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Civic Skinny

Reynolds sat on $600,000 in bills in the Godfrey case. Tirrell trial delayed. Campus sex, drinking and helmets.

9/4/2019

The Governor’s office sat on more than $600,000 of legal bills from the Nyemaster law firm in the costly Chris Godfrey trial until the trial was over.

The bills — which raise to nearly $2 million the cost to the taxpayers so far in defending the seven-year-old lawsuit — were held back by Gov. Kim Reynolds for up to four-and-a-half months before they were passed along for payment in mid-August, 30 days after a jury unanimously awarded Godfrey $1.5 million in damages in response to his discrimination and retaliation claim against then-Governor Terry Branstad and his staff.

Pat Garrett, the communications director for Reynolds, hasn’t responded to a three-week-old request asking why the Governor sat on the bills.

One possible explanation: The lawsuit — which centered on a pay cut totaling about $150,000 over four-and-a-half years — has become outrageously and embarrassingly expensive, and disclosure of the latest bills as the trial approached or was going on would have increased the glare at an inopportune time on the Branstad-Reynolds administrations and their handling of the claim by Godfrey, who was the only openly gay department head working in Iowa for Branstad.

Here’s how the process works when seeking reimbursement from the state. The law firm sends a bill to the state’s Executive Council, which logs it in and forwards it to the Governor’s office. The Governor’s office then approves it and sends it back to the Executive Council, which then forwards it to the Attorney General. The Attorney General’s office then goes over it and, if it looks valid, sends it back to the Executive Council with a note recommending payment. The Executive Council then votes on whether to pay it. All this usually happens pretty quickly.

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But not this time. On March 27, the Council received a bill for $18,525.08; on April 26, one for $75,598.34; on June 6 one for $133,754.27; and on July 2 one for $381,476.23. Yet none of those was approved by the Governor’s office until Aug. 14. The Attorney General approved them the next day, and the Executive Council approved them Aug. 19.
State treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, who has expressed concern about the billing in the past, abstained on the Executive Council vote. Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate, Auditor Rob Sand and Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig all voted to approve the $609,653.92 payments.

The latest payment puts the cost of the state’s defense at $1,919,162.30 — about half of which has gone to the Nyemaster firm and half to the LaMarca firm, which pulled out of the case earlier this year when George LaMarca announced his retirement. (LaMarca is still listed as “of counsel” to the firm, which is still called the LaMarca Law Group.) And the number will keep rising. The trial lasted five-and-a-half weeks, and none of those bills is in yet, and there have been several post-trial filings. In addition, it’s likely that Branstad will appeal the decision.

Whether the state wins or loses, the taxpayers are on the hook for the Governor’s legal bills. If the decision is upheld, the taxpayers will be responsible for the $1.5 million award. What’s more, they’ll have to pay the bills of Godfrey’s lawyers, led by Roxanne Conlin. She has submitted bills and expenses of $4,130,673.38. Those have not yet been approved by the court, but it surely will approve fees at least equal to those paid to the LaMarca and Nyemaster firms. And, of course, those too will go up if there is an appeal and Godfrey prevails.

When it’s all over, the taxpayers may end up paying $8 million to $9 million to defend a suit that is over a $150,000 pay cut, a pay cut that — an eight-person jury ruled — was the result of discrimination and retaliation against a gay department head. …

Public defenders for Marty Tirrell have asked that his trial be delayed until January, and the government does not object, according to documents filed with Federal District Court in Des Moines. Tirrell, who faces 10 counts, including mail fraud and wire fraud and bank fraud, had been scheduled to go on trial in September.

But a new federal defender has taken over the case, and she “is still getting up to speed,” according to the filing. “Additionally,” she said, “this case involved in excess of 10,000 pages of discovery materials, many of them being financial records.”

Tirrell, 59, was a fast-talking sports radio host who scammed friend and foe alike through phony ticket schemes, among other things, and who also had a tendency not to pay his bills, especially those owed to radio stations and ex-wives. There are millions of dollars of judgments against him, some from cases in which he never bothered to show up in court.

The latest court filing notes he “is not in custody.” While scheming and scamming, he lived large, but he now is broke and is believed to be living in a church-sponsored home in south Des Moines. If he is found guilty, he faces up to 30 years in federal prison.

He also has liens against him of about $45,000 for nonpayment of federal income taxes.

Meantime, an ex-wife has asked detectives to look into recent “fraudulent activity” in her bank account. …

There’s talk that the Lutheran Church of Hope is buying the 120-year-old building at 25th and University that is the long-time home of First Christian Church. The transaction, not yet public, will close in January, and the price will be $2 million. The six-story building, with 63,980 square feet on one acre of land, is assessed at $5,931,000, though churches are tax-exempt. After the transaction, the Church of Hope plans to sell its Ingersoll property, the one-time used-car lot of Crescent Chevrolet, which the church purchased in 2013 for $875,000. (Earlier this year, it purchased an adjacent property on High Street for $500,000 from the Mary Lou Willis Revocable Trust.) When everything is done, the Church of Hope will still have six facilities in the Des Moines area as well as facilities Iowa City, Clear Lake, Forest City and Kansas City, Kan.  The Church of Hope, with more than 13,000 members, is the 16th largest Protestant Church in America, according to Outreach Magazine….

Back-to-college news:

More than 95 percent of college students mostly or always wear a seatbelt in a car, but less than 35 percent mostly or always were a helmet when riding a bike. More than 34 percent say stress has negatively affected their academic performance, but only 5 percent say “roommate difficulties” do. Nearly 60 percent of male college students say they feel “very safe” on the campus at night, but only 26 percent of female students do.

Students believe that 20 percent of the males and 13 percent of the females in college have not used cigarettes in the past 30 days, but in fact nearly 78 percent of males and 83 percent of females report no use in those 30 days. Similarly they believe that around 7 percent of the males and 4 percent of the females used no alcohol in those 30 days, but in fact nearly 29 percent of the males and 24 percent of the females used no alcohol.

And 42 percent of the males and 37 percent of the females say they have never had sex.

All this is from a survey of 19,664 students at 40 colleges conducted last fall by the American College Health Association. …

Milestones: Chief Judge Mark Cady has been named to a one-year term as president of the Conference of Chief Justices and chairman of the National Center for State Courts, which is a big deal… Danny Homan, the kind and gruff head of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, has been re-elected to an eighth two-year term. He was re-elected by acclimation — clearly there were no Reynolds Administration officials among the voters — and Susie Baker of the University of Northern Iowa was similarly re-elected as Executive Vice President….CITYVIEW joins those saddened by the death of George Turner, golfer and broadcaster and very nice man. He died July 25, of cancer, at age 89. ♦

A ‘good faith’ deal

Last April, Republicans in the Legislature passed a bill requiring the Attorney General to get permission of the Governor, the Legislature or the Executive Council before he could join out-of-state lawsuits. The legislators didn’t want Democrat Tom Miller to join other state AGs in challenging actions by the Trump government.

Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed the provision — but only after she and Miller made a “good faith” pact that didn’t seem much different from the proposed legislation.

Miller “has agreed that so long as he serves as attorney general, he will not prosecute any action or proceeding or sign onto or author an amicus brief in the name of the State of Iowa in any court or tribunal other than an Iowa state court without the consent of the governor,” Reynolds said in a statement. “He retains the authority to participate in litigation or author letters in his own name, as attorney general of Iowa.”

Last month, Reynolds enforced her “good faith” pact. She told Miller he couldn’t join 21 other states in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s lax new rules on pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Three questions:

What did Miller gain by agreeing to that deal?

What did Reynolds lose by making the deal?

What does “good faith” mean? ♦

The Hoary Muckraker

A footnote in a 182-page motion filed by Frank Harty of the Nyemaster firm, the $320-an-hour, taxpayer-paid lawyer for former Gov. Terry Branstad, asking Judge Brad McCall to overturn the unanimous jury verdict awarding $1.5 million to former Iowa Workers Compensation boss Chris Godfrey in his lawsuit against Branstad alleging discrimination and retaliation:

“To add insult to injury, the Court allowed hoary muckraker and lifelong Democrat Michael Gartner to lay foundation for the 2010 Iowa Republican Party Platform after numerous individual defendant Republicans couldn’t be used to lay the foundation for the evidence because each of them said they hadn’t read the platform and that they didn’t necessarily support it. Calling Gartner to the stand to authenticate the Iowa Republican Party’s Platform was like calling Hitler to authenticate a looted masterpiece. Even Gartner was forced to admit on cross examination his belief that ‘State political platforms mean absolutely nothing. Practical politicians agree. But the planks often show where the power lies in the parties. And occasionally a plank is so bizarre it can be used against the party’s candidates.’”

Hitler?

Really? ♦

Who Makes What

Here is what was earned in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019, by the 15 highest-paid employees of the three Regents universities in Iowa. The pay includes bonuses. An Iowa State spokeswoman wanted CITYVIEW to point out that coaches’ salaries at ISU do not come from any state appropriations, which is true for the University of Iowa as well, though for these purposes that is immaterial.

University of Iowa
Kirk Ferentz, football coach………………………$5,475,000
Fran McCaffery, men’s basketball coach………$2,217,500
Lisa Bluder, women’s basketball coach ……….$1,068,288
Gary Barta, athletic director………………………$986,700
Alan Reed, medical professor…………………….$935,269
Suresh Gunasekaran, Assoc. VP…………………$917,307
Jay Brooks Jackson, VP/medical affairs………..$904,503
Bruce Gantz, medical professor………………….$890,673
Matthew Howard, medical professor……………$875,000
Marco Ricci, medical professor…………………..$860,820
Ronald Weigel, medical professor……………….$853,749
Christopher Doyle, strength coach………………$832,229
Phil Parker, assistant football coach…………….$830,729
J. Lawrence Marsh, medical professor………….$805,768
Kirk Fridrich, dentistry professor…………………$797,050
Note: U of I president Bruce Harreld made $590,000 last year.\

Iowa State University
Matt Campbell, football coach…………………….$2,653,500
Steve Prohm, men’s basketball coach…………..$2,150,000
Jon Heacock, assistant football coach…………..$782,500
Bill Fennelly, women’s basketball coach…………$750,000
Jamie Pollard, athletic director…………………….$717,174
Wendy Wintersteen, president…………………….$558,435
David Spalding, business dean…………………….$454,500
Anumantha Kanthasamy, biomed professor……$448,533
Jonathan Wickert, provost………………………….$390,115
Patrick Schnable, agronomy professor…………..$376,291
Darrell McDonald, assistant football coach……..$370,500
Richard Veidt, assistant football coach…………..$370,500
Sarah Rajala, engineering dean…………………..$368,650
Aleksey Golesh, assistant football coach………..$364,999
Joel Gordon, assistant football coach……………$364,999

University of Northern Iowa
Ben Jacobson, basketball coach………………….$725,000
Mark Farley, football coach………………………..$425,540
Mark Nook, president……………………………….$357,110
Alfred Wohlpart, provost……………………………$274,487
Michael Hager, sr. vp/finance……………………..$232,530
Farzad Moussavi, professor ……………………….$231,346
Leslie Wilson, dean/business college…………….$222,420
David Harris, athletic director……………………..$217,668
Randall Pilkington, community services…………$200,062
Gaetane Jean-Marie, dean/education coll………$189,967
John Fritch, dean/arts and sciences …………….$187,035
Brenda Bass, dean/social science……………….. $184,306
Paula Knudson, vp/student affairs………………. $181,980
Marty Mark, chief information officer…………….$176,553
Roberta Petersen, volleyball coach……………… $166,597 ♦

The sale of The Des Moines Register

The proposed sale of The Des Moines Register is sad news and bad news.

But in the Register itself, it is no news.

The Register’s parent, Gannett Co., which owns 109 newspapers, is merging with GateHouse Media, which owns 156 newspapers, but in effect it’s a takeover by GateHouse. GateHouse, which is controlled by venture capitalists, is if anything even more brutal and heartless an owner than Gannett.

Because of industry trends and headquarters greed, the Register has over the years become just a shadow of its former self. The newsroom is about a quarter the size of a generation ago, and print circulation has fallen 35 percent in just the past three years. The web edition hasn’t really caught on, and the web site — a jumbled template mandated for all Gannett papers — is a mess.

Still, it could be worse. And, apparently, it will be. “Cost-cutting measures at GateHouse are absurdly draconian, ranging from the fact that editorial staffers don’t even get complimentary subscriptions to having to buy their own coffee for the office machine,” a staffer at an undisclosed paper told The Prospect in late 2017. “Next it will be the toilet paper.” (In fact, the Register ended complimentary subscriptions in the early 2000s, says a former newsroom editor. “At the time, they ’strongly’ encouraged newsroom staffers to subscribe to the paper and let me know which of my reporters did not.”) 

The GateHouse chief executive, who will run the combined company, said the merger will “not only preserve but actually enhance quality journalism.” Not long after, GateHouse laid off news workers at several papers.

This is sad for employees and readers of The Register and bad for the community. A good newspaper is vital in informing the governed and watching those that govern. A good newspaper comments with intelligence on local issues. A good newspaper knows what’s going on in town.

A good newspaper also reports on itself. But the Register, which seems to chronicle at length the opening and closing of every restaurant and boutique and which reports at length each day on the athletic minutiae at Iowa and Iowa State, doesn’t appear to have written a word about its own sale other than to note the corporate merger, which was announced Aug. 5.

Maybe it can’t find an Iowa State sports angle. ♦

— Michael Gartner

2 Comments

  1. Thanks to Michael Gartner for his continuing focus on the Chris Godfrey fiasco, and how public officials pursue their private agendas with taxpayer dollars. From the lessons that should have been learned in that case, as well as Dennis Smith at Iowa State, Jane Meyer at the University of Iowa and others, Governor Reynolds would be well advised to settle the Jerry Foxhoven claim before it, too, gets out of control and becomes another hemorrhage on the state treasury.

  2. Mr. Gartner..

    Again, I thank you for your ‘rest of the story’ writing. And to know you have been finally likened to Hitler must be the height of your journalism professional achievement. For the Nyemaster firm to sink that low…they know they had not just a miserable case, but NO case! The Nymaster firm should be ashamed of themselves ….and to think my taxes are paying for their shallow and pettifogger defense is disgusting to me. Thank you for the story…

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