- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2016

Des Moines Register. October 12, 2016

Iowans should vote ‘yes’ to retain judges.

To participate in the 2016 general election, you can vote early, absentee or head to the polls Nov. 8. Whenever you get your ballot, don’t forget to turn it over. On the back you’ll see this question: “Shall the following judges be retained in office?” Iowans should vote “yes” to retain each judge unless there is good reason to remove one.

Opposition to gay marriage is not a good reason.

A recent letter to the editor encouraged voters to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention this year because they served on the court when it issued the 2009 Varnum vs. Brien decision, which established gay marriage in Iowa. The unanimous ruling held the state’s limitation of marriage to same-sex couples violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.

The following year, opponents funded a media campaign, complete with automated phone calls and television commercials, encouraging Iowans to remove the three justices standing for retention. The respected jurists, appointed by both Democrat and Republican governors, were kicked off the court by voters. It was a national and historic embarrassment to this state.

In 2012, common sense prevailed and voters retained the one justice who had participated in the Varnum decision. He kept his job. Now the names of the remaining three who served on the court in 2009 are on the ballot.

A vote to retain them is a vote to ensure Iowa’s judicial system is not held hostage to special interests. Judges, charged with interpreting the Constitution, determining fundamental rights and protecting minority groups, should be free from the influence of politics. They should not be intimidated by deep-pocket donors who fund smear campaigns.

Iowa does a better job of ensuring judicial independence than states where judges face opponents, raise money, seek campaign donations and are elected by popular vote. In these states, the public is subject to television commercials featuring judges in robes making pledges that include getting “tough on crime.” A study of nearly 300,000 cases in Washington state found judges gave criminals sentences that were 10 percent longer when they were about to face re-election.

Fortunately, Iowans rightly ended the dangerous practice of electing judges more than 50 years ago. Judges here are selected through a nonpartisan merit process. The governor appoints trial and appeals court judges from finalists picked by a commission. Judges serve for a specific term of years and then stand for a retention vote by the people.

This year, all 66 judges on Iowa ballots, including the three Supreme Court justices, are “well-qualified to remain as judges,” according to the Iowa State Bar Association. The association surveys attorneys who have frequently appeared before a judge. They are asked to rate him or her on criteria such as professional competence, knowledge of the law and attentiveness to arguments. All the judges standing for retention received high marks.

They all deserve to be retained.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. October 13, 2016

Housing incentives work, but keep limits.

Last week there was talk among Waterloo City Council members and other city officials regarding the possible extension of a program that gives property tax breaks to anyone building a new home in the city.

A proposal from the city’s planning staff, which was endorsed by the Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission, would allow the City Limits Urban Revitalization Area, or CLURA, to continue indefinitely until the City Council votes to repeal it.

CLURA was originally approved in 2011 as a three-year strategy to encourage more people to build homes in Waterloo, which was seeing residential development move to neighboring Cedar Falls and bedroom communities.

The program was extended in January 2014.

CLURA gives three years of property tax abatement for new single-family or twin homes. A person buying a new $200,000 home will save a projected $12,700 in property taxes over three years.

That’s a significant incentive. It was a strategy we stood behind. We still do. An indefinite extension is another matter.

Initially, the program got off to a rather slow start, but has gained momentum over the years.

“The program seems to be working very well,” said planner Tim Andera. “Since the adoption in 2011, housing numbers have greatly improved.”

In the five years before CLURA was adopted, Waterloo was averaging 37 houses built each year. That has nearly doubled to 73 homes per year with CLURA incentives in place.

Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said the proposal to remove the expiration date now instead of next year was designed to “remove uncertainly” for developers and housing investors.

“We’re already starting to get calls now from . potential homeowners and developers getting nervous about doing another 12-lot subdivision and not knowing whether the CLURA is going to be there the whole time,” he said.

With consideration to development, we don’t mind seeing that expiration lifted and another timeline set. We support CLURA as a responsible strategy, for now.

We would prefer to see a definite limit, even if the council needs to extend it at the end of that limit. That course at least assures the issue will come up for discussion and/or debate on a regular basis.

“I think it’s working, but I’d be more interested in maybe going from three to five years,” said Councilman Steve Schmitt, who was instrumental in the committee that initially worked to set up the CLURA. “I would rather not take it off the radar.”

Just like with tax incentives for big box stores and other larger development projects, these programs temporarily take away some tax revenue that would be going to public institutions such as school districts. On the other hand, Waterloo needs to broaden the tax base, and luring development, both residential and commercial, remains crucial.

It’s an interesting issue, one we believe deserves regular discussion that is open to other city taxpayers and residents.

We would agree with Schmitt. We support this program, but let’s not take it completely off the radar.


Sioux City Journal. October 13, 2016

Planned new clinic is winner for local, area vets.

We have shared criticisms in this space about the Department of Veterans Affairs since a national scandal erupted two years ago over waits at VA hospitals, including stories about veterans who died waiting to see a doctor.

In an Aug. 28 editorial, we revisited those criticisms of the national VA system in the wake of a New York Times story detailing how the VA reform bill signed into law by President Obama in 2014 - the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act - is falling short of expectations in a variety of ways.

It’s clear systemic problems persist and more work is necessary within the VA to raise the level of overall care for the men and women who served our country in uniform.

Today, though, we give credit where credit is due by praising a VA decision.

Last month, VA officials announced construction of a new clinic on West Anchor Drive in Dakota Dunes at a cost of several million dollars. The 25,000-square-foot clinic will be three times the size of the clinic it will replace at 1551 Indian Hills Drive.

Key advantages to the new clinic include an ability to serve more veterans; an expanded menu of services, including the addition of optometry and radiology; and proximity to other health care facilities.

“This is the biggest clinic we will have ever built in the Sioux Falls system,” Darwin Goodspeed, director of the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System, said during a Sept. 20 town hall meeting with veterans. “And it is going to have more services than any other clinic we have.”

The new clinic, which is expected to open within the next year, will serve veterans in Woodbury, Plymouth and Cherokee counties in Iowa; Dakota and Dixon counties in Nebraska; and Clay and Union counties in South Dakota.

We commend the VA for taking a step we view as a clear winner for Siouxland vets.


Mason City Globe-Gazette. October 13, 2016

Relax on clown hysteria.

No one is quite certain where this creepy clown craze started or why.

Perhaps it was in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where a man dressed as a clown made frequent appearances at the strangest times, all to promote a video. It worked: He gained considerable media attention of all kinds.

Whatever the origin, the phenomenon has spread, and some people have become a bit concerned.

There always is good reason to suspect someone dressed strangely, but in the case of clowns, we agree with local police and even famed horror novel author Stephen King: Calm down and react sensibly.

“Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria,” tweeted King, who wrote a novel about a killer clown. “Most of ‘em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”

Indeed, that’s what clowns still do - for the most part. But there have been a few disturbing incidents nationwide, including someone dressed as a clown trying to lure young children into the woods in Greensville, South Carolina. In Alabama, a school was put on lockdown after students received online threats in the Facebook account of Flomo Klown (three vehicles and an adult were ultimately charged).

Globe Gazette reporter Molly Montag detailed several incidents in Waterloo, including a clown entering a McDonald’s Restaurant, then leaving. Workers locked the doors immediately afterward and called authorities. (It’s noteworthy that McDonald’s says even Ronald McDonald has been affected by this clown craze and is keeping a low profile until things settle down a bit.)

In Mason City, an employee of Southbridge Mall spotted a person dressed as a clown acting “creepily” outside her store. The clown was allegedly chased away by a security officer. Police couldn’t find the clown. In fact, no arrests have been made in any of the Iowa cases. As far as we know, police haven’t had much, if any, luck finding the clowns.

All of which leads Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley to advise residents not to panic if they see someone dressed as a clown and only call the police if that person is doing something truly suspicious - which is the case for anyone, no matter how they’re dressed.

Brinkley, like King, said people do all sorts of fun things to get attention.

“So if they’re just sitting on a park bench staring at people, probably not a big deal,” Brinkley said.

That’s good advice from our top cop.

Unless they’re causing a scene or posing a threat, relax and enjoy clowns for what they do best: Make people laugh.


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