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Civic Skinny

Scott Sanders is likely to be named city manager. Erik Wheater pleads guilty. The Harkin Stir Fry?

9/17/2014

Unless something goes awry within the next few days, Scott Sanders soon will be the city manager of Des Moines.

The council is going through the motions of another broad search to replace the retired Rick Clark — the first one failed this summer when Sean Stegall of Elgin, Illinois, asked for more money than the city was willing to pay — but on the seven-member council there already are at least four, and maybe six, votes for Sanders, who has never been an official candidate.

Sanders is a former assistant city manager of West Des Moines who joined the Des Moines city government as finance director in early 2011. He has gotten high marks from within the city government and from people who deal with the city. He oversees the city budget — last year, it was close to $600 million — and works well, and quietly, with the council, city people say.

The council met in closed session twice last week to discuss the candidates and the process.

Asked last week if he’d take the job, Sanders in effect said “yes.” It “would be an amazing opportunity for anyone,” he said, “and especially for an individual already familiar with the city’s challenges, processes and decision-makers. I would absolutely be honored if asked.” …

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The athletics budget at the University of Iowa is up 6.3 percent this year, to $89,652,446 from a budgeted $84,293,331. That increase is more than triple the 1.9 percent increase in the $699.6 million general operating budget for the university — that’s basically the cost of running the educational operations, which includes faculty and staff salaries, student aid, utilities, library acquisitions and the like.

Amazingly, the athletics department has once again found a way to spend every penny of its increased revenue without returning anything to the university general fund, which supported sports for all those years before television money started coming in in wheelbarrows. Football expenditures this year are up nearly 7.8 percent, to $19,750,855, while administration and general expenses — the biggest chunk of that is salaries of coaches — are up 13.6 percent to $11,927,241. (In contrast, “academic and counseling” costs are up 7 percent.) All told, the university this year is spending $26,535,731 on men’s sports and $14,647,688 on women’s sports. The men’s number is up 5.8 percent from last year, the women’s 9.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the money from television and the Big Ten conference keeps growing. This year, the number is budgeted at $30,742,000, up more than 20 percent from the $25,455,000 budgeted last year. (In fact, the final number was $26,305,317.) One report predicts that within three years each Big Ten university will get $45 million in TV money. The University of Iowa, presumably, will find ways to keep it all in the athletics department.

Figures aren’t as startling at the other two state schools. At Iowa State University, the athletic department budget this year is up 4.35 percent, to $62,602,426, while the general operating budget is up 5.8 percent, to $584.6 million. The ISU sports department will get $25.8 million in conference and TV revenue. At the University of Northern Iowa, the athletic budget is up 1.14 percent, to $12,921,197, while the general operating budget is up 2.9 percent, to $172.7 million. At UNI, athletic revenues don’t cover expenses, so the university kicks in nearly $4 million to balance the athletic budget; the money comes mainly from state appropriations and tuition. …

Updates: Erik Wheater, the Channel 13 news person who was picked up for drunk driving on June 6, has changed his plea to guilty. Under the plea agreement, he will get a year’s probation, a fine of $1,250 and must complete a first-offender program. As of last week, his driver’s license was on a “valid stay order,” according to the Iowa Department of Transportation, meaning he’s eligible to drive. A stay order is issued by the DOT while a case is being reviewed. …

Jim and Ellen Hubbell have settled their suit against the Terrace Hill Society Foundation, and the Society has settled with everyone who provided the golf cart that Ellen Hubbell fell out of while attending a charity function at Terrace Hill on Oct. 31, 2012. Ellen Hubbell, who had “severe and permanent injuries,” according to the suit, sued for damages for, among other things, past and “future loss of full function of the mind and body.”

Her husband sued for “loss of consortium of his wife…including…loss of her company, cooperation, affection, aid, general usefulness, industry, and attention within the home and family.” A jury trial had been set for Oct. 13, but an out-of-court settlement was entered last week. “This multi-party case was amicably resolved, the terms of which resolution by agreement of all parties are confidential,” George LaMarca, the Hubbells’ lawyer, told Cityview. The foundation’s lawyer didn’t respond to a request for comment. …

Bill Clinton, in a Principal Park gathering before heading to the Harkin Steak Fry Sunday, noted he is a vegan now. “So I wish it was the Harkin Stir Fry.” CV

Comment: Secrecy

This is the story of a secret document.

It is a true story.

The document is a ruling issued by the Board of Regents in the Bubu Palo case. Palo had been accused of violating the Iowa State University code of student conduct. An administrative law judge ruled in Palo’s favor, and then ISU President Steven Leath overturned the judge. The Board of Regents then upheld Leath’s ruling.

That is the document in question.

The case bounced among courts as they considered the destiny of the Iowa State basketball player and scholar who had been accused of “sexual misconduct.” Along the way, Diane Stahle, a special assistant attorney general who often represents the Board of Regents, asked the Story County district court and the Iowa Supreme Court to seal the entire administrative record in the case.

Five documents were sealed at the Supreme Court: The allegation by the university, the ruling by the administrative law judge, the ruling by Leath, the Regents’ denial of a stay of Leath’s ruling, and the final ruling by the Board of Regents. The key documents were the ruling by the judge, the ruling by Leath, and the ruling by the Regents.

Stahle’s petition to seal the records cited state and federal law. The state law, the petition said, required closing records when they contain “personal information.” Federal law, the petition said, threatens the loss of federal funding to a school that releases “education records” that “contain information directly related to a student….”

I hired a lawyer, and on June 9 I petitioned the Supreme Court to unseal the records, which the Supreme Court had reviewed. The Court punted, telling me I should make my request to the district court in Story County. I did. While my request was pending in Story County, district judge Steven Oeth appropriately released the most important document — the ruling by the Administrative Law Judge — as part of his decision overruling the Board of Regents and clearing Palo.

On Sept. 5, Judge Oeth held a hearing on my request, which now basically concerned just Leath’s ruling and the Regents’ upholding of Leath. Palo’s lawyer did not oppose my request.

During the hearing, Stahle told the judge:

“The Board of Regents ruling is very short and it doesn’t have any information in it, quite frankly, other than they’re affirming the decision of President Leath.”

Huh?

That’s what the Attorney General’s office worked so hard to keep secret and got two courts to go along with it and do so?

Yes.

Ultimately, Stahle agreed in court to release the remaining two documents, and Judge Oeth entered an order compelling her to do so. The Leath decision hasn’t arrived yet, but here’s the Board of Regents ruling — the ruling the Regents and the state had kept secret — in its entirety. It is letter from the Board to Palo’s lawyer, Matthew Boles.

“Dear Mr. Boles:

“The Board of Regents considered the appeal of Yampabou Palo on December 4, 2013. The Board voted to deny Mr. Palo’s appeal and affirm the final decision of Iowa State University (8 in favor, 0 opposed, 1 absent).

“This decision represents final agency action. Mr. Palo may seek further review of this decision in accordance with Iowa law.

“Should you have any questions regarding this matter, please feel free to contact the Board office.

“Sincerely, Aimee Claeys, Associate Counsel.”

That is what the state spent time and money keeping secret.

Last week, I asked the Attorney General’s office what it was in that letter that caused the Attorney General to have it sealed — particularly in light of Stahle’s comment to the judge that “it doesn’t have any information in it, quite frankly.”

The letter “is a student record,” the AG’s office responded, and thus is confidential. “It is not the content within the letter that determines whether…confidentiality statutes apply, it’s the letter itself, which is a student record,” the AG’s office stated. Apart from the fact that that point was never made in the petition to seal the record, that is nuts.

Every letter from a university that mentions a student’s name is a confidential student record? Every document that mentions a student’s name? Every press release that mentions a student’s name?

That is neither the spirit nor the letter of the law. The Regents, the Attorney General’s office and the court systems should be ashamed. The rest of us should be outraged.

Anyway, that is the story of a once “secret” document.

It is a true story. CV

— Michael Gartner

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