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Cerro Gordo County auditor Kline takes state position

DES MOINES | Ken Kline, Cerro Gordo County auditor for the past 25 years, has been named Iowa's deputy commissioner of elections.

Secretary of State Paul Pate announced the appointment Monday.

Kline said he never formally interviewed for the job.

"I received a call from the secretary of state's office informing me of the job opening and asking if I would be interested. I said, 'maybe,' Kline said.

Then later he received a call from Pate where he and Pate discussed the position and Kline's qualifications for it.

"He offered me the job and I accepted," Kline said. 

Kline is a past president of the Iowa State Association of County Auditors, creator of the national award-winning Precinct Atlas electronic poll book program and served for many years as a legislative liaison for county auditors.

Pate said, “Ken’s experience, ingenuity and dedication will be a welcome addition to the staff. He has served the people of Iowa very capably for more than a quarter of a century and is well regarded by election officials across the state and country.”

Kline will begin his new role on Jan. 22. He replaces Carol Olson, who will become state director for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Kline, 64, said he plans to continue to live in Mason City and commute to Des Moines but will find a place to stay in Des Moines, much like state legislators do.

He pointed out that 2018 is an election year and Pate is up for re-election. "So, who knows, this might be a one-year gig," he said with a laugh.


When Kline leaves his auditor's position, County Treasurer Pat Wright will assume the duties until a successor is named.

The Board of Supervisors can appoint a successor or call for a special election. The appointment would be through the 2018 general election. The public may override an appointment by petitioning for a special election with 2,297 signatures -- 10 percent of votes cast in the 2016 election cycle.

An appointment must be made within 40 days of the vacancy.

A special election must be held on a Tuesday at the earliest practical time between Feb. 27 and April 10.

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Low unemployment rate means nearly 1,000 jobs available in North Iowa

MASON CITY | There are nearly 1,000 job openings in Cerro Gordo County, good news for those looking for work.

Mayor Bill Schickel mentioned it in his state-of-the-city message last week, saying the job openings in Mason City "range from minimum wage to six figures."

But Cerro Gordo County is experiencing nearly full employment -- the unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in November -- so there aren't many eligible workers to fill all those openings.

"This has led to some pretty tight conditions for employers," said Chad Schreck, president of the North Iowa Corridor Economic Development Corp.

"We have been working really closely with many employers as well as NIACC, Iowa Workforce Development and schools in Mason City and Clear Lake to raise awareness of the issue."

Nick Foley, operations manager for Iowa Workforce--North Iowa, said Cerro Gordo County's situation is not unique.

Boosting workforce skills a top priority for Iowa governor

DES MOINES | When she steps to the speaker’s podium next week in the Iowa House to deliver her first condition of the state address, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will spend much of her time talking about ways to boost the credentials of Iowa workers without post-high school education or training.

"It's a challenge across the state, across the country and, really, across the globe," he said. "There is a shortage of skilled workers to fill many of these positions.

"We have established many programs to educate not only students but employers too. Employers have to be involved in the solution." 

The numbers tell the story. There are 26,899 people now working in the county, a steady rise from 2014 when the workforce totaled 25,566, according to state employment statistics.

The unemployment rate has held steady at 3 percent or a little over for the past few years, Schreck said, but dropped to 2.7 percent in November.

As of Monday, there were 960 job openings in Cerro Gordo County listed on Iowa Workforce Development's website.

Of these, 97 percent were in Mason City and Clear Lake -- 780 in Mason City, 156 in Clear Lake -- with five or less listed for Portland, Thornton, Rockwell, Burchinal, Plymouth and Swaledale.

The jobs available ranged from high-paying -- 69 physician openings -- to more moderate, like a night television anchor. There are also 95 lower-paying positions for delivery people, bartenders, waiters and other jobs in the restaurant industry. 

"No matter how you look at it, we have lots of jobs out there across the spectrum of wage and skill levels," Schreck said.

Nearly one-third of the jobs are in the health care field -- doctors, nurses, nurse's aides and related positions. Other industries with more than 100 openings are in sales, trucking and manufacturing.

Schreck said it is no surprise that health care has the most openings. "It is by far our No. 1 employer, so that is why we see so many listings in that field," he said.

One of Schreck's objectives for years has been to start the job recruiting process at the high school level to educate students on available jobs and careers to have business and industry representatives meet with sudents.

"So far, more than 800 students, 40 educators and 72 businesses have taken part in the various activities we've helped coordinate. That doesn't factor in the thousands going through NIACC events and other schools in the region," said Schreck.

"Our kids don't have to go to Des Moines, Minneapolis or Chicago to be successful. They can do it here and live a lot more affordably and enjoy a great quality of life," said Schreck.

The efforts may be seeing some important results, he said. "For the first time in a long time, the county population grew," said Schreck.

"In the past year, it went from 43,017 to 43,070. Not huge, but we had been losing an average of about 150 a year for the past 10 years. So it's a step in the right direction." 

Democrats to Grassley: Release Russia-related transcripts

Two Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are pushing Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to release transcripts of an interview with a founder of the firm that commissioned the controversial dossier about President Donald Trump and Russia.

They also complained that focusing attention on the firm or the former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled the dossier, is a distraction. Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, called last week for the Justice Department to launch a criminal inquiry into Steele.

"The American people deserve the facts. There is simply no reason to keep the Simpson testimony (or other testimony before our committee for that matter) hidden while this distraction goes on," Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, wrote in the letter, which was dated Sunday.

The two senators want the transcript of the committee's interview with Glenn Simpson, a founder of Fusion GPS, released. Last week, Fusion GPS also demanded that Grassley release the transcript.

The Iowa Republican, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, responded by saying he didn't want to compromise the committee's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He also said that Fusion GPS had not been cooperative and the company had previously requested confidentiality. He also offered to have Simpson testify publicly.

Fusion GPS said Grassley's office was not giving an accurate version of events.

In their letter, Whitehouse and Blumenthal echoed complaints by Fusion GPS that Simpson's testimony has been selectively leaked, and they rejected the idea the company's work was the basis for the start of the investigation into Russia's interference with the 2016 election.

A spokesman for Grassley, George Hartmann, responded that it's standard practice not to release transcripts, a view that's held by investigators and is consistent with how other committees are handling the issue. "It’s remarkable that two former prosecutors would parrot the talking points of an uncooperative witness during the Committee’s ongoing investigation," he said.

Hartmann also reiterated Grassley's offer that Simpson come back to the committee and testify publicly.


Police: Baby, 7 months, died at Manly day care

MANLY | Police are investigating the death of a 7-month-old baby girl at an in-home Manly day care late last month.

Worth County dispatchers received a 911 call for a baby not breathing at 131 S. Grant St., Manly, about 3 p.m. Dec. 28, according to a news release from Manly Police Chief Aaron Pals.

The property at the address is owned by Jeremy and Carrie Lohmann, according to Worth County assessor records.

No registered day care exists at that address, according to Iowa Department of Human Services records. People who provide home-based care for five or fewer children are not required to register, but have the option to do so, according to the agency. 

First responders performed CPR on the baby, who has not been identified, Pals said. She was later transported by ambulance to Mercy Medical Center--North Iowa, and was pronounced dead.

Pals said in the release the Iowa Division of Criminal of Investigation and DHS are investigating the incident. No criminal charges have been filed. 

He added there has been an autopsy, but that the results cannot be released at this time.

"This is a tragic event and a delicate time for all involved," Pals said. 

The investigation is ongoing and more information may be released as it continues, according to the release.