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Habitat fundraiser raises $50K for North Iowa home projects (with photos)

MASON CITY | Habitat for Humanity of North Central Iowa’s largest annual fundraiser Thursday evening was a success.

That’s what Melissa Schoneberg, Habitat for Humanity of North Central Iowa executive director, said Friday afternoon.

“It was amazing,” she said. “We had more people than we imagined, and the dresses were so creative. We’re very appreciative to all the people who came out to support it.”

Hammers & Heels for Habitat — in its third year — raised nearly $50,000, which is about $80,000 more than last year’s event.

The event drew more than 300 people to The Music Man Square in Mason City for an evening where construction met couture. It featured a fashion show, live and silent auctions and food and drinks.

“We’ll have great ways to help people in our area with safe and affordable housing thanks to this fundraiser,” she said.

Habitat for Humanity of North Central Iowa, a nonprofit Christian housing ministry financed through local private and corporate donations, serves Cerro Gordo, Hancock, Franklin, Winnebago, Worth and Wright counties through its homeownership and home repair programs.

Habitat has provided homeownership opportunities to 50 families and completed 12 home repairs throughout the six-county region.

The fashion show showcased the creativity of 10 area businesses that designed construction-material dresses that were modeled on the runway during the event.

Participating businesses were Paint Me Gourmet, Crown Point Builders Inc. of Garner, Dean Snyder Construction of Clear Lake, MBT Bank, Diamond Jo Casino of Northwood, Floor to Ceiling, WWA Architecture + Planning, Hy-Vee East, Market 124 and Habitat for Humanity.

Backsplash tile, paint samples, house wrap, duct tape, hardware and landscape materials were among the dress components.

A panel of judges awarded awards in eight categories and the audience voted for its favorite dress through donations in the People’s Choice Award.

The awards were as follows:

• Most wearable: WWA Architecture + Planning, which paid tribute to nearly a century of architecture and design in North Iowa beginning with the Waggoner family with its 1920s-inspired dress.

• Best craftsmanship: Diamond Jo Casino, which featured shredded art in its 99 percent construction materials dress using plastic tarp, canvas drop cloth, mesh cargo tarp and more.

• Best use of construction materials: Crown Point Builders Inc., which used 100 percent construction materials to design a “voluminous gown fit for a socialite.”

• Bling factor/best accessory: Dean Snyder Construction, which used butterfly adornments and a mermaid-esque silhouette for its 100 percent construction materials dress.

• Most creative: Paint Me Gourmet, which illustrated Red Riding Hood's slaying of the Big Bad Wolf through the use of a cape included in its design.

• Most colorful: Hy-Vee East, which designed a dress all about paint—paint samples, paint brushes and even painter’s tape.

• Most eclectic: Market 124, which designed a Victorian steampunk-inspired dress re-purposing materials from historic Mason City buildings.

• People’s choice and Best of Show: MBT Bank, which designed a Wizard of Oz-inspired dress with shoes emblazed with backsplash tile.

“They really wowed the crowd,” Schoneberg said.

Habitat for Humanity’s Asian-style dress was inspired by items donated by the Habitat ReStore.

Schoneberg said Habitat events, like Hammers & Heels, are “extremely important” for the organization because it relies on the local funds for its projects.

“It truly is neat to see with the division in the world now between politics and different things so many different groups and community people come together to support a great cause,” she said. “We’re glad they chose to support us.”

N. Korea glorifies summit with South; analysts less sure

GOYANG, South Korea — North Korea's state media today trumpeted leader Kim Jong Un's "immortal achievement" a day after he met South Korean President Moon Jae-in and repeated past vows to remove nuclear weapons from the peninsula and work toward a formal end to the Korean War. Despite the bold declarations, the leaders failed to provide any new measures on a nuclear standoff that has captivated and terrified millions, and analysts expressed doubts on whether the summit represented a real breakthrough.

The North's official Korean Central News Agency, in typically fawning language, reported that the leaders exchanged "honest and heartfelt talks" at a summit that "was a realization of the supreme leader's blazing love for the nation and unyielding will for self-reliance." The state propaganda arm said Kim's "immortal achievement will be brightly engraved in the history of the Korean nation's unification."

Even if the substance on nuclear matters was light, the images Friday at Panmunjom were striking: Kim and Moon set aside a year that saw them seemingly on the verge of war, grasped hands and strode together across the cracked concrete slab that marks the Koreas' border.

The sight, inconceivable just months ago, allowed the leaders to step forward toward the possibility of a cooperative future even as they acknowledged a fraught past and the widespread skepticism that, after decades of failed diplomacy, things will be any different this time.

On the nuclear issue, the leaders merely repeated a previous vow to rid their peninsula of nuclear weapons, saying they will achieve a "nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization." This kicks one of the world's most pressing issues down the road to a much-anticipated summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in coming weeks.

"There is no reference to verification, timetables, or an attempt to define the word 'complete.' It does not reiterate or advance Pyongyang's unilateral offer to halt nuclear and ICBM tests," said Adam Mount, a senior defense analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. "In practice, this statement should enable a U.S.-North Korea summit to detail specifics about what, when, and how denuclearization would occur, but it has not offered a head start on that process. All of the negotiation is left to a U.S. team that is understaffed and has little time to prepare."

On Friday, Trump claimed credit for the inter-Korean summit, but now faces a burden in helping turn the Korean leaders' bold but vague vision for peace into reality after more than six decades of hostility.

Trump must contend with two nagging suspicions: first about his own suitability to conduct that kind of war-and-peace negotiation and succeed where his predecessors have failed; secondly, whether Kim really is willing to give up the nuclear weapons his nation took decades acquiring.

"It is still unclear whether North Korea still believes that it can have its cake and eat it too," said Victor Cha, who until January had been in the running to become Trump's choice for ambassador to South Korea. Cha said that while the atmospherics of the inter-Korean summit got an "A'' grade, the meeting had failed to clarify whether Kim is willing to give up his nukes or is interested in just freezing his programs in return for sanctions relief and economic and energy assistance.

At a White House news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump basked in the afterglow of the feel-good meeting between Kim and Moon, and said he has a responsibility to try to achieve peace and denuclearization.

"And if I can't do it, it'll be a very tough time for a lot of countries, and a lot of people. It's certainly something that I hope I can do for the world," he said.

The summit produced the spectacle of two men from Korean nations with a deep and bitter history of acrimony grinning from ear to ear after Kim walked over the border to greet Moon, becoming the first leader of his nation to set foot on southern soil since the Korean War. Both leaders then briefly stepped together into the North and back to the South.

The summit marks a surreal, whiplash swing in relations for the countries, from nuclear threats and missile tests to intimations of peace and cooperation. Perhaps the change is best illustrated by geography: Kim and Moon's historic handshake and a later 30-minute conversation at a footbridge on the border occurred within walking distance of the spot where a North Korean soldier fled south in a hail of gunfire last year, and where North Korean soldiers killed two U.S. soldiers with axes in 1976.

Standing next to Moon after the talks ended, Kim faced a wall of cameras beaming his image live to the world and declared that the Koreas are "linked by blood as a family and compatriots who cannot live separately."

The latest declaration between the Koreas, Kim said, should not repeat the "unfortunate history of past inter-Korean agreements that only reached the starting line" before becoming derailed.

Trump tweeted Friday, "KOREAN WAR TO END!" and said the U.S. "should be very proud of what is now taking place in Korea!" Both Koreas agreed to jointly push for talks this year with the U.S. and also potentially China to officially end the Korean War, which stopped with an armistice that never ended the war.

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Iowa governor reverses course, orders harassment review

DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered an independent review Friday into problems at a state agency where the director allegedly sexually harassed female employees for years without consequence, reversing what the governor had told reporters earlier in the day.

Reynolds had told reporters Friday morning that no further investigation of the Iowa Finance Authority was necessary because its former director, her longtime ally Dave Jamison, was responsible for the problems and that she had fired him.

But by Friday afternoon, Reynolds announced that she and the attorney general's office had selected prominent white-collar attorney Mark Weinhardt to lead an independent review. She said Weinhardt would investigate Jamison's conduct during his 7-year tenure as director and "what was known at IFA about these matters and the appropriateness of the response to them."

Reynolds said in a statement that she had been reluctant to investigate earlier because she wanted to protect the safety and privacy of two victims who reported "horrible allegations" to her office last month.

"Now that one of the victims has made the decision to release the specific details of the harassment, I am ordering an independent review of David Jamison's conduct and what was known about it," she said.

The woman's attorney had said she agreed to the release of her complaint with redactions after The Associated Press sought the document under the open records law.

The hiring of Weinhardt marks a second reversal for the governor in the case of Jamison, whom the governor has known well for 20 years. Last week, she said that no documentary evidence of his harassment existed before releasing Thursday a graphic complaint addressed to Reynolds that detailed behavior that she called "disgusting and abhorrent."

Weinhardt helped document one of Iowa's biggest corruption scandals in recent memory when he was hired by the Iowa Senate to investigate then-Sen. Kent Sorenson for allegedly seeking cash payments for endorsing GOP presidential candidates during the 2012 Iowa Caucus cycle. Sorenson was later convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Reynolds fired Jamison last month, a day after two employees told the governor's office that he had been sexually harassing them. The complaint from one of the women released Thursday alleged Jamison made unwanted sexual advances, comments about her breasts and constant crude sexual remarks and gestures.

The woman wrote that a male agency lawyer often told Jamison "that he needs to stop it or be quiet," and that a male agency administrator had reprimanded Jamison for inappropriate comments. Reynolds said she understood that they may have feared retaliation if they stepped forward to complain.

The woman said she reported the behavior to the governor because she worried Jamison would be cleared or she would be fired if she contacted a separate state agency that reviews human resources issues for state employees.

Attorney Paige Fiedler, who's representing one of the victims, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on the independent review. But Fiedler said Thursday that any "responsible employer" would typically investigate such complaints to determine the extent of the problems, who was aware of them and why they weren't reported. Fiedler, a prominent attorney for sexual harassment victims, said such inquiries happen even after the perpetrator has been fired because there are lessons to be learned.

"A lot of those management folks knew what was going on. I think everybody had the moral obligation and the obligation under the state's policies to report it," she said.

Fiedler said she believed that employees feared retaliation, and that Jamison had created an environment where such behavior was tolerated.

"He had made the culture of that department such that, everybody seemed to think that was just what you did there. This was the way that he ran things," she said.

Jamison hasn't spoken publicly about the allegations, but said in a text message Friday he was planning to do so "soon."

Democratic lawmakers have called for an independent investigation, saying it's important to know the details of any prior complaints against Jamison and how they were handled.

Interim IFA Director Carolann Jensen had said Thursday that there was no pending investigation at the agency and that the governor's office hadn't reached out about launching one.

"This is not indicative of the work environment at the Iowa Finance Authority," she said. "Clearly the bad apple has been dismissed."