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Civic Skinny

Sept 8 , 2011
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The court veers rightward. Taxes paid. More dogs.

It was a slow week, so Skinny started calling around asking questions. First question: Whatever happened to that deal where the Savery Hotel was going on the block because it didn't pay its taxes? The Des Moines Register had it on the list of parcels you could buy — maybe, and after some time — by paying those taxes yourself. So who paid them?

Oh, that never happened, a guy replied. You can look it up, he said. Indeed, records show that the Savery's owner, Choa Hospitality of Escondido, Calif., paid the taxes just before the tax-sale auction. The tax of $165,057 was due March 31. That, plus a penalty of $7,428, was paid on June 24. The tax sale was June 27. The next installment — $143,189 — is due at the end of this month. Choa Hospitality owns a dozen or so hotels around the country, including the Clarion in Sioux City, in case you were wondering. Which you probably weren't.

Second question: How's the Iowa Supreme Court shaping up now that the three new justices have been sworn in? Well, that's kind of interesting, a close watcher of the court said, but you're at least the second person to wonder. It has veered to the right. Go to The Iowa Republican blog to find out, he said.

Sure enough, the blog's Nathan Tucker took a look at decisions since Ed Mansfield, Thomas Waterman and Bruce Zager joined the court, and it found that the three of them have on occasion lined up with Chief Justice Mark Cady to outvote hold-overs Dave Wiggins, Brent Appel and Daryl Hecht. The court had been remarkably unanimous under Marsha Ternus, who was voted out last fall along with colleagues Michael Streit and David Baker following the court's decision saying gays had a right under the Iowa constitution to be married by civil authorities.

The number of dissents has more than doubled since the court was changed, and more often than not the three holdover judges — excluding Cady — have been in the minority. "Chief Justice Cady has apparently found his majority with the arrival of three new justices, though it is unclear if he can be described as the leader of his new majority," Turner wrote.

The leader clearly isn't Waterman, another guy who monitors every decision pointed out to Skinny. He said Waterman seems to be taking his cue from Mansfield in almost every case. The statistics bear that out. According to Turner's figure, Mansfield took part in 12 decisions between April 8 and mid-August. He wrote the opinions in seven of those; Waterman wrote two. Meantime, Wiggins wrote six opinions — and four dissents. No other justice wrote more than one dissent.

Still, it's a good bet that if the gay-marriage case were to come before this court, the right to marriage would been upheld. But maybe not unanimously, as it was in the original case. ...

Word is that The Des Moines Register is cutting back on distribution of its free community newspapers. Skinny hasn't officially confirmed it, but we're told the Tuesday papers now will go to subscribers only, not to every household, while Friday's papers will continue to blanket the zones. If so, that's a big cutback. The Waukee/West Des Moines zone has 13,901 subscribers — and 25,122 nonsubscribers, for instance. All told, free papers in the six zones — Waukee/West Des Moines, Johnston/Urbandale, East/North, Ankeny, Des Moines West and Des Moines South — go to 167,569 households, but only 58,871 of those are subscribers. So if what we hear is true, nearly 110,000 households will be cut out of the Tuesday news. That's something advertisers will clearly want to know. ...

Last week, Skinny said "no dogs" this week, but...

The greatest of all puff pieces ran last week in The Washington Post. It told the story of Leonard Boswell fighting off the intruder at his farm. Boswell comes off as John Wayne, Dody Boswell as Aunt Bee, Boswell's daughter as Pauline in "The Perils of Pauline," and his hero grandson, Mitchell, as a young Fess Parker.

One fact Tom Latham should consider: Boswell has two Rottweilers.

Not counting anyone on his staff. CV

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