Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Civic Skinny

State’s outlay on Godfrey case nears $500,000.


A reader writes: “You have to credit Governor [Terry] Branstad for using his national recruiting resources and making full consideration of hiring females and minorities when he swiftly named Larry Noble as public safety commissioner after a 24-hour search.”


Don’t spend your utility-tax refund yet. The lawyers who won that $40 million judgment against Des Moines in the nine-year-old class-action suit about the utility-franchise tax now have filed their motion for attorney fees. They say they spent 9,580 hours representing the 140,000 taxpayers affected and had $560,000 in costs. Others in the firms put in another 1,055 hours, the fee application says. So they are asking for 37% of the total — roughly $14.8 million, or $1,400 an hour for everyone involved, plus expenses. The lawyers are Bruce Stoltze of Stoltze and Updegraff, Brad Schroeder of Hartung and Schroeder and Steve Brick of the Brick Gentry Law Firm. They also asked that the named plaintiff, Lisa Kragnes, get an incentive payment of $7,500.

Sort-of news:

The Terrace Hill Commission is a nine-member body appointed by the Governor. It has statutory oversight of Terrace Hill, and, like all state commissions, it must be balanced by sex and political party. No more than five members can be of the same sex; no more than five can be of the same party. At the moment, it has five women and four men, and the state web site says five of the members are Republican, two are Democrats and two are no-party.


The two listed as no-party are Clive architect Bill Dikis and banker Rob Reinard, who lives in the Dallas County part of West Des Moines. According to county records, however, both are registered Republicans. Reinard was just appointed to the commission on July 1 of this year. Dikis was appointed two years earlier; he voted in the Republican primary in 2012, when he was a member of the commission, according to records in the Polk County Auditor’s office.

There apparently are no penalties for not complying with either the gender or political balance requirements of the law.

The Terrace Hill Commission is not to be confused with the Terrace Hill Society Foundation. More on that in a few paragraphs. …

First update:

The state’s outside legal costs in fighting the discrimination and defamation lawsuit filed by Workers Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey now are nearing $500,000.

Next week, the state’s Executive Council will be asked to approve paying another $18,364.75 in fees to LaMarca and Landry, the law firm getting up to $325-an-hour to defend Gov. Branstad, Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert and others named in the suit. That will raise the total paid to the LaMarca firm to $477,777.70.

The Branstad administration doesn’t like Godfrey for some reason — but surely not because he’s the only openly gay department head in its administration — and has been trying to get rid of him for nearly three years, even though he has a fixed term and was twice overwhelmingly confirmed for the job by the Iowa Senate. When he refused to resign, the Branstad operatives cut his pay to $73,500 a year from $112,000.

The case is in Polk County District Court, but it’s on hold while the Iowa Supreme Court considers one of the issues on interlocutory appeal. The court is likely to hear arguments on that issue later this fall, and then it will go back to district court — where, of course, costs will mount. …

First aside: The LaMarca firm seems to work both sides of the Governor’s street. While defending the governor in the Godfrey case, it is suing the foundation that helps support his state-owned house — the Terrace Hill Society Foundation — on behalf of Jim and Ellen Hubbell. The Hubbells were thrown from a golf cart at a foundation function on Oct. 31 of last year, and Ellen Hubbell was injured. (While the state owns the mansion, it is not a defendant in LaMarca’s case. The Department of Administrative Services allots about $400,000 a year and five full-time workers to maintain the part of the mansion the governor doesn’t live in and the 9.5 acres of grounds. Funds from the Governor’s Office pay for the living quarters. The foundation brings in another $45,000 to $50,000 annually to supplement the operating funds, according to the Legislative Services Agency.) The Hubbell family owned the mansion for generations before giving it to the state, and Jim Hubbell is the current president of the foundation that he is suing. “The board and I have agreed to completely wall me off from any participation in the case,” he says.

That suit, too, is wending its way through Polk County district court. The latest papers were filed last week by Christopher Wormsley of the Bradshaw firm, which is representing the foundation. …

Second aside: That $500,000 or so paid to LaMarca would be enough to rehire at least a half-dozen of those 30 folks laid off in late July by Iowa Workforce Development. The layoffs were the result of budget woes, Wahlert told Cityview, though the state just finished its fiscal year with a surplus of close to $1 billion.

Second update:

Cityview still has received no answer to questions sent the Governor’s office a month ago asking if the governor was aware of a bonus and deferred compensation plan that the Board of Regents voted for executive director Bob Donley in early August. Donley, whose salary is the maximum of $154,300 set by state law, was given a $5,000 bonus and deferred pay of $50,000 this year and $75,000 next year.

Cityview asked the Governor’s office if it knew of and approved the deal, if he didn’t know of it if he now approves of it, if there are others among the 15 or so persons whose state salary is set by statute at Donley’s level who also get deferred compensation, and if the deal the Regents made squares with the law.

Meantime, it turns out that Donley has applied for at least one job since signing on to the Iowa post. A year ago, he applied to be chancellor of the North Dakota State University System. In his application letter, which is on the Web if you look hard enough, he said he was “Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Iowa System,” adding, “I am responsible for the management and operation of the state public university system as delegated by the Iowa Board of Regents. Briefly, I manage a $4.2 billion budget with 73,000 students and over 45,000 full and part-time employees.”

That job description might come as a surprise to the universities’ presidents, who probably don’t know that Donley is their boss, or to the legislators, who probably think Iowa has three separate state universities, not a “system.” Donley’s letter also noted that “during my tenure Iowa’s public universities have had record growth in fundraising, sponsored research and grants, enrollment, retention and other student success initiatives,” though it doesn’t mention that none of those areas come under his supervision. Notably, he did not take credit for the University of Iowa’s football record.

In fact, according to the board’s policy manual, the executive director heads the staff of the Board of Regents. “Board staff provide support for the Board, including review and analysis of all budget and policy proposals, and preparation of recommendations to the Board.” Another part of the manual calls him “the chief operating officer of the Board of Regents,” but it does not say of the universities themselves. That’s quite a difference.

Still, the North Dakota job went to someone else — Donley made the first cut but, according to minutes of meetings, not the second because he lacked a doctorate — and ultimately that guy was bought out after major flaps with some of the presidents in the system. North Dakota officials are currently interviewing six finalists to be interim chancellor until November of next year, when North Dakotans will vote on a proposal to abolish the state Board of Higher Education and the chancellor’s office. Donley is not one of the six. …

Third update: Iowa nonfarm employment was 1,522,900 for the month of July, according to the Legislative Services Agency, down nearly 25,000 from the month before. That means employment in the state is up about 35,000 since Gov. Branstad took office two-and-a-half years ago. He promised to create 200,000 jobs over five years. He’s a little off pace. CV

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