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Civic Skinny

June 28, 2012
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Sebring says ‘oops!’ GM sues Ramsey. ‘WINK.’
Photo used by permission of Des Moines Independent School District.

Let’s see if we have this right:

1. Former Des Moines Public Schools superintendent Nancy Sebring sues the school district to keep the rest of her emails secret, and

2. Her lover — once known as “Interested Party” and now known as Army Captain John Hintz — joins the suit. Then

3. The Des Moines Register joins on the side of the school district, arguing that the emails should be public. A few days later

4. Judge Robert Hansen writes a lovely ruling siding with the school district and the Register. “Common sense dictates that communications that should not have been occurring in the first place — personal communications using the school district’s computer equipment and emails system, in violation of written school district policy — would not be protected from disclosure.” So

5. The emails are released on Friday. That evening

6. WHO-TV names the lover formerly known as Interested Party. And

7. The Register writes a story and notes that “at least one television station” names him, but that “the Register at this time will not follow suit.” Also

8. WHO runs a picture of Sebring and Hintz. But

9. The picture is cropped, so it doesn’t show four others in the photo taken at a Lincoln High event. Those four are

10. Des Moines Public Schools board president Teree Caldwell-Johnson, Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and spiky-haired body-builder Andy Haman, a former University of Iowa wrestler.

You figure it out.

Best non-X-rated line in the newly released emails, from Sebring: “Oops! I accidentally hit send before finishing my email...inexperienced IPad user...probably shouldn’t be left alone with technology of any sort.”

Probably not. ...

General Motors is suing Ramsey Pontiac — that’s the official name of the dealership, even though there are no more Pontiacs — in federal court in Des Moines. The suit appears to be an effort to strip the dealership of its Buick and GMC truck franchises.

It stems from GM’s bankruptcy when the economy went to hell in 2009, a bankruptcy that prompted GM to announce it was going to cut back on dealerships across the country. As part of a huge overall settlement, Ramsey agreed to quit being a Buick and GMC dealer by Oct. 31, 2010, according to the lawsuit. Congress then passed a law that said the dealers scheduled to lose their franchises could seek reinstatement, which Ramsey did.

As part of that deal, Ramsey agreed to sell a specific number of cars in 2011. It didn’t meet that goal, according to the lawsuit, and thus is obligated to sell its franchise at a predetermined price, the lawsuit says. Then, this month, “GM provided written notice to Dealer of GM’s exercise of the option to purchase certain of Dealer’s assets based upon Dealer’s undisputed failure to meet the [sales] requirements of the settlement agreement.”

Ramsey then said it “would not comply” and said it intended to sue, according to the lawsuit. GM is asking the federal court to enforce the settlement, saying the automobile maker is being forced “to retain a dealer that has failed to meet the minimal performance requirements [of its post-bankruptcy deal] and has harmed GM’s brand.”

There are two other Buick dealers in the area — Bob Brown in Ankeny and Watters in Indianola. Ramsey also sells Subaru and Mazda automobiles. And, according to its website, it once was “the biggest Twinkie Twilight Travel Trailer Dealer in the World.” (“Don’t ask how many we sold,” it adds.)

As of Monday noon, Eric Hoch, a lawyer with the Finley law firm who represents Ramsey, had not returned Cityview’s Friday email seeking comment or clarification. ...

Breaking news: “Attended a good friend’s interment at the Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter today,” says an email from Herb Strentz. “Among the tombstone epitaphs was this for Ruth Matson: A GRACIOUS LADY WITH GOOD PENMANSHIP.” He suggested Cityview might want to hold this item until Jan. 23, National Handwriting Day. But you can’t sit on a story that good. ...

Speaking of breaking news....Alerts sent last week by the Register:

“DMRNEWS. Searchers find body of drowning victim at Raccoon River Park. *Like to flirt? Reply WINK.”

And the next day:

“DMRNEWS. Teen victim ID’d in Raccoon River drowning. *Get free love tips — reply HEART.”

Oops. ...

Another lawsuit:

The city of Des Moines is appealing to the United States Supreme Court the decision by the Iowa Supreme Court to force the city to refund some $40 million in taxes on people’s utility bills, which the court said had been collected illegally. The issue was thought to be solved when the Legislature at the 11th hour passed a bill authorizing the city to raise the so-called franchise tax to 7.5 percent from 5 percent temporarily — until $40 million had been collected.

The Legislature, in other words, told the city it could take the money out of a customer’s wallet — but then send it right back for the customer’s moneyclip. It was a good solution to a crappy problem.

But the governor vetoed it, for no apparent reason. If the city can’t get the United States Supreme Court to take the case, its fallback probably will be to raise property taxes in the city until the $40 million is raised. That might seem like the same thing as raising the franchise fee, but there’s a huge difference.

Drake University pays utility bills, but it is a school so it pays no property tax. The airport pays no property tax. Nor does the Civic Center, or Des Moines University, or fraternity houses, or the Water Works, or City Hall, or the golf courses or the hospitals or a long list of other religious and educational and charitable and government-owned facilities. If Branstad hadn’t vetoed the franchise-fee increase, the burden of funding the refund would have fallen on those who will get the refund. But now, Drake and the schools and all those facilities will get their refunds without having to pony up, which means the city’s property-tax payers will have to pay the whole thing. People who have thought about this think that’s an odd result brought about by a governor who says taxes — particularly commercial taxes — are too high.

There are two possible explanations: Branstad doesn’t particularly care about Des Moines. It’s a Democratic town, and his constituency is out in the state. Or he was pissed at the Legislature for passing this in the 11th hour and failing to pass an overall tax program. ...

The Register on Sunday had stories disclosing that the newspaper offices are moving to Capital Square and that a group of businesses are joining to buy the Register building and other downtown properties to spur redevelopment. The stories didn’t mention “as first reported in Cityview.” Probably just an oversight..

Back to WHO-TV. The station issued a press release last week saying it “clinches victories in morning and 6 p.m. newscasts.” But wait, KCCI’s website says it leads in every time period except 6 a.m. to 7 a.m., where it’s all but a dead heat. How can that be? WHO’s figures are for adults 18 to 49 years old. KCCI’s figures appear to be for all adult viewers. Whatever the group, the figures are for the four-week ratings period of April 26 through May 23. ...

Only in America: Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia senator with the storied name and storied wealth, is only the 10th richest member of Congress with a wealth of around $100 million. Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California is the richest, with an estimated $450 million net worth. Of the 10 wealthiest, seven are Democrats. Is this a great country? …

An email: “I want to write a longer email later, but first must send an email to the Board members about the Omaha job. I am dreading this! Wish me luck. Nancy.”

How’d that work out? CV

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