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Civic Skinny

Chambers merging, Partnership leadership history, early campaign contributions and unpaid fines

5/31/2023

The Windsor Heights Chamber of Commerce, which formed in 2004 and currently has 58 members listed on its website, merged operations with the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce, which formed in 1962 and has approximately 750 members. This merger, which took effect June 1, “will now represent more than 800 businesses while still maintaining unique identities,” says Tiffany Menke, president of the Urbandale Chamber. The merger was formed following the unanimous approval by the Board of Directors from both chambers. The newly merged organization will operate from the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce offices at 2830 100th St., Suite 110 in Urbandale.

A similar approach was pursued by Windsor Heights with the Clive Chamber of Commerce but fell short, as Windsor Heights was not able to continue with its own identity in that proposed relationship.  

The Windsor Heights Chamber has made a number of approaches through the years with leadership but has not been able to sustain itself financially. The City of Windsor Heights has also had its share of negative press in the last decade with a wrongful termination lawsuit from former City Administrator Elizabeth Hansen and divisive debates with residents and the city over sidewalks, to frustrated mayors and unpopular traffic camera speed traps that affected tens of thousands of drivers on University Avenue. But, through it all, one of the smallest of the Des Moines suburbs has continued to grow and attract young families.  

The city of Urbandale, and the Urbandale Chamber of Commerce, are much larger yet still have experienced unprecedented growth — and with much less negative press. Leadership of the Urbandale chamber has been steady under Menke’s calm and calculated guide, as well as the city with popular Mayor Bob Andeweg, who has been elected since 2005.

The concern among Windsor Heights businesses to maintain their chamber’s own identity in the merger was essential. One member tells CITYVIEW that “bigger isn’t always better.” The underlying mission of a chamber of commerce is to help its members succeed financially — hence, to build their revenues. Some businesses feel that mission has been lost in certain chambers of commerce, and most notably with The Greater Des Moines Partnership, which represents 24 “affiliate” central Iowa chambers. “They seem more concerned with building their own revenues than those of their members,” says that same business leader.    

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Whether that sentiment is true or not, the merger with Urbandale and Windsor Heights seems to be beneficial for both chambers of commerce today. …

Back to the Greater Des Moines Partnership. The Partnership announced May 15 that its president and CEO, Jay Byers, will be leaving the organization to become the president of his alma mater, Simpson College. 

The likeable Byers has been with the organization for more than 18 years, where he’s been the leader for the past 11. Under his leadership, the Partnership has grown to represent 11 counties and an estimated 850,000 residents, 24 affiliate chambers of commerce with 6,500 members, and more than 400 investors. 

Within just a few days, the Partnership announced that Byers would be replaced by the also likeable Tiffany Tauscheck, effective July 1. That’s a bit quick, some say. Also quite deserving, others add. Tauscheck, who has been working in the Partnership for eight years, began as the Partnership’s chief communications officer in 2015, after which she became the organization’s chief strategy officer and was then promoted to the chief operations officer and president of Downtown DSM. 

The Greater Des Moines Partnership has had several names through the years, most notably the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce. This organization has also had many leaders, dating back to 1888 with G.F. Sellick. John D. Adams had the longest tenure as director, serving from 1929-1962. Since that time, 10 people have led the organization. Through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Jack Wesenberg, Monroe Colston, Charles Webb and Andrew Mooney were at the helm. In more recent years, Michael Reagen, Michael Blouin, Teresa Wahlert and Martha Willits ran the show. These were times when the organization’s managers had the appropriate titles of executive director, not president or CEOs. …

Even though the Iowa Primaries are a year or so away, some noteworthy campaign donations have been filed in campaign reports to the Federal Election Commission and Iowa Data. Most notably, three separate million-dollar donations were made, two of which went to the Republican Party of Iowa. One being from the Friends of Whitver organization and the other from the Citizens for Pat Grassley. The other million-dollar donation came from the RAGA (Republican Attorney Generals Fund) Action Fund to the Bird for Iowa committee. 

Outside of these big checks to the Republican Party of Iowa, other noteworthy donations to the group include two donations from Dennis Young totaling $50,000. Kim Reynolds for Iowa has made six donations to Republican Party of Iowa as well, totaling $575,000. 

The Iowa Democratic Party has also received hefty donations, including $300,000 from the Iowa State Education Association, $280,000 from the Committee to Elect Zach Wahls, and $250,000 from Nishad Singh. 

Other notable donations to the Iowa Democratic Party include three $10,000 donations from William Knapp. Fred Hubbell, who raised more than $1 million for his 2018 run for governor — a record for any Democratic gubernatorial candidate for Iowa Governor — has made five donations so far, totaling $260,000. …

Nearly $100,000 in fines by political campaigns in Iowa have gone unpaid, as reported by Axios. The majority of the fines, which are due to late filings or failing to attribute political signs, are less than $100. 

Some of the notable ones include $1,000, the highest fine listed, owed by Rebel Snodgrass for State House that dates back to August of 2021. The Republican Party of Iowa makes two appearances on the list, both being a $50 fine toward the State Central Committee. Thirty-four fines attributed to committees include the word Democrat, and 26 include the word Republican. …

Shannon Archer, a former assistant Polk County attorney, alleges a culture of “harassment and retaliation” under recently retired County Attorney John Sarcone. Archer says this treatment forced her to leave her job as an assistant county attorney, a role she held from 2010-2022. In her lawsuit against Polk County, filed May 11 in Polk County district court, she alleges that Sarcone, who retired at the end of 2022, and other supervisors “belittled or acted inappropriately toward female attorneys.” Sarcone denies any wrongdoing. A source close to Sarcone says the former county attorney worked for a woman at the Attorney General’s Office in the 1980s who “he admired tremendously.” When Sarcone became Polk County Attorney, he hired a woman as one of his three top Criminal Division heads, and he hired a woman as the top person for his civil division that dealt primarily with the board of supervisors. For more than two decades, he had more women attorneys working for him than men. His chief administrator was also a woman, and he supported a woman to replace him as Polk County Attorney. A person close to Sarcone tells CITYVIEW, “Sarcone is married to a strong woman, and she would kill him if she thought he showed any disrespect to a woman.” ♦

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