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North Iowa judge remembered for versatile life, passion for children

MASON CITY | Associate Judge Annette Boehlje is being remembered by friends and colleagues as a woman of many interests and talents and who had a passion for the well-being of children.

Boehlje, 46, died Saturday, Nov. 18, at Good Shepherd Health Center.

She held degrees in law and in ministry and was active in both fields. The Rev. Steve Johnson, who will officiate at her funeral Saturday at First Covenant Church, said Boehlje was a faithful, loyal, intelligent servant.

"Many people have two degrees, but Annette is the only person I have known that carried both a law degree and a ministry degree," he said. "And she was the perfect person to do that.

"Her strong and clear mind coupled with her faithful and generous heart embodied a Christianity that allowed her to be the same person in the law office or in the pulpit."

Several judges reflected on her life and work.

District Judge Gregg Rosenbladt said Boehlje was always striving to be better.

"She always enjoyed a good conversation about legal issues or other topics of interest," he said. "She was also very strong, composed and hopeful after being confronted with a very serious medical diagnosis."

District Judge James Drew said, "Annette was an excellent judge by any measure. She was firm but fair. The juvenile case work was particularly important to her and her desire to go above and beyond to protect the children was obvious.

"Equally impressive to me is the dignity and grace she demonstrated after her diagnosis. She worked as long as she was able and I never heard her complain about her lot."

District Judge Chris Foy said,"I think Annette became a lawyer so she could help people who were down on their luck and she wanted to be a judge for the same reason."

Attorney Richard Tompkins said Boehlje was a dedicated mother, lawyer and judge. He said she could be direct in dealing with parents in danger of losing their children because of the parents' drug use. But she was extremely supportive of parents trying to overcome their drug problems.

Attorney David Grooters agreed.

"We were all heartbroken when we learned of her diagnosis," he said. "We will miss her bright face and contagious smile."

Jeremiah and Amanda Reb had a special relationship with Boehlje.

"As local foster parents, we had the pleasure of working with her on multiple cases where she always showed her love and compassion for the job," said Reb.

"Our family will be eternally grateful for her service as she presided over the adoption of two of our children. May she rest in peace and may her family know that she left a legacy to be proud of."

Boehlje was a member of the Una Vocis Choral Ensemble. Its artistic director, Dennis Lee, said, "She shared her lovely soprano voice for many years and was an active and dedicated member of the Una Vocis family. She was a bright and creative person and we miss her very much."

Judy Delperdang, a member of the ensemble and a Globe Gazette employee, was amazed at Boehlje's wide range of interests and passions, saying, "She packed so many worlds into one life."

Shop local: Small Business Saturday is a boost in North Iowa

MASON CITY — Small Business Saturday helps North Iowans remember to shop small and can be more important than Black Friday for some of North Iowa’s small businesses.

“It’s a great day to remind people to do some of their shopping at local businesses,” Rachel Herman, Assistant Manager at Affordables said.

Small Business Saturday was created by American Express eight years ago in 2010 and is a ceremonial kickoff to the holiday shopping season for small businesses across the United States.

According to the U.S. Small Businesses Administration, Iowa’s 266,382 small businesses account for 99.3 percent of all businesses in the state and employ nearly half of the state's private-sector workforce.

“When we have customers supporting our store by shopping and donating they not only are supporting a local store and keeping that money in North Iowa, but they are supporting people in their job training and job searches with NIVC Services,” Herman said.

“Small Business Saturday has become a national movement to celebrate and highlight the role and impact of small businesses on our economy," said Lisa Shimkat, America’s SBDC Iowa State Director. “This Small Business Saturday, and throughout the holiday season, anyone can make a difference by shopping small."

America’s SBDC Iowa is an outreach program of Iowa State University’s College of Business and the Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations.

In 2016, an estimated 112 million consumers reported shopping at small businesses on Small Business Saturday, spending an estimated $15.4 billion.

Mason City will host Home For the Holidays in conjunction with Small Business Saturday this year.

Main Street Mason City will host the event from 3 to 9 p.m. downtown.

There will be music on the Southbridge Mall Plaza, hot chocolate, a tree lighting, storytime, Polar Express Trolley rides, crafts, cookie decorating and more.

Many of the businesses downtown and in the mall will have refreshments, gift bags, goodies, special deals and extended hours, according to Main Street Mason City.

Shops across North Iowa will be offering deals and events for the day.

Affordables will have specials throughout the day. From 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will have a book sale and from 1-4 p.m clothes are 50 percent off.

Market 124 will have a BOGO event for ornaments.

Real Deals will be giving away $5 shop credit to the first 100 shoppers in the door. The store is also offering 15 percent off of a customer's most expensive item.  

South Shore Donut Co. in Clear Lake will be offering $5 off $25 gift certificates and 10 percent off all SSDC merchandise including coffee mugs, t-shirts and more.

Bread & Buttercréme in Clear Lake will be running a promotion, "Our customers are our bread and butter." There will be buy one get one $5 and specialty loaves of bread in the bakery and complimentary house made compound butter with each purchase. Bottomless bloody marys and mimosas will be served with brunch for $10 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a reopening for a special tapas service from 5-9 p.m.

Feds, state officials say 'temporary' decision needs no federal OK

State and federal officials said Friday Iowa does not need approval to move some 213,000 Iowans on Medicaid to a managed-care organization without offering them a choice.

The officials said they are working together on the issue but did not offer a timeline as to when it would be resolved.

Department of Human Services officials had announced in late October that one of its three insurers in Iowa’s Medicaid program, AmeriHealth Caritas, would exit the program on Dec. 1.

The state’s two remaining Medicaid insurers — Amerigroup Iowa and UnitedHealthcare of the River Valley — both re-signed contracts with Iowa for 2018.

Those enrollees previously covered by AmeriHealth would be transferred to UnitedHealthcare, department officials announced earlier this month. Those beneficiaries then could switch Amerigroup.

However, Tuesday’s notice obtained by The Gazette stated Amerigroup “does not have the capacity to take additional members, including those who have actively chosen Amerigroup Iowa as their (managed-care organization) after AmeriHealth Caritas’ withdrawal.”

That would leave 213,000 Medicaid enrollees with UnitedHealth care as their only choice for a managed-care organization.

This could create complications for some beneficiaries and health care providers, as some doctors and providers have signed with only one or two of the managed-care organizations.

“An ‘approval’ from CMS to suspend choice is not necessary. Iowa has not requested any additional waiver authority as part of this transition, but is in constant communication with CMS,” Department of Human Services spokesman Matt Highland wrote in an email Friday. “Iowa Medicaid is proceeding forward in temporarily suspending choice for Medicaid beneficiaries.

Highland added that Amerigroup is “actively ramping up their capacity, which the department will be monitoring.”

“Once Amerigroup Iowa and the Department are confident they have capacity to take additional members, members will again have choice,” Highland wrote.

Neither Highland or federal officials gave further information on a timeline for the solution.

DHS officials currently are undergoing a search for a new managed-care organization, which won’t be available for beneficiaries until July 1, 2019.

Temporary suspension

Medicaid enrollees are guaranteed a choice among managed-care organizations according to a provision within federal law, and a state must obtain a waiver from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for any suspension of that provision.

Tuesday’s notice from DHS stated it had approval for a temporary suspension of managed-care organization choice from CMS, which oversees nationwide Medicaid programs.

However, a later email to The Gazette by CMS regional spokeswoman Julie Brookhart, based in Kansas, said the state had not received federal approval.

On Friday, Highland clarified the inconsistency, saying that “using the term ‘approval’ was inaccurate.”

“States generally have the ability to manage their programs in situations such as this within existing statutory and regulatory authorities,” Highland said in Friday’s email. “CMS has offered our full support to Iowa to help provide as smooth an experience as possible for all impacted beneficiaries.”

State or federal officials did not offer clarification on how long the temporary wave of choice would last for beneficiaries.

Iowa has kept the federal office apprised on the state of the Medicaid program since AmeriHealth’s withdrawal, “as well as the challenges associated with the capacity at Amerigroup,” said Johnathan Monroe, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesperson for CMS, in a separate email to The Gazette Friday.

“CMS has been working with the state to address their immediate needs and we have no pending decisions before us for consideration related to this transition,” Monroe said in the email. “CMS intends to continue working with the state to help ensure it comes back into full compliance with the choice provisions in the managed-care regulations in a meaningful and measured way so as not to create further disruption to the beneficiaries and providers.”

Iowa Senate report: No 'provable' sexual harassment incidents

Investigators heard several reports of sexually suggestive comments by Iowa Republican caucus staff members and senators, but found no “provable” incidents of sexual harassment in the state Senate, a review released Friday shows.

The three-page report features staff members’ recollections of at least seven incidents of sexually suggestive or offensive comments, but no allegations of physical harassment. The report reveals two incidents in which what appears to be senators made offensive comments, but their names are censored.

The report “shows the workplace culture needs to improve,” according to Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, who originally had refused to release it.

The internal investigation followed former staff member Kirsten Anderson’s successful sexual harassment lawsuit this summer that resulted in a $1.75 million settlement to be paid by taxpayers.

Anderson was the Republican caucus communications director between 2008 and 2013 when she was fired hours after lodging a sexual harassment complaint. Leaders cited poor work performance as the reason for her dismissal.

During Anderson’s trial, GOP Senate staff members testified to ongoing sexual harassment, which led to the internal inquiry of allegations from December 2012 to now. Current members of the staffs of the Republican Senate caucus and the Secretary of the Senate were interviewed between July 25 and Aug. 7.

The leaders, who have brought in former ambassador and Senate President Mary Kramer to help them address what Anderson described at trial as a “toxic” environment, said workplace culture at the Senate “can improve, and with a lot of hard work, it will improve.”

But Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, found the report “deeply troubling” because investigators heard about senators making sexually suggestive comments as recently as the 2017 legislative session — after Dix and other GOP leaders said they had zero tolerance for such behavior.

“The report will increase the disgust that Iowans feel about the harassment, discrimination, and retaliation against Kirsten Anderson and other legislative staff,” Petersen said in a statement. “The report paints a picture of an environment in the Iowa Senate that will lead to more lawsuits against Republicans senators and staff unless dramatic changes are made.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Kim Reynolds, who earlier called for the report to be released, said Friday that the governor had no comment.

In releasing the report Friday, Whitver and Dix said they were trying to balance two competing concerns: openness and protecting staff members.

“The first concern is to be open with Iowans about the workplace issues in the Iowa Senate,” they said in a statement.

Names were redacted from the report because “to improve the workplace culture, employees need to know they can share their concerns without those issues being shared publicly.”

“Publicizing those individuals could have a chilling effect on the willingness of employees to make reports of future incidents,” they added.

Whitver and Dix also shared a letter from the Des Moines law firm of Ahlers Cooney advising them to black out the names of employees because participation in the investigation related to job conduct and performance would be confidential information under Iowa law.

The attorneys also advised that senators’ names should be redacted because under Iowa law, “personal information in personnel records of government bodies relating to identified or identifiable individuals who are officials, officers or employees of government bodies” is protected.

In their investigation, Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson and Whitver’s senior aide Mary Earnhardt looked at incidents and comments in and by the Senate caucus staff and office environment, the Senate floor environment and the Secretary of the Senate staff.

Among the findings:

• An staff member said an person made a sexually suggestive comment during the 2013 legislative session.

• Another provided copies of handwritten documentation of offensive comments within the GOP staff office that occurred after December 2012.

• A person “specifically noted” a sexually explicit story told by a fellow staff member. The staff member asked that the story be stopped.

The report notes that documentation of the events was provided, but it was not included in the materials released.

• A member of the Secretary of the Senate staff indicated a person “overheard what could possibly be interpreted as harassment,” but declined to give specifics.

• Many caucus staff members indicated there is an environment on the Senate floor of senators “making sexually suggestive comments or about sexual preferences.”

• One recalled one occasion of a senator making a sexually suggestive comment in 2017.

• Another detailed a story about a senator making sexually suggestive comments regarding proposed legislation on dense breast tissue.

• There were other reports involving former senators.

Some staff members told investigators they feared retaliation, say that is why they did not feel comfortable reporting harassment. Other staffers, however, said they were comfortable reporting potential harassment.

The investigators said that, in conclusion, “it does not appear that any provable incidents of sexual harassment as defined in Section 17 of the Personnel Guidelines have occurred.”

Democratic leader Petersen said the report by a political appointee and a Republican staffer confirms her belief that an independent, outside investigation is needed.

“We called on all senators to work together to fix this problem,” she said. “Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have ignored the calls for action by refusing to fire any of their staff or to make any changes in their leadership.”