Thursday, May 13, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Why this is the final stand-alone school election (no one votes). Marty Tirrell and Ken Miller split. Steve Leath loses — again.


School-board elections will be held in Iowa on Sept. 12. You probably won’t have to wait in line at the polls.

There are 115,103 registered voters in the Des Moines Independent School District. Two years ago, 4,984 of them voted. That’s a turnout rate of 4.3 percent. In West Des Moines, 1,093 of the 37,116 registered voters went to the polls, for a turnout rate of 2.9 percent. In Ankeny, 2,544 people voted; there were 42,977 registered voters, so the turnout rate was 5.9 percent.

Perhaps more surprising: In Des Moines, only nine of the voters were between the ages of 18 and 21, only five were between 21 and 24, and only nine more were between 24 and 30, according to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald. The turnout of young people in the other districts was tiny, too.

No one expects the turnout to change much this year. In Des Moines, three people are running for the two at-large seats, while no one is challenging the incumbents in the two district seats that are on the ballot. In Ankeny, five people are running for the three available seats, and in West Des Moines four people are running for the three positions.

Part of the problem is that people simply don’t care, even though schools take the biggest bite of a person’s property taxes. The other part of the problem is that there’s nothing else on the ballot in a school election, so if you aren’t interested in the schools there is no other reason to go to the polls.

Prep Iowa

But that will change in 2019. Starting then, school-board and municipal elections across the state will be held together on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The Legislature passed that change this spring — over the objection of the Iowa Association of School Boards and the Iowa State Education Association. (Though the schools pride themselves on teaching civics, in fact these groups like to keep turnout down so that their members will have an inordinate influence in the balloting.)

While this will create logistics problems for election overseers — the boundaries of school districts are not contiguous with the boundaries of municipalities — this should increase turnout a bit. Turnout for municipal elections also is low, but if you put a bond issue on that ballot — and that probably will happen often — turnout would jump. …

One-hundred sixteen employees of the Des Moines Independent School District will earn more than $100,000 this year, with Superintendent Tom Ahart topping the list at $296,043.

The only others making more than $200,000 are Thomas Harper, the chief financial officer, at $209,021, and Bill Good, the chief operations officer, at $203,558.

Leslie Morris, the principal at East High School, is the highest-paid principal in Des Moines, with a salary of $143,414. Not far behind are the other high-school principals: Hoover’s Kathie Danielson ($141,472), Roosevelt’s Kevin Biggs and Lincoln’s Paul Williamson ($138,109), and North’s Ben Grabber ($121,400). Aiddy Phomvisay, the director of Central Campus, earns $134,048, and Jessica Gogery, the head of Central Academy, makes $114,847.

Rich Blonigan, who runs Scavo, the alternative school at the central campus, is paid $126,188.

Anne Sullivan, the human-resources chief, is the highest-paid woman in the system with a salary of $197,008.

The salary range for teachers this year is $42,456 to about $72,000, depending on education and length of service, and that’s for a nine-month year. They get extra pay for extra duties — overseeing journalism or music endeavors, for instance, or coaching. A high school band director gets an extra $5,589, a debate coach $4,595 and a football coach $7,895 — the most paid for any coaching.

All told, the school district has a budget for this year of $557 million, with about half being designated for “instruction.” About half of the budget comes from state aid, about a quarter from property taxes. …

Marty Tirrell and Ken Miller have split up. “I’m no longer part of MartyandMiller but excited to be going back to radio,” Miller tweeted on Aug. 22. He’s going back to KBGG, where he and Tirrell had a show until this spring. At the time, Miller tweeted that the two wanted to concentrate on their Mediacom show “and concentrate on expanding our digital operations,” but the departure might not have been their choice. Among other things, Cumulus has a $96,000 judgment against Tirrell.

Tirrell can be a heavy load to carry, with his history of losing huge judgments — and then not paying them — to ticket brokers and advertisers and employers. He has twice filed for bankruptcy. In the most recent case, the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Iowa ruled against him early this year and refused his petition to discharge his debts. He appealed, and on Sept. 6 the appellate court also ruled against him, meaning he’s still on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts. Also, the Internal Revenue Service has liens against Tirrell for nearly $50,000 for nonpayment of income taxes. He appears unfazed by all of this. His girlfriend has recently tweeted pictures indicating the two of them have been enjoying life in Boston, Saratoga, Las Vegas, Hollywood, New York and Maine, among other places. …

The full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to take a look at the decision by three of their colleagues that upheld a federal court injunction that barred Iowa State University from stopping a student group from using an ISU logo on T-shirts that advocated for the legalization of marijuana laws and also included a cannabis leaf.

That means Judge James Gritzner can schedule a hearing to determine the extent of the damages due to Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh, the Iowa State students who brought the case after then-president Steve Leath censored the shirts following inquiries from Republican politicians. And the five lawyers for the pair have asked the court for $240,070 in fees for handling the appeal. They haven’t yet submitted fees for their work in district court, since they still have to argue the issue about damages. The university could end up putting out $500,000 or more. …

Leath is now president of Auburn University, and he is advertising for a “chief of staff” with the duties that are pretty similar to the duties of Miles Lackey at Iowa State. Lackey was one of the first ISU hires made by Leath. …

The Des Moines City Council the other evening voted to designate the old Trolley Loop at 49th and University a “local landmark.” That’s a victory for Earl Short, the one-man force dispensing the history of Des Moines streetcars to young people and keeping alive the memories of those streetcars for old people. The designation by the City Council means a monument of some type can be put on the site. ♦


Buck Turnbull was, indeed, great

Editor’s note: What follows are the remarks that Michael Gartner delivered at Buck Turnbull’s memorial service at Grace Church in Des Moines on Aug. 19.

I would like to start with a correction.

Right after Buck died, I put a line in CITYVIEW that said, “Buck Turnbull was a good guy and a good sportswriter.”

No, a reader commented, he was a GREAT guy and a GREAT sportswriter.

I regret the error.

Buck Turnbull wanted to be a sportswriter ever since he was a kid growing up in New Jersey. And he was destined to be a great sportswriter. I mean, with a name like Buck Turnbull you have to become a movie-western star or a Major League catcher or a sportswriter. I don’t think Buck was ever very fond of horses, unless it was to bet on them, and his arm wasn’t that great. So that left sportswriting.

And, wow, was he good. I mean great.

I met him 63 years ago, when he was a newly hired sports copy editor and I was a 15-year-old answering phones in the department and taking dictation from writers calling in their stories. After editing copy for a decade or so, Buck got his chance to become a full-time sports reporter, and if that was a big break for Buck it was an even greater break for Register readers. Those were the days when the Register sent reporters to every major sports event — so Buck covered the Kentucky Derby and bowl games and golf tournaments and nearly everything else. The stories were always fact-filled with great quotes.

And then the next morning, at coffee down at Moran’s, he’d tell the seven or eight guys assembled — it was always guys, there was no Title 9 at Moran’s — the quotes that didn’t make the paper, often because he didn’t want to take cheap shots or make someone look like a jerk unless the guy really was a jerk.

So it was at Moran’s where Buck told about asking the Iowa football player why he had dropped out of school at almost the beginning of the semester. “Well, Mr. Turnbull,” the player told Buck, “it’s like this: school has been open for two weeks — and already I’m four weeks behind.”

And then Buck would be the first of us to laugh — his laugh was a quick burst, like a cherry bomb you didn’t know was there. He was a good storyteller. No, make that, “a great storyteller.”

Then there was the time Buck wrote a factual story about Floren DiPaglia, the local golfer. Factual, but not exactly flattering. Indeed, that night, around 10 p.m., he got a call at home.

“I just want to tell you,” the anonymous caller said, “if I ever see you downtown on the street at night, alone, I’m going to break every bone in your body.”

Fortunately, Buck worked days.

Or else he asked Jay to accompany him downtown at night.

And if you don’t know who Floren DiPaglia was, you can check two sources: the list of Iowa Amateur golf champions — and the list of men arrested in New Jersey for armed robbery, auto theft and assault with intent to kill a police officer. Or check the Iowa court files on attempted bribes of Drake basketball players.

(Yes, there were days when Drake’s basketball team was so good that at least one bettor apparently tried to bribe them into shaving points. Or course, those were days long ago.)


Buck liked hanging out with athletes and coaches and writers and fringe players like Babe Bisignano and Pinkie George. He enjoyed the camaraderie, but it ended at the sidelines. If a coach would lie to him, he’d get furious. Once he asked a coach why he lied.

“Because you ask questions before I’m ready to answer them,” the coach told Buck.

And the questions could be tough.

Unlike a colleague or two, Buck had no towering ego. His writing was straightforward — the kind of writing that paints the picture of an event, not the kind of writing that is an egotistical self-portrait of the writer. With Buck, it was just the facts — including the facts that some coaches and athletic directors didn’t want to see in the paper.

Buck loved his alma mater, the University of Iowa — but sometimes it seemed like tough love. He wasn’t Forrest Evashevki’s favorite reporter — especially after he broke a huge story about the fight between Evy, then the athletic director, and Ray Nagel, the football coach. But he was the reporter people turned to first thing in the morning to find out what happened — for there were no tweets or Big Ten cable channels — or any cable channels — or iPads or iPhones or i-anythings. It was up to the sports writer to set the scene, to tell the story, to explain the excitement or the despair.

And nobody did that better than Buck.

Twice, his colleagues named him Iowa Sportswriter of the Year.

Buck liked covering winners — “It’s easier to write the story when the home team wins,” he said, and you can get better quotes. But he once went on a streak of covering 15 or 20 football games in which the Iowa teams lost.

And that’s the way it was for all of us here a couple of months ago when Buck Turnbull died.

The home team lost.

For Buck Turnbull was a peach.

Indeed, he was The Big Peach. ♦


Brief biographies of three good people


Tom Lynner took over his father’s rea-estate management company, built it and then brought his two sons into the business.

But he was not just another real-estate guy in town.

For one thing, he had a Ph.D. in English Literature. (His dissertation was on Christopher Marlowe.) For another, he co-founded with Jim Autry an entirely non-real-estate venture in Des Moines — the Des Moines Poetry Festival, an annual event that ran from 1991 through 2006 and brought in poets laureate and other notable poets from around the nation.

He started his professional life as a newspaperman, a copy editor on The Des Moines Register, a job he was particularly suited for with his quick mind, his love of the language, his insatiable curiosity and his storehouse of knowledge both trivial and important.

Tom Lynner knew an awful lot about an awful lot.

He was a soft-spoken man, and a kind one. He fought cancer for the past two years, and cancer won on August 2. He was 73 when he died.


Chances are you didn’t know Dolores Van Oort.

Unless you were an Iowa Cubs fan.

Dolores was a season ticket-holder for 43 years, and not a passive or a shy one. In later years bent over and just a wisp of a woman, she would sidle up to you — if you can sidle in a walker — and tell you what had to be done to make the team better. She would tell you this in a conspiratorial way, with her hand in front of her face the way a pitcher holds his glove over his mouth when talking to the catcher so the TV camera can’t catch what he is saying.

And then she’d tell you what the big Cubs, the Chicago Cubs, needed to do. Whenever Jim Hendry was in town — he was for years the general manager of the big Cubs — he would look down from the press box and announce that “I’d better go down to sit with Dolores to find out what I’m doing wrong.” And off he’d go. And often, he’d say afterward, she was right.

She was long a nurse, and she was active in all kinds of organizations in Ankeny, but her passion — apart from her 11 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren — was the Iowa Cubs. Each year, she’d get to know the players and their wives and their babies — “I make new friends here every year,” she said — and they’d invite her to their weddings and other events. She loved them, and they loved her.

She was 89 and long widowed when she died on August 4. As she lay dying, one of her last visitors was Cubbie, the mascot, which cheered her up. Then Sam Bernabe, the Cubs general manager, slipped his World Series ring momentarily around her finger. She smiled, raised her hand as if her life was now complete. She died that night. Tucked next to her in her casket at Our Lady of Immaculate Heart Church in Ankeny was a baseball signed by this year’s team.


Dick Levitt was scary smart and very rich, which was a great thing for Des Moines.

He grew the company founded by his grandfather and built by his father, Dial Finance, into a lending giant, sold it to what is now Wells Fargo bank, became a top executive at its Minneapolis headquarters for a few years, built up its mortgage business and moved it to Des Moines — and then watched as Wells Fargo Financial and Wells Fargo Mortgage became huge employers in his hometown.

He always had a twinkle in his eye. He liked corny jokes and beautiful art. He’d rather have lunch at the Waveland Cafe than at Wakonda Club. He didn’t spend lavishly — except on art — but he gave generously. He was fascinated by how the world worked, but he was never really active in politics. In his lifetime, he gave far less to politicians and political parties than he spent on just one of the fantastic paintings in the Fleur Drive apartment he shared with his wife, Jeanne. He had his priorities right.

He was a caring friend and a good neighbor. When a neighbor’s son was born, Levitt had a tree planted in the neighbor’s backyard — which bordered his —so all could watch as the two grew together. (And, eerily, when the boy died 17 years later, so did the tree.) He loved his eight grandchildren and periodically would ask one or another to ride with him on an Iowa-to-California drive. They’d take the measure of one another, he said. He was always pleased; he hoped they were, too.

In 2008, he and a cousin founded a new company, the Barrent Group, which continues to grow. He said he never wanted to stop working. And he didn’t, until July 30, when he dropped dead at the age of 87. ♦


Simon the Rabbit, RIP

Annette Edwards and Simon the rabbit

Annette Edwards and Simon the rabbit

It was, of course, quite sad when Simon the bunny died at the hands of United Air Lines, and it was even sadder that they cremated the bunny without advising its owners. It was especially sad, too, if true, that Simon met his end by being inadvertently locked in a freezer at O’Hare Airport while awaiting a flight to meet his new owners, Mark Oman and Duke Reichardt and Steve Bruere.

That’s no way for a bunny to die.

So there is nothing happy about this sad story, reported in papers and on television after the new owners discovered they owned a dead rabbit, not a bunny who was expected to overtake his father, Darius, as the world’s biggest rabbit — Darius is roughly the size of a third-grader — and who would be a lovable prop to help raise money for the Iowa State Fair’s Blue Ribbon Foundation.

Yet that story — based on a lawsuit filed in Polk County District Court by “the Simon group” against United Air Lines — didn’t tell the half of it.

So here’s the other half: While Simon was no ordinary bunny and Darius is no ordinary rabbit, the woman who raised them is no ordinary woman. Annette Edwards lives in Stoulton, a village of 400 people in central England, and she has been raising rabbits for nearly 15 years.

It presumably is a coincidence that Edwards is a former model who appeared in Playboy Magazine, but it is no coincidence that she somewhat resembles Jessica Rabbit, or at least resembles her as much as a great-grandmother can. Jessica Rabbit, of course, was the wife of Roger Rabbit in the 1988 cartoon movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” In 2009, Jessica was voted sexiest cartoon character of all time, and at least two women have had plastic surgery to make them resemble Jessica.

One of those women is Annette Edwards.

According to an article in Britain’s Daily Mail in 2009, Edwards — then 57 — paid around $10,000 to have, in her words, “a breast uplift, a brow lift, chin implants and Botox injections.” Meantime, she went on raising rabbits and owned a succession of the world’s biggest — Roberto and Amy and Alice and then Darius.

The three Des Moines men paid $2,330, including shipping, for Simon, who was ten months old at the time and already a handsome three-feet-something long. Rabbits don’t hit their full length until they are 18 to 24 months old, so there was every expectation Simon would grow to become bigger than his daddy, Darius, who is 4-feet and 2-inches long.

According to the lawsuit, “the Simon Group intended to market and merchandise Simon, for example, by way of apparel and other products, such as hats, shirts, miniature versions, books, etc.”

But, of course, those plans died in a freezer, or somewhere, with the late Simon.

The three Des Moines area men, represented by Guy Cook, are asking for their costs, reimbursement for money Simon and Simon-related products would have earned, and for punitive damages. They are not asking for pain and suffering.

In late August, the case was moved to federal court at the request of United, presumably to have it come under a treaty called the Montreal Convention, which deals with victims of air disasters. The case has been assigned to Senior District Judge Charles Wolle.

In all likelihood, the case will be settled.

Postscript: Word from England is that Jeff, a half-brother of Simon, now is bigger than Darius. Fame is fleeting. ♦


A modest proposal

Why not take those statues of Robert E. Lee and the statue of Chief Justice Taney and just put them in the lobbies of Trump hotels around the world?

Just a thought. ♦



















  1. C J Seel says:

    Avoiding waning interest in school boards and board elections isn’t helped any by the lack of a good community newspaper or other local media coverage of school board and local government activities on a regular basis. They fly under the radar until the occasional story gets so big it can’t be missed, or when it is mature and the public can do little to influence the outcome. Election night school results for Des Moines schools were reported by mainstream local media followed by a notation of all other “Polk County” results being found at a link of the respective media website. The link was to the Polk County election office. Anywhere else didn’t matter. In Dallas County, Waukee schools had at least a dozen candidates for four positions and online results thru media sites apparently did not appear until sometime after sunrise Wednesday morning. .In a time when the Internet and electronic communications should make the job easier, the media can’t seem to do as well as back in the days when all a reporter had was a notepad, a phone and maybe a car. So much for open records and open meetings!

  2. Nunya Binness says:

    What’s the point in posting the highest paid individual salaries in the Des Moines Independent School District? Ah yes, continue the misinformation campaign — “Public teachers are overpaid and underworked.”
    How about posting the salaries of the Bilingual Community Outreach Workers in the DMPS? These individuals work extremely hard all week long — and, on average, make $33,000 / year. Hardly enough to support a family on . . .

  3. Hester Mofet says:

    And the CEO of Principal Financial Group made $8,970,708 in 2016 . . .
    But, yes, salaries between $42,456 to about $72,000 are so extravagant.

    Public educators are an easy target right now.

    Shame on you Cityview . . .

  4. Nunya Binness says:

    Hey moderator —-

    So much for a free exchange of ideas . . .

    Why are you censoring comments on the page?

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