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Mason City voters approve two ballot measures concerning River City Renaissance Project

MASON CITY | Mason City voters have approved two ballot measures that will allow the city to continue its plans for a roughly $39 million downtown project.

One of the ballot items concerning the River City Renaissance Project asked voters whether to approve a lease agreement to construct a ice arena/multipurpose center, with a total construction and lease cost not to exceed $18 million. 

The other item asked whether the city should issue urban renewal bonds for construction of The Music Man Square and hotel, skywalk and performing arts pavilion, not to exceed $14 million.

Both items required a 60 percent approval (or “yes” votes) to pass. According to unofficial results from the auditor's office, both passed with at least 74 percent of the overall vote.

The project had been in the works for years, and the city and different participants have spent the past several months hosting forums in order to educate people about its different parts, along with the funding structures corresponding with each project component.

The entire project is projected to cost about $38.77 million, and includes a hotel, ice arena/multipurpose center, new performing arts pavilion, conference center, skywalk, and a Music Man Square Museum.

Supporters of the project said it was needed for downtown development, and would bring younger people and families to Mason City.

One of those people is Loni Dirksen, an organizer for the "Mason City Says Yes" group — which was tasked with educating the people about the project and encouraging them to support it at the polls.

Dirksen was pleased about Tuesday's results, and said her group will continue to keep supporting the plan as it further develops.

"It's really showing me and our 'Mason City Says Yes' team that Mason City is ready to grow and prosper," she said by phone Tuesday night. "We have seen people come together and support it, and it seems it has really just united our community."

Those who were against it were skeptical of who was involved in the project, and the financing mechanisms used its components.

Here's everything you need to know about Mason City's River City Renaissance Project

That included former city administrator Pat McGarvey, who created a website in opposition of the ballot measures.

One of McGarvey's issues with the project is that the ice arena would be rented, not owned, by the city.

"This will be the biggest, finest recreational facility in the history of the city and we're giving it away," he previously told the Globe Gazette.

With the ballot measures passed, the Iowa Economic Development Authority is poised to award up to $10 million in tax breaks for the project. It has already granted a preliminary award of $7.1 million.

That amount should be determined by December at the latest, according to IEDA officials.


Crime-and-courts
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Man charged with homicide after 2 found dead in Mason City home

MASON CITY | A man is charged with two counts of first-degree murder after two bodies were found in a Mason City home Tuesday. 

Codie Matz, 25, of Mason City, had been taken into custody about 3 p.m. and was charged in the evening. He is held without bond. No court date has been set. 


MASON CITY | A man considered to be a witness in the deaths of two people found in a Mason City home Tuesday is in custody, police said Tuesday afternoon.

The Mason City Police Department announced Codie Matz, 25, of Mason City, had been taken into custody about 3 p.m. He was later charged with two counts of first-degree murder and held without bail in the Cerro Gordo County Jail. An initial court date has not been set. 

Photos: 2 found dead in Mason City home, witness in custody

Two bodies were discovered during a welfare check of a home in the 300 block of 27th Street Southwest about 7:43 a.m., the department said in a news release Tuesday morning. Police have not identified the people who died.

Police asked for public's help in locating Matz, who had not been seen since 8 a.m. Tuesday.

He was believed to have been heading south from Mason City, Cedar Falls Police Chief Jeff Olson confirmed. Matz had contacts in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, Olson said, but his department didn’t have any contact with him Tuesday.

Matz was taken into custody in Bondurant, KCCI-TV reported Tuesday afternoon. Bondurant is located in Polk County and is a northeastern suburb of Des Moines.

Matz lived in the single-story blue house in southwest Mason City, according to court documents. The house, which is located across the street from the former Madison School property, was surrounded by yellow police tape Tuesday morning.

A neighbor confirmed the home is owned by an older married couple. The Globe Gazette is withholding the names of the homeowners, as police haven’t identified the people found dead in the house.

Letha Markwardt has lived in the 300 block of 27th Street Southwest since the mid-1960s. She said she has talked to the couple in passing, who she said were "always very nice."

Markwardt also met Matz, who she said was "cordial" to her.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation agents and local police investigate the scene where two bodies were found in a home on the 300 block of 27th Street Southwest on Tuesday.

She said it was “tragic” and “shocking” to hear what happened in her neighborhood.

"This area has had its difficulties, but you just don't think this would happen," Markwardt said late Tuesday morning.

She woke up around 5 a.m., and noticed police activity at her neighbors' single-story blue house around 7 or 7:30 a.m., she said.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation agents and local police investigate the scene where two bodies were found in a home on the 300 block of 27th Street Southwest on Tuesday.

“I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t think it could be good,” Markwardt said.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, who is investigating with the Mason City Police Department Criminal Investigation Division, arrived on the scene about 12:45 p.m.

Several social media posts and comments claimed the Mason City Family YMCA, located about a mile from the house where the bodies were found, was on lock down Tuesday morning. The Globe Gazette confirmed with the Mason City YMCA that it was never on lock down.

Police said they will release more information as the investigation continues.


Previous story: 

MASON CITY | A man considered to be a witness in the deaths of two people found in a Mason City home Tuesday is in custody, police said Tuesday afternoon. 

Mason City Police Department announced Codie Matz, 25, of Mason City, has been taken into custody. Matz has not been charged with a crime. Police said Matz is being transported back to Cerro Gordo County. 

Police said they will release more information as the investigation continues. They have not identified the two people who died. 


Previous story: 

MASON CITY | The house where police found two bodies Tuesday morning is owned by an older married couple, a neighbor confirmed. 

Letha Markwardt has lived in the 300 block of 27th Street Southwest since the mid-1960s. She said she has talked to the couple in passing, who she said were "always very nice."

Police have not released the identities of the bodies found inside the house. 

"This area has had its difficulties, but you just don't think this would happen," Markwardt said late Tuesday morning. Police said the bodies were discovered during a welfare check about 7:43 a.m., but haven't provided any further information. 

She woke up around 5 a.m., and noticed police activity at her neighbors' single-story blue house around 7 or 7:30 a.m., she said.

The house, which is located across the street from the former Madison School property, is surrounded by yellow police tape. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation arrived on scene about 12:45 p.m. 

Markwardt had also met Codie Matz, who she said was "cordial" to her. Police say Matz, a Mason City resident, is wanted as a "material witness in the ongoing situation."

Matz, 25, was last seen the Mason City area around 8 a.m. Tuesday, police said. He may be in a dark green 1996 Chrysler Sebring with Iowa license plate LE007 and may be armed, according to police. 

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Mason City Police Department at 641-421-3636.

Several social media posts and comments claimed the Mason City Family YMCA, located about a mile from the house where the bodies were found, was on lock down this morning. The Globe Gazette confirmed with the Mason City YMCA that it was never on lock down.

This is a developing story. Check back later for more information. 


Previous story:

MASON CITY | Two bodies were discovered Tuesday morning during a welfare check at a residence in southwest Mason City, according to police. 

The Mason City Police Department said in a news release the bodies, who have not been identified, were discovered during a check of a home in the 300 block of 27th Street Southwest about 7:43 a.m. 

The single-story blue house, which was surrounded by police tape, is owned by a male and female with the same last name, according to online property records. It is located across the street from the former Madison School property. 

Police are asking for the public's help in locating Codie Michael Matz, a 25-year-old white male from Mason City. Matz is wanted as a "material witness in the ongoing situation," police said. 

Matz may be in a dark green 1996 Chrysler Sebring with Iowa license plate LE007, police said, and may be armed. 

He was last seen in the Mason City area around 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the police department at 641-421-3636.

The deaths are being investigated by the Mason City Police Department Criminal Investigation Division and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. 

This is a developing story. Check back later for more information. 


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Schickel elected mayor; two council races in runoffs

MASON CITY | Bill Schickel won election to his fourth term as mayor Tuesday night, defeating challengers Colleen Niedermayer and Alex Klein.

With complete but unofficial results, Schickel had 4,173 votes, 59.2 percent to Niedermayer witth 2,367 votes, 33.6 percent and Klein 485, 6.9 percent. There were 28 write-in votes.

Schickel was pleased with his victory but especially happy about the approval of two public issues on the ballot.

"I am so excited for Mason City and the River City Renaissance project," he said. "I'm so proud of the young people who turned out and made such a positive message."

Schickel said he is honored by his win and said he received congratulatory calls from both Niedermayer and Klein.

"I want to congratulate them on their good and positive campaigns. I want them both to be part of my `kitchen cabinet' in my administration."

Schickel was first elected mayor in 1989. He was elected again in 1997 and 2001. He resigned during his third term after being elected to the State Legislature where he served three terms.

There will be runoffs in two council elections.

In the Second Ward, the leading vote-getter was Will Symonds with 690 votes, 42.7 percent. He will be in a runoff with Troy Levenhagen, who finished second with 574 votes, 35.5 percent. Finishing third was Lionel Foster with 348 votes, 21.5 percent.

In the Fourth Ward, John Jaszewski and Matt Marquardt will be in a runoff. Jaszewski had 515 votes, 32.8 percent to Marquardt's 464 votes, 29.5 percent. Other contenders were Jack Leaman, 345, 22 percent and Phillip Sanchez, 241 votes, 15.3 percent.

For the at-large council position, Tom Thoma, running unopposed, received 5,715 votes.

With the one precinct still to report, voter turnout was 6,885 of 19,126 registered voters or 36 percent.

The runoff will be Dec. 5.

Clear Lake

In Clear Lake, there were two contested elections.

In Ward Two, Bennett Smith defeated incumbent Tony Nelson and challenger Ben Smith. Bennett Smith received 184 votes to Nelson's 147 and Ben Smith's 51.

In the at-large race, Dana Brant defeated incumbent Gary Hugi, 568 to 343.

Mayor Nelson Crabb ran unopposed for re-election.


Schickel


Iowa
Reaction mixed to Clovis' withdrawal from USDA post

DES MOINES — An Iowan found himself in the middle of a political storm last week in the nation’s capital.

Just as Senate Republicans were preparing to hold a hearing on Sam Clovis’ nomination for a federal Department of Agriculture job, his name surfaced in the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

That investigation revealed that Clovis, a former conservative radio host, economics professor and U.S. Senate candidate from northwest Iowa, had communicated with George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who has admitted to lying to the FBI about his attempts to connect the campaign with Russian officials in 2016. As part of the investigation, Clovis testified before a grand jury.

On Nov. 2, shortly after the news of his involvement broke, Clovis withdrew his name from consideration from the chief scientist post.

“The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day,” Clovis wrote in a letter to Trump. “As I am focused on your success and the success of this Administration, I do not want to be a distraction or negative influence, particularly with so much important work left to do for the American people.”

The path that led Clovis to the middle of a political maelstrom started in conservative western Iowa.

Born and raised in Kansas, Clovis came to Iowa in 2000 after serving 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, including as a fighter pilot, and working in the private sector.

In 2005 he became chairman of the business administration and economics department at Morningside College in Sioux City. Four years later he started a radio show, “Impact with Sam Clovis,” on KSCJ-AM radio in Sioux City. During this time he lived in Hinton, Iowa, a town of fewer than 1,000 people in Plymouth County, roughly 15 minutes northeast of Sioux City.

Clovis’ meteoric rise in politics perhaps in some ways started with his radio show, but officially began four years ago with the start of his campaign for the U.S. Senate.

He joined four other Republicans in running for one of Iowa’s U.S. Senate seats. Clovis’ campaign was unsuccessful; state legislator Joni Ernst won the GOP primary and later the 2014 general election.

Clovis also was nominated to run as the party’s candidate for state treasurer, but lost that general election race.

In 2015, Clovis became involved in the presidential campaign. He first aligned himself with former Texas governor Rick Perry, but later switched his support to Donald Trump. The Trump campaign made Clovis a senior adviser.

When Trump was elected, he hired Clovis as a senior adviser in the U.S. agriculture department, and over the summer nominated him to become the department’s chief scientist, who oversees the department’s $3 billion of research and investment grants. The position requires U.S. Senate confirmation.

Then the political fireworks started.

Clovis’ nomination drew scrutiny, in particular from Democrats, some agricultural groups, and scientists from 50 states who questioned his credentials. Clovis has an advanced degree in economics, but does not have agricultural science education or experience.

In a letter protesting his nomination, scientists said Congress had codified the job in the 2008 Farm Bill as one whose nominee was to be chosen from "among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education and economics."

"In every aspect, Clovis falls far short of the standards demanded by the position. While he holds a doctorate of public administration, his professional background is completely devoid of relevant scientific experience that would otherwise equip him to fulfill his duties," they wrote.

Among those signing the letter were 43 scientists from Iowa, including Cornelia Butler Flora, agriculture and life sciences professor at Iowa State University and Frederick Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State.

"Sam Clovis's decision to withdraw his nomination as chief scientist is a victory for science and our farmers who rely on agricultural research," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, said in a statement. "From Day 1 it was clear to me that Sam Clovis was the wrong choice for our farmers and ranchers. His lack of qualifications and long history of politically divisive statements were disqualifying, and the recent news surrounding his time as co-chair of the Trump campaign has raised even more questions."

The feeling is different among Clovis's Iowa supporters, who said they are disappointed he felt compelled to withdraw his nomination and that he would have served well in the post.

“It’s unfortunate, but I understand his decision,” said Steven Holt, a state legislator from Denison who supported Clovis’ 2014 campaign for the U.S. Senate. “I’m sure he thought it would be a great distraction, so he withdrew his name.”

“I think it’s unfortunate because I think he’s brilliant and I think he would have done a great job in whatever post the president put him in,” Holt said. “I found him to be a man of great integrity.”

R. Doc Zortman, of Sioux City, got to know Clovis in 2009 at tea party events and supported Clovis’ campaign for the U.S. Senate. Zortman said he, too, was disappointed that Clovis felt obligated to withdraw his name from consideration for the chief scientist post, but added that he was not surprised because he thinks Clovis was acting in a way that would not cause consternation to the Trump administration.

“Sam’s a team player,” Zortman said. “Instead of going through all that and dragging the team down, he’s a team player. Instead, he’ll stay in a position that doesn’t require a hearing.”

Clovis’ supporters in Iowa also pushed back at suggestions he was not fit for the chief scientist post. Holt said the job duties do not necessarily require an agricultural scientist, and Zortman defended Clovis’ previously stated skepticism of the human impact on climate change.

Clovis also received the support of Iowa’s pair of Republican U.S. Senators. Ernst said she was encouraged by his nomination but respected his decision to withdraw, and Chuck Grassley called Clovis’ withdrawal “a lost opportunity for a strong leader to serve America’s farmers.”

“During his nine months at USDA, he’s already made a big difference for agriculture,” Grassley said in a statement. “Sam served his country in the military and was well-suited for the position. He’s in touch with the grassroots of rural America, and however he serves next, there’s no doubt he’ll make a big contribution.”

Clovis said so long as the administration approves, he will continue to serve in his role as an adviser in the agriculture department.

Zortman said while he is disappointed Clovis felt obligated to remove his name from consideration for the chief scientist job, he thinks Clovis will be a positive influence in his current position.

“My belief is, and me being a Christian, I have the faith that everything happens for a reason,” Zortman said. “Wherever Sam ends up, God wants him there.”