- Associated Press - Monday, November 13, 2017

Des Moines Register. November 8, 2017

Why Hy-Vee’s housing idea should spread across Iowa

One of the biggest problems facing Iowa isn’t simply the lack of jobs. It’s the lack of workers.

And to attract workers, Iowa - especially small cities and towns - needs housing.

That’s why everyone should pay attention to what’s happening in Chariton. Hy-Vee, which employs 1,300 people at a distribution center in the Lucas County town, is funding the renovation of at least four homes there.

“We think this will be a big factor in attracting and retaining talented employees,” said Matt Beenblossom, vice president of the distribution center.

Hy-Vee is working with the Chariton Valley Regional Housing Trust Fund, and they plan to use the proceeds from the home sales to refurbish more homes.

It’s a small start, but this idea could be replicated across Iowa. Why don’t more employers - working with banks, community foundations, nonprofits and local governments - find ways to provide more housing?

And why can’t the state provide more incentives to employers to provide more housing?

And if a company receives state and local tax breaks, why isn’t it obligated to contribute to local housing efforts?

Lawmakers should consider such questions in the next session, because Iowa’s housing shortage has become acute.

Ground zero may be north-central Iowa, where the Prestage pork plant is being built near Eagle Grove. Several surrounding towns in Wright, Webster, Humboldt and Hamilton counties already struggle with having adequate housing. The plant could attract 1,000 or more workers to the area.

Fortunately, local officials started an effort before the Prestage plant was announced to jump-start home construction. Wright County provided a $17,000 loan to a Clarion economic development group to look at how to add more apartments, houses and duplexes that are affordable to workers. Eagle Grove has been rehabbing dilapidated homes and tearing down those that can’t be saved. It also offers a 20 percent rebate of new home construction costs, up to $40,000.

Housing concerns have come up frequently in the Register’s Changing Iowa forums, in which we’ve gathered Iowans to discuss the sweeping changes facing the state. Our partner in the discussions, the Iowa Rural Development Council, has identified housing as a critical issue. In June, its members took a bus tour of State Center, Marshalltown, Grinnell and Newton to see how the communities were adding upper-story downtown apartments and single-family developments to address shortages.

In our Spencer forum, we heard Kiley Miller, CEO of the Iowa Great Lakes Corridor Development Corp., talk about how he spends about 25 percent of his time helping communities find ways to add housing, to attract new businesses.

In Fort Dodge, we heard Dennis Plautz, CEO of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, discuss how Webster County has attracted more than $1 billion in private investment and 1,800 new jobs in the last four years, but it faces challenges attracting and keeping workers. Plautz urged lawmakers to preserve Workforce Housing Tax Credits, which are awarded to housing developers by the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Members of the audience cited the need for new homes and different types of housing, such as downtown lofts.

In Marshalltown, we heard Wendy Soltero, business manager with the local YMCA/YWCA, say that Latinos helped bolster the housing market in Marshalltown post-recession. They provided the influx to buy the starter homes, so those owners could sell and move up to higher-priced homes. In so many Iowa towns, there’s no one to buy the starter homes.

Our next event is Nov. 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Smokey Row Coffee in Oskaloosa, where we will discuss the question: How do we create great communities for all generations? The topic of housing will come up - a necessity whether to attract young workers or to care for Iowa’s rapidly aging population. Please join us if you want to be part of the solution.

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Quad-City Times. November 10, 2017

A mandate in Muscatine

Muscatine voters issued a mandate on Tuesday night. Perhaps, this time, those left on the City Council will listen.

Embattled Mayor Diana Broderson cruised to victory, receiving 59 percent of the vote weeks after a local court ruled that the City Council violated her constitutional rights when it impeached her. The two incumbent City Council members on the ballot who supported Broderson’s ouster were easily defeated — At-large Alderman Scott Natvig and 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Rehwaldt. Perhaps most telling was Natvig’s defeat to Kelcey Brackett. Like with the mayoral vote, Natvig’s loss wasn’t confined to local ward politics. It was, in a very real sense, a city-wide referendum on the toxic politics that have cast a shadow on this city for almost two years.

Come January, Broderson will keep her seat. The City Council will feature three new faces, since Alderman Bob Bynum chose not to seek re-election. In a very real sense, Muscatine has an opportunity to move beyond the petty, partisan and, frankly, unlawful behavior that resulted in an assault on Broderson’s rights as a citizen. It can cease with the spats about who can talk to city employees and who can’t. It can end the manufactured scandal over whether Broderson’s morning coffee meet-and-greets require City Council approval.

Muscatine can, finally, get back to serving its citizens. The voters demanded precisely that on Tuesday.

The new City Council has two options in January: It can, in good faith, get down to the minutiae of local governance. Or it can devolve into a fractured, raucous do-nothing body that trades lawsuits like baseball cards.

The latter would continue shaming Muscatine in front of the entire state. The onus is on everyone, Broderson included, to ensure the former happens.

There can be little doubt that Broderson feels vindicated after Tuesday night’s drubbing of the men who would stop at nothing to undermine her. For the first time in her two years in office, she will have allies on the council. But engaging in a payback campaign would end badly for the citizens of Muscatine and Broderson’s nascent political clout.

At best, the City Council will be divided between those who engineered Broderson’s impeachment and those elected because of it. It’s very possible, maybe even likely, that Broderson’s new wing will be outnumbered more often than not. Broderson never had a chance to prove herself an effective mayor nor an astute politician in her first term. The City Council saw to that. Her second term is more likely to offer that opportunity. Broderson would be wise to reach out to the very men who chased her with pitchforks in an earnest attempt to build legitimate consensus on the issues.

Both sides must dial down the rhetoric and, for once, focus on roadwork, taxes and economic development. In the process, the city should initiate an immediate review of its compliance with Iowa’s Freedom of Information Act. The city used excessively high prices to cloak the costs of its actions, throughout the impeachment process. Wielding financial disincentives like a club flies in the face of the very spirit of FOIA.

It’s been an ugly two years in Muscatine. The past 11 months were an utter embarrassment. The basic tenets of good governance gave way to self-interest. Both practically and philosophically, the taxpayer and citizenry picked up the tab.

But those very same people sought retribution at the polls on Tuesday against a City Council that rejected their collective will when it ousted Broderson on trumped-up charges. They issued a mandate: The lawless, unconstitutional behavior of the City Council is neither supported nor acceptable. In so doing, they offered Broderson’s new political faction an opportunity to prove that it’s more than a victim of entrenched local politics.

Voters turned out and screamed from the rooftops that they want functional, honorable governance. It’s left to those atop Muscatine to follow through.

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Sioux City Journal. November 8, 2017

New chapter begins for Boys and Girls Home

A local nonprofit agency whose rich history traces back to the 1890s will embrace the future in a new home.

In a recent announcement, Boys and Girls Home and Family Services Inc. unveiled plans for creation of the $6 million Ginny Peterson Behavioral Health Campus at the site of a former shopping center at 1551 Indian Hills Drive. The project will replace the organization’s campus at 2101 Court St.

Boys and Girls Home and Family Services provides a variety of services, including outpatient, residential, and education, for children and adults who struggle with emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric issues, as well as for their families.

The almost-empty, 8 1/2-acre Indian Hills Drive property acquired by Boys and Girls Home in 2015 will be transformed in three phases, with a target date for full completion of 2021. The timeline is contingent on fund-raising, which so far has produced $3 million of the estimated project cost.

Phases include:

- A 25,600-square-foot school with classrooms, a recreation and conference center, a library and media center, and an auditorium.

- A 34,400-square-foot Family Services Inc. Center with offices, space for outpatient counseling services and therapy rooms.

- A 23,100-square-foot residential treatment center with living space for children ages 7 to 18, a recreation area and offices for residential staff.

The campus will include green spaces, too.

We view this move as a win-win for our community. Not only will this important local nonprofit agency enjoy an upgraded campus from which to deliver its valuable services, but a largely empty piece of property with limited appeal as a continued retail outlet will enjoy a renaissance.

We commend leaders of Boys and Girls Home and Family Services for their vision and look forward to watching progress on this dynamic project unfold over the next several years.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. November 10, 2017

We vote not simply because we can

On Tuesday, voters throughout Webster County went to the polls to pick their local elected leaders.

Well, a few of the voters went to the polls.

According to Webster County Auditor Doreen Pliner, there are 23,183 registered voters in the county. Of that total, 14,513 are in the city of Fort Dodge.

But on Tuesday, just 3,857 ballots were cast in the county. That means fewer than 4,000 of the county’s 23,183 registered voters participated.

That’s pathetic.

It’s a sad commentary on how little respect we collectively give our civic duty these days.

The fact that the president and members of Congress weren’t on the ballot is no excuse for those who didn’t turn out. The mayors and city council members who were on Tuesday’s ballot have a very direct impact on the lives of local people. In fact, their decisions may impact the daily lives of Iowans in a more direct way than anything that the president and Congress may do.

After all, it is the local officials who decide what job-creating economic development projects should be supported. And it is the local officials who decide how many parks and trails a community should have. The local officials are also the ones who decide how many police officers and firefighters a city has. And last, but not least, the local officials set the property tax levy.

There is a flip side to this gloomy picture, however. The flip side is that there are people who are willing to campaign for jobs that require them to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.

So congratulations to Matt Bemrich, who was re-elected to a third term as mayor of Fort Dodge. And congratulations to councilmen Kim Alstott, Dave Flattery, Jeff Halter, Dean Hill and Terry Moehnke, who were all re-elected to the Fort Dodge City Council.

And special congratulations to Lydia Schuur, who was elected to become the newest member of the Fort Dodge City Council.

Congratulations also to Sandy McGrath, who was re-elected as mayor of Eagle Grove.

In fact, we congratulate all of the other citizens who dedicate themselves to local leadership positions.

It is delusional to think that our way of life, our government, no matter how faulty we may think it to be, can be effective without citizens who dedicate themselves to these local leadership positions.

And, in the same vein, it is equally delusional to believe that our American system can survive without the election process.

We vote not simply because we can, folks, but because we must. If we want to continue to enjoy choices, we must continue to express the need to have those choices.

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