Monday, June 21, 2021

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Civic Skinny

A close look at Jamie Pollard’s record at Iowa State.


A big payday for Vilsack. Is Marty Tirrell job-hunting?


Iowa State University the other day gave a rich new contract to Athletic Director Jamie Pollard. The press release noted “Pollard and his team of coaches and staff have reshaped nearly every aspect of the athletics department of the last 11 years.”

Under Pollard, the athletic department “raised its competitive performance significantly,…excelled in the classroom,…built or renovated facilities,…eliminated dependence on state funding,…tripled annual fundraising…[and] established new attendance records in nearly every sport.”

A guy who thinks press releases don’t always tell the whole story sent CITYVIEW a note pointing out “other facts not in an ISU press release” about milestones under Pollard’s 11-year reign.

  • ISU lost twice as many football games as it won, with only two winning seasons.
  • Iowa State employed four head football coaches (a tally of the cash payouts on this would be even more telling).
  • The Cyclones have had four head men’s basketball coaches since Pollard took over.
  • Athletic department events led to high profile lawsuits by Ruth Crowe, Bubu Palo, and Nikki Moody, and the university lost the first two and the third remains pending.
  • ISU was guilty of a string of NCAA rule violations, including making 1,484 impermissible phone calls to recruits, and in 2013 entered an agreement admitting the department committed “major violations” of NCAA rules.
  • Those rule violations involved more than 33 coaches and every athletic program, dating back to spring of 2011.
  • At that time, the NCAA identified 79 violations for which it indicated it would discipline Iowa State.
  • ISU had another 13 minor NCAA violations in the first half of 2016
  • Pollard was personally fined $25,000 by the Big 12, the largest such fine imposed to that date by the league, and received a public reprimand by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who said, “To imply that games are called unfairly to negatively impact a program is irresponsible and completely baseless.”                                       [Aside: “Jamie has led this success with integrity, doing things the right way — the Cyclone Way,” ISU President Steve Leath said in announcing the new contract.]
  • ISU has failed to take court storming seriously, leading to a beloved reporter’s severe injury with substantial pain and suffering.

ISU “also failed to retain wrestling legend Cael Sanderson as head coach. Since he bolted to Penn State from his alma mater, the once-dominant wrestling program has failed to finish in the top 10 at the NCAA nationals every year but one, has instead averaged a 14th-place national finish, has not won a Big 12 team title, and holds a 12-meet losing streak to intrastate rival Iowa in duals.”

Prep Iowa - Pride Month

And in 2013, Pollard was ejected from a high-school basketball game between Gilbert and Colfax-Mingo after complaining about a referee’s call. Pollard’s son was on the Gilbert team.

Furthermore, according to NCAA figures, Iowa State doesn’t have — as it claims — the highest graduation rate for athletes in the Big 12. Baylor does better.

“A guy who gets rewarded for all that must really have his bosses buffaloed, to the tune of more than $6 million,” the note said.

Well, maybe there were other factors. The contract, signed by Leath, was released shortly after it was discovered that Leath used the athletic department as a backdoor into the ISU Foundation so he could get $4 million to purchase an airplane without having to first go to the Board of Regents for funding and approval.

Whatever the reason, Pollard was given a very nice deal. He will be paid $689,325 a year, with annual increases taking him to $825,000 in the 2023-2024 academic year. He’ll also get deferred compensation of $153,000 this year, with the annual amount rising to $278,000 in the final year of the deal.

He also gets a car, country-club dues and the usual retirement benefits — and those include an annual contribution of 10 percent of his salary to his pension fund. …

The Iowa Board of Regents the other day met to evaluate the performance of Leath as well as of University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, Board office head Bob Donley, and Steve Gettel, head of the state’s special schools. All four asked that the evaluations be done in closed session, and the Board agreed.

Under the Iowa open-meetings law, closed sessions for personnel evaluations can be held only “when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation and that individual requests a closed session.” …

Tom Vilsack didn’t get really rich in his eight years as Governor of Iowa or the just-completed eight years as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. But he’s about to. Vilsack has signed on as chief executive of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Vilsack’s salary isn’t public, but Thomas Suber, the man he is succeeding, earned $875,203 in 2014, the latest year for which the organization’s tax return is available.

The new job doesn’t preclude him from serving on corporate boards, which could bring in additional money. He’ll have offices in Des Moines and suburban Washington.

The Governor and his wife also will teach a few days a month at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, allowing them to spend some time with their son Doug and his family in Denver. The Vilsacks’ other son, Jess, practices law in Des Moines.

The Export Council has a budget of about $24 million a year, which Vilsack should be able to deal with. His budget at the Department of Agriculture was $140 billion. Billion, with a b.

Vilsack was paid $199,700 a year as Secretary of Agriculture. …

To become U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa, names in the mix include Brenna Bird, the county attorney in Fremont County and onetime lawyer to Gov. Terry Branstad, and Alan Ostergren, the county attorney in Muscatine, Brad Price, an assistant U.S. attorney, and Dan Huitink of Vermeer Corp. in Pella.

Chris Hagenow‘s name also has been mentioned. …

The continuing saga of Marty Tirrell:

Tirrell, the deadbeat sports radio host, missed the first payment promised to Charles Gabus Motors in return for Gabus’ agreement to quit opposing Tirrell’s bankruptcy petition, as Cityview reported on-line early in January.

So Gabus went to Bankruptcy Court to enforce an agreement that it had with Tirrell: That if Tirrell missed any of the five payments due in the $45,000 settlement of a $72,000 case, Gabus would file an affidavit of default.

But Tirrell — who signed the deal — says it wasn’t his fault he missed the payment due on Jan. 3. It was God’s, or nature’s, or the weatherman’s, he says. He was all prepared to pay, he says in a January 9 court filing, but he was in Chicago and bad weather there grounded flights, he says.

So “pursuant to events beyond the control of Mr. Tirrell, he was unable to be physically present in the state of Iowa to turn over funds to counsel for Charles Gabus Motors,” the court papers say.

And that is force majeure, a legal term for avoiding blame because of an act of God, the filing says.

According to Weather Underground, there was no rain or snow at O’Hare on Jan. 3, and while there was morning fog it had pretty much cleared by 9 a.m. The temperature was in the high 30s most of the day.

Update: On Jan. 31, U.S. Bankruptcy Lee M. Jackwig ruled against Tirrell in a one-sentence ruling, meaning his hundreds of thousands of dollars of debts cannot be discharged and the bankruptcy action is over.

Meantime, Gow Broadcasting has dropped its suit against Tirrell. Four years ago, the Texas chain of radio stations says Tirrell stiffed it for $352,000 — money Tirrell received from advertisers and was supposed to pass along to Gow as well as funds advanced to cover promotional expenses needed to cover the 2013 Masters golf tournament.

Tirrell — as is often the case — never showed up in court, but the suit was delayed by various bankruptcy filings the broadcaster made. Late last year, Gow threw in the towel, apparently figuring it had no chance ever to collect.

The most intriguing line in Tirrell’s latest filing: He was out of town “in pursuit of employment to continue to expeditiously repay the obligation to [Gabus].” …

George LaMarca’s bills are creeping toward $1 million in his efforts to defend the state and some of its officers against the defamation, extortion, retaliation and discrimination charges brought by Chris Godfrey, the former head of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Board. LaMarca sent the state an invoice for $2,778 the other day, raising the total — by CITYVIEW’s count — to $913,137.95.

Godfrey’s suit alleges Republican Gov. Terry Branstad and others tried to fire him, and, when that didn’t work, they cut his pay. Godfrey was a Democrat with a fixed term that still had 46 months to run. He also was the only openly gay member of the Branstad administration. The suit has yet to come to trial in Polk County District Court — lawyers are awaiting a clarification ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court — and the bills will jump when depositions and discovery ramp up.

If Godfrey wins, the taxpayers could end up on the hook for $3 million or so in fees to the LaMarca firm and to Godfrey’s lawyer, Roxanne Conlin. In effect, the suit is about $150,000 — the additional money Godfrey would have been paid over the 46 months.


The rise and fall of Kent Sorenson

Kent Sorenson did not exactly have the resume of a guy who would become a state legislator and sought-after political operative, a guy who many Republicans thought could rise to the top of Iowa politics.

By the time he got into politics, he had been a high-school dropout, had filed for bankruptcy, had been convicted of delivery of marijuana and been sentenced to jail, had been convicted of defaulting on car-loan payments and had unpaid federal income taxes for three different years. Along the way, too, he had dabbled in several businesses and dropped out of Bible college.

And yet, in 2008 — the year Iowans voted for Barack Obama —  the little-known Sorenson came out of the far right and almost on a whim, he says, challenged incumbent Democrat Mark Davitt for an Iowa House seat from Warren County. Sorenson won by 163 votes out of more than 17,000 cast.

In office, he became the darling of the evangelicals and home-schoolers and moved ever further right. He assailed the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay-marriage decision, embraced the far-right views of Bob Vander Plaats and Steve Deace (“nobody —and I mean nobody — did more to fight for liberty and morality in my state legislature than Sorenson did,” Deace wrote after Sorenson’s troubles mounted) and had the cheek as a freshman legislator to write an open letter to Sen. Chuck Grassley accusing the conservative Republican Senator of being too liberal.

He seemed unstoppable. In 2010, he overwhelmed incumbent Democratic state senator Staci Appel, and soon “everybody thought I was the next guy in Iowa to rise up and run for higher office. I had all kinds of people coming to me and wanting to do stuff.”

But he never finished his first term in the Senate. That quote about being “the next guy” came from a deposition he gave in October of 2013 after he quit the Legislature following charges that he had sold his name and his fame to the highest bidder among Republicans vying in the Iowa caucuses in 2012.

Sorenson, now 44, denied everything at first. “I was never offered money by the Ron Paul campaign and never would accept any,” he said. But he was lying.

In the summer of 2014, he pled guilty in federal court to two felony charges — willfully causing false reports of federal campaign expenditures and falsifying records intending to obstruct justice in relation to a federal investigation. It turns out he had been paid initially by the Michele Bachmann campaign and then, for more money, had switched his support to Paul. He hid the payments because taking them violates the Iowa Senate Code of Ethics.

Sentencing was delayed for almost three years as he cooperated with federal prosecutors looking into the Bachmann and Paul campaigns, but the day of reckoning finally came the other day when Senior Federal Judge Robert Pratt sent him to prison for 15 months.

[After the verdict was read, Sorenson’s lawyer said the former political “would take it like a man” and not appeal. But on Jan. 30, Sorenson — acting without a lawyer — filed a document indicating he would appeal the sentence to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.]

If Sorenson’s performance is one for the civics books, so is Pratt’s. In a 22-page sentencing memorandum, the judge explained how he arrived at the sentence — prosecutors as well as Sorenson’s lawyer asked the judge to ignore federal guidelines and not send Sorenson to prison — and then he wrote about freedom and corruption and democracy and the need to send corrupt public officials to prison.

“Political corruption is a unique and infectious transgression with rippling and intractable societal consequences,” he wrote. He quoted President Theodore Roosevelt as saying “there can be no crime more serious than bribery.” The corrupt official is “worse than the thief,” Roosevelt said, “for the thief robs the individual while the corrupt official plunders an entire city or state. He is as wicked as the murderer, for the murderer may only take one life while the corrupt official and the man who corrupts the official alike aim at the assassination of the commonwealth itself.”

Granting probation to Sorenson would “erode, if only by an increment, America’s foundational, utter rejection of tolerance for corrupt governance,” Pratt wrote.

The judge said Sorenson “has damaged the political morale of his constituency, of all Iowans, and of all Americans.” He quoted Justice Louis Brandeis as noting that the deviant acts of the corrupt public official are of course horrific, “but a hundred times worse is the demoralization of our people which results.”

The sentencing took an hour. When it was all over, Pratt asked the once voluble Sorenson if he had any questions.

“The defendant: No.”


The courthouse bell tolls

Gov. Terry Branstad must have felt blind-sided.

There he was, sitting in the well of the chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives when Chief Justice Mark Cady started his annual State of the Judiciary speech to the joint session of the Legislature.

The Chief is not a shouter. He started off, in that quiet voice, talking a bit about the bromides of his mother when he was growing up in Fort Dodge and the exploits of his big brother, who was always trying scientific experiments — a curiosity that ultimately led to his brother’s making the world a better place.

Then he talked a bit about the court system, about how it treats people the way his mom taught the family to treat people. He talked about technology, about costs, about expertise and about addressing the needs of Iowans and the court’s efforts to keep Iowans out of prison. And he talked, especially, about the court’s first priority: “to protect all of Iowa’s children.”

He mentioned, in a low-key way, the tremendous success that the court system has had in dealing with juveniles, in bringing them back into society instead of sending them off into jail. He cited facts and figures. He got kind of emotional about that.

And then, all of a sudden, his voice firmed up and he was talking about money.

“Problems are beginning to emerge,” the Chief said. “Iowans have begun to experience a disruption in court services….Our successes cannot be maintained….Delays will return….Efficiencies may follow….Specialty courts may be eliminated…Our troubled youth will see less of our juvenile court officers….Part-time hours may return for courthouses….It means less opportunity for Iowa’s children.”

By now, the legislators and the Governor must have felt a bit uncomfortable — at least they should have. For just the day before, the Governor had proposed cutting the judiciary’s budget by about 4 percent.

Now “is the time to build the future with an investment that affirms the work of the judicial branch, and affirms the lives of families, children, business owners, employees, and all Iowans,” Cady said as the Governor sat stone-faced. “It is the time to build a future united by one will to achieve success for all.”

And then, it was back to Mom. “What we have learned from the past is that there is a spirit for justice in each of us,” he said. “It is a spirit seen across the state. It is a spirit that has brought us this far. It is a spirit that is ready to take us ever further.

“So, for whom does the bell toll?”

“It tolls for thee.”

And that was that. No histrionics, no dollars and cents. Just a warning that the bell is tolling.

And it is. The judiciary’s budget is about $181 million. The Governor’s proposed cut is $7.7 million this year. That would be a disaster for the state and, especially, its troubled young people. Indeed, Cady says the system needs another $12 million to keep courthouses open in all 99 counties, to operate the technical system that is the envy of judges and lawyers in other states, and to give judges a 5 percent pay increase — their first raise in nine years.

Court officials make a strong case that the system is almost self-supporting. It collects $153 million in fines and fees each year, and it saves about $20 million by steering young offenders away from prisons and into counseling and treatment.

In fact, the state’s judiciary is as efficient in handling dollars as it is effective in dealing with people. So you have to wonder: What’s the better investment: A few million for the courts — and the state’s children — or $100 million to subsidize a fertilizer plant? A few million for the judges —or $1 million to help a wealthy company move from West Des Moines to Waukee? A few million to keep county courthouses open or millions to subsidize a new convention hotel in downtown Des Moines?

It would be nice if the Governor pondered those questions before heading off to China. ♦

— By Michael Gartner


  1. Scot Mason says:

    Your article “The Rise and Fall of Kent Sorenson” left out details of his 2010 campaign against Staci Appel.
    Sorenson showed his true colors in a sleazy campaign.
    It’s no surprise his political career has ended this way, only that it took this long to reach this conclusion.

  2. Diane S Kolmer says:

    Thank you for telling the ‘whole’ truth about ISU, Jamie Pollard and its sleazy university president. The Sorenson story is a classic too close to the sun story..and you got all the details that are often obscured. But, the best state of the Judiciary I have ever heard was this year by Justice Mark Cady…he stuck his neck out much further than most on his annual address, and it was brilliant..and very sad..very so many things are now in my home state of Iowa, especially the institution of ISU that made my father very proud.

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