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Civic Skinny

U of I cuts graduation threshold in Ferentz contract. And for $4.5 million (plus), he agrees not to complain.

10/2/2016

That huge new contract the University of Iowa has given football coach Kirk Ferentz has a new wrinkle or two.

Besides paying him a minimum of $4.5 million in its first year — that’s a bit more than 11 times the salary of the President of the United States — and besides offering annual incentives of another $2,625,000, and besides guaranteeing $100,000 annual increases for the next nine years, and besides giving him 50 hours of free jet travel each year for personal use, and besides giving him two cars and other stuff….

And besides giving him total control over the football program and having him report to Athletic Director Gary Barta in name only (and while his $425,000-a-year son and offensive line coach may in theory report not to dad but to Barta, as the university claims, dad’s contract says all assistant coaches report to him and it sets the pay for the son, which is higher than the pay given to the university provost)….

And besides providing no penalty in case he walks away any time during the 10 years the “contract” is in force….

The university apparently decided it had been too tough on the coach in setting a threshold of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate before the coach can pick up a $100,000 bonus. So the school replaced the 70 percent “graduation rate” in the contract with an 80 percent “graduation success rate.”

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A “graduation success rate,” as Cityview pointed out a few weeks ago, is a phony number invented by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to hide the fact that real graduation rates of big-school athletes often are abysmal. The federal government calculates real graduation rates this way: It takes the number of incoming freshmen, determines how many have graduated after six years, and says that percentage is the rate. The NCAA “success” rate does that, too, but first it subtracts from the “incoming” number all those athletes who leave before they graduate, as long as they were in good academic standing when they left.

The difference has averaged 15 points over the past five years for football players at Iowa. At an 80 percent “graduation success rate,” Ferentz would have picked up his $100,000 in three of those years. At a 70 percent “graduation rate,” he was shut out.

Every little bit helps.

In return for all this, the coach agrees to keep his mouth shut. “An action on the part of any coach to publicly report internal problems or disagreements that arise will be regarded as contrary to university policy,” the contract notes. …

Side note: The true graduation rates for football players at the 14 Big Ten schools in the most recent year ranged from 47 at Michigan State to 93 at Northwestern. The only other school that had a true rate of at least 70 was Nebraska, which was at exactly 70. The “graduation success rate” ranged from 66 at Michigan State to 97 at Northwestern. Four other schools — Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers — had rates more than 80. …

In hopes of recovering $682,500 in defaulted loans made to Kirk Blunck, the city has made a deal with lawyers for his estate. In September, the City Council approved a so-called Forbearance Agreement with a Blunck company, Teachout Properties LLC, that calls for a monthly payment of $1,500, increased collateral, and a promise that Teachout lawyers will “diligently pursue the sale of the properties in a commercially reasonable manner that maximizes the sales price” of the Teachout Building and the neighboring Hohberger Building in the East Village. The Teachout Building is assessed at $1,010,000, the Hohberger Building at $931,000.

Blunck, who died mysteriously on a Sunday in January while visiting the Teachout Building, was an architect and early leader in the redevelopment of the East Village. In 1999, the city gave him two interest-free 10-year loans, one for $300,000 and one for $400,000, as part of a financing package for the two buildings. The loans, which were subordinate to mortgages held by Iowa State Bank, required no payments for the first four years.

In fact, Blunck paid down nothing on the $400,000 loan and just $17,500 on the $300,000 one. Both were declared in default in 2010, kicking in an interest rate of 12 percent. As part to the new deal, that interest rate was cut to 6 percent for the period from 2010 to April 1 of this year and to 2 percent since then. If the city is not repaid by the end of 2017, the forbearance agreement ends and the interest rate goes back to 12 percent.

The estate itself probably has the money to repay the city, but the city did not get a personal guarantee from Blunck at the time of the loans.

Blunck, a respected architect with very messy business affairs, was pushed or fell in the stairway at the Teachout Building. The county medical examiner listed the cause of death as “multiple blunt force trauma, manner undetermined.” At least some family members believe he was murdered, but there have been no arrests. He was 62 when he died. Court filings indicate he had assets of $6.4 million when he died; there has been no listing of liabilities. …

Democratic operatives John and Jackie Norris are back in town after a few years in Washington and another couple of years in Rome. John Norris — onetime congressional candidate, former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Vilsack, once chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board and later a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — has joined with former Harkin aide Brad Knott to purchase the State Public Policy Group, a consulting company that was owned by Tom Slater.

Jackie Norris — onetime chief of staff to Michelle Obama and a top worker in the campaigns of Vilsack, Barack Obama and Al Gore — has been named president of Goodwill Industries of Central Iowa. Keeping things in the Democratic family, they have bought the Woodland Avenue house of Jim Autry and former Lt. Gov. Sally Pederson. …

Friends of Polk County Conservation Director Rich Leopold say he is considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. They note he has set up a political action committee. But Leopold was evasive when asked by Cityview. He didn’t say yes, he didn’t say no. He just said he was going around trying to push his “progressive” agenda.  Leopold is pretty well known around the state; he ran the Iowa Department of Natural Resources from 2007 to 2010. Friends think he’ll announce after the election, perhaps before state party chair Andy McGuire announces in January. …

Steve Luebke, the former sales manager at Toyota and Chevrolet dealerships in Des Moines, is back in prison in Newton. He recently was picked up for drunk-driving in St. Louis — his eighth OWI arrest — and was sent back to prison for parole violation. He had been sentenced to 10 years in April of 2013, was released on parole last year, and now is scheduled to be released on parole again in November of next year. …

Mark Graziano, the city’s other notable prisoner, is scheduled to be released from Leavenworth on Dec. 20. Graziano was the owner of Bauder Pharmacy on Ingersoll when federal agents discovered he was running a different kind of drugstore out of the back door. He faced 18 counts but made a deal to plead guilty to one count of tax evasion and another of diverting drugs. He was sentenced to two years in February of 2015. The drugstore now is owned by his sister, who also is a pharmacist, though it’s understood Graziano still owns the ice-cream business. Bauder’s, which has an old-fashioned soda counter, is noted for its home-made ice cream. …

No one seems to have noticed, but one of the 214 prisoners whose sentences were commuted by President Barack Obama recently was Reanna Paxton, a Native American sentenced to almost 22 years in prison by Federal Judge Robert Pratt in 2008. She had pleaded guilty in what the government now calls a small-scale, street-level scheme to distribute methamphetamine. She earlier had been convicted of some non-violent drug and theft crimes, so Pratt had no choice under sentencing laws then in effect.

At the time, he called the sentence “entirely too long.”

Paxton, now 55, was imprisoned in Minnesota, and her case caught the attention of JaneAnne Murray, a University of Minnesota law professor working with the Clemency Project. She and her students built the case for clemency, and the government approved. Paxton now will go through a gradual transition back into society and probably will settle in Wyoming. Among those recommending clemency: Judge Pratt…

Randy Duncan was as kind and modest as he was talented — and he was immensely talented as an athlete and a lawyer and a citizen. He was 79 when he died the other day.♦

 

Comment: A bad idea

In the summer of 1954, when I was 15 years old, I went to work in the sports department of the Register and Tribune. My main jobs were answering phones and taking dictation from sportswriters — this was long before email or popularized fax machines or the like — and occasionally I was sent out to cover a high-school swimming meet or baseball game.

I was paid 75 cents an hour, the minimum wage.

After my first assignment, covering a swimming meet, I came back, wrote the four-paragraph story and turned in a chit for mileage reimbursement. It was rejected. I told Leighton Housh, the executive sports editor, that the cars part-timers drove were powered by gasoline, just as were the cars driven by the sports-writers, and that part-timers had to pay the same for gasoline that full-timers paid. I nervously explained this to Mr. Housh. He always looked pained, but he looked more pained than usual as I spoke.

A few days later, Mr. Housh determined that the part-timers — there were probably a half-dozen of us — would be paid mileage. I suspect the editor of the newspaper, Ken MacDonald, told him he had no choice.

This comes to mind because of the loopy proposal from the Polk County minimum-wage task force that would put the minimum for workers under 18 at 85 percent of the minimum for everyone else. The task force, by a 10 to 2 vote, is proposing gradual increases in the true minimum to $10.75 an hour by 2019, with annual cost-of-living increases after that. The current minimum is $7.25.

If it’s enacted, Polk’s cities will have the chance to opt out — to keep their minimums at part-timers couldn’t get mileage.

I told my father, who also worked at the newspaper and who suggested I explain to Mr. $7.25 — or to put in their own minimum wages that could be higher or lower than the county’s proposal. In effect, the county is forcing the issue for the cities.

The plan would be OK, perhaps, if McDonald’s would charge those under 18 just 85 percent of the list price for a hamburger and fries, if QuikTrip would charge them just 85 percent for a gallon of gas, if the Roosevelt Barber Shop would charge them just 85 percent for a haircut, and if Wal-Mart would charge them just 85 percent for school supplies and tennis shoes and CDs and bread purchased.

Young people who take jobs don’t usually do it for the joy of working. They do it because they need money — for everything from gasoline to tuition, for their own joys and necessities as well as, often, for help in supporting their families. And they work just as hard as their sisters and brothers who are 18 or older. (But there are some tasks a young person is not allowed to do on the job, some employers and tasks-force members argue, and that’s why the differential was put in, they say. Yeah.)

The proposal is wrong-headed not only because it penalizes the young but also because it gives employers a way around the law. They can hire kids to serve customers or pump gas (oh, wait a minute, no one is hired to pump gas these days) or stock shelves or scoop ice cream. The employers save 15 percent by doing that — and contribute to rising unemployment of those older than 18.

There’s no question the minimum wage needs to be raised. If the federal government won’t do it, then the state should. If the state won’t, then the county should. But if the county does it — and that seems all but certain here in Polk County — it should do it by the same amount for everyone.

The other day, the supervisors approved the first reading of the new plan. They have two more chances to change their minds.

And they should.

— Michael Gartner

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