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Civic Skinny

Feb 2, 2012
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A speedway lawsuit. Steve who? And Chickenman!
Mark Chelgren as Chickenman

Seven months ago, on June 30, 2011, ownership of the Iowa Speedway in Newton changed hands. A company controlled by the Clement family agreed to pay a company controlled by the Manatt family $19,268,291 for its 91.57 percent interest in the speedway. The remaining 8.43 percent was held by the famous racecar driver Rusty Wallace, who remains a minority holder in the speedway.

The deal, which had been in the works for a year, called for $13 million in cash to be paid at the closing, along with two notes, according to court documents. (The Clements’ speedway corporation took out a $13 million loan at the closing.) The first note, for about $2 million, was personally guaranteed by Conrad D. Clement and was to be paid on Dec. 31. The second, for $4,272,993, was guaranteed by Conrad D. Clement along with Tracy Cement, Stanley J. Clement and Eric Clement, and is payable over seven years.

Conrad Clement is the founder of Featherlite Corp., the Cresco company that makes trailers and that was sold to an Ohio group in 2006. Stan Clement is his brother, and Tracy and Eric Clement are Conrad Clement’s sons. The family long pushed to build a racetrack in Newton, but ultimately it was the Manatts who came up with the money and built it. The 7/8-mile oval opened in 2006.

According to court documents, the sellers of the Iowa Speedway were to pay all bills incurred by the speedway before the closing, the buyers to pay all bills incurred after the closing.

Just weeks after the closing, the Clement interests say they discovered that the Manatt interests had not paid many bills incurred before the sale. And they say the Manatt interests were still taking advantage of a naming-rights deal a Manatt company had made with the Speedway — but had not renewed. In all, the Clements say they were stuck with $1,847,411.62 in costs that the Manatts should have paid. So at the end of December, when the first note was due, the Clements subtracted from the $2 million the amount they said the Manatts stuck them with — and sent a check for $152,588.37 instead of $2 million.

The Manatts didn’t like that, and they returned the check. They also sent a letter that the Clement interests say contained “a number of threats.” That didn’t sit well with the Clements. So last week, the Clements’ companies, USMC Corp. and U.S. MotorSport Corp., sued the Manatt companies, Manaco Corp. and Manatt’s Inc., in Jasper County District Court. They allege 11 counts, ranging from breach of contract to unjust enrichment to trademark infringement, and they ask the court to, in effect, say the Manatts must pay up for those costs incurred before the sale along with unspecified other damages.

Stay tuned. ...

Caucus leftover: At one caucus, Steve Deace was the surrogate speaker for Newt Gingrich, but he didn’t introduce himself before he started. When he was done, someone in the front said, “Would you please say who you are?”

“I think his ego was blown by that,” says a Skinny correspondent who was there.

And Deace apparently wasn’t very persuasive. Mitt Romney won that caucus with 120 votes, Ron Paul had 42, Rick Santorum had 38 — and Gingrich finished with 30, or 10 for each wife.
Meantime, Skinny looked up to see if Deace has been putting his money where his mouth is — which would, admittedly, require giving lots of money. According to state records, in 2009 Deace gave $100 to the Sorenson for Senate campaign. According to federal records, he has never given to any congressional or presidential candidate. ...

The House Majority PAC, a fund that supports Democrats, just dumped $200,000 into TV ads in the Des Moines and Omaha markets, which explains those anti-Latham ads that are now running. The race in the newly drawn district between Republican Tom Latham and Democrat Leonard Boswell, both longtime incumbents, is considered a tossup by Charlie Cook, the nonpartisan analyst and handicapper. The TV buy “is huge news for Leonard,” says a backer. The ads will run on Channels 5, 8 and 13.

As of last week, Cook — and most of the rest of the world — viewed Democratic incumbents Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack as likely winners, and the Cook Report says the new fourth district, where Democrat Christie Vilsack is taking on the firmly entrenched Steve King, “leans Republican.” Given the easy victories by King in the past along with the fact that the election is still nine months away, Vilsack backers should view Cook’s assessment as good news. ...

So far the state has spent $87,232.60 defending the suit brought against it by Marc Mills, who was fired as general counsel of the University of Iowa following an investigation into the university’s handling of sexual-assault allegations against some football players a few years ago. A bill for another $4,369.26 is likely to be approved when the Executive Council meets this week. The Cedar Rapids firm of Shuttleworth and Ingersoll is representing the university, which is paying $95 of the $175-an-hour fees, plus expenses, with the state picking up the other $80. And you can bet the bills will go much higher. The case isn’t scheduled for a jury trial in federal district court until Dec. 10 of this year.

It’s surely a coincidence, but Shuttleworth and Ingersoll is the firm where Mills’ successor as general counsel, Carroll Reasoner, was a senior vice president before taking the university post, and where her husband, Thomas Peffer, still is a senior vice president.

Cityview received the bills on Friday following a freedom-of-information request to the university on Jan. 11. The university posts all such requests, and — in yet another coincidence — the Associated Press asked for the same information two days later. ...

If it was ever in The Des Moines Register, we missed it, but Jerry Crawford last summer was elected vice chair of the Breeders’ Cup, a very rich series of 15 horse races over two days. Crawford — politico, lawyer, horseman, fund-raiser, and much more — was elected to a four-year term as a director of the Breeders’ Cup in 2010; there were nine candidates seeking two openings, and he led the ticket. Then, last summer, he was elected to a two-year term as vice chairman. He can run for an infinite number of four-year terms as a director, and he can serve one more two-year term as vice chairman if he’s elected. He could also serve two two-year terms as chairman, if elected. All of this is far more than you want to know unless, like Skinny, you’re fascinated by Crawford. ...

So Mark Chelgren, the Republican legislator from Ottumwa, broke the campaign-finance law by using $1,300 in campaign money to pay for dry cleaning. He reimbursed his campaign. “When I make a mistake, I’m more than happy to say so and take care of it,” he told the Register.

Still, “How much dry cleaning can you get for $1,300 in Ottumwa?” asks a somewhat incredulous Skinny reader. Well, maybe it costs extra to clean kilts and chicken costumes in Ottumwa, recalls a fellow who remembers Chelgren first gained publicity as “Chickenman,” the guy who dressed up — or down — and dispensed free beer from his refrigerated truck on RAGBRAI. “Wearing a kilt and wielding a beer-filled super soaker, he greeted random riders who were friendly (or cute) enough with free beer,” Skinny noted a year or two ago. He also handed out garters made of candy. You can see it for yourself on YouTube. ...

The decision by the hard-working Republican Scott Raecker not to seek re-election to the Iowa house is a blow to all Iowans. Raecker, 50, is chair of the House Appropriations Committee and a 13-year legislator. He is one of the guys who listens, decides, and almost always sticks to his word. (Occasionally, he crumbles to the pressures from the more-conservative leadership. But only occasionally.) He has one of the bigger brains and smaller egos in the chamber. ...

Ellen Modersohn, head of the features department at the Register, is leaving to become the director of publications at Luther College in Decorah. Modersohn edited and was in charge of the extra publications, in addition to the Iowa Life section. She’s married to former Register photographer Bob Modersohn. “It’s a great match for Ellen, and she’s done great work for us,” publisher Laura Hollingsworth told Skinny. And “we will be replacing the position.”

Hollingsworth also confirmed that the paper will “retire” its 50+ magazine and will discontinue Des Moines Woman. “We think these have had their play,” she said. But “you’ll see enhancements coming soon to a couple of other products.” She also said the newspaper is considering a new publication geared toward women. “Could happen, might not,” she said. CV

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