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Cerro Gordo Drug Court celebrates second graduate

MASON CITY — The threat of losing her daughters forced Bridget Stitt to confront her meth addiction.

When she entered the Cerro Gordo Drug Court to monitor her sobriety in March 2015, she was pregnant with her third daughter.

After 16 successful months in the program, Stitt, 31, on Tuesday became its second graduate.

"I have an amazing life today. That's what's keeping me sober," the Mason City woman said after the ceremony.

"Didn't think I was going to be able to do this," she said.

"It's so hard to come out of that, especially when you're on the needle," she said. "I'm glad I got away from that. I looked pretty bad. I was pretty bad into it."

Struggling with addiction, her low point came when she was on the verge of losing her parental rights in 2013. It sent her in a spiral deeper into drugs, she said.

"That was rock bottom, right there," she said.

Following a March 2014 drug conviction and failures to get sober, her future looked bleak.

"My probation officer said one day, 'I think it's time to go to prison,'" she said.

Stitt asked to enter the drug court program. She was told acceptance was not guaranteed. 

Following her March 2015 entrance into the program, she has passed every drug test and remained sober after her youngest daughter, Kinslea, was born in October.

As she held Kinslea, now nearly 10 months old, Cerro Gordo County District Judge James Drew congratulated Stitt on her progress toward sustained sobriety.

She will finish her three-year probation from the 2014 conviction. She plans to eventually become a drug counselor to help others with similar struggles, she said.

"It's refreshing and exciting to see Bridget be rewarded for the work she's put in for her recovery," said Gretchen Hollander, a parole officer with the Iowa Department of Corrections.

Budget cuts forced the cancellation of the former Community Drug Court program in 2010. The county revived the program in January 2015, requiring those who are enrolled to meet weekly with Judge Drew.

Drug court was created as an intensive probation program and the last stop for high-risk offenders who would normally be on their way to prison. There were about 25 people in the prior drug court program when it was cut.

An interdisciplinary team consists of representatives from the Cerro Gordo County Attorney's Office, Iowa Department of Corrections, Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services and an attorney to represent the defendants during their time in the program.

North Iowans to make case at DOT meeting for Saints overpass

CHARLES CITY — A group of North Iowans will attend a state meeting next week to make the case for an overpass near Floyd.

A group will have 15 minutes at the Iowa Department of Transportation Board of Commissioners meeting in Sioux City on Tuesday, Aug. 9, to detail why an overpass at Avenue of the Saints and Quarry Road should be placed on the agency's 5-year plan.

The Floyd County Board of Supervisors phoned the Iowa DOT during a meeting Tuesday, asking to be on the agenda. 

"I think our effort, collectively, would be a lot better if we got our state representatives, senators and a delegation of concerned people to attend that meeting," said Floyd County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Kuhn. 

The board also voted to present the Iowa DOT with a letter outlining why it believes an overpass with exit and on-ramps should replace the current at-grade intersection.

Chief among the concerns are the current semitrailer traffic going to and from the nearby Valero ethanol plant, future traffic that could be generated from a Love's truck stop under construction at the intersection and the community's overall concerns about the roadway.

Though the intersection has been a concern to many for years, the effort to get the overpass approved and on the Iowa DOT's 5-year plan found new energy after 23-year-old T.J. Houdek was killed at the intersection on July 18.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition calling for increased safety measures at the intersection.

Many of approximately 120 people who attended a community meeting about the intersection last week signed hard copies of the petition, which was created by one of Houdek's acquaintances.

The Iowa DOT has taken steps to increase safety at the intersection, such as adding center turn lanes. 

And, though it has not approved an overpass, the state transportation agency has begun the process to build one should the estimated $18 million project get the green light. 

It finished a required environmental impact study in June and will present its preferred design alternative for an overpass/interchange at a community meeting in November.

The preferred design was created with DOT staff input and feedback from two designs presented to the public in June 2012, said Peter Hjelmstad, DOT field services coordinator.

He would not release details of the preferred design alternative on Tuesday, saying it would not be announced until the public meeting in November.

The two design proposals unveiled four years ago differed in how traffic entered and exited the divided, four-lane highway, but both called for Avenue of the Saints to be elevated with the crossroad running underneath.

Both designs also would close the other at-grade intersections in Floyd.

Mason City Council sets special election to fill Kuhn seat; third candidate announces


MASON CITY — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to hold a special election Sept. 20 to fill the at-large council seat that became open with the July 15 death of Alex Kuhn.

“None of us want to do this,” said Councilman John Lee. “It’s something we have to do. Someone will be filling some shoes that will be hard to fill.”

Joshua Masson, who attended the meeting, said he intends to run for the open seat. Masson, a systems analyst at Curries, ran for the Third Ward council seat last year and was defeated by Brett Schoneman.

On Monday, former Councilman Max Weaver and businessman Andy O’Brien both said they intend to run.

Candidates can start filing nomination papers now, Cerro Gordo County Auditor Ken Kline said earlier in the day. Forms are available at the auditor’s office and on the county’s website.

Kline said only 27 signatures are required on nomination forms because of low voter turnout last November when Kuhn ran unopposed for re-election.

For a special election, the law requires candidates to secure signatures from 2 percent of the turnout in the last regular election for that seat.

“Kuhn got 1,249 votes and there were 53 write-ins, for a total of 1,302 votes,” said Kline. “Two percent of that, rounded up, is 27 votes.”

The turnout last November was the lowest since 1991.

“I would anticipate a much higher turnout in the special election,” said Kline.

The filing deadline is Friday, Aug. 26.


Britt council delays ban on pit bull breed in city

BRITT — Several pit bull owners spoke at a Britt City Council meeting Tuesday and the council agreed to delay enforcing a community ban on the dog breed.

The ban is part of the city’s vicious dog ordinance, and last month the council had decided to begin enforcing the rule.

Now, whether the law will be enforced or changed will await a review by a committee.

The council’s earlier decision to enforce the ban drew a backlash from various pit bull owners in Britt, the surrounding area and beyond.

“Judge the deed, not the breed,” Jamie Riggs said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Most dog breeding associations and the American Kennel Club, for example, do not recognize a specific pit bull breed. Pit bulls are often a Staffordshire terrier or similar breed.

Owners said their dogs are gentle and good with children and others.

Pit bull owner Amy Boomgarden quoted various veterinary organizations and information from the Center for Disease Control which said breeds known as pit bulls pass temperance tests, are not inherently aggressive and are often “nanny” type animals with children.

Candace Smith said her pit bull plays with her 4-month-old son. The dog “sits on the sidewalk and kids pet her,” Smith said.

But Councilman Mike Ostercamp said that for every study that shows pit bulls are gentle he can find a study that states pit bulls are aggressive. He said other North Iowa communities have similar bans against pit bulls.

Stacy Swenson said the council and pit bull owners could trade stories all night. She said she understands the council wants to prevent dog bites, but said a breed-specific ban is not the answer.

Council member Paul Verbrugge asked for suggestions on how a dog should be handled after the first bite and second bite.

Boomgarden said after a dog bites a human for the second time, the dog should likely be removed from the owner. The owner should be aware there could be an issue after the first bite, she said.

Council member Curt Gast said he was willing to listen to the input from pit bull owners, however he did not appreciate the tone of comments directed at the council and specific council members that were shared on Facebook postings of the news stories about the council decision to enforce the pit bull ban.

Former council member Chad Luecht agreed many of those comments were in poor taste, but also said he thinks the city should not have a breed-specific ban.

Verbrugge suggested the city form a committee to review input from Tuesday night as well as information from other cities and insurance companies.

Verbrugge, Mayor Ryan Arndorfer, city Administrator/Clerk Shell Anderson and librarian and dog trainer Linda Friedow volunteered for that committee. The council also appointed Bryan Aitchison to the committee.

The committee will also allow residents to volunteer for the committee by using a sign-up sheet at city hall. The committee will develop a recommendation for an ordinance to be considered at the first council meeting in September.