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Worth County Supervisors: Hog confinement issue in state's hands

NORTHWOOD | The Worth County Board of Supervisors wants state legislators to decide how the future of hog confinements in North Iowa and beyond should be handled. 

Last week, the board decided to strike a resolution that would have encouraged the state legislature to review the master matrix formula and ask county officials to educate potential new farmers in the area about agricultural opportunities, among other actions.

Chairman Merlin Bartz said the board has been dealing with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) the past two to three months. Board members were given a petition last week with more than 130 signatures telling them to not pass the resolution, which was initially drafted Oct. 16.

"At this particular point, I think it is in the legislature’s hands," Bartz said following Monday's meeting. "We had definitely given an indication upfront that we did not feel we had the authority to pass a moratorium ... Personally, I’m kind of in the waiting mode to see what’s gonna happen during the legislative session.”

Advocates against the construction of new CAFOs cite health risks and a need for more sustainable farming. Edith Haenel, a member of Iowa Citizens for Responsible Agriculture (ICRA) — formerly Worth County Against CAFOs — was present at the board's meeting Monday.

She takes notes at each meeting and posts them to The Peoples' Minutes – Worth County, Iowa, a Facebook page dedicated to the board's meetings. Haenel said Monday she is against CAFOs because of the health risks, especially to children. 

Haenel has epilepsy, and she said the facilities can cause seizures for not just her but others who don't have a similar health history. Elected officials should be pushing for more environmental-friendly farming, she added. 

"Most of the time, people will say, 'Well, this is the only way that young people can get into farming.' That’s not true," Haenel said. "I think there’s a very strong trend of these very young, dedicated people who want to do sustainable farming."

The state legislature will reconvene in January. Haenel said the ICRA has contacted state Rep. Jane Bloomingdale about possible legislation to reverse some of the laws under the current state matrix.

Bloomingdale, a Northwood Republican who represents a district that includes Worth County, didn't return two phone messages Monday. 

Haenel said ICRA members will be attending a legislative forum in the next couple of months to continue lobbying efforts against the construction of new CAFOs.

Despite the tension between those who support and oppose the confinements, Bartz hopes the issue, as complex as it is, can be resolved by state senators and representatives.

"Iowa is well-known as an agricultural state, but that doesn’t mean that we can not, and that doesn’t mean we do not protect the health and well-being of our citizens," Bartz said.

"You have to have the right venue," he added. "And the right venue here is going to be what the state legislature decides to do in January when they convene.”

Other county supervisors, including Cerro Gordo, Floyd and Mitchell, said earlier this year they supported changes to the state's master matrix, a scoring system regulating animal confinement facilities. 

First guilty plea, indictment of Trump aides in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — On a black Monday for Donald Trump's White House, the special counsel investigating possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump presidential campaign announced the first charges, indicting Trump's former campaign chairman and revealing how an adviser lied to the FBI about meetings with Russian intermediaries.

The formal charges against a total of three people are the first public demonstration that Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team believe they have identified criminal conduct. And they send a warning that individuals in the Trump orbit who do not cooperate with Mueller's investigators, or who are believed to mislead them during questioning, could also wind up charged and facing years in prison.

Paul Manafort, who steered Trump's campaign for much of last year, and business associate Rick Gates ended the day under house arrest on charges that they funneled payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their private political work in Ukraine.

George Papadopoulos, also a former campaign adviser, faced further questioning and then sentencing in the first — and so far only — criminal case that links the Trump election effort to the Kremlin.

Manafort and Gates, who pleaded not guilty in federal court, are not charged with any wrongdoing as part of the Trump campaign, and the president immediately sought to distance himself from the allegations. He said on Twitter that the alleged crimes occurred "years ago," and he insisted anew there was "NO COLLUSION" between his campaign and Russia.

But potentially more perilous for the president was the guilty plea by former adviser Papadopoulos, who admitted in newly unsealed court papers that he was told in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" on Democratic rival Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails had been hacked.

Papadopoulos was not charged with having improper communications with Russians but rather with lying to FBI agents when asked about the contacts, suggesting that Mueller — who was appointed in May to lead the Justice Department's investigation — is prepared to indict for false statements even if the underlying conduct he uncovers might not necessarily be criminal.

The developments, including the unexpected unsealing of a guilty plea, usher Mueller's investigation into a new, more serious phase. And the revelations in the guilty plea about an adviser's Russian contacts could complicate the president's assertions that his campaign had never coordinated with the Russian government to tip the 2016 presidential election in his favor, the central issue behind Mueller's mandate.

Mueller's investigation has already shadowed the administration for months, with investigators reaching into the White House to demand access to documents and interviews with key current and former officials.

The Papadopoulos plea occurred on Oct. 5 but was not unsealed until Monday, creating further woes for an administration that had prepared over the weekend to deflect the Manafort allegations. In court papers, Papadopoulos admitted lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with "foreign nationals" who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials.

The court filings don't provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.

Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to the court papers. His lawyers hinted strongly in a statement Monday that their client has more testimony to provide.

There, too, the White House scrambled to contain the potential fallout, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders contending that Papadopoulos' role in the campaign was "extremely limited." She said that "any actions that he took would have been on his own."

The criminal case against Manafort, who surrendered to the FBI in the morning, had long been expected.

The indictment naming him and Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.

Outside the courthouse, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing attacked the charges and said "there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government."

Manafort's indictment doesn't reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between Russia and campaign aides. But it does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

US court bars Trump from reversing transgender troops policy

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Monday barred President Donald Trump's administration from proceeding with plans to exclude transgender people from military service.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the transgender service members who had sued over Trump's policy were likely to win their lawsuit. She directed a return to the situation that existed before Trump announced his new policy this summer, saying the administration had provided no solid evidence for why a ban should be implemented.

Trump had ordered a reinstatement of the longstanding policy that barred transgender individuals from joining the military; service members who were revealed to be transgender were subject to discharge. Under President Barack Obama, that policy was changed last year to allow transgender people to serve openly.

The Trump administration may appeal Kollar-Kotelly's decision, but for now, the proposed ban remains unenforceable under Kollar-Kotelly's preliminary injunction.

"We disagree with the court's ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps," said Justice Department spokesman Lauren Ehrsam.

She reiterated the department's view that the lawsuit was premature because the Pentagon still was in the process of reviewing how the transgender policy might evolve.

One of the attorneys handling the lawsuit, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the ruling was an enormous relief to his clients.

"Their lives have been devastated since Trump first tweeted he was reinstating the ban," Minter said. "They are now able to serve on equal terms with everyone else."

Trump announced on Twitter in July that the government "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." He followed with an August memo directing the Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals joining the military, and gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to come up with a policy on "how to address" those who are serving.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Defense had announced in 2016 that service members could not be discharged solely based on their gender identity. Transgender individuals were to be allowed to enlist in the military in June 2017, a timeline initially delayed under the Trump administration to Jan. 1, 2018.

Minter said the new court ruling means they will be able to enlist as of that date.

The Trump administration had asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit; Kollar-Kotelly refused to do so, and Minter said it's possible the case will go to trial.

One issue not directly addressed in Monday's ruling was whether federal funds should be used to pay for sexual reassignment surgeries for members of the military. The administration has sought to prohibit such payments; Kollar-Kotelly said she didn't have jurisdiction to rule on the issue because none of the plaintiffs in the case established a likelihood of being impacted by that prohibition.

The lawsuit was filed in August by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of eight transgender individuals, including service members in the Air Force, Coast Guard and the Army, as well as students at the U.S. Naval Academy and in the ROTC program at the University of New Haven.

The Justice Department, in seeking the lawsuit's dismissal, said none of the plaintiffs had established that they will be impacted by current policies on military service.

The two advocacy groups who filed the lawsuit assailed that assertion. They highlighted the uncertainty facing Regan Kibby, the transgender Naval Academy student who — because of Trump's action — was unsure whether he would be able to join the Navy on graduation.

Kollar-Kotelly said the plaintiffs clearly established that they would be harmed by the administration's directives. She also contended that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in arguing that the directives were unconstitutionally discriminatory — targeting transgender people without evidence that their service caused substantive problems for the military.

The directives "do not appear to be supported by any facts," the judge wrote.

Other lawsuits challenging president's directive have been filed in Seattle and Baltimore.

Oral arguments are scheduled Nov. 9 for the Baltimore lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six transgender service members.

Online Editor / ARIAN SCHUESSLER, The Globe Gazette 

Randy Meyer, who oversaw transportation and grounds operations in Mason City and Clear Lake in 2015, shows where an exterior camera would be installed on a school bus in June 2015. 

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Solberg criticizes mayoral candidate Schickel over decades-old Mason City paving project

MASON CITY | Outgoing City Councilwoman Janet Solberg has criticized fellow council member and mayoral candidate Bill Schickel over delays in a paving project that began 27 years ago when Schickel was mayor.

In 1990, the city received a state Community Development Block Grant for $600,000 -- and provided a $113,889 local match -- to pave streets and make other improvements in Central Heights, a southwest neighborhood Solberg represents on the council.

Some of the state money was reportedly used for other purposes. When the city applied for funds the following year to complete the project, its request was denied.

The year after that, the state, who says it doesn't have a record of the 1990 grant, changed the guidelines, no longer funding paving projects through the block grants. As a result, some Central Heights streets were not paved and remain unpaved today.

A citizens group led by Mark and Donna Holt are now working with city officials to get the paving done.

In her Oct. 17 Facebook post, which cannot be viewed publicly, Solberg did not mention Schickel by name. 

She wrote, "I am not looking to get political on here, but as you are getting ready to vote in the upcoming election, please note who the mayor was from 1990-1993 when our money for our street paving mysteriously disappeared ...then was elected mayor again from 1998 to 2002. Please get yourself informed. This is your time to use your vote to make decisions on who represents Central Heights' best interests."

Schickel was mayor during both time periods mentioned in the Facebook post.

Solberg, a former president of the Central Heights Neighborhood Association, has discussed the paving delays in the past but has never mentioned funding "mysteriously" disappearing. She is not seeking re-election to the council. 

While no specific paperwork is available, state and former city officials have said the money was used for other city projects that were deemed a higher priority at the time. 

Schickel is in a three-way race for mayor with NIACC student Alex Klein and Lehigh Cement quality control manager Colleen Niedermayer. Solberg did not endorse any mayoral candidate in her post. 

Mark Holt, who said he had been working with former City Administrator Brent Trout and Public Works Director Mark Rahm to get the streets paved, has not pointed any fingers as to who was at fault for the delays.

He said in a recent interview with the Globe Gazette, "The past is the past. We're making good progress working with the city and we're going to get this done."

Schickel said Monday, "I am very encouraged by the recent progress we have made on getting the streets paved. I will continue to work to get the job done. Finger-pointing does not solve problems. That's why I am running a 100 percent positive campaign."

Solberg didn't respond to a email request for comment Monday. 


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