- Associated Press - Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Des Moines Register. Jan. 8, 2016

Who’s the State Patrol really protecting?

More than six months ago, Plymouth County deputies, Kingsley and Remsen city police and an Iowa State Patrol trooper were involved in an incident that left an unarmed suspect injured. But the public still doesn’t know the nature of the injury, how it was sustained, or who the trooper was.

The case involves Shanne Arre, a 29-year-old man with a history of drug-related arrests. In the early hours of June 21, the police attempted to stop Arre for speeding. Arre allegedly led the officers on a chase, ditched his car and ran from the scene on foot before attempting to hide in a patch of tall grass. He was quickly captured and arrested. He’s scheduled to face trial next month on charges that include drunken driving and eluding the police.

In response to a formal records request from the Associated Press, the Iowa State Patrol recently released a report that indicates one of the officers who responded to the incident used force after Arre showed “passive resistance.”

The report describes the force as a “rifle drawn,” adding that it left Arre with a “visible injury” for which he declined treatment. The patrol has refused to elaborate on how Arre was injured by the mere drawing of a weapon.

The patrol says that releasing the name of the trooper and any further details about the incident would undermine Arre’s right to a fair trial.

It’s not at all clear how the disclosure of this basic information would violate Arre’s due process rights. There’s no question the information is already available to both the defense and to prosecutors and will be used at trial, should there be one. The only people left in the dark as to what transpired that night are the people of Iowa.

Under state law, the police are required to provide timely public disclosure of the “immediate facts and circumstances” of a case. There’s no question the names of officers involved in an incident should be part of those immediate facts and circumstances. The law cited by the patrol for keeping such information secret allows for confidentiality only when disclosure would jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger to an individual. For reasons that are abundantly clear, there is no provision for keeping officers’ names secret to protect the rights of the accused.

It’s also troubling that the information being concealed in the Arre case is contained in the trooper’s written narrative of the incident. At most police agencies, these narratives, which provide the officer’s perspective on events, are part of a publicly accessible incident report.

Confidential investigative reports have their place in law enforcement. But they should be used to document protected information on confidential informants, potential witnesses and uncharged suspects - not to bury information that would explain the use of force.

If the patrol is routinely concealing such information by simply placing it in a document that’s labeled an “investigative report,” that practice needs to stop. Today.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety, which includes the state patrol, has a history of being less than forthcoming with the public. For several years, the patrol has insisted that citizens seeking access to public information put their requests in writing and send them in via email. Ten years ago, the Iowa attorney general clearly and emphatically told state agencies that such a requirement was not only bad public policy, but illegal.

To its credit, the patrol said Thursday that it will revise its website to remove the statement that “records requests MUST be submitted” via email. That demonstrates a good-faith effort on the part of the patrol to make information more accessible, but more needs to be done.

When a police officer uses force against a citizen, that should not only be disclosed, but fully explained. That’s necessary not simply to protect citizens from unwarranted uses of force, but to prevent the erosion of the public’s trust in law enforcement.


The Burlington Hawk Eye. Jan. 6, 2016

The account has a dedicated use.

The Iowa Legislature will get back to work later this month with few hot-button items on the agenda. They’ll need to eventually pass a budget, but they typically wait until the final days of the session to get that accomplished.

We think they should clarify parts of the state’s sunshine laws, particularly ensuring Iowans access to police body cam recordings. The police are doing work on our behalf, utilizing cameras paid for by citizens and government hasn’t offered a legitimate reason to keep the public’s work such as patrolling the streets and enforcing the laws a secret from us.

Another issue coming from the governor’s office is to tap into the account that gets its money from a sales-tax assessment we all pay when we buy goods and services in Iowa. That 1-cent tax is an account to be used by local school districts to keep buildings up to date and their infrastructure in sufficient condition to conduct the business of educating the state’s children.

The governor is floating an idea—it’s in its gestation period right now and may never see the light of day in either chamber of the Iowa legislature—of taking some of that money to pay for needed water quality improvements in the state. It’s a good cause. It’s the wrong source of revenue.

For one thing, the school tax was something voters approved for their districts. It wouldn’t be right for government to now use that money for something else.

It used to be voters in each school district had to vote every 10 years to renew the tax. Most districts did so because voters understood the need to keep schools in good shape, and some of the money generated was used to reduce property taxes. In 2008, the state’s sales tax went from 5 percent to 6 percent, with 1 percent increase replacing the school infrastructure tax. In doing so, it eliminated the need for voters in local districts to finance a special election so voters could reauthorize the tax. That was a smart move. Lawmakers put a sunset clause of Dec. 31, 2029.

The new approach allows districts to plan ahead for future building needs and to prepare long-term budgets and using some of the revenue generated by the tax to ease a homeowner’s property tax assessment.

Sure, for many, tax is a dirty word. But we do need money to keep the schools in good shape. This tax doesn’t fall into the dirty-word dictionary.

Diverting the revenue generated by the tax was never an intention of imposing the tax. It’s a slippery slope when government dips into one account to pay for something that should be paid from another account. Government at all levels does that too often.

It’s a sales tax assessed to help schools. It was created for that sole purpose. It should remain so.


The Quad-City Times. Jan. 8, 2016

Spot Zoning isn’t zoning at all.

A disorganized collage of farms, homes and large-scale manufacturing plants should be the last thing anyone wants. But under a spot zoning proposal headed toward Scott County supervisors that’s exactly what landowners might get.

Agricultural land could be rezoned to permit large industrial development if supervisors ratify the plan. It’s a knee-jerk response to a failed application that would have sited a $1.3 billion fertilizer plant among the fields in Scott County’s unincorporated area.

The county’s desire for economic development is laudable. But the creation of industrial islands would undermine the very intent of zoning regulation. Zoning exists purely to protect the neighbors. It’s a democratic balancing act, one that acknowledges the actions of one property owner affects the well-being and property values of nearby land owners. Suddenly, those community-wide protections — a shared, coherent vision — is tossed aside for a patchwork of industrial, residential and agricultural uses.

Massive, chemical laden trucks, hauling day and night, could replace the tractors that now traverse Scott County’s rural roads. The beating of pivots could be swapped for the grinding and puffing soundtrack of industry. Rich farm ground would be lost under factories and parking lots. Homeowners might just find themselves living in an ad-hoc industrial zone, once individual tracts could be rezoned.

Quality of life has real, albeit intangible value. And spot zoning isn’t worth the cost.

Don’t take it from us. Courts throughout the country have scuttled spot zoning provisions.

Sure, there would be hearings before an individual parcel could be spot zoned. Notifications would go out to the neighbors. Planners and engineers would describe the new facility in extreme detail. Public comments — for and against — would be added to the record.

But few words have greater sway over an elected official than “jobs.” Jobs win campaigns. Jobs bolster the tax base.

Too many communities have doled out millions in taxpayer-funded incentives for some vague promise of jobs. Too many governments have reshaped their entire communities — physically and culturally — for the promise of jobs. And, in too many cases, those jobs came and went in a matter of years. In others, they never even materialized.

There’s a place for industry. It remains an important, necessary aspect of the U.S., state and local economy. Davenport officials realized that fact and moved quickly to salvage what they could of Kraft Heinz. And they did it right.

Davenport came to the table with a shovel-ready industrial site. Water and power won’t be an issue at the Eastern Iowa Industrial Park. It’s tailor-made for an operation such as Kraft Heinz. Scott County officials should be paying attention.


The Sioux City Journal. Jan. 7, 2016

Embrace what’s left of campaign in Iowa.

With the calendar having turned to 2016, candidates for president have entered the stretch run to Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

Less than four weeks remain before the key Feb. 1 test of candidate strength.

This week reveals a picture of the significant extent to which Iowans will have opportunities to see and hear candidates of both parties - in person and in advertisements - between today and caucus day.

Our advice: Take full advantage.

Before these candidates who seek to lead our nation move on to other states and contests, embrace the unique, invaluable chances we have in Iowa to take their full measure. Attend events, ask questions, listen, compare and contrast.

Then prepare to caucus for the man or woman of your choice.

Our hope is for record turnout within both political parties.

Many Republican strategists predict a record turnout for GOP caucuses in Iowa, perhaps as much as 15 percent higher than the record 121,000 votes cast in 2012, according to RedState, a conservative political news blog. Democrats set a record with a caucus turnout of almost 240,000 in 2008.

Still, room exists for improvement. The Republican record represented a turnout of less than 20 percent of registered Republicans; the Democratic record, less than 40 percent of voters registered as Democrats at the time.

First and foremost, we believe Iowans possess a responsibility to the rest of the nation for strong, if not record caucus turnout on both sides in this pivotal election for president.

Second, as we have said before, it’s important, if not imperative for Iowa to produce strong turnout because what happens in our state on caucus night this year might impact decisions about where the state’s caucuses fall on the 2020 presidential campaign calendar.

Simply put, strong turnout strengthens Iowa’s case to remain No. 1.

Here in Iowa, this contest is in the fourth quarter. Don’t spend it on the sidelines.


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