Saturday, February 24, 2024

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Civic Skinny

State university sabbaticals. Polk County audit. Mental health lawsuit. Treasure hunt. More cemetery tidbits.


Each year, the Iowa Board of Regents approves professional development assignments (PDAs) for state university professors. Also known as sabbaticals, these allow universities to maintain “educational excellence” by encouraging “a vital faculty that actively pursues new developments in knowledge and teaching.”

A total of 109 PDA requests were approved for FY 2024, totaling 2.3% of total faculty at Regent universities. Budgeted costs to replace faculty on sabbatical are $470,654 for FY 2024. Without further ado, here’s how your tuition and tax dollars are being used:

Venise Berry, a 31-year journalism and mass communication professor at the University of Iowa, will work on her novel, “Samsara,” examining the mental health struggles of Black women in today’s society through the relationship of a mother and daughter. Her research will include journal articles, books, interviews with mental health professionals and her personal experiences with her daughter. 

Benjamin Coelho, a UI professor of music, will expand and publish his bassoon method book titled “Pratica quotidiana” to “introduce and educate students on the concept of diversity of sounds by including music from classical, popular, indigenous, and folkloric music genres from the six inhabited continents and breaking traditional barriers.”

At Iowa State University, history professor Jeremy Best will conduct research in Germany and the U.S. for a book on “the history of World War II military themed war games and their role in creating Holocaust ignorance in both countries.”

Also at ISU, Maurice Meilleur, a graphic design professor, will work on two books about constructed scripts — “a specialized genre of lettering and type design” — as well as give national and international lectures and enhance his advanced typography course. 

Kimberly Hurley, a kinesiology professor at the University of Northern Iowa, will embark on a project titled “Efficacy of Tai Chi for Rural Seniors’ Balance Concerns.” She’ll examine the impact of Tai Chi intervention with 30-50 rural Iowa seniors across three Northeast Iowa communities.

And finally, UNI geography professor Andrey Petrov will study “sustainability and its policy options in remote urban communities, in particular in the Arctic, amid rapid environmental and socioeconomic change.” Petrov will conduct two case studies: one with fieldwork in Yellowknife, Canada, and one online at Yakutsk, Russia. … 

An audit report on Polk County was recently released by RSM US LLP. For the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2022, the county’s revenues totaled $485,263,036, an increase of 37% from the previous year. In the same period, the county’s operational expenses totaled $404,948,680: a 25% increase from the year prior.

The revenue increase was attributed primarily to grants related to COVID-19, specifically: $65 million of additional State of Iowa emergency rental assistance funding and $47.6 million from the second half of the American Rescue Plan. The uptick in expenses was primarily due to “increases in administration related to pandemic grant expenses.”

In the county’s business-type activities, revenues increased by $18.6 million (54%) and expenses $8.1 million (23%). Increases were attributed to increases in charges from services and heightened economic development expenses at Prairie Meadows and events at the Iowa Event Center.

The county’s actual expenditures were $28.7 million below budget. The report included no findings related to taxpayer funds.

The full 178-page audit report may be reviewed on the Auditor of State’s website at … 

A class action lawsuit was filed last month against the State of Iowa over failure to provide mental health care for children eligible for Medicaid. The lawsuit was filed by Disability Rights Iowa, Children’s Rights, National Health Law Program and Ropes & Gray, LLP against defendant Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). 

The case claims the Iowa DHS has routinely failed to provide Medicaid-eligible children with serious emotional disturbances with services medically necessary and required by law, namely: intensive home and community-based services.

In the absence of these services, the complaint reads, “Plaintiff children risk deteriorated mental health, escalating treatment needs, mental health crises, suicidal ideation, self-harm, hospitalizations, and repeated institutionalization in psychiatric facilities and other restrictive settings.”

A recent report from Mental Health America found that more than one in 10 youth in the United States are experiencing severe depression. Nationwide, more than half of youth with major depressive disorder do not receive mental health services. Iowa ranks 30th among the nation, with 56.6% of youth not receiving care. …

The future of Iowa’s long-running abandoned asset recovery program, the Great Iowa Treasure Hunt, is now in the hands of new State Treasurer Roby Smith. Former State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, the nation’s longest-serving official in his office, founded the program in 1983 in order to locate the owners and heirs of unclaimed funds or assets deemed “abandoned” by financial institutions. Since the program’s creation, more than 600,000 people have been reunited with $335 million in uncashed checks, security deposits, safe deposit boxes, stocks and more. Fitzgerald’s name and headshot has been removed from the website, but visitors may still search for their name or business online.

Recent notable unclaimed properties in Polk County include: Mary J. Koutre, $490,566.03; Pauline C. Durgin, $272,068.32; and Moth LLC, $213,761.82; and Michael Ross, $168,940.05; Jon G. Fussell, $154,979.00; Shujun Zhou, $138,928.94; James P. McLaughlin, $135,702.16; Jeffrey A. Covell, $134,597.60; and Lillian G. Lavelle, $127,536.43. In Dallas County, the top unclaimed properties were: Joan M. Miller, $77,870.29 and $50,890.41; Lori L. Chedester, $38,825.07; Estate of Martin Vote, $33,778.89; and Marjorie F. Weesner, $30,033.80.

National Unclaimed Property Day takes place annually on Feb. 1. Search through the full database of unclaimed property at …

As the 175th anniversary of Woodland Cemetery approaches, our friend Mike Rowley shared a few more odds and ends from the cemetery’s history.

1879: Officials threaten to remove bodies from graves that have not been fully paid for.

1907: Lou Cox died. He was considered the most arrested man in Des Moines at that time (with the possible exception of his brother). Having no funds to bury him, a collection was taken up. His brother spent the money on liquor.

1923: Problems of peanut vendors “and other hucksters” setting up outside the Woodland Cemetery entrance on Memorial Day.

1932: The bounty of 25 cents per groundhog head was discontinued, as the previous year the city had to pay more than $800 in bounties.

And finally, in 1948: As A.W. Shuck and his son were driving through Woodland Cemetery, “a pretty woman with auburn hair and beautiful teeth” who was walking briskly asked them, “How do I get out of here?” He drove her to the main gate and offered to take her to the hotel. She declined, finishing her walk, “wearing a scarf and carrying an apple.” It was later determined it had been Hollywood movie star Jeanette McDonald who was in town for an appearance. ♦

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