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Governor touts opportunity in Mason City visit, some attendees question proposed budget cuts

MASON CITY | Mason City's Cabin Coffee Co. was packed Wednesday afternoon with North Iowans and local politicians wanting to hear Gov. Kim Reynolds summarize her Condition of the State address from Tuesday.

Reynolds highlighted the importance of education statewide, along with assisting K-12 students with job training outside of the traditional K-12 format.

"We want children to know at the earliest age they have options," she said in a speech to the approximately 35 people in attendance. 

Both Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg noted there is great opportunity for job growth statewide, with hundreds of jobs being added in several small towns.

Several in attendance questioned Reynolds about her proposed budget, and the negative impact it could have on different sectors. One woman asked about how mental health facilities would continue to assist those in need, despite a shortage of beds.

Reynolds answered that the shortage isn't the problem, but rather better allocating resources.

"It's not really a shortage of beds," Reynolds responded. "It's the type of beds."

In an interview with reporters after her speech, she questioned Democrats who weren't happy with where the state is headed, noting Iowa is a great place to work and live, and that job growth is evident.

She also addressed the fact that her current budget proposes $1.81 million in cuts to community colleges, which could hurt institutions like North Iowa Area Community College. 

"The fact of the matter is we have to balance our books," Reynolds said about that specific cut. "That means everyone has to pull up their boots and get it done ... they're (community colleges) a big, big piece of the Future Ready Iowa Initiative."

North Iowa Democrats find fault with governor's proposed budget

MASON CITY | North Iowa Democrats got together Wednesday to assess Gov. Kim Reynolds' state-of-the-state address — and they were not impressed.

"Local Iowans are standing up in opposition to Gov. Reynolds' devastating policies and misplaced priorities," said Troy Price, state party chairman. He led a discussion involving 10 of the party faithful at Borealis Station on East State Street.

Most of the concerns were about the Republican governor's proposed budget cuts, particularly in education and in Department of Human Services funding.

Mark Suby of Mason City touched on two other issues that concern him: the role of the state in regulating concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the lack of state action on water quality.

"My question to Kim Reynolds is why do people like us have to pay for the pollution?" he said.

Tracy Smith of Clear Lake said corporate farmers and other big companies often skirt the law. "It's cheaper to pay a fine than to do it right the first time," she said.

Mary Beth Greenan said, "We need to have a strong agenda and strong candidates, beginning with the governor."

Price said Democrats are planning to hold meetings across the state, like the one Wednesday in Mason City, to share their stories and set priorities. The meeting was held the same day Reynolds visited Mason City. 

Man sentenced to prison for hurting Charles City baby 'not a mean and violent boy', letters to judge say

CHARLES CITY | A 19-year-old Boone man has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to injuring his girlfriend's 2-month-old baby boy in Charles City in October 2016. 

Judge DeDra Schroeder on Monday sentenced Nathan Douglas Jacobson to a prison term not to exceed five years, with credit for time served. A $750 fine was suspended.

Police said Jacobson dropped, shook and slapped the 2-month-old, causing bruising on his face and head, subdural bleeding, retinal bleeding and an altered mental status, according to court documents. 

Criminal complaint - Nathan Jacobson

Jacobson was initially charged with felony child endangerment causing serious injury but pleaded down to a lesser felony, child endangerment causing bodily injury. He filed a written plea of guilty to the amended charge on Nov. 6. 

Floyd County District Court in December received 20 letters of recommendations and character references on Jacobson’s behalf.

Letters range from family members and friends to Boone Community School District employees. Many of the letters asked for compassionate sentencing and claimed Jacobson never meant to purposely hurt the baby.

"He was a kid that was in the wrong place at the wrong time," his uncle Eric Jacobson wrote. 

Rhesa Dane, Jacobson's great aunt, claims he accidentally dropped the baby in a "frightening incident" when the 2-month-old allegedly twisted out of his arms. 

"He was a minor when this happened and trying to tend to the child to the best of his ability," Dane wrote. 

Letters of recommendation and character references for Nathan Jacobson

Jacobson was 17 years old when the incident occurred, a point noted in several letters as well.

"He lost everything in an instant," his grandmother Rebecca Aspengren said. "This is not a mean and violent boy." 

One letter noted the child was not biologically his, but he loved the mother, who was 20 at the time, and cared for her child.  

"On a visit to our house shortly after the baby was born, Nathan showed nothing but compassion, patience and competence in caring for the child," his mother Melissa Jacobson said. 

The Globe Gazette is not publishing the full letters from Jacobson's grandmother and mother, as they contain information that identifies the victim. 

Many of the letters reference Jacobson's "chaotic" childhood and his drive to get his high school diploma through this incident. 

Kim Kitterman, Futures director and teacher at Boone Schools, noted Jacobson graduated from the district in 2017 and was talented in football, art and music. 

"While at Futures, Nate was always respectful and police to his peers, teachers and staff," Kitterman wrote, describing Jacobson as a "very intelligent young man" who completed assignments on time and had good attendance. 

As a sophomore, Jacobson had family members who needed his help, Boone High School At-Risk Coordinator Todd Smith wrote, which led him to enroll in Futures, the district's alternative school. 

"I do not know the situation he finds himself in today, before the court," Smith wrote. "I do know that Nate has a good soul and character. He simply puts himself in hard situations to help others, which costs Nate a great deal."

Pamela Nystrom, a retired Boone Schools administrator, said Jacobson "stood by her (girlfriend) and tried to create a home for himself, the girl and the little boy. Nathan was very young to carry this responsibility, I believe he was 17."

Nystrom said the charges shocked her, because "he never seemed like an angry person or was ever volataile in his actions/reactions toward others."

Georgia Robertson of Des Moines said she had known Jacobson since he was in second grade when she was a mentoring facilitator with Youth & Shelter Services. He was in the program for seven years, according to Robertson. 

"I really got to know Nathan and was in total shock when I heard what he had been charged with," she wrote.

She said he was a hard worker in school and called him a kindhearted, empathetic young man. 

"The events that happened to the baby who was in his care had to have been an accident, there is no way Nathan could have intentionally hurt this baby," Robertson said. 

Jacobson filed an appeal Monday.

Mary Pieper /   


Iowa coach Ferentz faces an unusual rival: his neighbors

IOWA CITY | Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz is facing a challenge from an unlikely opponent: his neighbors.

A Feb. 6 trial is scheduled in a lawsuit that pits the nation's longest-tenured college football coach and his wife against the three other families who live along a private road outside Iowa City. A judge is expected to decide whether the Ferentzes breached a 2001 agreement and trespassed by planting trees and installing landscaping items that neighbors say encroach onto Saddle Club Road.

The lawsuit is part of a long-running dispute in which Ferentz and his wife, Mary, have been portrayed as difficult, stingy and privacy-obsessed, clashing with their image as friendly philanthropists who support the Iowa Children's Hospital.

A judge ruled in September that the Ferentzes aren't required to join the homeowners' association that their neighbors formed in 2015 to share road maintenance costs. That freed the Ferentzes from having to pay a $9,400 assessment for road repairs and dissolved a lien the association obtained on their property to collect payment.

The Iowa Supreme Court recently declined to hear the neighbors' appeal, setting up trial on remaining claims.

One neighbor has testified that they "bent over backward" to reach agreement with the Ferentzes but were rebuffed repeatedly. The Ferentzes' attorney has argued that the case is about property rights, saying owners cannot be subjected to restrictions to which they haven't agreed.

Lawyers for both sides declined to comment for this story.

Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes since 1999 and is Iowa's highest-paid public employee. His contract will pay $5.2 million this year, including a $500,000 bonus for an eight-win season.

The dispute dates to early in Ferentz's tenure, when his family bought land on the single-lane gravel road.

Neighbors John and Ann Marie Buatti proposed subdividing their 20-acre property for a development that would include a road resurfacing and extension. They wanted space for their children to ride bikes.

Mary Ferentz objected, saying she wanted the road kept gravel and the neighborhood to remain rural for privacy reasons.

"What I remember distinctly is she looked at me and said, 'No, you don't understand who I am.' ... I was a little bit taken back," John Buatti testified. "For me it was the safety of my children, not who she was or why that would matter."

To resolve the conflict, the neighbors signed a 2001 agreement that called for the formation of a homeowners' association to establish procedures for sharing road maintenance costs. It said that if any party changed the roadway surface to something other than gravel, they couldn't force others to pay for it.

The Buattis subdivided their property once and developer Gary Watts moved in. Saying the road was filled with potholes, Watts paid in 2003 to change the gravel surface to chip and seal. Mary Ferentz was opposed.

In 2015, the neighbors agreed the road needed repairs. They founded the Saddle Club Road Homeowners' Association, saying it was called for in the 2001 agreement. The association assessed each neighbor for a $37,000 repair project and established a $5,000 annual maintenance fund, partly to trim "obstructive branches" from the Ferentzes' trees.

The Ferentzes told their neighbors in a letter they weren't required to join because the 2001 agreement required a unanimous vote to form the association. They noted they opposed the 2003 road resurfacing, which brought more "stalkers and gawkers" to the neighborhood. The couple added that their road maintenance costs have doubled but they'd be willing to pay under a less formal agreement.

The association sued, alleging the couple violated its bylaws, breached the 2001 agreement and trespassed. The Ferentzes countersued, seeking an order declaring they aren't association members.

Judge Kevin McKeever ruled that the 2001 agreement required the Ferentzes to join an association but not the one formed because it was structured differently than what had been envisioned. He ordered the other claims to go to trial.