did not just learn chess when he was a child; he dominated at competitions.

He did not just go through rigorous physical training to become a Green Beret; he also excelled in his medical studies.

Black, of Puyallup, Washington, was remembered for his fierce, competitive nature, his obituary says.

Frustrated after his older brother won a chess tournament when Bryan was in the fourth grade, he spent the entire summer studying the game. By the sixth grade, he had earned a national ranking.

That drive later pushed him toward a range of hobbies and skills: poker, carpentry, stock trading, martial arts and roofing.

“He was always learning something, mastering something,” father Hank Black said at his funeral, the Fayetteville Observer reported.

A former roommate from California, Joe Donovan, said that the first time he met Black, the man was playing six games of online poker and six games of chess on his computer simultaneously. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Right now, winning,” Black shot back.

A similar drive had prompted Black’s foray into wrestling. He pushed himself so hard during a bout of training in high school that he suffered a heat stroke, but he stuck with it, according to his obituary. As a student at Central Washington University, he wrestled for the varsity team, and graduated in 2002 with a degree in business administration.

He had earned money for his education by buying and selling rare coins.

After graduation, Black moved to Mammoth Lakes, California, to work as a ski instructor, where he met the woman who would become his wife, Michelle Richmond Black. The two married in 2005 and have two sons together, ages 9 and 11. Black joined the Army in 2009.

Pictures posted on Facebook show a procession of cars and motorcycles bringing Black’s coffin to his home in North Carolina. Firefighters and other service members saluted from highway overpasses. And in Fayetteville, where he lived with his family, a crowd of people stood in the street, waving American flags as the coffin was driven by.

Johnson’s family described him as a loyal man who loved his country.

“He was a man of many talents, he enjoyed working on and riding motorcycles, forging and customizing knives, smoking cigars and his tobacco pipe, and enjoying the outdoors with his family,” his obituary says.

For some, he was the beloved crazy uncle who never let a dull moment seep into his day.

As his obituary says, Johnson’s “immortal words” were “WOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“He was wild & outgoing. Just always on 100; always making you want to pull your hair out . . .,” his niece, Carrie Gomez, wrote on Facebook. “My uncle J was everything your uncle is suppose[d] to be to you. Hard on you at times, there for you when you need it . ... I will miss you so much I can not even put it into words. ... Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice.”

In another Facebook post sharing a picture of Johnson holding a cigar, Gomez wrote: “Our crazy family get togethers will never be the same. I love & miss you.”

Johnson, who was from Springboro, Ohio, owned and operated his own business before he joined the Army in October 2007, according to his obituary.

“Jeremiah was doing what he really wanted to do,” Jeff Baldridge, a neighbor and family friend, told WHIO in Dayton. “He really wanted to be an NCO [noncommissioned officer] in the United States Army.”

Johnson left behind his wife of 15 years, Crystal Johnson, and his two teenage daughters.

Johnson was born in North Carolina but moved to Ohio in his 20s to be closer to his mother and stepfather, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Flags were flown at half-staff last week in Springboro, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati and Dayton, as the community remembered one of its own.

“He was all about country, family, moral fiber. He was someone who, if you met him, you liked him immediately,” Springboro Mayor John Agenbroad told NBC affiliate WLWT.

U.S., Syria out in the cold after Nicaragua signs Paris Climate Deal

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua has signed the Paris climate deal, the country’s vice president confirmed Monday, leaving the United States and Syria as the only two nations to not lend their support to the international treaty.

Rosario Murillo said that President Daniel Ortega had signed the Central American nation on to the deal even though the government still had misgivings about it.

In a joint letter to the United Nations, published online by Nicaraguan newspaper El 19, Murillo and Ortega said that although the Paris deal was “not ideal” it was the “only instrument” to prevent contamination that was poisoning the planet.

Adopted by nearly 200 countries during a conference in Paris in December 2015, the document lays out a 31-page plan that seeks to keep global average temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, limit greenhouse gas emissions and also remove them from the atmosphere.

President Donald Trump announced June 1 that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, but he also left open the door to negotiating a better deal for U.S. businesses and workers.

Trump’s decision only began the process of withdrawal, a move that will not be completed until 2020. In the meantime, his administration is not holding itself to commitments, made during predecessor Barack Obama’s time in office, to limit emissions and otherwise abide by the deal.

Syria has been hit by civil war since 2011, with human rights violations on both sides. As a result, Bashar Assad’s government has so far not been in a position to commit to limiting the country’s climate emissions.

Trump rejects caps on 401(k) plans as part of GOP tax plan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday there will not be changes to tax-deferred retirement savings plans under his proposed tax overhaul, short-circuiting reports that House Republicans were considering sharply capping one of the most popular breaks.

“There will be NO change to your 401(k),” Trump said Monday on Twitter. “This has always been a great and popular middle class tax break that works, and it stays!”

Trump’s declaration is the first time he has weighed in specifically on this portion of the tax overhaul debate. Congressional negotiators had been considering reducing the cap on the annual amount workers can set aside for their 401(k) accounts to help offset the cost of a massive income tax cut, the New York Times reported Friday.

Workers now can put as much as $18,000 — or up to $24,000 for workers over 50 — in those accounts each year without paying taxes first.

The Times reported congressional negotiators were considering a cap of just $2,400 — and that any contribution over that would be directed to a Roth account and taxed immediately.

The idea faces opposition beyond Trump. In response to a question, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who is a key member of the Senate Finance Committee said he, for one, is also opposed.

“The tax reform framework’s stated goal is to maintain or raise retirement plan participation of workers and the resources available for retirement. I agree with that goal. Saving, planning and frugality should be rewarded,” Grassley said in a statement.

Wall Street has been girding for possible changes to the lucrative 401(k) industry, which in recent decades has funneled trillions of pretax dollars from workers’ paychecks into stocks, bonds and other financial assets.

Trump has made tax cuts the centerpiece of his legislative agenda and issued a broad framework in September that, among other things, called for a reduction in the corporate income tax rate to 20 from 35 percent. He also repeatedly has said that the middle class must benefit from the tax cuts.

At the same time, Trump has sought to highlight the rise in the stock market during his presidency, tweeting at least seven times in the last week about it.

Republicans have so far struggled to find offsets for the steep tax cuts they have offered to both individual and corporate tax rates.

After seeking to eliminate the tax deduction for state and local taxes, Republicans may be considering changes to ensure that middle-class Americans don’t actually end up with a tax increase.

The Senate adopted a 2018 budget resolution last week allowing for increasing the deficit by about $1.5 trillion — before considering any economic growth that might come from the changes.

The House may vote as soon as this week on the Senate resolution, which is a crucial step to passing a tax bill with only Republican votes.

Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times contributed to this report.

Top U.S. military officer seeks to address criticism of fatal Niger operation

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. military officer sought on Monday to tamp down criticism the Pentagon had not been forthcoming about the death of four U.S. soldiers in an ambush in Niger, providing a timeline of the incident and acknowledging unanswered questions remained.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the United States Africa Command was conducting an investigation into the Oct. 4 attack. Some lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon for being slow to provide answers.

Dunford acknowledged that a number of issues were still under investigation, including why U.S. forces on the ground waited an hour until they called for support, what type of intelligence was used in the mission and why it took as long as it did to recover a U.S. soldier’s body.

“There has been a lot of speculation about the operation in Niger and there’s a perception that the Department of Defense has not been forthcoming and I thought it would be helpful for me to personally clarify to you what we know today, and to outline what we hope to find out in the ongoing investigation,”

Dunford said in an hour-long news conference.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s handling of condolence messages to the families of the dead soldiers has been criticized by lawmakers in Washington and has raised the profile of the deadly incident.

Dunford said for the first time that U.S. forces on the ground in Niger waited an hour before calling for support.

Within minutes, a U.S. drone located nearby was moved over the firefight and provided intelligence and full-motion video.

French fighter jets arrived above the scene about an hour after that, said Dunford.

“It is important to note that when they didn’t ask for support for that first hour, my judgment would be that that unit thought they could handle the situation without additional support,” Dunford said.

The French fighters did not drop bombs when they arrived, something Dunford said was under investigation.

QUESTIONS FROM LAWMAKERS

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week he may consider issuing a subpoena because the White House had not been forthcoming with details of the attack.

On Monday, McCain said lawmakers were getting cooperation and information from the Pentagon and expected a “formal hearing” on Thursday about the ambush.

The attack threw a spotlight on the little-known counterterrorism mission in the West African country, which has about 800 U.S. troops, out of a total of 6,000 U.S. troops in Africa. The United States says it is there to support Niger in fighting Islamist extremists.

The Pentagon said at the time that three soldiers had been killed in the ambush. The body of a fourth soldier, Sergeant La David Johnson, was recovered about two days later.

Dunford said that on Oct. 3, a dozen U.S. soldiers accompanied 30 Nigerien forces on a reconnaissance mission near the village of Tongo Tongo.

After spending the night near the village, the forces were moving back to their base when they came under attack from about 50 enemy fighters, who appeared to be from a local Islamic State affiliate. The militants attacked with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, Dunford said.

“It was planned as a reconnaissance mission,” Dunford said. “What happened after they began to execute, in other words, did the mission change? That is one of the questions that’s being asked,” he said.

CONSIDERED A LOWER-RISK MISSION

The mission had been seen as a relatively lower-risk endeavor for elite U.S. commandos and there was no armed air cover at the time that could carry out air strikes if necessary.

He added there was no indication the soldiers had taken too many risks.

“I don’t have any indication right now to believe or to know that they did anything other than operate within the orders they were given,” Dunford said.

U.S. forces were conducting normal operations in Niger again and the plan was for them to continue to train and advise local partners. Dunford said there had been no discussions about increasing U.S. troops.

A controversy has swirled for a week over how Trump has handled the task of consoling relatives of slain service members.

Myeshia Johnson, the widow of the Army sergeant killed in Niger, said on Monday that Trump had “made me cry even worse” in a condolence call when he said her husband “knew what he signed up for.”

“We owe the families as much information as we can find out about what happened, and we owe the American people an explanation of what their men and women were doing at this particular time,” Dunford said.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Eric Walsh and Amanda Becker; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Peter Cooney)

Border wall prototypes a first small step on Trump campaign promise

San Diego — Nine months after President Donald Trump took office, the first tangible signs of progress on one of the central promises of his campaign have appeared along the U.S. border with Mexico.

A couple of miles (km) from the bustling Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego, eight towering chunks of concrete and steel stand as high as 30 feet (9 meters) tall against the sky, possible models for what Trump has promised will one day be a solid wall extending the full length of the southern border, from California to Texas.

Whether any of the eight different prototypes, constructed over the last month, become part of an actual wall remains highly uncertain.

The U.S. Congress has so far shown little interest in appropriating the estimated $21.6 billion it would cost to build the wall.

Still, border patrol officials on Monday welcomed the momentum on Trump’s pledge, which generated a groundswell of voter support that helped elect him to office.

“Our current infrastructure is well over two decades old,” Roy Villareal, deputy chief patrol agent of the U.S. Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, said during a tour with media organizations on Monday morning. “Is there need for improvement? Absolutely.”

Currently, 654 miles (1,052 km) of the 1,900-mile (3,058-km)border with Mexico is fenced, with single, double or triple fences. The second line of fencing in San Diego, about 18 feet (5.50 m) tall, has been breached nearly 2,000 times in the last three years, Villareal said.

Even if Trump’s wall never gets funded, Villareal said, the border patrol might incorporate one or more of the new wall designs as it replaces worn sections of the existing fence.

Six contractors from across the country were selected to build the eight prototypes, all of which will be completed this week.

The builders paid attention to aesthetics in their bid to win lucrative contracts. One wall segment features deep-blue steel and another has a brick facade, standing in sharp contrast to the area’s existing border fence, a ramshackle structure of corrugated steel left over from the Vietnam War.

In late November, a private company, which border patrol officials declined to name, will begin a 30- to 60-day process of testing the wall prototypes to determine how easy they would be to climb over or dig beneath.

The final selection could be a combination of the prototype designs, Villareal said.

While solid, concrete walls have a daunting presence, they might have an adverse effect on some border patrol activities, since agents would not be able to see potential crossers approaching the wall.

“It’s not so much the size of the wall, it’s the ability to see whether it’s 10 people or 30 people with ... rifles,” said Rowdy Adams, a former border patrol agent who left the agency in 2011 after 30 years. “It’s important to see that and set your response plan in place.”

Two of the eight prototypes have a see-through design.

Environmentalists have warned that a solid wall would prevent wildlife, including a dwindling population of federally protected ocelots, from crossing.

A concrete wall may also prove challenging to build without participation from some of the world’s largest concrete suppliers. Mexico’s Cemex and Switzerland’s LafargeHolcim told Reuters they were not participating in projects associated with the wall. (Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Sue Horton, Rosalba O’Brien and Sandra Maler)

From Iowa, Comey solves Twitter mystery

Former FBI Director James B. Comey ended a monthslong Twitter tease when he confirmed — with a photo posted Monday morning of him in Iowa — that he is the owner of a cryptic account with the name Reinhold Niebuhr.

Since the spring, when Gizmodo journalist Ashley Feinberg sleuthed that the account belonged to Comey, thousands of people have retweeted and tried to analyze the account’s nature photos and phrases.

But photos over the weekend from Iowa triggered panting speculation that Comey is running for president.

Despite the speculation, the Des Moines Register said it has confirmed that Comey was in Des Moines for something far less political — the 90th birthday party held at a steakhouse for his wife’s father.

On Monday, Comey tweeted a photo of himself on the account. “Goodbye Iowa. On the road home. Gotta get back to writing. Will try to tweet in useful ways,” wrote “Reinhold Niebuhr.”

So that’s one mystery solved. But who is Niebuhr, and why did Comey name the account after him?

After the Gizmodo reporting, Post reporters found that Comey’s undergraduate thesis at the College of William & Mary was about Niebuhr, a theologian who died in 1971.

Jack Jenkins wrote in Think Progress that while most Americans wouldn’t know Niebuhr’s name today, “he was once unavoidable: beginning in the 1930s and extending into the 1960s, Niebuhr’s various treatises on the intersection of Christianity and public life were at the center of innumerable public debates, and his voice was a constant in conversations about the moral dimensions of war, use of nuclear weapons, and civil rights.”

Among those who have quoted and called Niebuhr their favorite theologian are thinkers and politicians from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to David Brooks and John McCain, Jenkins wrote.

Niebuhr warned that people should never assume they could eliminate evil. Rather, they should be on guard lest their moral ambitions lead to a “self-deluded and destructive pride.”

Comey’s thesis compares Niebuhr with Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell. Comey’s study was an effort to understand how each man would answer: “Why should the Christian be involved in politics?”

Sunday, Comey tweeted from Iowa a photo of birds, writing he was “thinking about Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer.” The prayer is one of the most famous meditations, adopted by clergy as well as many 12-step programs.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference,” it says.

Advocates, officials to begin talks on racial justice agreement spurred on by Jerime Mitchell shooting

CEDAR RAPIDS — The shooting of a black man by a white police officer last winter in Cedar Rapids prompted anger, tension and — eventually — discussion among local officials and community members.

Out of these conversations, the Iowa Justice Alliance and the NAACP have extended a hand to local leaders to begin the process of developing a memorandum of understanding.

However, the fate of that memorandum is up in the air.

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker, a representative for the Iowa Justice Alliance, said the memorandum is intended “to capture the spirit” of recent efforts among advocates and local officials the past several weeks.

It can “make official and make available for public presentation all of the work that these leaders have been doing,” Walker said. “It can serve as a document to hold everyone accountable because we can outline any promises made or any promises of reform within the different law enforcement agencies within government.”

The discussions came about after tensions arose following the Nov. 1, 2016, traffic-stop shooting of Jerime Mitchell by Cedar Rapids police officer Lucas Jones, which intensified the relations between law enforcement and communities of color in Cedar Rapids.

Jones was cleared of all charges in the traffic-stop shooting by a grand jury called by Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden. Jones since has returned to active duty.

Following the grand jury decision, the Justice Alliance and the NAACP this past February released a document titled “12 Steps for Addressing Justice in Cedar Rapids.” The steps include, among other items, diversity training for police officers and special prosecutors for officer-involved shooting cases.

Another one of the 12 steps calls for law enforcement and city officials to work with representatives from the Department of Justice “to develop and implement a memorandum of understanding around community policing strategies.”

A memorandum of understanding is a formal agreement between two or more parties and is not binding by law as are other documents, such as a consent decree.

About a dozen people — from the Justice Alliance, the NAACP, city officials, Linn County law enforcement leaders and Cedar Rapids residents — have been meeting every other week since July to discuss the 12 Steps.

Mayor Ron Corbett, who has been a participant in these meetings, said the city of Cedar Rapids often signs memorandums as it relates to development agreements, such as for the redevelopment of the Westdale Mall. The city also has memorandums that provide funding or with groups such as GO Cedar Rapids.

“Basically it lays out both parties come to the table in exchange for resources,” Corbett said. “This is a little different than the traditional MOUs that the city has worked on.”

As of the Oct. 11 meeting, the group has enlisted the help of an official from the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, an agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that serves as a “peacemaker” for community conflicts regarding race, color and origin, according to its website.

The Oct. 11 meeting was closed to the news media.

The Gazette obtained a document outlining a mediation process that was given to the Oct. 11 meeting attendees. It states that the process is not a legal action, but assists the development of “mutually acceptable solutions that benefit all parties.” It’s from this mediation process that a memorandum will be determined.

The Community Relations Service official, who remains anonymous due to federal regulation, will be present at upcoming meetings to serve as mediator. These meetings will be closed to the public and the media, according to the document.

Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and who has attended the bi-weekly meetings, said she hoped the memorandum would be inclusive of these demands while leaving room for other issues the group deems necessary to fold in.

However, some city and law enforcement officials who’ve attended the meetings are on the fence whether to sign the memorandum.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale both said they would not commit to the memorandum until its exact contents were determined.

While Vander Sanden said he has made a commitment to continue attending these meetings, he is in “a wait-and-see mode” on the memorandum itself.

McHale, who was unable to attend the Oct. 11 meeting, said he had a phone conversation with the Justice Department official who led the session. He recalled the official couldn’t give him a clear answer on what issues the group would be working through in the mediation process — which gives the police chief pause.

“Before I enter into any mediation on the behalf of the citizens of Marion, I need to know clearly what they expect us to mediate,” McHale said.

If the mediation would center on the 12 Steps — specific items on which McHale could act — he said he is willing to enter into the discussions.

“Those are things we’ve already talked about” throughout these meetings, McHale said. “So if they want to formally enter into an MOU about putting my policies online and things like that, you know what, I’m all in because I’m going to do it anyway.”

Chief Wayne Jerman of the Cedar Rapids Police Department declined to comment on the memorandum for this article. In March, Mitchell and his wife, Bracken, filed a lawsuit against Officer Jones and the city of Cedar Rapids for negligence, assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.

“We approached (these meetings) that the Mitchell case was the catalyst for immediate situations,” the NAACP’s Andrews said. “We do want justice for Jerime (Mitchell). And justice for Jerime means we put together some reform effort that allows justice not only for Jerime, but for other people of color.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

Cedar Rapids logistics company proposes $30 million warehouse and distribution space

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids logistics company is proposing nearly 800,000 square feet of new warehouse and distribution space and creating at least 25 jobs in the southwest part of the city.

Specifics have not been announced, but information released in a Cedar Rapids City Council agenda packet show Midwest Third Party Logistics has proposed investing $30 million to build three new warehouse facilities at 4645 20th Ave. SW.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said it would be a good thing for Cedar Rapids.

“More jobs and more property tax base,” Corbett said.

When it meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE, City Council members will consider granting conditional approval of $2.3 million in tax breaks for the project over 10 years under the city’s high quality jobs exemption of its economic development program.

Midwest Logistics is a warehousing, transportation and supply chain management company with headquarters in Cedar Rapids at 4515 20th Ave. SW, Suite C. The company is owned by Rick and Marsha Stickle and has two other locations in Cedar Rapids and a location in Savanna, Ill.

The first proposed building would be 227,500 square feet in the northwest corner of the plot bound by 20th Avenue SW, Wilson Avenue SW, Jacolyn Drive SW and city land. The second to be built would be in the northeast corner and measure 192,500 square feet. The third would take up the lower half of the land and would be 367,500 square feet.

The structures would be built in phases.

The 10-year, 50-percent tax break is based on a post-development assessed value of $18.75 million. The land for the development is split in two parcels, which both are owned by the Stickles. They have an assessed value of a combined $1 million.

The southern most of the two parcels was reclassified from commercial to agricultural land in 2017 causing the property assessment to dip from $768,300 in 2016 to $70,000 in 2017. This creates more room for incremental growth in property value, which in turn expands the potential for how much taxes are reimbursed to the company.

Company officials predict 10 jobs or more at each facility will meet the $20.76 per hour threshold for a high quality job. The city would require only 10 meet the state of Iowa’s high quality wage threshold for the Cedar Rapids labor area to qualify for the incentive, according to city documents.

The City Council also will consider directing staff to begin the process of designating a new urban renewal area. This is the mechanism for creating a tax increment finance, or TIF, district, through which the city can provide tax breaks for a property owner. The city’s economic development program allows taxes from new tax value to be waved or rebated if a developer achieves certain city objectives, such as creating new jobs and expanding target industries. The property owner still must pay taxes on value before the property was improved.

City staff are backing the proposal, although they are seeking a timeline for the phases of project, specifying job creating requirements and tying tax rebates to job creation for each respective building.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

Coralville Police seek assistance in identifying robbery suspect

CORALVILLE — The Coralville Police Department is seeking public assistance in identifying a suspect as part of an investigation into an Oct. 12 robbery.

According to a news release from the Coralville Police Department, CrimeStoppers is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the suspect. Anyone with information about the crime should contact CrimeStoppers at (319) 358-8477 or iccrimestoppers.org. All contacts are held in confidence and anonymity is guaranteed. Individuals providing information do not have to reveal their identity to collect a reward, according to the release.

Board of Regents name Wendy Wintersteen as next Iowa State President

The Iowa Board of Regents announced Monday afternoon that Wendy Wintersteen will be the next president of Iowa State University.

Wintersteen, 61, had previously worked 11 years as the dean of the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In an afternoon forum prior to her hiring, Wintersteen laid out why her experience would be valuable to her as Iowa State’s president.

“I believe, at this point in time, we need somebody that can step in to the presidency and that understands the issues — that is ready to work on day one,” Wintersteen said.

“I do not believe, given the challenges facing us, that we have time to wait for someone to come in from outside and spend one or two years learning about the situation, trying to understand the history, trying to understand the context,” she said. “I do understand the situation. I understand the challenges we’re facing. I know the people on campus that we need to work with. And I truly care about Iowa State.”

Also read: The Board of Regents release on the Wintersteen hire

Her experience as dean was also highlighted in a Board of Regents media release announcing her hire.

“During her 11 years as dean, she helped raise more than $247 million in donor support for students, faculty and staff. Undergraduate enrollment in the college has grown by 90 percent, and the college’s placement rate for recent graduates has consistently been 97 percent or higher,” according to the release.

In the release, Wintersteen’s annual salary for her 5-year contract is described as being set at $525,000 in year one, $550,000 in year two, and $590,000 in year three. According to the release, Wintersteen also will receive a three-year deferred compensation plan with an annual contribution of $125,000 in year one, $150,000 in year two, and $200,000 in year three.

Wintersteen will succeed former ISU head Steven Leath, who left in May to assume the presidency at Auburn University in Alabama. She will be the university’s 16th president when she takes the position starting on Nov. 20, according to the release. Former University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen has been serving as interim ISU president while the search process unfolded.

This is a developing story. We will have more on Wintersteen’s hiring later today.

Governor Reynolds says she’s again monitoring Iowa’s revenue growth in case of further cuts

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday she would prefer to avoid cuts to K-12 education and commitments for local property tax relief if she and the Republican-run Legislature have to look at trimming spending this fiscal year due to continued weakness in the state’s revenue growth.

“We’ve made a promise to them (K-12 schools) and they’ve built their budgets on that so I think we have to honor that commitment,” Reynolds said in an interview after Monday’s Iowa Executive Council meeting.

Likewise, she said, cities, counties and school districts have built their current-year budgets on the state’s commitment to fill in the projected loss of revenue tied to the 2013 legislation that reduced commercial property tax rates and made other adjustments impacting the fiscal year that ends next on June 30, 2018.

The possibility of a new round of state budget belt-tightening was raised last week when a panel that estimates the amount of tax revenue the state will collect in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 pared back current expectations by $133 million.

A revised fiscal analysis issued by the Legislative Services Agency said the downward revenue growth projections coupled with other adjustments would erase the $98 million ending balance the Legislature and governor approved in their $7.26 billion budget and create a potential shortfall of $34.6 million for fiscal 2018.

“It’s a snapshot in time,” said Reynolds, who noted there remains “a lot of volatility in the numbers” given the continued weakness in the farm economy and uncertainty over a number of national and international issues. She said her administration plans to closely monitor state finances, especially fluctuations in costs associated with Medicaid, going forward.

In the meantime, the governor said she wants to address barriers that are a drag on the state’s economy such as a shortage of skilled workers to fill vacant positions and an income tax structure that is costing taxpayers and impeding business growth and expansion.

“Hopefully, we can continue to look for opportunities to grow the economy,” she said. “That is what we ultimately have to do and that will help solve a lot of the problems.”

The state Revenue Estimating Conference is slated to meet again in December to revisit the projections and set a fiscal 2019 revenue estimate that will be the level the governor and Legislature will use for budgeting purposes during the 2018 session based upon the state’s 99 percent spending limitation. Initially, the panel expects the state will take in $7.349 billion in fiscal 2019, which would be a 4.1 percent increase of $298.8 million.

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

Search warrant: Mother of Gregory Davis led police to check utility trailer where girlfriend’s body was found

CEDAR RAPIDS — The mother of a Marion man charged with killing his girlfriend, led police to a green utility trailer where the woman’s body was discovered rolled up in a carpet, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Kathy Davis, on Oct. 2, told police her son, Gregory Davis, had been “acting strangely” and had told his parents he broke up with girlfriend Carrie Davis on Sept. 29, according to the affidavit filed in Linn County District Court.

Kathy Davis was concerned because the trailer had been parked at 1280 14th St. — a residence her son and Carrie Davis shared — but was now parked in the carport next to her rental property at 560 Hillview Dr., with a rolled up carpet inside.

Kathy Davis also told police she thought it was “odd” that Carrie Davis never reached out to her for help with her son because the two of them were living together, according to the affidavit. She mentioned that Carrie Davis was from Columbus, Ohio, and had no friends or family in the Marion area.

Though Carrie and Gregory shared a last name, they were not related or married, police have said.

Gregory Davis, 27, is charged with first-degree murder. He remains in jail on a $2 million cash bond. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

His arraignment is set for Friday, at which time a trial date will be set.

According to the affidavit, Gregory Davis admitted to Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agents that he stabbed and killed Carrie Davis, 29, on or about Sept. 28 at the 14th Street home in Marion. He told investigators he placed the body in a roll of carpet on the trailer and moved the trailer to the vacant Hillview Drive property near Hanna Park in Marion.

Police discovered the body about 9:15 a.m. Oct. 2, after talking to Kathy Davis, the affidavit shows.

A criminal complaint shows Carrie Davis had eight stab wounds to her back and other injuries.

The affidavit also shows Kathy Davis and her husband, Richard Davis, had spoken to Marion police on Sept. 10, before their son’s arrest. They said their son had threatened suicide in the past, was “overly paranoid lately” and was “heavily” using drugs. He also brandished a knife that day and choked his father, according to the affidavit.

During his initial court appearance on Oct. 3, Davis said he was “on drugs” when asked if he had a lawyer or needed the court to appoint a public defender.

Marion Police Chief Joseph McHale was asked later if he believed Davis was under the influence of any substances at the time of the fatal stabbing and he said he didn’t know for sure but “there are some concerns there.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

America’s affordable-housing stock drops

The number of apartments deemed affordable for very low-income families across the United States fell by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to a new report by Freddie Mac.

The report by the government-backed mortgage financier is the first to compare rent increases in specific units over time.

It examined loans that the corporation had financed twice between 2010 and 2016, allowing a comparison of the exact same rental units and how their affordability changed.

At first financing, 11 percent of nearly 100,000 rental units nationwide were deemed affordable for very low-income households. By the second financing, when the units were refinanced or sold, rents had increased so much that just 4 percent of the same units were categorized as affordable.

“We have a rapidly diminishing supply of affordable housing, with rent growth outstripping income growth in most major metro areas,” said David Brickman, executive vice president and head of Freddie Mac Multifamily. “This doesn’t just reflect a change in the housing stock.”

Rather, he said, affordable housing without a government subsidy is becoming extinct. More renters flooded the market after people lost their homes in the housing crisis.

The apartment vacancy rate was 8 percent in 2009, compared to 4 percent in 2017. That trend, coupled with a stagnant supply of apartments, resulted in increased rents.

Freddie Mac buys mortgage loans from a network of primary market lenders, and issues mortgage-related securities. This helps lenders provide loans to developers and owners for the purchase, refinancing, rehabilitation and construction of multifamily properties.

Queso at Chipotle’s center stage

Call it the queso quarter.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., the burrito chain roiled in recent months by renewed food-safety concerns, is betting that the addition of the gooey cheese dip to the menu can help it regain its allure with customers.

Investors will be looking for signs of progress on Tuesday, when the chain reports third-quarter earnings. So far, Chipotle’s queso has been met with criticism on social media, with customers complaining that the texture is grainy.

That reaction was one reason David Palmer, an analyst at RBC Capital, cut his price target on the stock 18 percent to $330. He also cited higher labor costs and rising avocado prices.

The social media backlash against queso implies that the product “weighed on Chipotle’s overall brand sentiment,” Palmer wrote in a note.

On Chipotle’s last earnings call in July, company executives mentioned queso about two dozen times, saying customers had been requesting the product for years and that it could help boost sales.

Queso, a Tex-Mex favorite, is typically made with Velveeta, a processed cheese product, but Chipotle developed a recipe that meets its natural food standards. Queso is the centerpiece of the company’s largest-ever marketing campaign.

In response to the criticism on Twitter.com, Mark Crumpacker, the company’s chief marketing officer, urged employees to ignore the backlash, citing internal research that showed the product was a hit with customers.

Queso was added to the chain’s menu on Sept. 12, a little more than two weeks before the end of the third-quarter.

Chipotle’s food safety crisis burst into view in 2015, crushing the chain’s sales, profit and stock price. The company had started to recover, before a July norovirus outbreak at a restaurant in Virginia send the shares spiraling to their lowest level in more than four years.

Chipotle’s shares had slipped 14 percent this year through last week, finishing at $324.76.

Amazon, Facebook and Google beef up lobbying spending

Facebook, Google and Amazon bolstered their lobbying spending in the past three months as Washington takes a closer look at the market power of some of America’s biggest tech companies.

Facebook spent $2.85 million lobbying the federal government in the third quarter, up 41 percent from the same period last year, according to disclosure reports made public late Friday.

Part of that amount was dedicated to lobbying officials in Congress and the White House on “online advertising, content and platform transparency efforts.”

The lobbying comes as the social network, along with Google and Twitter, face a new bipartisan push on Capitol Hill that would force internet companies to disclose more information about political ads sold and distributed on their platforms.

The lawmakers behind a proposed ad transparency legislation said the bill is designed to prevent another Russian-backed disinformation campaign that ran on an array of Web platforms during the 2016 election. Facebook has said that it will take its own steps to increase the transparency of political ads and that it generally supports legislative efforts to do the same.

Google also increased its spending relative to last year, doling out $4.17 million on lobbying in the third quarter, up nine percent. In addition to lobbying Congress and the White House on the regulation of online advertising, Google also used its lobbying operation for issues such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, President Donald Trump’s travel bans and antitrust law and tax reform.

Of any corporation in or out of the tech industry, Google spent the second highest.

AT&T topped everyone, at $4.43 million. The telecom company still is waiting for federal officials to review its $85 billion proposed acquisition of Time Warner, which is listed on its lobbying disclosures.

The two companies recently said they will extend the deadline to finalize the deal, with the hopes of obtaining a nod from the government.

Google’s uptick in lobbying comes as it faces the largest fine the European Union has ever levied against a company for abusing its dominant market position. This summer, the European Union’s antitrust chief hit Google with a $2.7 billion fine for illegally steering users toward its comparison shopping site.

Google is appealing the decision.

Antitrust also was a lobbying priority for Amazon, which listed competition and the purchase of Whole Foods on its third-quarter disclosures. While that acquisition was approved without protests from antitrust officials, in recent months, some in Washington and Silicon Valley have called for increased scrutiny of the internet’s dominant platforms on the grounds that they may unfairly exploit their economic power.

Amazon, according to its disclosures, spent $3.4 million from July 1 to September 30, up 26 percent from what it spent during the same period last year. That’s more than Amazon has ever spent in a single quarter. Amazon lobbied on issues including DACA, autonomous vehicles and corporate tax reform.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post.

Cargill pushes for cocoa supply integrity

MINNEAPOLIS — Cargill is increasing the ante on its commitment to sustainably sourced cocoa as Western consumers seek greater assurance that their chocolate consumption isn’t fueling deforestation and child labor.

The company, based outside the Twin Cities and with facilities in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in Eastern Iowa, is a major global trader of cocoa, a crop largely grown in developing regions such as West Africa. It recently announced stronger, more targeted goals for its Cargill Cocoa Promise that align more closely with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

As a supply-chain leader, Cargill often is scrutinized for its role in either helping or hurting environmental and social concerns associated with the harvesting of cocoa beans.

The release of the company’s third-annual cocoa report comes on the heels of an investigative report by the British newspaper the Guardian, which found “dirty cocoa” — or cocoa illegally grown within protected areas in the Ivory Coast — was being mixed into the “clean cocoa” supply chain.

Large companies such as Cargill often buy their cocoa from cooperatives comprising many smallholder farmers — farmers owning small plots of land relying almost exclusively on family labor. There are many system cracks when it comes to traceability that make it harder to promise sustainable sourcing.

Cargill said its goals have evolved as the challenges faced by smallholder farmers have changed. The company has now turned these “evidence-based” discoveries into tangible steps that it can take to reach its goals by 2030.

Taco Terheijden, Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate’s director of sustainability, said he hopes this acts as a clear declaration to define industry’s role. He said he also hopes it helps the local governments define their own role as well.

“If you don’t define your role, it becomes this thing where we are pointing toward one another and waiting for someone else to do something. These are not easy, quick problems to be solved,” Terheijden said.

Cargill aims to eliminate child labor from its supply chain by 2025 and deforestation by 2030. It has implemented a number of educational programs for its farmers to spot and avoid such practices.

The company also continues to partner with CARE International, a well-known not-for-profit, which is working to create economic opportunities for women and open schools for children.

Trio of Cedar Rapids shootings remain under investigation

CEDAR RAPIDS — Police are still investigating a trio of weekend shootings.

The first shooting was reported at 11:40 a.m. Saturday at 53 Dartmouth St. SW. Responding officers found a 31-year-old man inside the residence suffering from a non-life threatening gunshot wound to the shoulder area, said public safety spokesman Greg Buelow.

Police responded to a report of shots fired outside of Liquid Lounge, 305 Second Ave., at 12:06 a.m. Sunday. Buelow said there were people in the area leaving a concert or other area businesses. When the shots were fired, many people fled the area and were gone by the time officers arrived, Buelow said. Responding officers found shell casings in an alley east of the Liquid Lounge.

Buelow said a 27-year-old man later arrived at Unity Point-St. Luke’s Hospital with a gunshot wound to his foot. A 23-year-old man was also taken via private vehicle to Mercy Medical Center with a gunshot wound to his leg.

“Both victims claimed to be standing outside when the shots were fired and they have not be able to assist investigators with any information as to why they were shot,” Buelow said. “We are still looking for any credible information about how this incident unfolded.”

Police later responded to a report of shots fired at Woody’s Show Club, 9395 Sixth St. SW, at 2:24 a.m. Sunday. Buelow said a 31-year-old man was grazed under the chin with a bullet.

“He does not appear to be associated with whomever was discharging weapons,” Buelow said of the victim.

The victim was treated and released at the scene. Police found evidence of several discharged rounds in the parking lot and property damage to vehicles. Police are asking witnesses with information about the shooting to come forward, Buelow said.

“At this time, police have not received any substantive information regarding this incident,” he said.

Buelow said the Dartmouth shooting is “most likely” not related to the other two shootings. Police have not identified any correlation between the two Sunday shootings, Buelow said.

There have been 64 shots fired incidents in the city this year, Buelow said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

Iowa withdrawing ‘stopgap’ proposal to revamp Iowa health care marketplace

DES MOINES — Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen announced on Monday that the state is withdrawing its “stopgap” proposal to revamp the Affordable Care Act marketplace in the state.

Ommen made the announcement at a news conference in Des Moines with Gov. Kim Reynolds this afternoon.

The withdrawal comes only a week before this year’s ACA enrollment period will open and despite the state insurance division’s warning that without the plan, 22,000 Iowans will drop out of the individual insurance market.

Ommen said Monday that the Trump administration had informed the state last week that it was still “several weeks” away from determining how much federal funding the state might receive as part of plan, a key part of the proposal.

Ommen and Reynolds blamed the Affordable Care Act for the situation, with the insurance commissioner saying the part of the 2010 law that allows for states to propose their own changes is too inflexible.

However, the news also comes about two weeks after the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump had personally called the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services in August to direct that the application for a waiver be denied.

Monday’s announcement means that Minnesota-based Medica will be the only insurer in the Affordable Care Act marketplace in Iowa for 2018. Ommen said it will sell policies in all 99 counties.

Medica said that its premium rates would go up by an average of about 57 percent in 2018.

State officials had complained that large of an increase would significantly hurt people who don’t buy on the marketplace or don’t qualify for federal tax credits.

Brooklyn farmer plans to run for Iowa agriculture post

CEDAR RAPIDS — Dairy farmer and former president of the Board of Regents Craig Lang wants to tap the knowledge of Iowa’s universities to help farmers lead the country in agriculture diversity and improving water quality.

Lang, who also was the longest-serving president of the Farm Bureau Federation — serving in that capacity for 10 years — has filed a statement of organization with the Iowa Ethics and Campaigns Disclosure Board to raise funds for a 2018 campaign to oversee the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. It appears he is the only one to have filed.

The public universities have wealth of information that could be utilized by the agriculture secretary, said Lang, who served on the Board of Regents, which oversees the three state universities, from 2007-13, including two years as president.

“You take the work the University of Iowa is doing on water, Iowa State University is doing on soil health, the research University of Northern Iowa on native prairies, all of that is really important,” said Lang, an ISU graduate. “I think we could bring all of that together to create value for Iowa.”

Lang, 66, farms 1,200 acres with his father, brother and sons near Brooklyn, including land that has been in his family since 1860. For the past 15 years, Lang said, they used cover crops to protect and enrich the soil between harvest and planting.

“I’ve seen the tremendous increase in soil health because of the diversity of our agriculture with livestock, rotating crops of legumes, meadow, corn and beans,” Lang said.

Cover crops also help keep capture nitrates and phosphorous from running off into waterways, he added. There are steps farmers and landowners can take quickly in a voluntary manner to avoid mandated changes in farming practices.

He estimated cover crops are planted on about 600,000 acres of Iowa farmland. His goal would be to increase that to 5 million or more.

“We know that will increase productivity of the soil and be cash back in our pockets,” he said.

Lang plans to wait to formally announce his campaign until third-term Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s presidential nomination to be an undersecretary at the USDA is approved by the United States Senate.

When that happens, Gov. Kim Reynolds will appoint someone to fill the position until a new secretary is elected in 2018. A number of people have been identified as possible replacements, including State Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, whose grandfather, Sen. Chuck Grassley, has said he wants to see him in that post.

Lang is not positioning himself to be appointed and thinks whoever serves out the remainder of Northey’s term will be at a disadvantage in the 2018 election. Lang expects a crowded primary field.

In addition to his farm operation, Lang is president of The Prairie Strategy Group that describes itself as being “engaged in identifying and solving complex challenges in food production, policy and logistics.”

His previous experience also includes serving as chairman of the Grow Iowa Values Fund and vice chairman of the Iowa Economic Development Board.

He and his wife, Mary, a nurse, have four adult children.

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

Regents expect to name Iowa State president today

The full Board of Regents on Monday morning met with a 21-member search committee to discuss feedback and its perceptions of finalists for the Iowa State University presidency, and it will spend the rest of the day conducting final interviews with the candidates.

The board expects to announce a 16th ISU president about 5 p.m.

The new president will succeed former ISU head Steven Leath, who left in May to assume the presidency at Auburn University in Alabama. Former University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen has been serving as interim ISU president while the search processed has unfolded.

The search committee tasked with recruiting candidates and identifying finalists in September whittled a pool of 64 applicants down to seven semifinalists. Following off-site interviews with those prospects, the committee advanced four to participate in final interviews, including campus visits and public town halls.

They were: Sonny Ramaswamy, who is serving a six-year term as director of the National Institute of Food Agriculture; Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia Athens; Dale Whittaker, provost and executive vice president at Central Florida University; and Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of its Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station.

On Thursday, however, Whittaker withdrew his name from consideration, saying, “At this time, I’m committed to keeping our momentum moving forward at the University of Central Florida.”

He did not respond to a request for additional comment from The Gazette. Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said Whittaker did not submit his withdrawal in written form, but rather made a phone call.

Iowa State’s new president will become the third new regent university head in Iowa in two years. Former IBM businessman Bruce Harreld succeeded Sally Mason as University of Iowa president in fall 2015, and Montana State University Billings Chancellor Mark Nook succeeded Bill Ruud as UNI president in December 2016.

Monday’s announcement also comes days after the Board of Regents announced its hire of Mark Braun to replace Bob Donley as its executive director. Donley left in July, and the regents last week identified Braun — who was the board’s chief operating officer — as the sole finalist to replace him.

According to Braun’s three-year contract, his base salary will comply with the Legislative cap for the position of $154,300, but he’ll also receive a $185,000 recruitment incentive to be paid out in four installments over 18 months.

The contract also allows the board to offer additional compensation, perhaps through deferred compensation plans or performance incentives.

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