Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Tirrell seeks bankruptcy. New Polk County salaries. Dennis Parker is out. A new foe for Bisignano.


Marty Tirrell filed for bankruptcy on Monday.

The sports-radio talker and serial-defendant said he and his wife, Stephanie, have assets of zero to $50,000 and estimated liabilities of $500,000 to $1 million. The petition listed more than a dozen creditors, including several credit-card companies, three banks, and two of the ticket brokers that have combined judgments of about $300,000 against him. At least one other major lawsuit — seeking more than $350,000 — remains to be tried.

The bankruptcy petition, filed in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Iowa, lists his residence as the West Des Moines home that was recently sold at a sheriff’s sale. It’s possible the filing will allow him to keep the house, lawyers say.

Oddly, the petition says the debts “are primarily consumer debts,” though the large judgments against him are from his business. According to the suits, which he lost, he bought from ticket brokers blocks of tickets to major sporting events and never paid for them.

The petition was filed under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Act, which allows a debtor with a regular income to work out a payment plan over three to five years.


It’s the second time Tirrell has filed for bankruptcy; he filed in Massachusetts in 1992. …

Ninety-two people on the payroll of Polk County earn more than $100,000 a year, the new salary list shows. Again, the highest-paid person is medical examiner Gregory Schmunk, whose pay in the fiscal year that began July 1 will be $232,301. That’s up $5,600, or 2.5 percent, from his pay a year ago.

Most non-union employees got 2.5 percent increases on July 1. Most members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees got 2.25 percent. The five supervisors themselves are pretty far down on the list of 92 — each getting $104,210 in the coming year, up from $101,668 last year. Until two years ago, they weren’t on the $100,000-plus list.

The second-highest paid county employee is county manager Mark Wandro, at $185,000. Then comes County Attorney John Sarcone, at $179,757, followed by six of his assistants at $152,793. Those are Nan Horvat, Daniel Voogt, Frank Severino, Michael O’Meara, Jeffrey Noble and Steve Foritano. Rounding out the top 10 is Sheriff Bill McCarthy, at $148,760.

Besides the supervisors, two elected officials make less than their employees. County treasurer Mary Maloney makes $104,717, about $10,000 less than Ben Lacey. County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald makes the same as Maloney, about $30,000 less than Keith Olson, the central accounting manager, who works for him, and $10,000 less than John Chiodo, the county’s director of elections who also works for him. Two other employees, Ken Agey and Michael Albers, also make more than Fitzgerald. …

Dennis Parker is out after five years as head of the Polk County Conservation Board. Parker was at odds with at least some of the five members of the board as well as at least some of the five Polk County Supervisors. The supervisors appoint the members of the conservation board. …

After failing to hire a city manager — the choice, Sean Stegall of Elgin, Illinois, wanted too much money — the city is going to run another national search. But support is coalescing around an insider, Scott Sanders, who runs the city’s finance department. Sanders, a former assistant city manager of West Des Moines, became Des Moines finance director four years ago. …

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals’ reversal in the Mersed Dautovic sentencing case was a “huge deal,” says a guy who keeps a careful eye on the courts. It was a hard slap at federal district judge John Jarvey, and it was a major against-the-odds victory for U.S. Attorney Nick Klinefeldt.

In 2008, Dautovic, then a Des Moines police officer, beat up — badly beat up — a Des Moines man who was riding in a car that didn’t pull over appropriately when a police car with its red lights on tried to pass it. The car was being driven by the man’s girlfriend; they were on their way home from the movies. Neither had a police record. After beating the guy up, Dautovic filed a report that was “incomplete and inaccurate,” according to court documents, and, they add, he perjured himself at trial. A jury found Dautovic guilty of using excessive force and obstructing justice.

Federal sentencing guidelines, as calculated by Jarvey, called for a sentence of 135 to 168 months — about 11 to 14 years — in prison. The judge then rejected the guidelines and sentenced Dautovic to 20 months in prison. Klinefeldt appealed, and last week a three-judge panel of the circuit court called the police officer’s conduct “egregious” and the judge’s sentence “unreasonably lenient.” Jarvey “abused his discretion” in setting such a light sentence, the court said, and it sent the case back to Jarvey “for resentencing consistent with the views set forth in this opinion.”

“The court does not keep statistics on how often it overturns a sentence on the ground the district court imposed too ‘light’ a sentence,” Michael Gans, the clerk of court for the 8th Circuit, told Cityview. But he called the ruling “unusual.”

At the time, the sentence puzzled court-watchers. Jarvey is a former federal prosecutor who was nominated for the bench by President George W. Bush in 2007 on the recommendation of Sen. Charles Grassley. Klinefeldt has been U.S. Attorney since late 2009. He was recommended by Sen. Tom Harkin and appointed by President Barack Obama.

The couple in the car — Octavius Bonds and Erin Evans — filed a civil suit against the city that was settled before trial for $500,000. “It was money well spent,” says a city official who was familiar with the facts. …

Late filings, for the record: The deadline for filing to run for the Legislature was Friday. Jim Bollard, a neighborhood leader in the Easter Lake section of Senate District 17, filed that day to oppose Republican Jonathan Lochman and Democrat Tony Bisignano. Bisignano, who won the Democratic nomination by 18 votes over assistant attorney general Nathan Blake and a few hundred over Ned Chiodo, still is expected to win handily, though the Lochman entry lets yellow-dog Democrats who hate Bisignano vote against him without actually voting for a Republican — which, they know, would cause them to be struck dead.

Four candidates were last-minute entries in the race to succeed Tom Harkin in the U.S. Senate. Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley now are joined by Bob Quast, of the “Bob Quast for Term Limits” Party, by Libertarian Party member Douglas Butzier, and by independents Rick Stewart and Ruth Smith.

Libertarian Edward Wright and independent Bryan Jack Holder were last-minute entrants in the third Congressional race, where Democrat Staci Appel and Republican David Young are vying for the seat vacated by Tom Latham. And Libertarian Lee Deakins Hieb, New Independent Party Iowa candidate Jim Hennager and Iowa Party candidate Jonathan Narcisse are late entries in the gubernatorial race, where Democrat Jack Hatch is running an uphill fight against incumbent Terry Branstad. …

Cityview joins those happily remembering Walt Shotwell, who died last week at 93. Reporter, columnist, historian and raconteur, Shotty knew a lot about a lot of things, but he knew almost everything about the Des Moines of old and the people who made it interesting. He was one of them. CV

Comment: the register 

The Des Moines Register is failing to cover the most important story in central Iowa: Itself.

Circulation is plummeting. Ownership is changing. Coverage is scattershot. Morale is rock-bottom.

Readers, advertisers — and, especially, employees — have no idea what’s going on.

Nor, apparently, do the Register’s leaders.

“Believe me, [publisher Rick Green] and I wish we did have more details to provide to everyone,” Amalie Nash, the new editor and “vice president for audience engagement,” said in a fact-free memo to the staff last week.

[Example: “We are committed to proceeding in a thoughtful, clear-minded manner that takes into account our local mission and what we hear and learn from others. That is non-negotiable.” What does that mean?]

She sent the memo from a Gannett newspaper in North Carolina, “which is giving me a first-hand look at what is unfolding here, which is very valuable, but we don’t yet know whether what’s happening here will happen there or that it will be the same process in Des Moines.”

She added: “We will learn more when we head to corporate next week…and what we may or may not do here.”

So the publisher and the editor are awaiting instructions from “corporate.” “Corporate” is in suburban Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, everyone in Iowa is in the dark — and groping around. Business leaders are wondering if a group could be put together to buy the Register, but no one is stepping forward. Judges and politicians and municipal officials are wondering where the reporters are; two top county officials told Cityview last week they can’t remember the last time a reporter showed up to cover their doings.

Editors are assuming they are going to lose their jobs; the evolving Gannett template seems to be one without sub-editors — the unsung men and women who shine and polish the stories, chop out the mistakes and write the headlines. Reporters are wondering if their pay will be cut — it appears folks will have to reapply for their own jobs, but the job descriptions might call for less pay.

And everyone is mailing out resumes.

If this were the Iowa Juvenile Home or Polk County or the state Department of Administrative Services, the newspaper would be all over it. But it’s the Register, so nothing is being written. When Gannett announced it was spinning off the newspapers, the Register wrote that story and included a bit of pablum from the publisher. But there was no talk of what actually would, or might, happen.

Where is Clark Kauffman when the readers need him? (Actually, Kauffman, the well-regarded investigative reporter, is getting ready to join the editorial-page staff, where he will take up duties early next month.) Where is the reporting asking questions about the unbelievable drop in circulation, the screwed-up pricing schemes, the cutback in coverage, the stream of layoffs, the goofy website that one person likens to “Hollywood Squares”?

It’s one thing to devote hundreds of inches and five front-page stories to the plight of a couple trying to have a baby. It’s another thing to cover the news.

And, these days, the Register is the news.

* * *

Nash’s memo to the staff said, “I’ve seen the stories coming out locally from other sites and the speculation (some of it incredibly false and incomplete) about what will, won’t or has unfolded at The Register. Our newsroom team will be informed first of any strategic initiatives, new approaches or staffing moves — not Michael Gartner, Dave Elbert or the Business Record.”

Question: If “we don’t yet know whether what’s happening here will happen there” and if “Rick and I wish we did have more details to provide to everyone” — if that’s the case, then how do they know that the information in Cityview and the Business Record “is incredibly false and incomplete?”

 Just asking.

* * *

“Transparency is essential,” Nash said in her memo.

 Oh. CV

— Michael Gartner

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