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Cerro Gordo supervisors approve plan to hear CAFO complaints

MASON CITY | Cerro Gordo supervisors passed a resolution Tuesday adopting the state's master matrix for evaluating confinement feeding operations.

Planning and Zoning Administrator John Robbins said the resolution gives the county the authority to hear complaints about the matrix and make appeals to the Department of Natural Resources on behalf of county residents in disputes over concentrated animal feeding operations.

The matrix is a state set of guidelines used to determine whether a property owner meets qualifications to build CAFOs.

Many North Iowa residents have complained that the matrix has too many loopholes that make CAFO approval too easy.

Counties have the right to appeal to the Department of Natural Resources to stop CAFO construction, but Robbins said if the CAFO passes the matrix test, the DNR will not grant the appeal.

Cerro Gordo County supervisors experienced that in 2016 when they appealed to the DNR to reject a CAFO application but were rebuffed because it met the matrix requirements.

Supervisor Casey Callanan said the county was not required to pass the resolution Tuesday but that it creates the venue for citizens to air complaints and for supervisors to hear them.

"That's important," said Supervisor Tim Latham."It's good for us to have the input."

In other business Tuesday, Callanan was elected chairman for the third consecutive year. Chris Watts was elected vice chairman.

Supervisors also approved appointments to 29 boards and committees.

'A piece of Eleuthera:' Mason City couple appears on TV series 'Bahamas Life'

MASON CITY | Nearly a decade ago, Jodi and Kevin Hardy of Mason City fell in love with the Bahamas.

Its beauty, its food and its people.

“It’s hard to come home from there,” Jodi said. “I love it. It’s a dream come true.”

The couple purchased their own sliver of paradise on the Bahamian island of Eleuthera for their family to enjoy, and on Monday, their experience was featured in an episode of HGTV’s new beach lifestyle series “Bahamas Life.”

According to the HGTV website, “Bahamas Life” provides an “insider’s look at what it really takes for prospective homebuyers to make their Bahamian dream a reality.” The series premiered on Monday with two episodes, including “From Iowa to Eleuthera” featuring the Mason City couple and their six children. The show airs at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Sundays.

“It was so fun to be able to share a little bit of our heaven with people we love who may not be able to go,” Jodi said about the show airing New Year's Day. “That was the exciting part.”

Jodi said when she and Kevin first visited the island in 2008, airfare and lodging to the Bahamas was expensive, but within the past few years, it became “very affordable” and “attainable,” so they started looking to buy a property.

The couple purchased Serendipity, a 1,200-square-foot oceanfront property in Eleuthera, for $327,000.

The Hardy family's Bahamian home

Serendipity is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the Caribbean Sea that’s less than one mile from Rainbow Bay Beach. It features a hide-a-bed in the living area with a deck, a central-air system and a view of the sea from three sides of the property.

Kevin and Jodi said the house provides access to “amazing” snorkeling, spear-fishing and sunset views as well as the opportunity to make “really cool” décor from things they find along the shore.

“I would’ve taken a shack, a one-room shack as long as it was a piece of that rock, a piece of Eleuthera,” Jodi said. “I would’ve taken anything ... We couldn’t be happier with the house.”

The couple and their six children between the ages of 5 and 14 take a trip to the Bahamas every summer and a few times throughout the year as their work and school schedules allow. Kevin is the owner of Cutting Edge Tree Services in Mason City, and Jodi is the owner-operator of Hardy Homes in Mason City.

When the episode aired on Monday, Jodi and Kevin saw it for the first time.

“When all our friends and family saw it, we saw it,” she said.

Jodi said something that wasn’t conveyed in the episode featuring her family was how hard it worked to make its dream of owning a Bahamian house a reality as a young family in North Iowa that isn’t wealthy.

“I want people to know we worked really, really hard for this over the past 10 years, and they can have this, too,” she said. “Anybody can have this.”

Since the couple purchased the house, it’s rented it to four guests, and they’ve booked one more since the show aired.

Iowa governor's budget transfer was illegal, lawsuit claims

IOWA CITY  — Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and a top aide broke the law when they transferred $13 million from a reserve fund to balance the budget, a Democratic lawmaker argues in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit was filed against Reynolds and Department of Management director Dave Roederer by Rep. Chris Hall of Sioux City, ranking member on the House Appropriations committee.

It asks a court to declare that Reynolds' proclamation ordering the fund transfer in September was illegal and to void "all actions" taken as a result. The lawsuit notes that Reynolds and Roederer could be "liable to the state for $13 million together with interest" if a jury agrees that the transfer was a misuse of appropriations but stops short of asking for that result.

Reynolds' press secretary Brenna Smith said the governor's office is reviewing the lawsuit, which she called politically motivated.

At issue is whether the administration acted legally in September when transferring $13 million from the State Economic Emergency Fund, which was created to cushion the blow of fiscal downturns on core services. The case could be a headache for Reynolds, who succeeded Terry Branstad last May, as she runs for her own four-year term in this year's elections, although its merits might not be decided until 2019 or beyond.

State law allows governors to transfer up to $50 million from the fund when certain conditions are met, including that annual general fund revenue collections be at least 0.5 percent less than estimated by the state's revenue-estimating panel during the third quarter of the year. The $7.1 billion collected for the general fund in fiscal year 2017 was only 0.15 percent — or $11 million — lower than the panel's March 2017 estimate, not enough to trigger the governor's transfer authority, the lawsuit claims.

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald, a Democrat, had warned Reynolds in September that the transfer would be illegal on that basis and could invite legal action.

Reynolds dismissed that interpretation of the law, accusing Fitzgerald of playing "gotcha" politics.

Her aides have argued the governor's transfer authority was triggered when the March 2017 estimate came in 1.5 percent lower than the estimate at its prior meeting in December 2016. They note that the panel no longer meets quarterly, as it did when the emergency fund was created in 2004. Smith said lawmakers are "free to change the outdated transfer statute and we'd encourage them to do so."

Hall's lawsuit argues that, based on the current language of the law, "there is no meaningful dispute" that the conditions to allow the transfer weren't met. That's important because the requirements were intended to distinguish between "shortfalls that are the product of true economic emergencies from those that are the foreseeable result of years of fiscal mismanagement," the lawsuit says.

Hall said he filed the lawsuit "only after significant thought and consideration," calling the case an effort to protect taxpayers and hold the executive branch accountable.

Reynolds ordered the transfer after her administration said the 2017 budget had a $14.6 million shortfall.

Legislative analysts in July had put the shortfall much higher, at $100 million, and some lawmakers believed Reynolds would have to call them back to a special session to fill the hole. But Reynolds and Roederer said that step was unnecessary because the budget ended in far better shape once late tax payments and adjustments were counted and she could make the transfer to cover the remaining deficit.

Democrats have expressed skepticism about the administration's accounting, and the lawsuit gives them the opportunity to learn from officials under oath about how the budget gap shrank. The lawsuit alleges that Reynolds wanted to avoid a special session because it would have drawn "attention to her inability to adequately manage the state's fiscal affairs."


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Mason City man charged three days in a row for huffing, OWI fights with same cop twice


MASON CITY | A Mason City man is in jail after being charged three days in a row for huffing, operating while intoxicated and fighting with same police officer twice over the weekend.  

Robert Michael McFarland, 38, was first charged with misdemeanor inhalation of toxic vapors about 12:30 p.m. Friday when he was observed by Mason City Police officers taking several "hits" or "huffs" from a can of compressed air duster, court documents said.

McFarland was allegedly huffing while sitting in his car, a blue 1995 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, in the Walmart Supercenter parking lot.

About 4:48 p.m. Saturday, McFarland is accused of inhaling air duster in the public bathroom at Target.

According to charging documents, McFarland was also charged with interference with official acts for not listening to Mason City Police Sgt. Steve Klemas. Police say he was locked in a bathroom stall and would not come out. 

When McFarland did leave the stall, court documents say he resisted by not complying with instructions to place his hands behind his back when Klemas attempted to detain him. 

After a short struggle, Klemas detained McFarland, who was in possession of two cans of air duster, according to court documents. 

He was charged and brought to jail Sunday for operating while under the influence — second offense — and interference with official acts.

About 3:40 p.m. Sunday, Mason City police and the Iowa State Patrol were called to the Walmart parking lot where McFarland was allegedly inhaling aerosol cans.

McFarland left the area and was discovered passed out in his vehicle in a snowbank in the Gracious Estates parking lot, according to police. He also allegedly hit a parked vehicle in the mobile home park. 

McFarland's car was running and in drive when law enforcement arrived, according to charging documents. 

McFarland then began fighting with Klemas and continued to resist arrest, court documents say. 

Klemas and the trooper performed several tests and determined McFarland appeared to be impaired on an aerosol inhalant.

McFarland is being held in Cerro Gordo County Jail on $2,000 bond. No court dates have been set.