Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Don’t ask Partnership what Byers earns. (It’s $280,000.) Tony Bisignano’s foes are still looking for a candidate.


“As a community focused non-profit organization led by a volunteer Board of Directors, we value transparency,” Susan Ramsey of the Greater Des Moines Partnership told Cityview the other day. That, of course, meant she’s wasn’t going to answer the question.

Sure enough, she didn’t.

The question was: How much do Jay Byers, Gene Meyer, Dave Maahs, Kirk Irwin, Mary Bontrager and Mike Colwell make? In 2012, the latest year for which public figures are available, the six of them made a total of about $1.1 million in base salary, another $90,000 or so in deferred compensation and another $30,000 in nontaxable benefits.

But most of the top people at the Partnership have received two raises since then, one in early 2013 and another early this year. And those, the Partnership says, are none of the public’s business. At least not yet. So a year or so from now — in mid-2015 — the Partnership’s 2013 tax report will be on file and we can learn the 2013 salaries. By mid-2016, we’ll know the 2014 salaries.

Such is Partnership transparency.

Prep Iowa

In fact, Chief Executive Byers will earn about $280,000 this year, one of the 25 people on the executive committee told Cityview. That’s up 31.5 percent from the $212,899 reported to the IRS as base pay in 2012. The latest number apparently includes a probable $30,000 bonus; there was no bonus in 2012, though Byers did receive retirement and deferred compensation that year of $19,853 and nontaxable benefits of $7,102. Presumably, he’s receiving the same, or more, this year.

In 2012, Meyer, the second-ranking executive, received base pay of $163,171, chief administrative officer Irwin received $142,877, economic-development executive Maahs got $208,117, workforce development executive Bontrager got $158,271 and entrepreneurial executive Colwell got $136,891.

Presumably, all have received nice raises since then. But, of course, no one outside the inner circle — no ordinary dues payer, no public official, no citizen — knows for sure, Partnership transparency being what it is.

In 2012, too, the Partnership paid Martha Willits a base salary of $269,533, another $24,542 in retirement and other deferred compensation and $4,092 in nontaxable benefits, putting her total take at $298,187. Willits stepped down as chief executive in January of that year but stayed on the payroll as “executive campaign consultant.” She has not been on the payroll since the end of 2012, the Partnership says. In 2011, when she apparently was doing the work now shared by Byers and Meyer, she had total compensation of $351,863. That year, Byers made $165,574; Meyer, the former head of the Department of Public Safety and a former mayor of West Des Moines, was not with the Partnership that year.

The Partnership is pitchman, recruiter, booster and facilitator for Greater Des Moines. It’s an outgrowth of the chambers of commerce of old, and today it works with 21 affiliated chambers of commerce, primarily on economic development. In 2012, it had revenue of $6,275,556 — up from $6,042,248 in 2011 — and expenses of $5,151,761, up from $4,716,993. It had what is in effect a profit of $1,173,795 in 2012, down from $1,325,255 a year before.

It gets almost all of its money from dues, which totaled $5,229,860 from about 260 members in 2012. There appears to be no rational basis for who pays what — the dues, instead, seem based on whatever the Partnership can get. For instance, Casey’s pays between $50,000 and $99,999, according to Partnership documents, while Kum & Go pays between $25,000 and $49,999. Hy-Vee pays between $50,000 and $99,999 while Dahl’s pays between $10,000 and $24,999.

The Des Moines Marriott pays between $10,000 and $24,999 while the Renaissance Savery and the Embassy Suites pay between $3,000 and $4,999. The Des Moines Register pays more than $100,000 in annual dues, the Business Record between $5,000 and $9,999, but no television or radio station (or Cityview) is listed in any published category; those categories start at $3,000.

The major expense item after salaries is “conference, conventions and meetings,” the category that includes the cost of the annual dinner as well as other meetings and conferences, according to Ramsey, who is senior vice president for communications of the Partnership.

The Partnership supports the Downtown Community Alliance, which is a subsidiary that files a separate tax return. It’s run by Glenn Lyons, whose base compensation in 2012 was $165,030. Tim Leach, the second-in-command, made $101,280.

The alliance had revenue in 2012 of $894,961, more than a third of which came from fees charged vendors at the downtown farmers market. It had expenses of $1,796,507, most of which — $776,244 — was salaries. The Partnership charges the Alliance more than $400,000 in administrative and management fees, but then it turns around and makes up the yearly deficit. In 2012, that deficit was $901,546.

As part of the Partnership transparency policy, the group refused to disclose updated salary information for Lyons and Leach. …

Some Democrats are hoping Nathan Blake will run as an “independent Democrat” against Democrat Tony Bisignano in the Iowa Senate race this fall. Bisignano beat Blake by a handful of votes in a three-way race that included Ned Chiodo. So far, Blake has said he wasn’t interested.

Meantime, a guy who has been following the Southside soap opera notes that “Republicans had been courting former Polk County Deputy Sheriff Michael Lose to run as a Republican against Bisignano. Lose’s narrative, they figure, would provide a stark contrast to Bisignano,” who pled guilty to a second offense of drunk driving earlier this year and has other blots on his record. “Lose was critically injured and left paralyzed after being shot during an attempt to stop a reckless driver speeding through his neighborhood while Lose was off duty.” But, this guy adds, “Lose, a Democrat, former Teamster and lifelong Southsider, has decided against changing parties to challenge Bisignano.” One reason, another guy tells Cityview: Some of Bisignano’s friends were leaning on him to stay out of the race. …

Jason Powell of Des Moines is a “professing Christian who is compelled to share his faith with others in public.” One public place he has shared his faith — engaging “willing individuals in friendly, one-on-one conversations about his faith” — is on the sidewalks of the Iowa fairgrounds but outside the Iowa State Fair itself.

The state owns the fairgrounds.

Late in the afternoon of last Aug. 15, while the fair was in progress, Powell went to share his views at East 30th and Grand, outside the gates but on fairgrounds property. He spoke, held up a sign, and “wore an expressive T-shirt,” according to papers filed last week in federal district court in Des Moines. Around 8 p.m., according to the lawsuit, the State Fair police surrounded him and told him to leave. “For fear of arrest,” Powell left.

But he returned the next afternoon and stood outside the north gate. He didn’t speak but held up a sign containing a gospel message. A few hours later, the police told him to leave, saying he was on fairgrounds property “and they didn’t want him there.” They took him to a booking area, photographed him and warned him “that he would be charged with criminal trespass if he returned to any part of the fairgrounds, even if outside of the Fair, whether he was engaged in religious speech or not.”

He didn’t return.

Instead, his lawyer wrote the Commissioner of the Iowa State Patrol and the Attorney General seeking assurances Powell could go back to the fairgrounds this year and “peacefully share his message” without being ejected. No one answered the letter.

So he sued.

He sued Larry Noble, the head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety; an Iowa State Patrol trooper; a state fair police officer, and Gary Slater, the head of the Fair. He says his free speech rights have been violated, his right for the “free exercise of religion” has been violated, and the state and the Fair officials “have no compelling or legitimate reason that can justify their vague policies.”

Powell is seeking preliminary and permanent injunctions barring Fair officials from denying him his right to speak. Requests for preliminary injunctions normally are heard quickly because of their immediacy — this year’s Fair starts Aug. 7 — with the other relief sought being decided later.

Powell is represented by Huxley lawyer Robert Anderson and the Center for Religious Expression, a Memphis-based “Christian legal organization dedicated to the glory of God and the religious freedom of His people.” The group’s website says Powell was kicked off the site “because state fair officials didn’t like his message.”

The case has been assigned to senior Judge Robert Pratt. No trial date has been set. CV

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