- Associated Press - Monday, July 3, 2017

Des Moines Register. June 29, 2017

Lottery’s integrity isn’t measured by ticket sales

The state, not consumers, have to protect the system

During the 2015 trial of Eddie Tipton, a former Multi-State Lottery official from Norwalk charged with attempting to rig a 2010 drawing, lottery officials were forced to acknowledge something they’ve always been loathe to admit: Even the best-managed lotteries are vulnerable to fraud and theft.

In 2008, when faced with an investigation by the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, state lottery officials had been less than cooperative and initially refused to cooperate with investigators. At one point, after Iowa Lottery officials refused to provide access to records, the ombudsman had to threaten to subpoena the records and take the case to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Even after the investigation was completed, lottery officials bad-mouthed the ombudsman’s office, questioned its findings, then ignored many of its recommendations to enhance security.

As for Tipton, he was ultimately convicted of fraud for his role in the alleged scheme to claim a $16.5 million Hot Lotto jackpot. But on June 23, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that one of the fraud charges against Tipton had to be dismissed because he was arrested in January 2015, long after the three-year statute of limitations on the charge had expired. Iowa law allows a one-year extension to the statute of limitations in certain fraud cases, but only if the investigators have exercised due diligence in their work.

The court noted that there were several long, unexplained gaps in the criminal investigation. Almost two years passed from the time state agents identified a Canadian lawyer who was involved in the scheme to the point where those agents traveled to Quebec City to interview him.

The justices also questioned whether the state investigators waited too long to release a critical piece of information that broke the case wide open: a surveillance video of the then-unknown individual who purchased the ticket. When the video was disclosed in October 2014, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation asked the public for help in identifying the person. Almost immediately, a citizen steered officials to Tipton.

“Certainly the state has the burden of showing why it took three years to accomplish these simple tasks,” the court’s ruling stated. “The state has managed to throw up some sand, but not much more.”

The court’s ruling won’t have much effect on Tipton because just this week he pleaded guilty to newer charges of ongoing criminal conduct - the result of a more recent investigation that uncovered even more rigged drawings - that carry a 25-year prison sentence.

But the lesson here for lottery officials and criminal investigators should be obvious: The public disclosure of information related to state lotteries, and to criminal investigations related to those publicly supported enterprises, can be helpful not just in terms of ensuring the games’ integrity but in bringing bad actors to justice.

Fortunately, under a state law that has enjoyed the full support of the Iowa Lottery, the names of lottery winners must be made public. Had the state not insisted on knowing the true identity of the ticket buyer in the Hot Lotto case, Tipton’s crimes might never have been uncovered.

This week, Iowa Lottery officials promised to tighten security over lottery tickets and said they’d take steps that could help ensure those convicted of lottery-related crimes are no longer allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains. The announcement is welcome, but it’s long overdue and more than a little vague.

It appears to be in response to a recent Des Moines Register investigation that shows the Iowa Lottery’s inaction on some of the ombudsman’s 2009 recommendations has had some very predictable consequences.

The Register investigation detailed examples of Iowa retail employees stealing lottery tickets and cashing in thousands of dollars in illegitimate prize money, as well as situations in which lottery officials failed to reclaim fraudulently won jackpots of up to $30,000.

Unfortunately, Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich still doesn’t want to prohibit the employees of lottery retailers from purchasing tickets at their place of employment. He prefers to leave that up to the retailers, many of which recognize the obvious risk and have policies that prohibit the practice.

“As a lottery player, if you don’t think a retailer is fair and honest, you have the option not to buy there,” Rich says. “We are an optional purchase. Every time you walk up, you have to make a conscious decision whether it is fair and honest. People vote with their pocketbook, and obviously they are purchasing.”

Rich seems to conflate the public’s faith in the lottery with the state’s obligation to ensure that faith is well placed. The amount of money people spend on lottery tickets is a measure of the program’s popularity, not its integrity.

After all, individuals who buy lottery tickets are in no position to know whether a retailer is “fair and honest.” It’s the Iowa Lottery’s job to promote and protect the integrity of the program. Telling customers to trust their gut is no substitute for oversight and regulation.

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Quad City Times. June 30, 2017

Endorsement: Meginnis could serve 3rd Ward well

Marion Meginnis says Davenport’s neighborhoods have suffered thanks to the city’s focus on revitalizing downtown. Hers is a bold, potentially controversial view that warrants support in the upcoming special election for Davenport’s 3rd Ward seat.

Meginnis and opponent Carlton Wills don’t share much in common. Meginnis is a research hound who pours through historic preservation tax law for entertainment. Wills is a plain-spoken contractor with working knowledge of laying asphalt and digging trenches.

But one significant similarity exists between Meginnis and Wills: Neither pays much attention to downtown. And the winner of the July 11 special election essentially enters this fall’s campaign for a full term with the benefits of quasi-incumbency

Meginnis’ constituency is the Gold Coast. She’s an avid disciple of the historic preservation movement - even studying it in graduate school - and sits on Davenport Historic Preservation Commission. From that passion springs a real-world awareness of urban blight and forgotten neighborhoods.

“As a city, we see things stopping at 5th Street,” she told us. “It really shouldn’t.”

Wills, too, would rather focus on parts of the 3rd Ward outside of downtown. He spoke at length about how residents on the west end, in particular, receive little attention. Poverty, gentrification and general municipal malaise have left too many without a voice, he correctly argued.

Such political planks would be interesting in most wards. They’re potentially seminal in the 3rd Ward, which encapsulates downtown, the riverfront and old neighborhoods. Former Ward 3 Alderman Bill Boom, removed from office this year after copping to a felony, was almost singularly focused on downtown. Too often, his own personal interests appeared to direct his political positions, particularly when it came to downtown bars.

For years, downtown Davenport has - often rightly - been the city’s chief concern. But now, both candidates to fill the ward representing downtown itself both say enough is enough. The neighborhoods, too, deserve decent roads and financial support, they rightly say.

And from that launching point, we found Meginnis substantially more prepared for the role than Wills. The former television executive clearly loves the process of doing research and gathering facts. Such commitment to intellectualism could serve the 3rd Ward well. It’s imperative, however, that her longing for information not render her ineffective or unwilling to make a decision. At some point, political leadership requires picking sides on issues where there’s no hard-and-fast correct answer.

Take, for instance, the riverfront. Davenport has spent years and heaps of cash on study after study about what it should ultimately look like. Meginnis was involved 2004’s drafting of RiverVision, the general guidance for riverfront development. And yet, she demurred when asked directly about what, specifically, should happen on the riverfront. She would like to see a plan, she said. But as alderwoman for the 3rd Ward, her job would be, at some point, to call for action. Plans are too often government’s taxpayer-funded way of kicking the can.

Overall, she was just not that concerned about it. Nor was Wills. It was Meginnis’ willingness to learn the issues that set her apart from Wills, who also struggled to flesh out clear positions on a host of issues.

Meginnis has the intellectual tools to do the job well. However, it’s imperative that she expand her view beyond a relatively small wheelhouse and be prepared to take positions that aren’t directly related to rehabbing old homes. Otherwise, those in the west end, whom Wills rightly highlights, would continue to get the short shrift and only the small, vocal historic preservation crowd will have a voice on City Council.

Meginnis could be a quality addition to Davenport City Council, if she expands her scope beyond her comfort zone. She deserves the opportunity. Voters in the 3rd Ward should support Marion Meginnis on July 11.

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Sioux City Journal. June 28, 2017

Keep riverfront momentum going

At a commendably deliberate pace, the future of the former Argosy casino riverfront site continues coming into focus.

The latest step toward a final product was made on Monday when the City Council approved a $124,500 contract with consultant SmithGroupJJR Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin, for survey work, refined design work and administration of additional public input connected to the project.

From the beginning of this dialogue four years ago, we have advocated in this space for a public, patient, creative approach to what we believe is a milestone moment in community history. Our city must, we have said, get these decisions right because our riverfront, a natural treasure rivaling anything we have seen anywhere else, impacts quality of life and economic growth in significant fashion. Its proper protection and cultivation today and for tomorrow is essential to our future.

To these ends, we remain encouraged by the openness, pace and overall course of this discussion. We support the council’s vote on Monday because we wish to see riverfront momentum continue so at least an initial phase of work at the old Argosy site can begin as soon as the Interstate 29 reconstruction project ends.

As we have said before, our vision for this area embraces aesthetic enhancements, such as creation of green space, and includes expansion of recreation and relaxation opportunities. Within these parameters and within reasonable costs, we remain open-minded to a variety of suggested ideas for amenities (short of commercial development).

As this process moves to its next stage, we look forward to a more refined riverfront design for consumption by city leaders and the public, sometime before the end of this year.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. June 28, 2017

Keeping guns out of courts makes sense

Iowa Supreme Court’s weapons ban makes court-system areas safer

Courtrooms and the associated areas where judicial matters are handled can be places where emotions run high. People accused of wrongdoing or convicted of lawbreaking, their friends and relatives and victims of crimes sometimes react strongly to the potentially life-changing events that occur is courts. When these individuals possess guns or other weapons the possibility that they will be used is a serious concern.

That’s why in the interests of public safety, the Iowa Supreme Court has issued a ban on weapons in such areas except for those possessed by law enforcement personnel. On June 19, Chief Justice Mark Cady issued an order on behalf of the court that reads in part:

“Under our constitutional authority and responsibility to supervise and administer Iowa’s district courts, the supreme court now orders that all weapons are prohibited from courtrooms, court-controlled spaces, and public areas of courthouses and other justice centers occupied by the court system.”

Given the danger of violence in such an emotionally charged environment, this order is prudent and deserves the support of all Iowans. It’s hard to see why any reasonable person would oppose it.

The court’s action brings about policy uniformity statewide. Until this action, bans and restrictions varied from county to county. In some counties there were no policies regarding weapons in court areas. Having a sensible, consistent weapons policy in all court areas across Iowa is logical.

“When Iowans believe their courthouses and court facilities are not safe, the integrity of the entire justice process is compromised and undermined. Courthouse security is inseparable from the concept of justice itself,” Cady wrote in his order.

The Messenger strongly agrees with that sentiment. We applaud this weapons ban. It will help make our courts safer places than they would be otherwise. Cady and the other members of the court deserve praise for taking this action.

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