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Mitchell County working to file lawsuit against out-of-state opioid manufacturers

OSAGE | Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk and other county officials are seeking legal action against several opioid manufacturers outside Iowa, in response to what they say is a growing public health epidemic stemming from the over-prescription of those drugs.

The pending lawsuit is a collaboration between several different parties, including the Mitchell County Board of Supervisors, the Iowa State Association of Counties (ISAC) and national law firms who want to help in the litigation process.

At the Mitchell County Board of Supervisors' meeting Dec. 5, the board unanimously approved a resolution to pursue legal action.

They were acting on an engagement letter and other paperwork from ISAC, which recommended that Iowa counties file lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals and their related companies.

ISAC engagement letter

Walk said he has been discussing the possibility of filing a lawsuit before the meeting Dec. 5.

"ISAC is recommending that everyone join in it," he said of the engagement letter and overall process. "I was pretty much up to speed on this because we had been talking to another firm for three to four months about doing this."

The firms involved are Creuger Dickinson, Simmons Hanly Conroy and von Briesen. Walk hopes to have a formal lawsuit filed in the next six months, but emphasized this was a preliminary estimate.

Bill Peterson, ISAC's executive director, said the topic has been on the organization's radar for the past couple years. He added he attended a meeting in October where lawyers from Creuger Dickinson and Simmons Hanly Conroy held presentations about why filing lawsuits against the aforementioned opioid manufacturers was plausible. 

Peterson added that each Iowa county that participates with ISAC and the national law firms would file a separate suit. Those suits would be filed in the Northern District of Ohio because the manufacturers are out of state, so the cases must be federal.

So far, nine counties scattered across Iowa — including Mitchell — have stated they are interested in filing a lawsuit, Peterson said. He added the goal is having as many of Iowa's 99 counties join as possible.

It's unclear whether other local counties plan on joining. Tim Latham, a member of Cerro Gordo County's Board of Supervisors, said he and his colleagues have had preliminary talks but no formal discussion about the topic.

"It's floating around," Latham said. "We're getting more information before we jump on the bandwagon."

Ultimately, Mitchell County's upcoming lawsuit aims to recoup potential damages that counties have encumbered from added court costs, police work and similar issues.

Peterson said it's too soon to say how much money could be recovered for different areas, including Mitchell County.

"As the lawsuit progresses and damages are identified and there is somewhere down the road a settlement … then yes, counties would recover damages on behalf of their citizens," he said. 

Mitchell County Supervisor Shannon Paulus has lived in the county for the past 45 years. She said the issue has gotten worse in recent years, as more opioid overdoses have been reported.

She added, however, that fatalities have been avoided because of the county's medical facilities. Still, she believes there may be an issue with how physicians prescribe medication.

"If there’s 50 people and there’s 75 prescriptions, then you’re obviously overwriting the prescription," Paulus said of the issue.

Multiple pharmaceutical companies targeted in this pending litigation all said in statements to the Globe Gazette they are committed to combating the opioid crisis, and plan on fighting the upcoming lawsuits.

Peterson said it could take years before counties like Mitchell receive money due to monetary damages, pending a positive outcome in the litigation process.

Walk said pursuing legal action is more than just a money grab — it's also about trying to stop the consequences of opioid abuse in his county and other parts of North Iowa.

"It’s the babies that are born that test positive of opioids, it’s the Department of Human Services involvement," he said about one such consequence. "One person using can have an effect on 10 people in the county."

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Documents: Mason City Fire Department party may have led to chief's resignation

MASON CITY |  An October party that included "alcohol or illegal drugs" at the fire station played a role in Mason City's disciplinary action against Fire Chief Al Dyer Jr., according to public documents obtained by the Globe Gazette.

The department's "Rules and Regulations" prohibit consumption at the station. Dyer organized and hosted a party Oct. 14 at the station, according to the documents. 

Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson placed Dyer on paid administrative leave Nov. 2, pending an administrative investigation. No reason was given for the action.

Jacobson, Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and Personnel Director Perry Buffington all refused to comment, saying it was a confidential personnel matter.

Arian Schuessler / ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

Al Dyer Jr. addresses the Mason City Fire Department after being sworn-in as chief on Nov. 1, 2016. 

The action came a week after city officials began discussing city policies related to the party, according to the documents. Dyer resigned on Nov. 17.

The Globe Gazette requested a number of emails from city officials regarding Dyer's resignation. The city complied on Dec. 12, and said it excluded "items that constitute confidential personnel records, privileged communications and matters unrelated to the scope our our response."
The city did not provide the Globe Gazette with an itemized list of the excluded emails or the exact reason for excluding each email. 
Party Invitation

The emails show on Oct. 7, Dyer sent a notice to "chiefs, captains, lieutenants, crew (and) records" announcing a "Chill and Grill Picnic" hosted by Dyer at Georgia Hanford Park at 4 p.m. Oct. 14.

A flyer advertising the picnic was attached. "Food and drinks are on us. Bring your favorite side dish or dessert and a yard game if you'd like," the flyer said.

An email from Dyer on Oct. 14, the day of the picnic, said, "The picnic has been moved to the fire station. Tables will be set up on the apparatus floor."

It is not known why the party was moved on short notice. There is no further mention of the picnic in any of the emails, but it is apparent city officials had concerns about it.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Former Fire Chief Al Dyer Jr., left, on scene as Mason City Fire Department crews battled a fire Aug. 10 at the Plymouth Road Apartments.

Fire Department Rules and Regulation

The emails between Buffington and fire personnel include the department's 43-page "Rules and Regulations" dated May 28, 2015.

On Oct. 27, Yeni Klemmesrud, an administrative assistant at the fire department, emailed Buffington, apparently referring to the rules and regulations, saying, "I believe I found what you need."

She cited the computer file where he could find it.

Email 10/30/2017

On Oct. 30, three days before Dyer was placed on paid leave, Interim Fire Chief Doug Janssen, then deputy chief of operations, emailed Buffington, saying simply, "Page 34, item 16."

That regulation states, "No alcohol and illegal drugs shall be kept or consumed in or about any station or premises occupied by the Fire Department, nor shall it be consumed by any member of the Fire Department while he/she is on regular/emergency duty nor while he/she is in any uniform of the Department."


The emails also include a copy of a fire department policy adopted Feb. 15, 2017, signed by Chief Dyer, stating standard operating guidelines apply to all members of the department.

No details have been released about what occurred at the picnic. Officers were not dispatched to the fire department Oct. 14, according to Mason City Police Department records.  

Dyer, 46, began work as chief in October 2016 at a salary of $98,197. He came to Mason City from Lincoln Park, Michigan, where he had served 22 years, including two years as chief.

As part of his resignation agreement, the city has agreed to pay Dyer his normal paycheck through Jan. 15, 2018 and health insurance through Jan. 31. He has agreed not to sue the city concerning the circumstances leading to his resignation.



Brother of former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad dies

FOREST CITY | The brother of the longest serving governor in U.S. history died earlier this week.

Monroe "Monty" Branstad, 67, of Forest City, died Wednesday after being hospitalized earlier this month. He was remembered by family and friends for his hard work at Branstad Farms in Forest City, and his love of sports, fishing and hunting.

Those who knew him well also said that despite his busy lifestyle, Branstad would build strong relationships with community members.

"He was a very good guy," said Keniesa Branstad, a daughter-in-law. "He would help anybody out."

Family members credited Branstad with expanding the family farm, allowing his sons Andrew and David to return to work full-time after graduating from college. 

This work ethic stemmed from the fact that Branstad worked the farm with his brother — former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad — starting at 6 years old.

When he attended Forest City High School, he lettered in football, track and baseball while continuing to work the family farm.

Monty is survived by his wife, Tammy; daughters, Christine and Heidi Aitchison; sons, Jordan, Andrew, Jordan and David; and multiple grandchildren.

Visitation is 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at the Cataldo Schott Funeral Chapel in Forest City.

Branstad's funeral is 10:30 a.m. Monday at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Leland.

Editor's note: A prior version of this story inadvertently omitted Jordan Branstad as a surviving son. The Globe Gazette regrets the error.


CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette