- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

Telegraph Herald. May 18, 2014.

Greater care required for Effigy Mounds

There aren’t many tourist attractions that date back to 500 B.C. Just a fraction of those that do are here in the United States. We’re lucky to have one of these precious places right here in northeast Iowa.

It would seem to go without saying that such a place would demand to be handled with great care and attention. Yet that is not the kind of stewardship that Effigy Mounds National Monument has been given.

Last week, the National Park Service released a 723-page transcript of its internal investigation detailing a decade’s worth of failures on the part of former Effigy Mounds National Monument staff to comply with resource protection laws. More than 75 structures were built - elevated boardwalks, decks and a machine storage shed, among other things - without first securing the federal clearance required.

It’s incredibly troubling that the caretakers, the very people charged with tending this truly sacred ground, had so little regard for the protocols involved with preserving its historical value.

With more than 200 mounds - some shaped like bears and birds - Effigy Mounds is one of the largest intact prehistoric mound groups in North America. Established in 1949, the national park sits three miles north of Marquette, Iowa, on 2,526 acres in Clayton and Alamakee counties. About 100,000 people visit the park annually. Somewhere along the line, park staff became more concerned about the visitors’ experience than the preservation of hallowed ground.

Staff added the boardwalks and widened paths in attempt to make the area more accessible. While the intent was without malice, the result is still troubling. When it comes to preserving historic sites, there is a balance to be struck between creating accessibility and maintaining the integrity of a pristine historic area. Specific guidelines have been established for national parks to address that very concern, yet the protocols in place were not followed.

This isn’t just a park. It is a sacred burial ground for as many as 12 Native American Indian tribes. The mood should be a contemplative one. The trails might be narrow and uneven, but it is an area that is meant to be left free of development as much as possible. To disturb that atmosphere was not just improper but offensive to the tribes’ descendants.

It’s equally disappointing that the missteps were allowed to continue unchecked for years. Now that the investigation has been made public, elected officials and citizens alike must hold the caretakers accountable for rectifying the wrongs done at Effigy Mounds.

Iowa has exactly one national park. We ought to be able to do a better job taking care of it than this.

___

Fort Dodge Messenger. May 17, 2014.

Meddling may cause waste

As chairman of a special U.S. Senate committee investigating logistical aspects of how the U.S. was conducting World War II, then-Sen. Harry Truman made it clear he was not out to second-guess generals and admirals. His mission, Truman said, was merely to ensure they had the tools they believed they needed.

What a shame that attitude no longer holds sway on Capitol Hill.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have unveiled a Pentagon budget plan that reduces spending - but includes dozens of costly stipulations for the generals and admirals. Rest assured Democrats would do the same thing, as they have in the past.

An example: For one reason or another, the Pentagon has concluded it is time to replace the A-10 “Warthog” warplane. It has been one of the most effective ground-support aircraft in history.

House leaders’ budget plan calls for the Pentagon to put its A-10s in storage instead of fully retiring the airplane. Keeping the planes ready at a moment’s notice will be costly. Not doing so, of course, also will be expensive - but will create a fleet of useless antiques.

There are other stipulations, of course. Some of them include not cutting back on or eliminating military bases the Pentagon says are not needed.

Of course the Pentagon could operate more economically. But one wonders how much of the waste is due not to the generals and admirals, but to political meddling.

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The Des Moines Register. May, 15, 2014.

Schultz’s crusade heavy on cost, light on fraud

In a report on his “voter fraud” investigation, Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz concludes that “illegal voters are participating in Iowa’s elections.”

Actually, the report shows there is very little “fraud” by would-be or actual voters. And the report reveals that Schultz got very little of value in return for the criminal investigation that has cost the state $250,000.

From the time he entered office in 2011, Schultz set out to plant the idea that Iowa’s elections are vulnerable to fraud perpetrated by illegal immigrants, convicted felons and other miscreants. After more than two years of beating the bushes for evidence of this fraud, Schultz reported last week that of 238 cases investigated, 27 criminal charges have been filed by Iowa county attorneys.

Of those 27 criminal prosecutions, guilt was established in six cases, four cases were dismissed, one defendant was found not guilty, one prosecution was deferred and 15 cases are pending.

In a state with nearly 2 million active registered voters, this handful of cases hardly constitutes evidence of a major problem of voter fraud.

In fact, fraud is the wrong word for these cases. The legal meaning of fraud is an “intentional perversion of the truth” that results in injury. Instead, it is likely that the vast majority of these cases were people who did not set out to commit election fraud but rather made a mistake because Iowa’s voter eligibility rules and forms are confusing. Even state and local election officials are uncertain about who is eligible to vote.

The confusion most directly affects people who have felony criminal records, which means they may not be eligible to vote. Some with felony records had their voting rights automatically restored under policies of past governors, but others have not.

Take, for example, the Lee County woman with a felony record who was prosecuted as a result of Schultz’s investigation because she registered and voted in a local election. She voted not out of fraudulent intent but because her lawyer said her voting rights would be restored when she completed probation. This case should never have been prosecuted in the first place, and the jury did not take long to find her not guilty.

Still, throughout his report, Schultz uses words like “election misconduct” and “illegal voters,” which imply that the investigation turned up evidence of criminal conspiracies to affect Iowa elections. The report cites evidence that 117 votes were cast by ineligible voters, but it does not remotely suggest that the outcomes of any Iowa elections were affected by votes cast by ineligible voters.

Iowa should be certain that every registered voter is legally eligible to cast a ballot. And actual cases of intentional election fraud should be prosecuted. But rather than trying to make criminals of people who mistakenly register to vote, the secretary of state and Iowa’s county auditors who run the elections should help registrants to be sure they are, in fact, eligible to vote.

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Sioux City Journal. May 18, 2014.

Government isn’t objective enough to study consolidation of government services

Predictably, an analysis of merging city and county assessor offices, conducted by the city and county assessors, concluded consolidation won’t work and shouldn’t happen.

As a result, discussion of the idea within local government appears dead.

We don’t know if a merger of these two government offices is warranted or wise, but we do know this: Government itself is too close to the issue to form an objective opinion.

As we have said before in this space, the most valuable strategy for study of government consolidation is to form an independent committee of citizens to undertake a comprehensive review of how the city, county and school district could save taxpayer dollars by sharing some services. Charged with identifying efficiencies and eliminating duplication, the task force should propose both short-term and long-term ideas.

In order to remain focused not on protection of turf, but rather on protection of taxpayers, the committee shouldn’t include public workers or elected leaders.

Further discussion of the assessor offices should be part of this study.

Again, as we have written before, we don’t know how much in savings could be achieved by consolidation of some services, but we see nothing to lose and possibly much to gain by examining in extensive fashion whether the way local government delivers services is the most efficient, cost-effective way for taxpayers.

Within our community reside a wealth of accomplished professionals from the private sector who we are confident would donate their time and expertise in pursuit of leaner government and taxpayer savings.

Together, the budgets for the city of Sioux City and Woodbury County total close to $200 million; employment, nearly 1,200 men and women. If you include the local school district, add in roughly another $150 million and some 1,800 employees.

Is it possible to reduce those numbers and save taxpayers money through consolidation of some services?

We have to believe the answer is “yes.” From government, we fear the only answer the public will get is “no.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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