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Civic Skinny

Cargill gets $822,000 in aid for each of 14 new jobs. Death throes for print Register? A geography puzzler.

7/1/2020

Your state and local tax dollars at work:

The Iowa Economic Development Authority has granted Cargill $6 million in tax credits and tax refunds, and Monroe County has thrown in another $5.5 million in tax abatements as part of a $233 million expansion of Cargill’s chemical plant in Eddyville.

The state grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority was awarded under the “High Quality Jobs Program.”

The number of jobs created at the plant:14. The average wage: about $60,000 a year.

That works out to $428,571.42 in state credits and refunds for each of 14 workers. Throw in the $5,506,473 in abatement from the county, and the total comes to $821,890.93 per worker.

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That’s the cost of 3,375,000 school lunches under the government’s National School Lunch Program for Iowa. That’s about the same as the fiscal 2020 operating budget for the Iowa School for the Deaf. That would pay for filling 2.9 million potholes. That $11.5 million would pay the salaries for one year for more than 300 beginning schoolteachers in Iowa.

The state’s largesse includes $2 million in refunds of sales, service or use taxes paid during construction and $4 million as an investment tax credit. The county share is a property-tax abatement under a sliding scale spread over seven years.

A year ago, Cargill received a $1,659,500 tax credit for a $125 million investment in the plant. That investment created zero jobs, according to documents from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

But… Cargill is contributing $15,000 for the purchase of two police dogs for the Sheriff’s office in Monroe County.

In the most recent fiscal year, Cargill earned $2.82 billion on revenue of $113.5 billion. …

Print circulation of The Des Moines Register appears to be in a death spiral, and digital circulation, while growing, remains anemic.

In the past three years — from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2020 — print circulation of the Sunday Register fell from 104,057 to 56,877, according to figures — “subject to audit” — reported by the industry’s Alliance for Audited Media. That’s down some 47,000 copies, a frightening 45 percent. (At one point, in the 1950s, the Register’s Sunday circulation was around 550,000.)

What’s more, Sunday print circulation in what the newspaper considers its main market — Polk, Dallas, Story and Warren counties — averaged just 35,508 in the quarter; three years ago, the figure was 61,067. That’s a drop of almost 42 percent. In the 12 months ended June 30, 2019 — the latest 12-month figures available — the Sunday print edition reached just 18 percent of the households in Polk County.

The daily Register reached just 13 percent.

The daily Register now averages 33,830 in print circulation. Three years ago, it was 57,863. That’s also a decline of about 42 percent.
The Register is not alone, of course. Nationwide, newspaper circulation in 2018 was the lowest since national figures first were tallied in 1940. The Register doesn’t report its advertising revenue, but nationwide ad revenue has been in a steep decline, from around $38 billion at the nation’s newspapers in 2008 to $14 billion in 2018. Just a look at the daily Register — skinny, without any business pages, with no separate sports section and seemingly with paid obituaries carrying the load — tells the story.

Given all that, it’s hard to see how the Register’s print edition can survive, and maybe the corporate folks at New Media Enterprises — which bought Gannett earlier this year (and kept the Gannett name for the combined operation) — don’t want it to. Maybe they think the future is in digital newspapers.

The problem with that: Digital isn’t working, at least not at The Register. In the first quarter of this year, the Register’s “digital replica” circulation — that’s the site where you can flip the electronic pages just as you do with a print paper — averaged 5,231 on Sunday and 7,320 on weekdays. While each of those figures has grown by about 1,500 in the past three years, the numbers are still alarmingly low. Digital nonreplica circulation — it is as it sounds, a digital edition with less news and fewer ads — hovers around 5,000 on Sundays and 7,000 on weekdays, but those numbers are actually down from three years ago.

While seemingly not caring about the print edition, the Register is trying desperately to raise the digital numbers. A few weeks ago, it offered digital subscriptions for 99 cents a month for three months. “No business model is sustainable on $1 subscriptions,” noted a former editor at the paper.

With circulation and advertising falling throughout its 400-newspaper company, Gannett this spring ordered all of its news employees to take a week off without pay in each of April, May and June. This comes when the nation is gripped in a pandemic, when racial tensions are flaring in cities everywhere, when the economy is in a recession and when a vicious election is just months away — all news stories that demand thorough and probing coverage, thorough and probing coverage that those 400 newspapers simply can’t provide.

New Media, through its GateHouse Media operation, paid $1.4 billion in cash and stock for Gannett about a year ago. Now, based on Gannett’s stock price of around $1.90 a share, the combined company is worth about $250 million — not much more than Gannett paid when it bought The Des Moines Register and a couple of smaller papers in 1985.

Meantime, two more staffers — Barbara Rodriguez and Austin Cannon — have quit. Rodriguez, who spent six years at the Associated Press office in Des Moines before joining the Register as a political reporter two years ago, is joining a nonprofit start-up Web paper called The 19th News. It gets its name from the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, and it’s aimed at keeping women informed. Cannon has been a metro reporter since joining The Register two years ago from the Ames Tribune. …

Excerpt

From a Washington Post review of “Above the Law,” a new book by Matt Whitaker, former University of Iowa football player, former U.S. Attorney in Des Moines and, briefly, former Acting Attorney General of the U.S.

There are good books and bad books. Then there are books so bad that they should be tried, convicted and sentenced to life without parole in literary prison, never again to see the light of day. Gentle reader, this is such a book….

Whitaker writes in the way Trump tweets, mixing a toxic cocktail of macho MAGA swagger, the angry cant of the Christian right and the whining of a petulant child….

Definitely don’t buy this book. ♦

Iowa pollster Ann Selzer remains one of the best in the nation, according to new ratings issued by 538, the website of Nate Silver. Silver looked at the historical accuracy and methodology of more than 500 pollsters nationwide, and he gave six an A-plus rating. Selzer, who among other things conducts the Iowa Poll for The Register, was one of the six. (The others: The New York Times/Sienna College; ABC News/the Washington Post; Marist College; Monmouth University and Muhlenberg College.) Selzer regularly is in the top tier….

Register headline of the month: “Woman accused of hitting kids found competent”. …

Antoinette Erickson has denied in Polk County Court the allegations leveled against her by her niece and nephew, who are among the beneficiaries of the trust set up by the late Noah Lacona — Noah, as in Noah’s Restaurant. As CITYVIEW earlier reported, two grandchildren of Lacona went to Polk County District Court in March to sue their aunt, who is trustee of their grandparents’ trust. The trust owns the restaurant building but not the restaurant business, which is owned by Noah’s Management LLC and which, according to court papers, operates under a lease signed in 2010.

The grandchildren — James N. Lacona II and Tiffany Beth Mobley — allege Erickson has kept them in the dark and abused her role as trustee. Among other things, they say Erickson, of Kansas City, “claims the restaurant has been sold but has failed to provide credible evidence thereof.”

During the food fight, the restaurant remains open. …

Before announcing she would sign an order restoring voting rights to all ex-felons, Gov. Kim Reynolds took care of an old colleague. In January, it turns out, she quietly restored the rights for Kent Sorenson, once a rising star among conservative Republicans and evangelicals in Iowa. He in effect sold his allegiance in the 2012 Republican presidential primary to Ron Paul after backing Michele Bachmann. That led to two felony convictions — willfully causing false reports of federal campaign expenditures and falsifying records intending to obstruct justice in relation to a federal investigation.

Sorenson was in the legislature when Reynolds was lieutenant governor. He resigned from the state senate in 2013, and Senior Federal District Judge Robert Pratt sentenced him to 15 months in prison. But Reynolds restored his citizenship rights, including his right to vote and his right to hold office, on January 8 of this year. Four months later, on May 15, she notified the clerk of court of the move. …

Delaney Howell’s suit against Iowa Public Broadcasting has been moved to federal court, and it will be a year or so before it goes to trial, according to documents on file in the Iowa Southern District Federal Court in Des Moines. Howell, the former host of “Market to Market,” says she was paid less than the former host, Michael Pearson.

At the time, as CITYVIEW reported in an online story, Iowa PBS and the Attorney General’s office had no comment. Now, the state has filed a response, and it basically says any disparity in pay was justified by IPB’s seniority system, its merit system, the quality of work performed and the fact that Howell did not perform equal work. If the case goes to trial, it will be in a year or so. …

A Drake University student accidentally shot in the head by a Drake basketball player at a party two years ago now has sued the university, the basketball player and the owners of the off-campus apartment where the player and several other Drake athletes lived.

The injured former student is Nathaniel Miller, Jr., who was 19 at the time and who now lives in Dallas, Texas. The athlete is Tremell Murphy, and the suit alleges he hosted a large party at his residence on 27th Street on Aug. 31, 2019. During the party, the court papers say, Murphy pulled out a loaded .22 caliber pistol — he was licensed to have one — to show to others at the party. The gun accidentally went off, the suit says, and a bullet went through a wall into a bedroom, where it hit Miller in the head.

Police and fire medics were called, and Miller was taken to the hospital. Party-goers told police that Miller had fallen and injured his head, the suit says, and it alleges that a coach told Murphy to deny involvement. But police noticed a bullet hole in the wall, and eventually Murphy admitted it was his gun that went off but continued to deny that he shot it or that he even heard a gunshot.

Murphy — a 6-foot-6-inch starter on the team — turned himself into police two weeks later and was charged with filing a false report to police, a serious misdemeanor. He was briefly jailed, pleaded guilty to a lesser simple-misdemeanor charge, paid fines and costs.

Murphy eventually returned to the team — where his identical twin also played — but had a knee operation in January of 2020 that ended his senior season. Because of the injury, he was declared eligible for another season, and he is listed on the 2020-21 roster.

Miller, meantime, is still dealing with effects of the shooting. According to the lawsuit, he suffered “a traumatic brain injury, a decrease in his ability to conduct activities of daily living, and gait abnormality.” He also has lost his peripheral vision, the suit says.

The lawsuit says Tremell, landlords Ross and D. Ann Peterson and Drake all were negligent. It says the private residence was in effect Drake student housing. The suit says Miller continues to undergo speech, cognitive and occupational therapy. It seeks an undetermined amount of money for Miller’s “sustained physical and mental pain, suffering, anguish, inconvenience, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, mental anguish and loss of life’s pleasures.”

Drake has not yet filed a response, but it issued this statement: “It is not true as claimed by the plaintiff that a Drake men’s basketball coach told Mr. Murphy to deny involvement in Mr. Miller’s injuries. Additionally, the residence in which the shooting incident took place is a private residence and is not owned or otherwise affiliated with the university.”

In an April 23 letter to the court, Murphy apologizes to the victim and the court, says he knows that guns are not toys, says he has completed a restorative-justice program, and says he hopes “to become an advocate for children by becoming a basketball coach” after playing basketball overseas. …

Update: There’s still no date set for the sentencing hearing for Marty Tirrell, the longtime sports talker who scammed millions from friends and acquaintances. He faces up to 30 years in federal prison. The hearing was scheduled for May 13 in federal court in Des Moines, but was canceled because of the coronavirus. He is waiting out the hearing at a relative’s house in Massachusetts….

CITYVIEW joins those saddened by the death of Barry Griswell, who tirelessly gave his time, his ideas, his leadership and his money to make Des Moines a better place and, especially, to help those who needed help the most. …

Iowa Public Radio reported the other day that rain was forecast “for the southeast two-thirds of the state.” ♦

One Comment

  1. Iowa Public Radio made a weather forecast? Shocking news! I recall one time when the Des Moines area was under a tornado warning–indeed the outdoor storm sirens were blaring–and nothing about the storm was made on Iowa Public Radio’s local station. Much as I don’t like WHO “news radio”, I have to give WHO radio credit for keeping its listeners on the top of other storm alerts in the area. WHO radio’s attention to storm alerts puts Iowa Public Radio’s attention to storm alerts to shame.

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