Civic Skinny

June 30, 2011 |

Names of the departed, plus Bob Brownell and Danny Homan. Also, some other stuff


Labor is plenty pissed (again) at the Board of Regents. The board's 18-person search committee to find a successor to Iowa State president Greg Geoffroy has eight academics on it — but no union member. The other 10 include two Regents, two students, three alum representatives, two representatives of the ISU Foundation, and the head of the professional and scientific group of employees.

Iowa State has about 1,500 employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, and the full-time equivalent of about 1,600 academics. AFSCME is often represented on search committees, and union leaders think the lack of a seat on the ISU committee is not an oversight. The Branstad administration pretty much hates AFSCME, and increasingly the administration is trying to call the shots at the Regents. Whatever the reason, it bodes ill for labor-management relations in coming years. AFSCME president Danny Homan can make an administrator's life miserable if he thinks his union has been slighted — and he definitely thinks so now. ...

Dan Johnson, one of the dozen newsroom people laid off at The Des Moines Register last week, has already landed a job at Prairie Meadows, where he spent many a day covering races during his 20-plus years at the Register. The newspaper never has named the folks it laid off, though some were household names — at least in the households that still buy the newspaper. For the record, besides Johnson the folks now gone are: Sean Keeler, sports columnist; John Gaps, photographer; Jane Schorer, reporter whose work in 1991 won the Register the public-service Pulitzer Prize; Phil Brasher, the newspaper's one-man Washington bureau; James Wilkerson, on-line reporter; Arturo Fernandez, the photo director; Vikki Ashwill, the assistant managing editor for features; Sheena Dooley, an education reporter; Jim Beery, of the calendars desk; Deb Belt, the community publications editor; and Paula Reese, a features assistant. Nancy Mann of the advertising department also was laid off.

Warning to the staff: "You do not want to be the Register's photo editor," emails a former staffer. "Photo editor Arturo Ferdandez was laid off, along with former photo editor (and honored war correspondent) John Gaps III. This follows the laying off of photo editor Don Tormey in the last round."

The firing of Brasher closes a Washington bureau that has been around for nearly 80 years and leaves a huge gap in agricultural reporting across the country. "Brasher was one of the only reporters who was not working for agriculture industry-sponsored outlets in the room at Senate and house Agriculture Committee hearings and played a key role in informing the public about those as well as the inner workings of the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration," wrote Paula Crossfield of "Civil Eats," a blog about sustainable agriculture. She adds: "For the most part, the agriculture industry will now have a free rein over coverage of national food policy issues in the Midwest." And: "I fear that without journalists like Brasher to shine a light on food policy, the public will remain critically uninformed and policy decisions will continue to be dominated by industry players in Washington."

The Register was understandably low-key in its coverage and commentary about the layoffs, but at least it avoided saying they were a good thing. In Nashville, where The Tennessean cut its newsroom force by 20, the newspaper's story said: "The news changes will help The Tennessean continue and deepen the newspaper's legacy of public service journalism, improve the breadth and reach of local news in Nashville and its suburban counties and continue to establish The Tennessean as the region's primary source of digital news, information and engagement."

" Heck," says an email from a long-time Iowa newspaperman, "if you are improving the breadth of your coverage by laying off 20, I say lay off 40 and you'll be positioned to run the New York Times out of business." ...

What's this? The "Robert Brownell Sports Complex" in Clive? Isn't Brownell an elected official? (Yes, he's a county supervisor.) Isn't he still alive? (Yes, at last check.) So shouldn't the naming of the complex have raised the ire of Republicans in the Iowa House, who have passed a resolution saying things shouldn't be named after politicians who are still in office because the honor "could provide an unfair political advantage to an active political leader who could use the honor as part of future political campaigns?" Isn't he running for office again? His term is up next year, and there's no indication he's retiring. So why aren't those House Republicans upset with the city of Clive like they are with Iowa State for naming a policy institute after Tom Harkin? Gee, could it be because Brownell is a Republican and Harkin a Democrat? ...

In case you were wondering: In the first quarter of this year, Leonard Boswell paid his staff $326,803. Bruce Braley paid $244,517, Dave Loebsack paid $235,915. Steve King paid $225,013 and Tom Latham paid out $202,537. That doesn't count any salaries of committee workers who are in effect staffers of the Congress members. In the Senate, which reports on a six-month basis, Tom Harkin's staffers earned $1,554,573 in the six months ended last Sept. 30. Chuck Grassley paid his staffers $1,328,026 in the same period. Senators and representatives themselves earn $174,000 a year. CV