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Financing for $6M Eagle Grove school addition causes dispute between county officials, Belmond superintendent

EAGLE GROVE | Two school superintendents are at odds about the financing of an elementary school addition in Eagle Grove.

Blemond-Klemme Superintendent Dan Frazier believes the Wright County Board of Supervisors may have shown "favoritism" when it awarded $1.5 million in TIF funding to Eagle Grove schools at a public hearing Monday.

The money will help fund a $6 million, 13,200 square-foot addition to the district's elementary school.

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Construction for the $6 million, 13,200 square-foot addition to the Eagle Grove Elementary School can be seen on the north side of the building in Eagle Grove on Friday.

"Tax dollars must have a public purpose," Frazier said by phone Friday. "The TIF dollars were county tax dollars … there was an obligation for the county to spend those for county needs."

Construction on the addition — which started in August —  stems from expected population increases to Wright County, due to the incoming Prestage pork processing plant.

Frazier, however, emphasized that Eagle Grove isn't the only district that should see an increase in students. 

"Right now, Clarion schools are at capacity, Belmond-Klemme schools are at capacity," said Frazier, who is in his first year at Belmond-Klemme. 

Belmond-Klemme newsletter

Frazier criticized the decision earlier Friday in an emailed newsletter to staff, the Central Rivers AEA and at least two media organizations, including the Globe Gazette.

"By ignoring their constituents and the concerns, the County Board of Supervisors disrespected us. This was flat-out wrong. Certainly they have a right to their decision. But law requires a public hearing for a reason, and they made it a sham," Frazier wrote. 

Friday evening Frazier told the Globe Gazette, "These comments were intended for my staff and not the public. You do not have my permission to publish those remarks."

Ashley Miller / SEAN RYAN, Rapid City Journal 

Dan Frazier, formerly superintendent of Litchfield Schools in Minnesota, interviews for a position with Rapid City Area Schools in South Dakota in January 2016. Frazier was hired as Belmond-Klemme's superintendent in July 2017. 

Exceptions to Iowa’s open records laws, which Belmond-Klemme and other public schools must honor, would not protect the newsletter from public release.

Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver insisted the funds for the addition — which will add eight regular classrooms and two special education classrooms— can only be used on his property because of the specifics of his TIF district.

"I’m the only taxing authority on that property," he said. "It's like this: I cannot take a home equity loan on your house, I can only take it out on my house."

Toliver clarified that the $1.5 million was granted because extra money may be needed for interest generated from the district, equating the $500,000 to money needed for a multi-year loan.

Ashley Miller / COURTNEY FIORINI, The Globe Gazette  

Wright County Economic Development Director Bryce Davis, left and Supervisors Karl Helgevold and Stan Watne listen during a public hearing July 25, 2016, in Clarion.

Wright County Board Chairman Karl Helgevold said the $1.5 million is a not-to-exceed number, and that $1 million is the net base for the amount given.

Frazier, however, believed the public hearing Monday may have been rushed.

"Whether correctly or incorrectly, it gave the people in attendance the feeling that the decision had been made prior to the hearing," he said. "Because the supervisors never acknowledged the arguments against."

Rick Rasmussen, who is one of the supervisors in Wright County, denied that claim.

"It was not decided before the meeting ... At least with me, it doesn’t happen, I can guarantee you that," Rasmussen said, deferring further comment to Helgevold.

Helgevold also stated the board did not make a decision before the hearing. He said he understood Frazier's concerns, especially about equity issues, but added the TIF funding is a necessary tool Eagle Grove is using.

One of the main reasons TIF districts are valuable is it offers monetary assistance for smaller districts pursuing projects, Helgevold added.

"The property could be in operation for close to two years before you see the first tax dollar, and that’s the gap Eagle Grove said they needed help with," he said.

File photo 

Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver speaks to Hunter Martinez, 7, left, and Eddy Yackle, 6, in July 2016. 

Toliver, who was also at Monday's meeting, stated his district is using a financial tool for a much-needed expansion, and urged nearby districts to look into all funding options if they need to add space.

He believes the Wright County Board of Supervisors made the right decision Monday.

"We have supervisors that have done this for a long time," he said. "I believe given all the information they have, they made the right decision on this one."

'Africa is a beautiful place full of nice people': North Iowans upset by Trump's 's---hole countries' comment

MASON CITY | Disparaging remarks attributed to President Trump on limiting immigration from some countries have hit close to home to two North Iowa families who are upset by his comments.

Trump is said to have referred to those countries as "s---hole countries" during a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House.

Scott Bell, longtime musician from Mason City, has close family ties to Africa.

"My beautiful family comes from several parts of the world and many have ties to Africa and African countries," he said. "We have two daughter-in-laws that come from “s---hole countries.”

He said one of his granddaughters was born and raised for a few years in Africa. "She knows her birth country as a place where she finds love, family, a grandma whom she loves and many happy memories. Yesterday, she heard her president vilely refer to her home as a “s---hole country,” Bell said, "and it is upsetting to her."

"How do you explain the use of such language by the president?" he asked.

Bell has another son and daughter-in-law living in another part of Africa. "They are incensed. They don’t understand. I don’t understand. We have also two young grandsons growing up in an environment of these vile, ignorant comments. I just don’t know what to say to them," he said.

"In our family, we know Africa as a beautiful place full of nice people; just like people here. Trump's comments aren't just rude. They aren't just 'Oh, there goes Trump again.' We literally have some of my family in tears over his comments. They don't understand. They are hurt."

Another frustration for Bell: "Through it all, there are still people of influence who could do something or at the very least, say something about it, but they will not. Enough is enough."

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Mark Young, student support advocate at Roosevelt Elementary, reflects on his time in the Mason City School District as he prepares to begin his tenure as principal at Belmond-Klemme Elementary next month.

Mark Young of Mason City, a former attorney who is now a school principal in Belmond, assisted families with adopting children from Africa and Haiti in his law practice.

He said those children are probably of high school age by now. Explaining President Trump's remarks "would be a tough conversation to have with them," he said.

In his own family, his daughter and son-in-law are in the process of adopting a child from East Africa. Referring to Trump's comments, Young said, "If we're going to be a welcoming nation, I don't know how this helps."

Adviser urges urgent reform of Iowa Statehouse sexual harassment policies

DES MOINES — A former state senator with human relations expertise issued a set of recommendations Friday to help legislators better address complaints of sexual harassment at the Statehouse in the wake of a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement with a former Senate GOP staffer.

Mary Kramer, who previously served as the Iowa Senate’s president, provided a framework for creating and maintaining a safe, respectful and professional workplace in the Iowa Senate after being enlisted last fall by Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, to conduct an internal review.

"It behooves the Iowa Legislature to take the matter seriously and to act quickly,” Kramer said in a letter made public Friday. “While a review of the overall policies and procedures regarding employment and engagement is appropriate, the issue of harassment is clearly urgent and compelling.

“As of now, there is nothing that has changed to prevent additional inappropriate behavior and ensuing problems. It is my hope these policies will be reviewed, edited and adopted immediately,” Kramer added. “I am encouraged and truly believe that now is the time to act to make that safe, respectful and professional workplace at the Iowa Capitol a reality.”

Workplace rules became an issue at the Statehouse in the wake of a $1.75 million judgment paid last year to settle a lawsuit brought by Kirsten Anderson, a former Senate Republican caucus staff communications director who asserted she was fired in 2013 hours after complaining of sexual harassment on the job.

Kramer said she was dismayed by Anderson’s allegations and concluded there was a need for “culture reform” in the Iowa Senate in accepting Dix’s invitation to serve as an unpaid adviser.

Earlier this week, Republicans who run the Iowa Legislature announced that Kate Murphy of Ankeny will begin work Jan. 22 as director of human resources to help make corrective changes. Murphy, a senior professional in human resources and a certified public manager, has worked as an administrator in the state Department of Transportation since 2006 and has been involved in human resources management and administration in the public and private sectors.

Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said Murphy will help legislative branch officials take “a fresh look” at updating policies and procedures related to sexual harassment and serve as a resource if someone is experiencing problems in the Statehouse work environment.

Earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke about sexual harassment in her Condition of the State address, calling for an end to the “destructive force” of sexual harassment.

“It must stop,” Reynolds said, adding praise for women who have found courage to speak out about the “stain on our culture.”

In her letter, Kramer said for any policy to work there must be a shared goal involving legislators of both parties, legislative staff, lobbyist and media that is publicly articulated at the beginning of each legislative session. All legislative branch employees and elected officials would be required to receive training on what constitutes inappropriate behavior and acknowledge in writing that they understand the guidelines.

“Expectations must be clear before accountability and discipline can be forthcoming,” Kramer said in her letter.

Also, Kramer recommended legislative policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior have “a clear path” for filing complaints — not limited to employees — with assurance they will be investigated in a fair and impartial manner without retaliation.

“This requires the establishment of a formal complaint process that guarantees a fair and impartial investigation, that assures confidentiality with explicit prohibition of retaliation,” she wrote, with the process involving an immediate supervisor, elected leaders or a newly hired legislative-branch human resource officer.

“Anyone who is designated to hear complaints is obligated to investigate,” she said. “All complaints must be subject to timely investigation, to be outlined in the policy. In some best practice policies, 24 hours is considered an appropriate amount of time for an investigation to take place. In others up to a week is acceptable.”

Employees, where complaints of harassment are founded, would be subject to discipline up to and including termination. Senators who are named would subject to a formal complaint filed with the Ethics Committee. Kramer recommended the committee immediately clarify its current processes for filing and handling ethics complaints and establish a specific process that assures a fair and impartial investigation of harassment complaints.

Complaints involving media and lobbyists should be reported to their employer or organization with recommended appropriate action, Kramer added in her recommendations.