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Iowa State quarterback Zeb Noland (4) throws a pass over Oklahoma State linebacker Justin Phillips (19) during the second half of Saturday's game.

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Mason City councilman admits to leaking confidential memo on fire chief

MASON CITY | A Mason City councilman acknowledged Monday to leaking a confidential memo on the fire chief's employment status. 

Mason City Fire Chief Al Dyer Jr. was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 2 pending an administrative investigation. Dyer didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from the Globe Gazette Monday afternoon. 

Councilman John Lee acknowledged on Monday he provided the memo to a KIMT-TV reporter when the reporter inquired about it when they saw each other in a grocery store.

"I take full responsibility. I don't want anyone else to be blamed. It wasn't meant to be malicious or devious. It was just a major screw-up on my part. Call me ignorant and trusting, I guess," Lee told the Globe Gazette. 

The memo was sent to several city officials by Interim City Administrator Kevin Jacobson. In it, Jacobson stressed the matter was a confidential personnel matter and should not be discussed with anyone.

He also consulted with the city's labor attorney, Michael Galloway of Ahlers & Cooney in Des Moines, who told him discussion of the matter could result in potential liability to the city, according to the memo.

Jacobson, Mayor Eric Bookmeyer and Human Resources Director Perry Buffington were all asked by the Globe Gazette why Dyer was not at work last week and if he was on leave for any reason. All declined to comment.

They did say there was no change in his status -- that he was still the fire chief.

Dyer, 46, began work as chief in October 2016. His salary is $98,197.

He came to Mason City from Lincoln Park, Michigan, where he had served for 22 years, including two years as chief. He also served as fire marshal and director of emergency management in Lincoln Park, a city of 35,000 near Detroit.

According to his resume, his education includes a bachelor's degree from Siena Heights University, in Marian, Michigan, in 2012; Eastern Michigan University School of Fire Staff and Command in which he was class president, 20120; and a master's degree in homeland security and emergency management, also from Eastern Michigan University, 2014.

He replaced Chief Bob Platts, who retired.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette  


Disabled Garner man who claims he had to crawl to his vehicle sues Fleet Farm

MASON CITY | A disabled Garner man is suing Mills Fleet Farm and a manager at its Mason City store after he says he was denied use of an electric wheelchair. 

The civil lawsuit, which was filed in Cerro Gordo County District Court last week, claims Shane Zahn, 53, an amputee, had to walk on his hands and knees to reach his vehicle after leaving the store.

Fleet Farm officials said Monday some details in the suit "surprised" them and they are seeking legal counsel for the case.

Zahn, whose right leg is amputated below the knee, along with most of his left foot, used the store's electric wheelchair for shopping in the store, as well as transport to and from his vehicle, the lawsuit says.

The person who was with Zahn or a store employee would bring the wheelchair to the parking lot and back to the store, according to the lawsuit. 

In the lawsuit, Zahn said manager Matt Albertson denied him access to use the wheelchair outside of the store.

Zahn posted a Facebook video of himself that day leaving the store on his knees. The video has been viewed more than 13.8 million times, and been shared by more than 153,000 people.

Zahn said he returned the items he purchased that day. 

"Just trying to make people aware of how Fleet Farm treats handicapped customers," he said in a post on his Facebook page. 

Peter Riley, Zahn's attorney, told the Globe Gazette Monday Zahn and he decided to take legal action because Fleet Farm's decision was discriminatory.

Some social media users pointed out signs are posted outside the store, stating electric wheelchairs cannot be taken outside. However, Riley said Zahn had used the wheelchair in the parking lot before.

"In the past, they had allowed (Zahn) to do that," said Riley, who is based in Cedar Rapids. "And they obviously were not following whatever their posted protocol was." 

Frank Steeves, executive vice president for Fleet Farm, said by phone Monday store employees offered Zahn a non-motorized wheelchair to use in the parking lot, but he refused it.

Shane Zahn vs Fleet Farm

Steeves said the policy of prohibiting the electric wheelchairs from outside use is for customers' safety. He added he and Mason City store employees were unaware of Zahn using the electric wheelchair in the parking lot.

"I was surprised to read that he had been taking it out of the store regularly," Steeves said. "I would bet our store employees would be surprised to read that, too."

He added that Fleet Farm is currently in the process of searching and hiring a law firm for the case.

Mills Fleet Farm CEO Wayne Sales issued an apology to Zahn in a public statement in April. 

"While use of carts in the parking lot with the uneven terrain can pose a hazard, we feel that in this instance our team member made the wrong decision," Sales said in the statement. "We apologize to the customer and to everyone who may be affected."

Sales said the company "did not live up to the values or the service our customers have come to expect from us."

"We should have gone the extra mile and helped the customer use the cart to return to his vehicle after shopping," he said, noting the company wanted to "make things right" for Zahn. 

Riley said Zahn's reason for suing Fleet Farm is more than just a money grab. 

"He felt that this is something where they really need to rectify what their procedures are," he said. "He’s interested in what they say they will do going go forward to alleviate these issues."

Zahn is seeking a jury trial for the "amount sufficient to compensate him for his injuries," the lawsuit states. The amount of money Zahn is seeking hasn't been disclosed. 

Bipartisan analysis: Senate bill would hike taxes for 13.8M

WASHINGTON — Promoted as needed relief for the middle class, the Senate Republican tax overhaul actually would increase taxes for some 13.8 million moderate-income American households, a nonpartisan analysis showed Monday.

The assessment by Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation emerged as the Senate's tax-writing committee began wading through the measure, working toward the first major revamp of the tax system in some 30 years.

Barging into the carefully calibrated work that House and Senate Republicans have done, President Donald Trump called for a steeper tax cut for wealthy Americans and pressed GOP leaders to add a contentious health care change to the already complex mix.

Trump's latest tweet injected a dose of uncertainty into the process as the Republicans try to deliver on his top legislative priority. He commended GOP leaders for getting the tax legislation closer to passage in recent weeks and then said, "Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?"

That puts him at odds with the House legislation that leaves the top rate at 39.6 percent and the Senate bill as written, with the top rate at 38.5 percent.

Trump also said, "Now how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular individual mandate in (Obama)care and reducing taxes even further?"

Overall, the legislation would deeply cut corporate taxes, double the standard deduction used by most Americans, and limit or repeal completely the federal deduction for state and local property, income and sales taxes. It carries high political stakes for Trump and Republican leaders in Congress, who view passage of tax cuts as critical to the GOP preserving its majorities at the polls next year.

With few votes to spare, Republican leaders hope to finalize a tax overhaul by Christmas and send the legislation to Trump for his signature.

The key House leader on the effort, Rep. Kevin Brady, said he's "very confident" that Republicans "do and will have the votes to pass" the measure this week.

Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he doesn't expect major changes to the bill as it moves to a final vote in the House. Still, he said Trump's call for removing the requirement to have health insurance as part of the tax agreement "remains under consideration."

Trump and the Republicans have promoted the legislation as a boon to the middle class, bringing tax relief to people with moderate incomes and boosting the economy to create new jobs.

"This bill is not a massive tax cut for the wealthy. ... This is not a big giveaway to corporations," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, insisted as the panel had its first day of debate on the Senate measure.

Hatch also downplayed the analysis by congressional tax experts showing a tax increase for several million U.S. households under the Senate proposal. Hatch said "a relatively small minority of taxpayers could see a slight increase in their taxes."

The committee's senior Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said the legislation has become "a massive handout to multinational corporations and a bonanza for tax cheats and powerful political donors."

The analysis found that the Senate measure would actually increase taxes in 2019 for 13.8 million households earning less than $200,000 a year. That group, about 10 percent of all U.S. taxpayers, would face tax increases of $100 to $500 in 2019. There also would be increases greater than $500 for a number of taxpayers, especially those with incomes between $75,000 and $200,000. By 2025, 21.4 million households would have steeper tax bills.

The analysts previously found a similar magnitude of tax increases under the House bill.

Neither bill includes a repeal of the so-called individual mandate of Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, the requirement that Americans get health insurance or face a penalty. Several top Republicans have warned that including the provision, as Trump wants, would draw opposition and make passage tougher.

A key moderate Republican in the Senate said it's too early to say whether including repeal of the insurance mandate would cost her vote on the tax bill. "I'm going to see what the Finance Committee winds up with and what we do on the (Senate) floor," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Collins did say she opposed Trump's idea of reducing the top tax rate for the wealthiest earners.

Among the biggest differences in the two bills that have emerged: the House bill allows homeowners to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes while the Senate proposal unveiled by GOP leaders last week eliminates the entire deduction. Both versions would eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes and sales taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked whether the Senate's proposed repeal of the property tax deduction could bring higher taxes for some middle-class Americans, acknowledged there would be some taxpayers who end up with higher tax bills.

"Any way you cut it, there is a possibility that some taxpayers would get a higher rate," McConnell told reporters after a forum in Louisville, Kentucky, with local business owners and employees. "You can't craft any tax bill that guarantees that every single taxpayer in America gets a tax break. What I'm telling you is the overall majority of taxpayers in every bracket would get relief."

Iowa Gov. Reynolds begins assembling first state budget plan

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds said Monday she expects a “tough” fiscal 2019 budgeting cycle but believes there will be room for state income tax reductions if federal changes are enacted that create a revenue windfall via Iowa’s federal deductibility law.

Reynolds began the process of assembling her first state budget blueprint since succeeding former Gov. Terry Branstad last May by conducting hearings with state executive-branch agency leaders that will run into early December.

Executive-branch agencies have requested about $7.306 billion for the next fiscal year, which would be about a 3.4 percent increase over the current-year level of $7.067 billion. The state Revenue Estimating Conference set a preliminary growth estimate in October of fiscal 2019 tax collections at $7.425 billion but the panel meets again Dec. 11 to finalize the official revenue level available for budgeting by the governor and Legislature next session under Iowa’s 99 percent expenditure limitation law.

Most of the agency directors who met with the governor Monday made status-quo requests for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2018, but big-ticket askings are expected for human services/Medicaid spending and Reynolds plans to repay $111 million in fiscal 2019 that was borrowed from the cash reserve to balance last year’s ledger. Also, K-12 education is among Reynolds’ priorities and each percentage increase costing slightly more than $40 million, according to projections by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

“We’re anticipating another tough budget year so we want them going into the next budgeting cycle being conscientious of what the environment looks like today,” said Reynolds. She said changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law should give agencies more flexibility in managing their spending going forward.

Reynolds said her administration is closely monitoring state tax collections and progress by Republicans who control Congress and President Trump in pulling together a federal tax reform package which would impact the state’s fiscal position given that Iowans can deduct their federal tax liabilities from their state income taxes. Lower federal taxes would reduce the amount that Iowans could deduct on their Iowa returns.

Reynolds said easing Iowans’ tax burden is a key element of her priorities to create a competitive business environment, boost workplace skills for the jobs of tomorrow, educate students for the knowledge economy, pursue energy innovations that keep down business costs and expand broadband connectivity to all parts of Iowa.

“We’re monitoring the revenue, we’re seeing what that looks like but I think (tax reform) is really the next step that we need to take to make Iowa competitive and so it’s my intent to continue to take a look at that,” she told reporters Monday.

“There are still a lot of variables out there that we are watching,” she noted.

During her budget presentation, Chris Kramer, acting director of the state Department of Cultural Affairs, said building and sustaining culturally viable communities have become an important element in creating a competitive business climate.

“Employers tell us that this is critical as they attract workers to jobs located in our small towns and our larger cities, and now more than ever employees weigh arts, culture and quality of life in their career decisions,” Kramer said. “We must continue to invest in order to keep our talent.”

Katherine Averill, superintendent of the Iowa Division of Credit Unions, said her agency needs an extra $255,000 to upgrade technology to protect a database of highly sensitive information from cyberattack on a system that is outdated and obsolete. “The likelihood of breach is present in this current state,” she said in promoting a three-year upgrading project.