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Civic Skinny

A hole and a question in Jeff Stein’s resume. New stars: Ernst and Mowrer. No Rack photos here.

11/5/2014

Lawyer Jeff Stein withdrew his application to be executive director of the Iowa Public Information Board just in time. He was about to be booted off the list of four finalists after political aides from both parties alerted the board to the fact that Stein had twice had his law license suspended, according to emails Cityview requested from the board.

 Stein’s cover letter and resume skipped over those chapters in his life.

The nine-member board is an independent state agency set up last year and given court-like powers to investigate complaints and enforce Iowa’s open-records and open-meetings laws. The first executive director, long-time lawyer and lobbyist Keith Luchtel, is stepping down at age 73, and the board received 12 applications for the job.

The three-person selection committee came up with four finalists — Charlie Smithson, who once headed the state’s Campaign Finance and Ethics Board and who more recently was with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office; Margaret Johnson, the deputy director of the agency; John McCormally, an assistant attorney general, and Stein, the executive director of the Iowa Broadcast News Association and sometime college journalism teacher.

 Last week, Smithson got the job.

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The selection committee and board members apparently didn’t know of Stein’s past, but they quickly found out when the list of finalists was published.

“Someone from the governor’s office called Mr. Stein’s disciplinary record to my attention,” Luchtel wrote in an Oct. 14 email to search committee members Robert Andeweg, Bill Monroe and Suzan Stewart. “He has had two suspensions and two public reprimands.”

In an email the next day to board chair Andeweg, Luchtel said he had been on the telephone with a Senate Democratic staffer. Former broadcaster and current Iowa Senator Liz Mathis “is very concerned that Jeff Stein is even being considered,” Luchtel wrote. “I think she will be calling you soon.”

In May of 1998, Stein was publicly reprimanded by the Supreme Court, which suspended his license for a minimum of six months. “The suspension resulted from conduct involving neglect and misrepresentation to the court and opposing counsel,” according to court documents.

On Dec. 22, 1999, the court suspended Stein’s license for “not less than two years.” That resulted from “neglect of a real-estate transaction, compounded by prolonged and overt attempts to conceal the neglect,” the court wrote. According to court documents, Stein repeatedly made false statements, fabricated an affidavit, and then ignored letters from the state’s grievance board.

Ultimately, Stein “expressed remorse,” the court said. “He believed his conduct resulted from a behavioral disorder which gave him a feeling of invincibility….”

He was reinstated to the practice of law on Jan. 14, 2002. But that was after he received a second reprimand. That one was for neglect in handling — or failing to handle — an adoption issue.

The resume Stein submitted to the Public Information Board says he was a lawyer in Marshalltown from July 1988 to August 1998 and a “licensed attorney” in Denver, Iowa, from January 2001 to the present — though in fact he was not licensed to practice law during part of that time.

CV 110614 PAGE 8After learning of Stein’s history, Andeweg called to disinvite him from a planned job interview. “As soon as I introduced myself to Jeff, he informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration because he does not think it is feasible to consider a move to Des Moines at this time….I think we can just leave it at that,” Andeweg emailed Luchtel on Oct. 15.

Asked why he withdrew, Stein told Cityview: “After initially accepting the invitation to meet with the board for an interview, I concluded that my desire to continue living in northeast Iowa rather than Des Moines was more important, and indicated the next day that I was declining further participation in the process. Best of luck with the column.”

Asked whether his withdrawal had anything to do with his past troubles with his law license, he said, “I have no knowledge of anything you are suggesting in your email.”

Asked about the inconsistency in the dates on his resume and the dates of his suspension, he said, “My reinstatement hearing at the Iowa Supreme Court was in January 2002. Thank you for the correction.”

In all, 12 persons applied for Luchtel’s job. Besides Stein, McCormally, Smithson and Johnson, they are:

Thomas Augustine, who graduated from Drake Law School in May; Jason Carlstrom, the former county attorney in Dickinson County and most recently the chair and executive director of the Iowa Board of Parole; Lisa Lann, a compliance officer with the Iowa Department of Inspections & Appeals; Kasey Wadding, the Bremer County Attorney since 1999; Nicholas Cooling, another May graduate of the Drake Law School; Wallace Taylor, a Cedar Rapids lawyer and former Boone County Attorney; Mary Gannon, a lawyer with the Iowa Association of School Boards; and Danette Kobolt, a lawyer with the Iowa Insurance Division.

The job pays $63,690 to $97,460 a year. Luchtel is paid at the top of the scale.

Footnote: The board, which looks into agencies that are not responsive to freedom-of-information requests, was remarkably quick in responding when it received a request itself. …

This column went to press before the election returns were in. But no matter the outcomes, the election produced a new star for each party.

Joni Ernst, telegenic and poised, veteran and farmer, county official and state legislator, was almost magnetic during the campaign — and the national press in particular were lured by that magnetism. Early in the year, Gov. Terry Branstad told a friend — well, an acquaintance — that she would win the primary and win the election. As a candidate, she was almost irresistible, he said, and he said it when she was little known outside southwest Iowa. A Democrat from southwest Iowa said the same thing.

The campaign proved both of them right. You can argue about her substance or her views, but her anchorwoman smoothness and her ability to stay calm, smiling and on message turned her into a star.

Likewise, Democrat Jim Mowrer broke from the pack as he challenged entrenched northwest Iowa Congressman Steve King. With a story that couldn’t have been improved on by central casting — farm boy whose dad died in a farming accident, youngster raised by a mom who made it because of Social Security survivor benefits, combat veteran in Iraq, special assistant to the Under Secretary of the Army, holder of a master’s degree in public policy, proud husband to his Boone High School sweetheart and father of two little boys. And not yet 30 years old.

Mowrer is forceful on the stump. In last week’s debate, “the young man had the old man on the ropes,” Art Cullen of the Storm Lake Times wrote. “He faced King down on every irresponsible vote, for every effort to divide and conquer, for doing nothing for Northwest Iowa….”

Top Democrats already are eyeing him as the guy to take on Sen. Charles Grassley in two years. If he challenges Grassley, who then will be 83, the money will be big, the issues will be clear, the contrast will be stark. …

A Des Moines Register news chronology: Dec. 19, 2013: “Nordstrom Rack store coming to West Des Moines.” Aug. 4, 2014: “Nordstrom Rack opening this fall in West Des Moines.” Oct. 23: “A look inside the new Nordstrom Rack,” and “55 photos: Nordstrom Rack in West Des Moines.” Oct. 26: “Tour the new Nordstrom Rack in West Des Moines.” And: “Nordstrom Rack opens today in West Des Moines.” Oct. 27: “New in the Neighborhood: Nordstrom Rack opens.”

In all, according to a site search, “20 entries were found for Nordstrom Rack.”

None was found for “Register layoffs.” CV

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