Wednesday, January 19, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Remembering Dick Olson. Another (yawn) Tirrell suit. Hispanics assail the Register, staff awaits changes.


Dick Olson, a good mayor, a good guy and a good neighbor, died last week in a car crash in Maine. He was 85.

This is from Jim Duncan:

“Dick Olson was a tough guy. He defined the term. He grew up without parents, raised by grandparents who spoke no English, a poor family in the rich part of Aurora, Illinois. He loved to fight. Football channeled his rage into something more productive. He was an Illinois High School Hall of Famer who won a full ride to Illinois. He got mad at a coach and quit. Two colleges later he landed in Des Moines at Drake where he would meet his ‘better half,’ Cleo, and graduate.

“He went to work for 3M, setting sales records before quitting a year later after he felt he had been cheated out of a bonus. That was Des Moines’ lucky moment. As he found that he took to the insurance game at Bankers Life.

“As Kipling noted Olson walked with kings and presidents yet kept the common touch. He preferred Dewar’s to more expensive scotches and a confrontation to an alibi. The Des Moines police armed him for clandestine meetings with a Black Panther informant, during the time when the City Hall, the police station and a bank were bombed. He survived several death threats, innumerable fights and two near death experiences before his death last week.”


This part is not from Jim Duncan:

Olson was mayor from 1972 to 1979. He presided over a council that often was split and a city manager who was as strong-willed as the mayor. But one way or another, he could always muster four votes, he could make peace with the manager, and he could move the city forward.

The business community — banker John Fitzgibbon, especially — was in lockstep with him, at least publicly, and so was labor and, usually, the newspaper’s editorial page. Neal Smith, in Washington, could deliver almost anything the city wanted. It was a powerful combination not seen before or since. Downtown, especially, had a renaissance not unlike the one of the past few years. The skywalks were put in, the Civic Center and Nollen Plaza, the Ruan Center and Financial Center and Marriott Hotel, and the Botanical Center were built, and the riverbanks were cleaned up. He was a man of pride, but not boastful pride.

And, if you were the mayor’s neighbor on Waterbury Road, you always knew the street would be the first to be plowed. …

The average reader won’t notice a difference in The Des Moines Register after Gannett Co. spins off its newspaper division, publisher Rick Green told his customers last week.

Perhaps not. But the average employee might.

In the first quarter of next year, Cityview is told, at least some Register staffers will have to reapply for their jobs. What’s more, they will be interviewed by a committee of people from other newspapers, newsroom managers were told the other day. “I’m bracing for the worst,” one staffer says.

That fits with what’s happening in Nashville, where Green’s boss works. There, Stephanie Murray, the executive editor and “vice president for content and engagement,” told readers the other day that “every job in the newsroom is being redefined….Our employees will have the opportunity to choose the jobs they want to apply for.”

Also, she said, “We will use scientific principles even more than before to listen to what our readers want and act accordingly.” Whatever that means.

The day before she wrote that, the Tennessean had a major front page story saying Kroger, the grocery chain, was lowering prices. Scientific principles indicate Kroger is a major Tennessean advertiser. …

Meantime, jobs at the Register go unfilled. It appears the Des Moines school board is sometimes covered by phone or e-mail by Mary Stegmeier, a former Register reporter who now lives in Washington, D.C. And the top-level job held by the late and beloved Randy Brubaker — widely extolled at his death by managers as key to the news operation — has yet to be filled.

On another front, Hispanics are furious at the newspaper for printing anonymous racist remarks in its “2 Cents Worth” column the other day.

“Make sure to tell the next Mexican you see how much you detest their government’s aiding and abetting the movement of illegals to our border. I just fired all the Mexican janitors at my business. Hiring American now,” the commenter commented. And he, or she, signed it: “Standing up against this unwashed wave in West Des Moines.”

Joe Enriquez Henry, the head of the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, called the commenter a coward for “hiding behind…anonymity,” and he assailed the Register for promoting “racism, stereotypes and hate” by printing the comment and another that encouraged Iowans to boycott Mexican restaurants. He called the comments “hate speech.” …

“And then there’s the Texas lawsuit,” a guy said the other day in wondering how deadbeat sports shouter Marty Tirrell stays afloat despite hundreds of thousands of dollars in judgments against him.

The Texas lawsuit?

Yeah, the guy said. In Houston.

Sure enough. Late last year, Gow Broadcasting sued Tirrell and one of his companies for, among other things, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. And fraud.

According to the suit, in the district court of Harris County, Texas, in late 2012 Tirrell went to Gow and proposed it air a Tirrell-hosted sports show on Gow’s sports network. “Tirrell represented that he had a pool of advertisers for the show who would want to purchase advertising time on Gow’s national network,” the suit says.

Mistake No. 1. Gow made a deal. Tirrell would get a $5,000 monthly draw, and they’d split most of the revenue. Oh, by the way, Tirrell noted, he needed a $69,000 advance to “cover certain promotional expenses he wanted to incur in connection with the 2013 Masters Golf tournament” in Georgia. “Tirrell promised he would promptly repay Gow such amount from the proceeds of the advertising he sold to national advertisers in connection with the event,” court documents say.

Mistake No. 2. Gow fronted the money.

But Gow never saw much money. “By July 2013, Tirrell owed Gow over $320,000 in unpaid advertising invoices and advancements,” the suit says. So Tirrell and Gow signed a “collection agreement” in which Tirrell conceded he owed Gow money — including that $69,000 advance — and they went over the past-due accounts. Tirrell told Gow the money had not yet been collected, so Gow said it would give him additional time to get the money. It kept him on the air.

Then, according to the lawsuit, Gow learned “that certain of the advertisers…had in fact previously paid Tirrell despite his written representation to the contrary.” In other words, Tirrell collected but kept the money.

At the time of the suit, Gow said it was owed $352,645. It wants that money back, plus interest, and exemplary damages and attorney fees. Trial has been set for Nov. 10 in Houston. …

Question: Is there another shoe to drop at the Department of Administrative Services, home of secret settlements? A guy who is usually right says to stay tuned. …

John Norris, onetime Congressional candidate, onetime top aide to Gov. Tom Vilsack, onetime member of the Iowa Utilities board and most recently a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, is moving to Rome to take a U.S. Department of Agriculture job involving liaison work with the United Nations. Jackie Norris, also a political operative who now is with the Points of Light Foundation, will set up an international operation for Points of Light there. …

The Principal Classic apparently was a good thing for Wakonda Club. The club’s latest tax return indicates it had a surplus of $328,310 last year, the first year the golf tournament was held at the club on Fleur Drive. In 2012, it had a loss of $64,201, following losses of $247,364 in 2011 and $320,045 in 2010. The tax return indicates the club got a $250,000 payment for hosting the tournament, and its food and beverage revenue rose sharply as well. …

Nonfarm employment in the state totaled 1,565,000 in June, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency reported the other day. When Terry Branstad took office, the number was 1,488,000. At the time, he promised to create 200,000 new jobs in five years. Closing in on four years, he still has about 125,000 to go. CV

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