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Gortz Haus settles complaints, now welcomes gays

1/28/2015

The couple who own the Gortz Haus Gallery have agreed that gay people now can rent the facility for weddings. The couple has dropped its lawsuit against the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and made a financial settlement with the two men who wanted to get married there but were turned away.

Gortz Haus is a handsome, stone former church in Grimes that now is a gift and art gallery, a lunch bistro and an event center. It is owned by Betty and Richard Odgaard, who are Mennonites who believe it would be sinful for them to host a gay wedding. So when Lee Stafford and Jared Ellars were turned away, their next stop was the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.

The commission determined there was probable cause that Gortz Haus had violated the Iowa nondiscrimination laws, but before it could enter a ruling the Odgaards went to court and sued the commission. At the request of the commission, Judge Richard Blane dismissed the suit, saying the Odgaards couldn’t sue until the commission actually issued its ruling. The Odgaards, represented by a Washington group called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, then appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The top court sent the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals. While it was pending last month, the gallery, the now-married couple, and the commission reached a so-called “conciliation settlement agreement.”

Gortz Haus agreed to pay each of the men $2,500, “to refrain from discrimination in the offering to the public of all of its facilities and services without regard to race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability.” It also agreed not to advertise or “in any other manner” indicate or publicize that Gortz Haus did not welcome or accept gays or others covered under the civil rights law.

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The agreement “is not an admission of any wrongdoing or violation of law,” the document says.

After the agreement was reached, the Odgaards voluntarily dismissed their appeal of the suit, which ended all court action.

A friend of the two men said they are donating the money they were awarded to Iowa Safe Schools, which works to protect students from bullying, harassment and discrimination. …

It turns out Marty Tirrell and Ken Miller will not be joining forces at KRNT radio after all — despite what everyone (including Cityview) has reported.

“I never had a contract or an agreement with Tirrell/Miller despite what had been reported. No reporter ever called me to confirm or have me deny it,” says Jeff Delvaux, the KRNT boss. “I did a lot of analysis of going to a sports station,” but since KRNT already carries the Chicago Cubs (and is “proud to be doing that”) it “presented too many conflicts with the time slot they wanted. So there was no deal, and we ended discussions a few days ago,” Delvaux said Friday.

So Miller will be leaving the state’s top sports-radio station, KXNO, and joining Tirrell on KXLQ, the weak-signal Indianola station that currently hosts Tirrell’s show. It might be a bit awkward: According to court papers, KXLQ had to eat around $26,000 that Tirrell owed it when he filed for bankruptcy protection. …

As Jim Flansburg used to say: Great Mentions and Trial Balloons. Rumor is that Mary Andringa will be appointed to the nine-member Board of Regents. Republican Bob Downer of Iowa City and Democrat Ruth Harkin of Cumming are leaving the board when their terms expire April 30.

At least one of the appointees must be a woman, and at least one must be a non-Republican, under the state’s rules requiring balance in gender and party on state boards. Andringa recently stepped down as chief executive of Pella’s Vermeer Corp. and will leave the chairmanship in November, when her son takes over at the family-owned manufacturer of industrial and agricultural equipment. (Mary Andringa grew up as Mary Vermeer.) Recently, she has co-chaired Gov. Terry Branstad’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council.

Andringa, who lives in Pella, is a registered Republican. At the moment the board has five Republicans, three Democrats, and one independent. It has five men and four women. The Democrats, besides Harkin, are Cedar Rapids educator Katie Mulholland (a former Republican who registered as a Democrat not long before being appointed to the board) and Webster City doctor Subhash Sahai. Republicans, besides Downer, are Board President Bruce Rastetter, Marshalltown lawyer Larry McKibben, Waterloo contractor Milt Dakovich, and student Hannah Walsh. The independent is newly named Regent Sherry Bates. …

If you read this column online last week, just skim this stuff about Steve Luebke. You’ve already read much of it. For the rest of you:

Steve Luebke and the state have reached a plea agreement on the six charges arising from his very bad day at the wheel last September.

Luebke, the onetime sales boss at Toyota of Des Moines and, briefly, at Deery Brothers Chevrolet in Pleasant Hill, wrecked a Deery Chevrolet Camaro on the freeway in Des Moines late in the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 13. He admits in new court filings that he was “impaired due to a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol.” He left the scene before the police arrived, and somehow made it back to the Deery lot. He got a second car, headed east and was stopped for drunken driving just before midnight in Prairie City. He was charged with third-offense drunken driving in Jasper County. (In fact, it was his fifth arrest for drunken driving.)

When Des Moines police went to his home to arrest him the next day, he was “drunk… and passed out,” the parole-violation report says. (At the time of the arrests, Luebke was on parole from a third-offense drunk-driving conviction in April of 2013. He was sentenced to five years in prison but was released on parole after serving 39 days in prison in Newton and spending five months in a treatment program at Fort Des Moines.)

Because of the parole violation, he has been in Polk County jail since the arrests.

Under the plea agreement filed in Polk County District Court, the 57-year-old Luebke and prosecutors have agreed he will plead guilty to second-offense drunken driving, driving while barred, and driving while his license was denied or revoked.

A hearing in Polk County was held Thursday, and Luebke was sentenced to three years in prison — one year on one count and two on another, with the sentences to run consecutively, not concurrently.  A hearing in Jasper County is scheduled for this week, and the prison time is expected to be increased.

Lesser legal woes continue.

Two days after his very bad day, he had a pretty bad day. The Dallas County court sent the sheriff a notice that a judgment of $35,085.31 had been entered against him in favor of Veridian Credit Union in a dispute over yet another car he wrecked in a “collision” with a bridge.

And since he has been in jail, Community Choice Credit Union has gone to small claims court demanding $4,854.64 owed on a credit card. The court papers were served on Luebke on Jan. 5 in jail.

As of the weekend, Luebke was still in the Polk County jail, though he will be transferred to a state prison shortly…

Cityview joins those saddened by the death last week of Des Moines lawyer Chris Green. He enjoyed life.

Toussaint Cheatom, the inner-city pastor elected to the Des Moines School Board in 2013, plans to resign next week.
Cheatom, who represents the second district, has been in bad health since August, when his heart stopped briefly and he fell into a coma for several days. The board will appoint someone to serve until the next election, which is in September. The person elected then will serve out the remainder of Cheatom’s term, which runs to 2017.

District 2 runs from downtown north. It includes North High School and goes as far west as 30th Street. CV

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