- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

Des Moines Register. January 12, 2017

Abuse, neglect and silence at Glenwood

Seventeen current or former employees of the state agency charged with protecting some of Iowa’s most vulnerable citizens are now accused of facilitating the abuse and neglect of those individuals.

Six employees of Iowa Department of Human Services have been fired, six have resigned and five others have been disciplined due to allegations of mistreatment at the Glenwood Resource Center, a DHS-run home for 230 people with intellectual disabilities. An 18th employee is facing possible discipline.

In a news release, DHS officials said last week that seven residents of the home were physically abused and 13 residents were subjected to verbal abuse or neglect.

“We hope the shameful and unacceptable behavior of a few staff will not detract from the dedicated work of the vast majority of staff members that provide high-quality services to Glenwood’s clients,” Superintendent Gary Anders said in the news release. “We remain committed to serving and treating our clients with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

To begin with, 17 employees is considerably more than a “few.” Secondly, the fact that Anders says the home remains committed to treating residents with respect implies not only that it has always done so, a claim that is clearly contradicted by the agency’s own findings, but also that little, if anything, at the home is changing.

DHS says it has increased the supervision of staff members and “retrained” workers on how to recognize and report evidence of mistreatment. But that raises the question of whether the workers - who, by law, are mandatory reporters of abuse - were inadequately trained before this incident or chose to ignore their training.

If it was a matter of poor training, the home’s administration must be held accountable, and yet none of the 17 disciplined workers was a supervisor. If that many workers simply ignored their training, additional training won’t help and there needs to be a broader examination of the culture at Glenwood.

What makes this situation even more troubling is the lack of disclosure as to what exactly transpired at the home. DHS officials say the city police visited the facility four months ago in response to the agency’s notification of a possible crime. The Glenwood Police Department said Thursday its report of the visit is not yet completed and no other information on the matter is available.

The Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which inspects and oversees Glenwood, launched its own investigation several months ago, but it, too, has not completed a report of its findings.

DHS isn’t even disclosing the names of the workers who have voluntarily resigned, although a department spokesperson said the agency will make that information public once the workers’ “disciplinary appeals” have been exhausted.

As Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, has said, this leaves many questions unanswered. How is it that so many state employees tasked with protecting and caring for disabled adults were complicit in the abuse and neglect of those same residents?

“Was it a group of employees acting in concert, or were these individual isolated incidents?” Hudson asks. “Or was it a culture in which employees did not report abuse and neglect, as required by mandatory reporting laws? DHS has totally omitted from the press release what the 12 employees did wrong. Why were six terminated? Why did six resign?”

Fortunately, Disability Rights Iowa is authorized by federal law to investigate such matters. It now intends to look into the situation and determine whether DHS has taken sufficient steps to correct any problems.

State inspection records indicate that last summer a Glenwood worker reported that a colleague had called residents “imbeciles,” ”douche bags,” ”low grades” and “retards.” The records also show that as of June 2016 - months before the recent spate of firings and resignations - the accused worker was terminated. At that time, two other Glenwood workers were disciplined for failing to report that employee’s conduct.

The timing of that incident and several others suggests that Glenwood’s problems are more widespread than DHS is willing to acknowledge. If the investigation of Disability Rights Iowa points to that sort of ongoing, systemic problem, it may be time for the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene and send its own team of inspectors to Glenwood, just as it did in 1999 and 2001.

It’s not enough for the state to simply assert, as Gov. Terry Branstad did last week, that “there is no place anywhere, including our state institutions, for mistreatment and abuse of our most vulnerable population.”

By the state’s own admission, there actually is such a place - and its name is the Glenwood Resource Center.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. January 12, 2017

The loss of Kmart in Waterloo

Some of America’s retail giants have been struggling mightily for several years, and the Cedar Valley is not immune to the corporate fallout.

It was reported last week the Kmart location in Waterloo will close by April. The impending closure was announced by parent company Sears.

Two other Kmart locations in Iowa - Dubuque and Sioux City - also are slated to close. They are on the list of 108 Kmart stores that will shut down. Besides the Kmart stores, 42 Sears stores around the county also will close.

Kmart has been an area retail staple since it opened its 106,000-square-foot University Avenue store in 1967. A second Kmart opened near Crossroads Center in 1975. It closed along with 325 other Kmarts in 2003, a year after Kmart filed for bankruptcy. Kmart merged with Sears in 2004.

A disappointing holiday season for large department stores such as Macy’s, Kohl’s and Sears is another hit - mostly attributed to online shopping.

The latest local news is reminiscent of the closing of Waterloo’s J.C. Penney store two years ago - a store that had been part of the Waterloo retail scene since the 1920s.

According to Courier files, J.C. Penney opened in Waterloo on Sept. 16, 1926, and was an original tenant of Crossroads Center. Prior to moving to Crossroads, the store was located on the present site of the Ramada Hotel at West Fourth and Commercial streets.

Penney’s original Waterloo location was at 95 E. Fourth St., the approximate present location of Regions Bank. It moved to the eight-story Caward Building at West Fourth and Commercial in 1944. That building was demolished in the early 1980s as part of the construction of the hotel.

A Courier article regarding that closure included the following analysis:

“This entire class of company is being killed by Amazon,” said Rob Enderle, a San Jose, Calif.-based e-commerce expert. “Folks have shifted to buying online massively, and in areas where traffic started out being relatively low they have now dropped below sustainable levels.”

He stated other large retailers would not be immune to the trend.

“Unless they can figure out a better way to respond in the next decade or so, we’ll likely see the last of these superstores close their doors,” Enderle said.

For sure, e-commerce has simplified things for many people, just as with digital services in many industries. But it doesn’t come without consequences. For example, look at the struggles the U.S. Postal Service has endured; and further analogies can be made with the automation in the manufacturing industry, which displaced workers across the nation.

We hope these companies can adjust before they are forced to close every door. Progress sometimes hurts at the personal level, and right now our hearts are with those workers and families who will be affected by this next closure at Kmart.

In the case with the J.C. Penney’s store two years ago, benefits for staff included career training, help writing resumes and filling out applications. It is our hope similar assistance can be provided for those current Kmart workers in Waterloo who will be losing those jobs.


Burlington Hawk Eye. January 12, 2017

Death penalty not the answer

The death penalty is not a deterrent to horrendous crime. It has never proved to be. And it’s costly. So why do we do it?

A federal district court jury in South Carolina this week sentenced Dylann Roof to death for his June 2015 attack on a black church’s Bible study group. Nine people were slaughtered.

A lot of people would argue Roof should be put to death. And we’re guessing it would include the relatives of some of his victims. We can’t blame their emotion. All their relatives were doing was going to Bible study class. How horrific it must have been to get that phone call from authorities.

During his trial he served as his own attorney and in a sworn confession he told FBI agents “I had to do it.”

Roof showed no remorse after he was arrested. Yes, he’s despicable. He’s proven to be a terrible collection of molecules. He is the poster child for capital punishment. Yet, we still shouldn’t do it.

Social media has taken to debating his death sentence. It’s running about half and half. Some people want him to rot in prison, others want him to fry.

But study after study has shown the death penalty is actually more costly than a life in prison. According to deathpenalty.org, cases without the death penalty cost approximately $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million. It’s a high price to pay either way and justice should be the motivational factor, not economics. But the hunch here is the boys in the big house will take care of justice on their own, which is typical in these situations.

Currently, only 18 states have the death penalty, with Texas being the most prominent user. Yet that fact has done little to deter capital crime in Texas. It leads the nation in capital crime.

Iowa did away with the death penalty in 1964. And during the years,federal courts have offered rulings on capital punishment. That debate, we suspect, will continue.

We certainly don’t feel sorry for Roof and the punishment he’s been given. It’s the law of the land in South Carolina, so he’s getting what the law in that state allows.

But, while it will fill another grave once his lethal dose of poison has been injected by our government, there’s no evidence to support his death is going to do anything to deter future capital crimes by others.

So, why do we do it?

We shouldn’t.


Mason City Globe Gazette. January 12, 2017

Voter ID overhaul unneeded

With the state of Iowa facing budget woes, we have a suggestion for Secretary of State Paul Pate and others who might support his new voter verification plan: Forget about it.

Pate grabbed headlines last week when he proposed the so-called upgrade to the state’s election system that he said would guard against fraud. “I want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat,” he said.

Changes would, according to a story by our Des Moines Bureau, take effect by 2020 and involve using electronic poll books statewide and requiring voter or signature verification both at polling places and for absentee ballots. Those lacking approved identification would be issued free ID cards with ID numbers. A registration ID number would be required for all voters requesting absentee ballots. Voters will scan IDs or voter registration cards upon checking in at polling places.

It would cost $500,000 up front to create the voter ID cards and another $35,000 annually after the initial start-up cost. Another $500,000 would establish a revolving fund to provide electronic poll books in all 99 counties, although 72 currently have some form of the books.

And as if the ID system and financing isn’t complicated enough, other parts of the proposal would require that county auditors certify compliance to all laws and report suspected misconduct to Pate’s office, and ensure uniform, ongoing training for election staff and poll workers.

Maybe we’re spoiled in Cerro Gordo County where Auditor Ken Kline has established an efficient, smoothly operating system. He even developed the Precint Atlas system that uses a simple electronic process to help guide precinct staff through the voting process. It has proven so popular that it is in wide use around the state.

So, we wonder, what’s the big need for anything new and perhaps improved, although not everyone agrees that it would be? Pate says it would “instill confidence” in the voting system. Like there’s not now?

The Cedar Rapids Gazette, which partners with our Des Moines Bureau in covering the Statehouse, reported that of the hundreds of potential cases of election misconduct investigated by authorities, only 23 people were convicted in the last five years. Of those, 15 were for felony charges of election misconduct and eight were for misdemeanors.

Those low numbers seem to prove the system is doing its job now, that there’s hardly a need for a major revamp.

Or as Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert said, Pate’s proposal appears to be a fix for a system that isn’t broken and ranks among the top in the nation. He wonders if long lines at polling places wouldn’t result, and fears that some costs would result in unfunded mandates for counties.

Predictably, Democrats criticized the proposal by Pate, a Republican. Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said it would suppress voter turnout with voter IDs disenfranchising “older Iowans, younger Iowans and people of color” - and that the plan would “turn back the clock by making election policy a partisan issue.”

That the issue immediately became partisan is predictable. But from a more commonsense standpoint, we do not see any pressing cause to spend $1 million or more to revamp a system that’s already working very well as evidenced by extremely low cases of voter fraud. Or as one North Iowa legislator told us, who would want to risk going to jail just to vote? No one we know.

Thanks to hard-working auditors and loyal poll workers, Iowa’s system seems to be working well as it is.

We say let county auditors continue their good work, and put the $1 million toward education, social services, public safety or any of the myriad things that could use additional money.


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