Saturday, January 22, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Register to chop 16% of news staff, add odd titles. Court: Jailed Luebke owes credit union $35,000.


The restructured Des Moines Register newsroom will “deliver much more,” Amalie Nash told the newspaper’s readers Tuesday, but the newspaper will be delivering that “much more” with much less.

The staff is being cut by 16 percent — 18 positions.

Nash, the top news executive at the newspaper, told Cityview that an “apples to apples comparison” of before-and-after employment levels is hard to say because the Register is combining more operations with its sister paper in Iowa City. But she said the combined newsrooms currently have 113 positions. After the restructuring is completed next month, she said, the total will be 95. Of those, 11 to 14 will be in Iowa City, the organization chart indicates.

Staffers won’t know for a couple of weeks who will be let go. The new positions have been posted, and all the current staffers will be asked to apply for their top two choices. Interviews will be held the week of Oct. 6, “and we intend to determine who got each job by the end of the following week,” said Nash, who has been open with Cityview about the details.

The company nurse might want to lay in a bunch of anxiety pills. [Fact: The Register once had a full-time company nurse.]


The organization chart doesn’t resemble anything of the past, which is probably the idea.

There are four tiers. The top are the “top newsroom managers,” four persons led by Nash. One of those jobs is “consumer experience director,” who, the Register’s website says, is “responsible for how people consume and respond to content, including the use of audience feedback to better engage readers.” Next come the “big picture experts,” all with titles unheard of a few years ago. These are: “content strategist multimedia,” “content strategist politics,” “content strategist quality of life/buzz,” and “audience analyst.”

Below them are seven “content guides.” “Content coach/regional sports” seems to be the equivalent of what newspapers used to call “sports editor.” The editorial-page editor will now be known as “engagement editor II,” while the editorial writers — there will still be three — are “engagement editors 1.” To clarify, do not mail wedding announcements to these people.

Everyone else falls under the category of “content creators and collaborators.”

It’s hard to see how the paper will “deliver much more” in some areas. There will be just one “metro government” reporter and just two state government reporters. There will be two “breaking news” reporters. There will be sports columnists concentrating on Iowa and Iowa State, as there are now, but no general sports columnist — which must cause Bryce Miller some sleepless nights.

Nash herself has a new title. She was brought to Des Moines to be “editor and vice president for audience engagement,” but now she is “executive editor and vice president for content and engagement.” Asked about this, she said, “Gannett streamlined job titles for consistency.”

“Streamlined” might not be the right word. …

Once upon a time, George LaMarca thought Chris Godfrey would be a good commissioner of workers’ compensation for the state of Iowa.

In 2007, he and four other lawyers met with the late Republican Sen. Pat Ward to try to convince her to vote to confirm Godfrey. He was acting commissioner at the time, and he had a good record, was fair, and had a good background, LaMarca and the other lawyers told Ward. They mentioned that he was gay, but she quickly said that that was not a problem, according to a memo one of the lawyers prepared within hours of the meeting.

That was then. This is now. And “now” is LaMarca representing the state, Gov. Terry Branstad and five other state job-holders in the very costly lawsuit Godfrey has filed against them alleging, among other things, harassment, extortion, defamation and discrimination in their efforts to get him to resign before his term was up. So far, the state has paid LaMarca & Landry more than $500,000 in fees, and the bills surely will climb as the firm prepares the defendants for depositions that Godfrey lawyer Roxanne Conlin began last week.

[The governor’s deposition won’t be taken until late November. He’s just too busy to sit for it now, he has said. Of course, that has nothing to do with politics or with the fact that there’s an election on Nov. 5. Just a matter of a busy guy’s busy schedule. Another coincidence: Although the LaMarca firm has been laboring long and hard of late, no bills have been submitted to the Executive Council in the recent weeks running up to the election.]

There is no indication LaMarca’s past support of Godfrey ever came up in the Executive Council’s decision to hire the lawyer and his firm at rates up to $325 an hour. The minutes indicate nothing, and there were no reports of any discussions of the issue. But, as one person familiar with the case says, the past support could prove awkward for LaMarca.

LaMarca says he “discussed my attendance at that meeting with the Governor’s team prior to being employed in this matter,” and he said he was invited to the meeting because he was a “highly active member of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association and…a good friend and next-door neighbor” of Ward. Cityview asked, “Do you still believe he was a good commissioner?” He didn’t answer that question. Asked if the Governor knew of LaMarca’s past support for Godfrey and if the Governor would have hired LaMarca had he known, Jimmy Centers, the Governor’s spokesman, said: “This is related to current litigation. Accordingly, I’ve forwarded your response to the LaMarca and Landry law firm.” That’s called ducking.

Godfrey, a holdover Democrat, was the only openly gay member of the Branstad administration, which might or might not have been a reason that Branstad asked him to resign and, when he wouldn’t, cut his pay by more than $38,000. Godfrey’s term was to expire next April, but he resigned a few weeks ago and now is chief judge and chairman of the Employees Compensation Appeals Board of the United States Department of Labor.

Meantime, confounding those who say Godfrey always sided against business, new figures show that workers’ comp rates in Iowa have just dropped 3.7 percent — an indication that the workers’ compensation office under Godfrey was not a rubber stamp for complainants. The drop follows a rate reduction last year when the national rates went up more than 8 percent. …

Oh, darn: The committee to pick a site for the Obama Presidential Library did not pick Ames as one of the four finalists, despite the belief of a handful of folks that Ames had an inside track. Next: the 2024 Olympics? …

Could things get any worse for car salesman Steve Luebke? In just a matter of hours, he wrecked a car on the Freeway downtown, left the scene and got a lift home where he apparently was so drunk he needed help to get inside, got another car from his Deery Brothers dealership, got picked up for drunken driving — for the fifth time — in Jasper County, was charged with five offenses in Polk County, and still is sitting in jail.

Could things get worse?


No one seems to have noticed, but on Tuesday, after his really bad weekend, the district court for Dallas County sent the sheriff a notice that a judgment of $35,085.31 had been entered on Sept. 12 against Luebke and in favor of Veridian Credit Union. According to court papers, on July 23, 2012, Luebke borrowed $32,499 to help finance the purchase of a 1997 Toyota Supra from Toyota of Des Moines. (Yes, he had been the general manager of Toyota of Des Moines, but that’s just too complicated to get into. Among other things, it involves a report of a stolen car that wasn’t stolen, yet another drunk-driving charge, and Marty Tirrell.But describing all those relationships would eat up the whole column. Wait till the book comes out.)

At any rate, four months after buying the car, he wrecked it. A document submitted by his lawyers says that “on or about Nov. 10, 2012, Mr. Luebke was operating his vehicle in Polk County, Iowa, and collided with a bridge.” (“Collided with a bridge” seems to imply that he and the bridge were driving toward one another and then collided, but that’s probably not the case.)

The car was towed away, and no one showed up to pay the fees to get it back. The car was then sold, and neither Veridian nor Luebke got any of the money. Luebke quit making payments to Veridian, and Veridian sued Luebke for breach of contract. On summary judgment, Judge Gregory Hulse of Dallas County ruled for Veridian. …

Real estate: A 4,735-square-foot, 105-year old house at 219-37th Street sold for $865,000 on Aug. 22, one of the highest prices this year for a house in Des Moines. The buyer was Michael Fitzgerald (not the state treasurer), the seller Patrick Traynor, who had purchased the house two years earlier for $849,000. The white stucco house has six bedrooms and 3.5 baths and sits on 1.2 acres. It’s next door to a home owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Des Moines and two doors from the home of Drake University president David Maxwell.

Also in July, Wesley Smidt paid $781,940 for a home at 1846 Park Ave., which is in that line of new homes bordering the north side of the Wakonda golf course. This summer, too, Richard Clark paid $702,500 for a stately stucco home at 5225 Waterbury Road. The seller was Phelps Hoyt, who bought it a year earlier for $657,500. The 4,267-square-foot house sits on nearly an acre and has four bedrooms and five bathrooms. …

“Shattering Silence,” that large sculpture by James Ellwanger on the bluff outside the Iowa Judiciary Building, has been selected as the 500th listing in the National Park Service’s “Network to Freedom.” The sculpture celebrates the great civil-liberties decisions by the Iowa Supreme Court as well as the bravery of Iowans who shattered the silence of bigotry and oppression throughout the generations. …

Iowa’s nonfarm employment in July totaled 1,541,000, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency. That means that about 53,000 net new jobs have been created since Terry Branstad was elected nearly four years ago. At the time, he said he would create 200,000 jobs in five years. He’s running behind. CV


Dave Miles, the head of Miles Capital, invites questions from readers of his column in the Business Record.

Thus this exchange:

“Dear Mr. Miles. I see where President Rastetter of the Board of Regents received a $480,000 interest-free loan from Iowa State. I am a former president of the Board of Regents. Can I get such a loan, too.

“Thank you, Michael Gartner”

“Dear Mr. Gartner,

“As a former president of the Board of Regents myself, I see clearly the wisdom of making such funding available to all current and former presidents. If the concept is received favorably, I will be back in touch promptly.”

“Dave.” CV


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