The Hot Beat


The second-day story, with your help. Call Gazette reporter Adam Belz at (319) 398-8273 or e-mail him:

Langenberg grew up in now-infamous Cosgrove home

Long-time Linn County Auditor Linda Langenberg, now a deputy secretary of state in Des Moines, grew up in the home and old general store where Robert Sallis ran the prostitution ring that’s been the subject of a two-week Gazette series authored by Jennifer Hemmingsen.

Langenberg said Cosgrove, an unincorporated village southwest of Iowa City, was a wonderful place to grow up, and it’s “creepy” what happened to her childhood home.

“My dad owned the grocery store which was in the front part of the house, and our family of 9 lived in the rest of the house,” Langenberg wrote in an e-mail. 

She lived there from the age of 4 until she was a senior in high school.

“It just makes me feel so sad,” she said. “I had such a terrific childhood there – just hard to believe, that’s all.”

She  has family buried in the town, and she travels there now and then.


Filed under: Uncategorized

You’ve got the wrong Linn County, lady

Sometimes it pays to check the address at the bottom of a website.

Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston last week got an unusual complaint filed by e-mail through the county’s website.

A woman said her 8-month old lhasa-apso-maltese-mix puppy had been “murdered” by a roving pit bull.

“She was concerned about the off leash laws,” Langston said. “She wanted there to be some punishment involved.”

In her response, Langston pointed out that there is no Linn County dog control officer and directed the woman to the sheriff’s office in downtown Cedar Rapids.

“What’s the sheriff doing in Iowa?” the woman shot back.

“I said because that’s where he works, and that’s where he’s from,” Langston said.

A deputy from the sheriff’s office called the complaining woman. Apparently she lives in a different Linn County, about 70 miles south of Portland, Ore.

It’s not the first time the mistake’s been made.

“This last week and a half, this was the third one we’ve gotten,” Sheriff Don Zeller said.

Langston said the woman, when she realized her mistake, said, “No wonder I got such a quick response.”


Filed under: Uncategorized

Promise comes with price

I couldn’t get this posted to the website this weekend. Here are the opening grafs of my Sunday story on government health insurance benefits and GASB 45:

CEDAR RAPIDS – Iowa’s school districts, cities and counties are not setting aside what may be billions of dollars needed to pay for retirees’ health care in the future, new accounting standards are showing.

Local governments generally fund health benefits for retirees on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. But an accounting rule that goes into effect this year is requiring officials to project the liability those benefits represent decades in advance.

Whether school boards, city councils and county supervisors start setting aside money each year for that liability is up to them. But the rule is, for the first time, forcing those governmental entities to measure the cost of their promises.

The results have been sobering.

Analysts at the international financial services company Credit Suisse estimate governments across Iowa have promised anywhere from $1 billion to $10 billion in benefits without plans on how to pay for them. They estimate the total liability for those promises across the nation is $1.5 trillion.

Governments that don’t save toward the liability leave themselves open to two unpleasant possibilities — raise property taxes to cover rising costs or, more likely, cut retiree benefits.

“When you promise something in the future and you have no plans to put money aside, you know you have a liability there,” said Bob Hopson, a retired actuary in Altoona who’s made the projections for at least two dozen Iowa school districts, including a report for Cedar Rapids schools.

Hopson’s report estimates the Cedar Rapids school district’s liability at more than $26 million, which means the district should be setting aside $1.25 million a year to meet that liability.

Filed under: Other, ,

Hanson, Miller at it again

This time it’s over something Miller posted on his campaign blog: Hanson’s driver’s license number.

Miller says it was an honest mistake. Hanson says it was a grave offense.

The number was on Miller’s blog for about 18 hours, listed on a document that Miller says he posted to show that Hanson voted as a Republican in the past (something they’ve debated about).

Hanson on Friday contacted both the Linn County Attorney’s Office to allege a criminal offense and the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board to ask for a formal review of many of Miller’s actions regarding blogs.

Miller says he took the document down at exactly 4:32 p.m. Friday, as soon as he was made aware it was up there. Hanson never contacted Miller.

Check the paper for a little more Saturday, but that’s the basic gist.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Union Station tragedy

I thought maybe I’d wait until June to mention this, but Dave Rasdal’s story in today’s paper about the guy building a Union Station replica makes it a good time to bring it up. The above picture is of the station, viewed from the southwest on Fourth Avenue SE.

The month of June will mark the 47th anniversary of the station’s demolition. It was built in 1897 and eventually stretched from Third to Fifth Avenues SE, facing Greene Square Park. Fourth Avenue ran right up to the main entrance, as you can see.

Passenger rail service was discontinued in 1958, the Gothic Revival station “fell out of favor,” Rasdal writes, and it was torn down. Simple as that. Now we’ve got two giant parking garages sitting in its place. Fantastic. I wonder who was responsible for this decision.

Filed under: Other, ,

Miell lied on the stand, prosecutors say

New charges in a “superseding indictment” against Robert Miell accuse him of lying under oath during the civil trial January that ended with him having to pay $1.5 million to American Family Insurance.

The man is in trouble. In addition to 18 counts of criminal mail fraud, Miell now faces a count of perjury and two counts of filing false tax returns. The total amount of possible years in prison is 371. Of course he’ll never get that many, but it’s the grand total.

Read about it here.

Disclaimer: I do not have any power to help you get money back from Miell if you think he cheated you. So I probably won’t respond to e-mails about that.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Miller’s blog pulled from Gazetteonline

Joel Miller’s blog “Views from the Linn County Auditor” was taken off the Gazette’s home page this week. Miller’s opponent Lyle Hanson pointed out that having the blog — which Miller did not use as a campaigning tool — on the Gazette’s website was a little unfair.  Gazette online editor Jason Kristufek agreed and said Miller understood Hanson’s point and didn’t protest.

But both candidates have web presences that are alive and well. Here are Miller’s blog and Lyle Hanson’s campaign homepage.

The auditor’s race, as one P.T. Larson has pointed out, is really going to be interesting, and it’s going to be decided on June 3 at the Democratic primary. Larson wants a Sunday cover story on the race, and I’m open to the idea. We’ll see what happens. 

Filed under: Uncategorized, , ,

Test yourself for racism

The University of Chicago has an online test where pictures of black and white men flash on the screen, either holding guns, cellphones, wallets or cans of Budweiser. You have to shoot the guys holding guns and holster your gun for everyone else, and you have to do it quickly.

At the end it tells you your reaction times. Lots of people, apparently, are quicker to shoot and slower to holster their guns when blacks flash on the screen — by hundredths of a second. (For the record, I was quicker to shoot white guys and slower to holster my gun when a black guy without a gun flashed on the screen. Not sure what that means.)

Now, who knows if this kind of test says anything about racism, but I thought it might be interesting in light of last week’s audit that showed housing bias in Cedar Rapids.

Filed under: Other, , ,

Eastern Iowa’s war crimes prosecutor back to visit Tuesday

Stephen Rapp, chief prosecutor of the United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone, is going to speak at 12:40 p.m. tomorrow in Room 115 of the Boyd Building at the UI College of Law.

It’s free and open to the public. If you live in Iowa City and can make it, it would be worth your time.

Rapp was the U.S. Attorney for the northern federal judicial district of Iowa from 1993 to 2001, and went on to become one of the foremost war crimes prosecutors in the world. He prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda before he took over the case in Sierra Leone, a tiny West African nation that was ravaged by brutal civil war in the 1990s.

He and his wife Dolly Maier Rapp — a UNI professor — still have a home in Waterloo, but Stephen Rapp spends several months each year in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The key defendant in the prosecution is Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, who is accused of orchestrating some of the worst atrocities (rape, murder, mutilation, forcing children to fight) in the conflict.

I was in Freetown when another defendant in the case, Foday Sankoh, was still imprisoned. That was in 2001. Sankoh died in 2003. I remember the soldiers standing on those weirdly empty streets around the prison where they kept him. They were holding machine guns, and nobody went even close.

(Yeah, I know, wikipedia’s not reliable. But it gives a rough idea of things.)

Filed under: Courts, , , , , ,

Grateful family leaves $200k to Linn County Options

The Linn County Board of Supervisors accepted an unrestricted gift of $201,383 from the estate of Vivian and Walter Stromer on Monday.

Walter Stromer was a speech professor at Cornell College who died in 2005. His wife Vivian Stromer died in 2006, according to Jim Nagel, director of Options of Linn County.

The Stromers left the money to Options, which provides vocational help to adults with disabilities, because their daughter Anne was disabled and Options gave helped her quite a bit in the 1970s and early 1980s, when it was called the Sheltered Workshop.

She was killed in a car accident May 9, 1982, at age 25, Nagel said. The Stromers marked the money for Options, but did not indicate what they wanted the gift to go toward.

“We were just listed in the list of beneficiaries, and that’s it,” Nagel said.

It will likely be used for some kind of endowment, he said.

Filed under: County Government, , , ,

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