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Civic Skinny

Legal bills for IPR. Speaker Cownie?


The Des Moines Register is advertising for a new publisher, but apparently not in The Des Moines Register.

An ad on seeks a president and publisher for the Register who would be “responsible for operational, strategic and financial success of Register Media and for establishing a culture of success.” The person must have “personal charisma and ‘presence’ — to drive business to the company,” must have “strong competitive instincts and intellectual curiosity,” and must have the “ability to ask the right questions, get at the real facts and issues.”

That’s real facts, in contrast to unreal facts.

The ad does not say how much the job pays, nor does it say “must have experience laying off people” or “must have endorsed Mitt Romney in previous job.” …

Don’t be surprised if Republican Peter Cownie ends up as speaker of the Iowa house next year, Republicans tell Cityview. They are assuming that current speaker Kraig Paulsen will resign to run for the congressional seat being vacated by Bruce Braley in northeast Iowa. If Cownie is elected, it would be a snub to Linda Upmeyer, the majority leader.

In case you were wondering about the status of that wood-windows-vs.-vinyl-windows lawsuit that James and Roxanne Conlin filed against the city of Des Moines — and isn’t everyone on pins and needles about that? — here’s an update:

Federal Judge Jim Gritzner last week dismissed five of the seven counts remaining in the suit. The Conlins, represented by Doug Gross, want to replace 10 deteriorating wood windows in a non-historical, $125,000, seven-unit rental property they own in historic Sherman Hills, but the city’s Historic Preservation Commission is insisting on wood windows. The difference in price, for all 10, is around $6,000.

The Conlins say the commission is biased against them basically because they are rich and famous (actually, they’re both rich, but he’s not famous), or, in the words of the lawsuit, because of their “identity, stature and financial means.” The Conlins live in Southern Hills in a 17-room, 7,268-square-foot house assessed at $1,916,700, a fact that is totally irrelevant to this item but nevertheless irresistible.

The rest of the case is pretty boring legal stuff — though it does contain the lyrical adverbs “illegally, unreasonably, arbitrarily, and capriciously” — and Judge Gritzner’s ruling takes up 21 pages. He says the Conlins “do allege sufficient facts to support a claim” that they were treated unequally because of who they are, and he also says that “regardless of the viability of the…allegations,” they do have the right to have the court review the commission’s ruling. Everything else was thrown out because the claims weren’t plausible.

So the case will go to trial on a narrow issue. But two things are clear: First, the city has used up a lot of time of its lawyers in this, and maybe it should have just given $6,000 to the Conlins to buy the costlier windows. Second, the only winner is going to be Doug Gross. …

The Belin law firm billed Iowa Public Radio $26,925.39 for March services, presumably for counsel and advice following the ham-handed firing of chief executive Mary Grace Herrington after a closed meeting on Feb. 26 that almost certainly was illegal. The invoices, which Cityview requested under the Iowa Freedom of Information law, blocked out precisely what the services were for.

And the meyvn group (it doesn’t use capital letters on its letterhead) billed IPR $12,000 for “consulting” between Feb. 26 and March 29, and it also billed $19,000 plus $2,275.61 in expenses for that “cultural audit” that the board ordered up and that apparently was sharply critical of Herrington, leading to her ouster. “Apparently,” because IPR will not release it because it deals with a personnel issue.

But IPR did release, under the FOI act, the results of its 2013 “Cultural Survey,” also done by the meyvn group (“a comprehensive company of direction” — huh?) apparently through Survey Monkey, which charged $350. The survey — 38 questions about the workplace and the workers’ attitudes — was answered anonymously by 52 employees, and Herrington comes out looking pretty good, which makes you wonder how the secret “cultural audit” could be so different. If it is.

In the survey, Herrington gets high marks for making and holding fast to difficult decisions, for making decisions based on IPR’s mission and vision, for recognizing the contributions of employees, and for encouraging employees to offer their opinions and ideas. More than half the respondents respect her, and only a small minority say IPR is not a place where they can grow and learn. But the staff is evenly split on whether she was willing to “share power,” and she gets low marks on being able to “handle difficult situations without arousing hostility” and on her ability to deal with employees who disagree with her. All in all, though, it’s quite positive for a leader leading an organization through change.

Meantime, the organization is floundering a bit without her. According to the minutes of the Feb. 26 meeting of the board of Iowa Public Radio — the meeting that ended with the firing of Herrington — there was a budget shortfall at the time of around $250,000. The other day, IPR people were saying they now have a $1 million budget shortfall for the 12 months ending June 30, mainly because of a drop in major gifts. One conclusion: IPR already misses Herrington, who was a strong fund-raiser.

As Cityview reported last week, IPR settled with Herrington for around $200,000 — that’s about $150,000 more than it would have had to pay if Board Chair Kay Runge had done things right — so the whole mess, with legal fees and consulting fees, is getting pretty costly. …

A Cityview reader, intrigued by the fact that Iowa State University took a passel of athletic department spouses and children to the Liberty Bowl in December, wonders if the costs of those trips are considered taxable income. Cityview checked with its consulting accountants who said the costs for “nonessential personnel and their family members would be considered compensation” under IRS rules.

And, sure enough, Iowa State says the W-2s for this year will include those costs. …

Job watch: Nonfarm employment in the state was 1,503,300 for the month of March, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency reported the other day. When Terry Branstad became governor two-and-a-half years ago, the total was 1,488,100. At the time, he promised to create 200,000 jobs in five years. At the halfway mark, he has created 15,200. Almost there — just 184,800 to go. CV

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