Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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Civic Skinny

McCoy needs GOP’s help to become Polk chair. Home sales. CITYVIEW, Register circulation figures.


No one seems to have noticed — there’s not even a press release on the website — but Matt McCoy was elected chair of the Polk County Board of Supervisors last month.

Ordinarily, that would hardly be worth more than half a paragraph, for the Democrats won control of the five-person board in 1954 — for the first time in history — and they’ve held on ever since. For the past few decades, the selection of a chair has been routine: the Democrats would rotate the chairmanship each year, moving from, say, Tom Hockensmith to John Mauro to Angela Connolly and back to Hockensmith. Who cared if the two Republicans voted yes or no?

This year, it was McCoy’s turn for the chair, but things have gotten a little dodgy among the Democrats since he beat Mauro in a primary a year ago. As what was supposed to be a routine leadership election approached, it developed that McCoy didn’t have three Democratic votes. Hockensmith, a close friend of Mauro’s and a man who doesn’t hide his feelings, made it clear he wouldn’t vote for McCoy, and it wasn’t known where Connolly stood.

There was a lot of jockeying going on. As time passed, it became clear: Either the two Republicans were going to have to pick off one of the Democrats to gain control — for the first time in 66 years — or McCoy was going to have to get one of the Republicans to support him. In the end, that’s what happened: Republican Bob Brownell nominated McCoy to be chair, and Connolly and McCoy himself joined him in the vote. Hockensmith abstained, and so did the second Republican, Steve Van Oort.

Connolly was then elected vice chair on a five-to-nothing vote.

Prep Iowa

“There are a lot of tensions up here,” says a person who works at the county building. …

Circulation of The Des Moines Register continues to fall. In the third quarter of 2019 — the latest figures available — the newspaper sold 67,353 papers each Sunday. The Monday-to-Friday average was 38,904. Nine months earlier, in the fourth quarter of 2018, Sunday circulation averaged 80,713 and weekday sales averaged 45,633. That’s a drop of 16.5 percent on Sunday, 14.7 percent on weekdays.

Digital subscriptions, which have never become much of a factor, also fell, dropping nearly 9 percent on Sundays and on weekdays.

Meantime, new figures are in for CITYVIEW. The alternative news magazine distributes about 30,000 copies to newsstands each month, and in 2019 more than 97 percent of those were picked up by readers, as verified by the Circulation Verification Council. And the online version of CITYVIEW averaged more than 25,000 unique visitors each month, totaling more than 300,000 for the year. The monthly numbers were up more than 25 percent from the 20,000 unique visitors each month in 2018, when the number for the year was 230,000. The number of page views in 2019 rose to 535,000 from 382,000 a year before. The online data all come from Google Analytics.

CITYVIEW’s figure of 300,000 unique visitors for the year exceeds the yearly digital-replica circulation of the Sunday Register, which appears to be about 250,000 to 275,000. “Digital-replica” circulation is the digital version of the entire Sunday paper; “digital-nonreplica,” a lower figure, just has selected stories. …

The highest-priced home sold in the Des Moines city limits last year went for $1,550,000. The 6,353-square foot, two-story brick residence at 4140 Greenwood Drive was sold in October by James and Sherry Nelson to Richard and Mathilde Swanson, according to records at the Polk County Assessor’s office. The six-bedroom, seven-bathroom home was built in 1990, sits on one acre and has a pool as well as a large, finished basement. It is assessed at $1,414,200.

No other home sold for more than $1 million during the year, though a top-floor apartment at the Park Fleur at 3131 Fleur Drive sold for $1,100,000. The six-room apartment has nearly 3,000 square feet and great views of the city. It was purchased by Tim and Toni Urban from Delores Kalainov, the widow of former president and CEO of American Mutual, Sam Kalainov.

In December, Amy Beattie, the widow of Waterworks Director Bill Stowe, sold their home at 3731 Southern Hills Drive for $925,000. The nine-room home, built in 2001, sits on 2.4 acres and was purchased by Alec and Alexandra Klise. It is assessed at $1,006,300.

In December, too, a home at 3736 John Lynde Road, in the South of Grand area of Des Moines, sold for $850,000. The sellers were Marshall and Julie Linn, the buyers Travis and Laura Creighton. The two-story brick home, assessed at $623,900, was built in 1936, sits on about two-thirds of an acre and has nine rooms spread over 3,372 square feet.

Nearby, at 3818 John Lynde, Joseph Patrick Mitros paid $840,000 in November for a five-bedroom brick home on 2.3 acres. The sellers were Nicholas and Kelsey Bussanmas. The home last sold four years earlier for $500,000. It is assessed at $569,200.

Also nearby, at 4020 John Lynde, Paul and Sarah Rypma in May of last year paid $810,000 for a 3,890-square-foot, story-and-a-half, three-bedroom home on two-thirds of an acre. The seller was Samuel Brownlee, who purchased the home three years earlier for $625,000. …

The Nyemaster law firm has submitted another bill to the state for representing former Gov. Terry Branstad and the state in the never-ending lawsuit brought by former Workers Compensation Director Chris Godfrey alleging discrimination and retaliation. The latest bill, for $10,912.65, increases the costs to date to $2,807,051.13.

Godfrey won a $1.5 million judgment in district court, and the court awarded his lawyers, primarily Roxanne Conlin, fees of $2,875,576.20 plus costs of $202,692.54 — a total of $3,078,268.74. At the moment, the taxpayers are on the hook not only for fees paid the lawyers for Branstad and the state but also for fees paid to Conlin as well as the award to Godfrey. It all adds up to $7,385,320.27. The state has appealed the decision.

The suit was over a pay cut that totaled about $150,000 over the nearly four years that remained in Godfrey’s six-year-term. Godfrey is a Democrat and is gay — two things that didn’t sit well with Branstad. …

Jeff Young, the Des Moines developer whose woes were detailed here in January, appears to be negotiating with the state over the allegations that he way understated the costs of five expensive cars he registered in Polk County. He was charged with five felony counts — “fraudulent practice, second degree” — but documents from a pretrial conference held Jan. 16 indicate the state will settle the case if Young pleads guilty to any one felony count and makes restitution or pleas to reduced charges — aggravated misdemeanors rather than felonies — and pays restitution and fines up front. The next hearing is scheduled March 5. ♦

A calm farewell

David Wiggins is too nice.

Wiggins, the acting chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, gave the annual State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature last month. He was calm and polite and respectful.

Calm and polite and respectful to the Legislature that last year stripped him of his role in choosing justices, that slapped his great friend and predecessor — the wonderful Chief Justice Mark Cady — by limiting his term as Chief, that tries to do everything in its power to undo the court’s rulings, and that has worked hard to politicize what for decades was probably the greatest institution in this state, an institution
that Wiggins himself helped make great ever since his friend Tom Vilsack appointed him to the court in 2003.

He gave a passing nod to the damage that Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican legislature have done to the court, but not much more. “The independence of the courts from the political branches is not a divide but our very strength as a state and as a nation,” he said.

But those words fell pretty much on deaf ears — or, in the case of Gov. Kim Reynolds, didn’t fall on any ears. She chose to skip the event and instead go to Washington for a photo op with President Trump as he signed the U.S.-China trade agreement.’

The speech was short — barely 20 minutes — but for the most part just talked about the court’s innovations of recent years, the specialty courts, the community outreach and the like. Wiggins praised Chief Cady, who had been working on his own speech until he fell dead in November while jogging with his dog downtown, and Wiggins said that his own speech “conveyed [Cady’s] thoughts on the justice system.”

But not all his thoughts.

Wiggins’ speech could have been so much more. The acting chief justice, who can be quite blunt, could have expressed outrage at the Legislature’s late-night, 11th-hour maneuverings to insult Cady and diminish the court. He could have shown distress at Reynolds’ complaint that “we had one of the most liberal supreme courts in the country.” (And he could have pointed out to Reynolds — had she been there
— that the Iowa court is guided by the Iowa Constitution, which trumps politics, that the case that Republicans so detest, the gay-marriage ruling that Cady wrote 10 years ago, was decided unanimously by a seven-member court that included two appointees of Terry Branstad.) And he could have expressed dismay and disappointment about the Legislature’s move to pack the judicial-nominating commission.

But he didn’t.

Wiggins has been an outstanding jurist, just as he was an outstanding trial lawyer. In his 16 years on the Court, he has embodied the state’s motto — he has prized our liberties and worked tirelessly to maintain our rights. As the only Justice who was primarily a trial lawyer before joining the court (and, also, the only Jew ever to serve on the Court) — as opposed to a lower-court judge or a corporate lawyer — he has brought a needed perspective to the bench.

Lately, of course, it has been in dissenting opinions.

Now, Iowa will lose even those. Wiggins has announced he is retiring in March — leaving Brent Appel as the only remaining justice from the time of Varnum v Brien and, in all likelihood, the soon-to-be lone dissenter on cases of civil rights and equality. ♦

— Michael Gartner


  1. Dear Michael,

    Once again..your timely reporting tells me something I didn’t know. I had not heard of the partisan split playing out in the county commission, as evidenced by the election of Matt McCoy. I appreciated your homage to David Wiggins. He is the epitome of how a judge should consider, learn, research and ultimately judge on our societal issues. Our state and it’s citizens will be lessor for his departure from the Court. Your real estate transaction notes…are so appreciated by me..since real estate is my personal pornography! Regarding the circulation numbers of the Register and your pertinent publication…I must be one of the last to pay full fare for a hard copy of the Register every day to show up at our door. I so often have been tempted to stop paying for it..I can’t stand their web site. But then a long story about something will show up..and guilt me into maintaining my subscription. But at almost $70.00 a month..my Social Security check can only go so far. It is a month to month pull at my heartstrings to drop it or not. I am a firm believer in paying for my news…as I have subscriptions to the Washingont Post and the NYTImes..with a hard copy of the Times delivered on Sunday. I also get heartsick at the loss of local newspapers.

    Again, thanks for your work..your excellent writing…I shudder to think how your ‘red pen’ would obliterate my little comments to you on this web site! HA!

    1. Mona Bond says:

      Well stated Diane Kolmer – thank you

  2. Mike Wellman says:

    Thank you for noting for the record the governor’s absence on an occasion when her attendance would have paid at least some of the respect owed to the late Chief Justice Cady. The fact that she opted instead for a(nother) photo opp with a scofflaw president makes her snub all the more galling.

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