The Hot Beat


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

Bob Miell’s new gig

There’s a new property management company in town, but then again no, there’s not.

The company is called Elite Properties of Iowa, LLC, and it was incorporated on July 17, by guess who: Bob Miell.

The big-time local landlord in trouble with the feds over mail fraud has opened a new business, but the business lists the same address as his other companies, 1855 First Ave. SE.

A guy called me this afternoon and said he was renting from Elite Properties and the people at the company were reluctant to reveal that Miell was in charge of the company.

Miell’s “Equity Associates Inc., Realtors” is still an active coorporation according to the Iowa Secretary of State, but if he is in fact trying to hide that Elite Properties is his company, he has good reason.

Equity and Miell’s other various companies have taken a beating in the press and on the Internet for the past year. The comment pages are generally abusive toward him.

He was in court for a civil case this year where a judge ruled against him and his federal criminal trial is scheduled for January.


Filed under: Other, ,

K.Potts “snubbed” at McCain/Palin rally

We at County Supervision are a little slow on the draw with this one, but Republican Kathy Potts, a candidate for Senate District 33 said she was snubbed at the McCain-Palin rally a little over a week ago.

She wanted to stand on the podium with the Republican presidential ticket, the Iowa Independent reports, but Iowa GOP higher-ups Kraig Paulsen and Chris Rants gave her the thumbs down and the McCain campaign deferred to the Iowa GOP legislative leadership.

Potts has been a sort of local GOP wrecking ball ever since she alleged last November that Cedar Rapids Republican and supervisor candidate Eric Rosenthal received money from the county GOP Central Committee for items he “did not pay for or did not pay for in full.” That investigation is continuing, last I checked, at a fairly slow pace.

Potts succeeded Rosenthal as party chair, and they’re not on the best of terms.

Changing course here a little, Rosenthal met with the Gazette’s editorial board today and said nothing very controversial.

He did mention, though, that he’s interested in putting all local government offices in one building and he thinks the Linn County jail ought to be moved.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Houser responds to Erceg cherry bomb

Houser called John Erceg’s analysis “whacko,” though he acknowledged that Langston does a lot of the talking at supervisor meetings.

“Just because your mouth isn’t flapping all the time doesn’t mean your brain isn’t thinking,” Houser said. “If Linda wants to talk, you’ve got to sit and be respectful of that. You don’t want to be just a domineering person on the board and try to compete.”

He pointed out that Langston is the chairwoman of the board, so she naturally tends to lead discussion.

“She talks a lot. That’s not a bad thing. I’m not going to criticize her for that,” Houser said. “Next year when I’m chair, I’ll be fulfilling the same role.”

He also argued that the current supervisors make a good team, even though they each have a different approach.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Hen-pecked Houser and Linda “The Brain” Langston

Supervisor candidate John Erceg displayed a remarkable (and some would say refreshing) lack of political sophistication on Thursday.

If you’re an elected official in Linn County government, you’re a Democrat. And if your name isn’t Joel Miller or Don Zeller, than you don’t break rank to level even the slightest criticism against a colleague. At least not publicly.

Enter John Erceg, a shoot-from-the-hip Republican running in District 2 (southeast Linn County and southeast Cedar Rapids) against Linda Langston.

Speaking to The Gazette’s editorial board, Erceg said Linn Supervisor James Houser is “off in the the corner” at supervisor meetings while his colleagues Langston and Lu Barron do all the talking.

“The two ladies’ll take the game and run with it,” he said.

Erceg has been attending supervisor meetings regularly in the past month or so.

Asked which of the two “ladies” sets the agenda, Erceg did not hesitate.

“Linda! That’s the only brains in the place,” he said. “She’s the only one with a college degree.”

(This second part is true, though Houser is a card-carrying union sheet metal worker and Barron is a former director of the Freedom Festival.)

Now, Langston is Erceg’s opponent in the Nov. 4 election, so what does he gain politically by arguing she’s the only smart one on the board?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Houser faces Republican Dave Machacek in District 5, which covers western Linn County and parts of southwest Cedar Rapids.

Barron is running unopposed in District 1, which covers downtown Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas.

Filed under: County Government, , , , , ,

Iowa Public Radio looking for C.R. correspondent

Iowa Public Radio News Director Jonathan Ahl makes some corrections to this blog entry in a comment below.

Anyone who listens to Iowa Public Radio with any regularity knows that the local news report in Eastern Iowa consists almost entirely of two things: Someone reads newspaper headlines aloud and Jeneane Beck, apparently IPR’s only reporter (yes, there is/was a guy named Rob Dillard, too), contributes earnest dispatches mostly from Des Moines.

I am an avid public radio listener. I genuinely depend on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. I even think The Exchange, IPR’s opinion talk show, is quite good. My only complaint with the radio station (here it’s 90.9 FM) is the local news. They always seems to break in on good music to announce that some guy will be performing at the Gallagher Bluedorn, and it appears to consist only of the aforementioned out-loud-headline-reading and occasional reports from the state legislature. I just would rather not hear from the studio if that’s all they have to offer.

So I’m glad to hear that Iowa Public Radio wants to hire a reporter for its “Cedar Rapids bureau.” I knew of no such bureau, but if it’s in the works, that’s great. What matters is that IPR appears to be expanding its news coverage. Here’s the job description if any of you citizen journalists out there have radio experience and are interested.

Filed under: Courts, , ,

Festival of consultants

While the $475 per hour the city is paying for the services of Mr. John Levy of Globe Midwest Risk Managment is unusually high, he’s not the only consultant making more money in an hour than some people around here see in a week.

Adjusters International, the company with which Levy is affiliated, offers the following hourly fee schedule for its services (Levy is apparently in another bracket):

Senior consultant: $285
Consultant/Project Officer: $155
Specialist: $125

Both Linn County and the city of Cedar Rapids have hired this company to help them maximize FEMA reimbursement, and one can only imagine how many $285 hours have slipped by since June 18, when the contracts were signed.

Mold cleanup after floods, as it happens, is another extremely lucrative line of work. Linn County inked a contract with a company called Envirocare on June 15, and while the cost of services comes nothing close to John Levy territory, it is not inconsiderable.

Here’s some of the hourly fee schedule:

Forensic Environmentalist: $220
Project Consultant: $175
Archive Assessment Coordinator: $125

The not-to-exceed sum on the contract was $2,292,249.89.

Many Linn County contracts, and eventually all of them, will be available for your perusal on the Linn County Auditor’s website, here.

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , ,

Please boo next time

The most effective way to shut someone down in the public comment period of city council meetings is not for the city council to ban the person. It’s for the other members of the public to express their displeasure with the person at the mike.

I wasn’t at the city council meeting where Robert Bates rammed his ramblings down everyone’s throat, but I heard the clip on Bob Bruce’s show on WMT and here’s what Rick Smith reported:

“Bates’ presentation had been wandering, ineffective, intimidating, abusive, finger-pointing and, at-times, podium-thumping. He used profanity, yelling and what sounded like sexual references, and at times addressed specific, pointed, personal attacks at council members and someone from Minnesota, which apparently was the city manager.”

There were 100 people in the room. Why didn’t anyone boo? Tense silence only contributes to an exhibitionist’s performance. A chorus of boos from the timid gallery would have deflated the thing pronto.

Now there are rumors the city might get a restraining order to keep Bates away. It would be massively unfortunate for it to come to that, considering the people of Cedar Rapids could have shouted Bates down themselves.

It’s possible, I guess, that the 100 people at the meeting liked what Bates was saying. Let’s hope that’s not true. But if it’s not, Wednesday’s gallery silence was at best an isolated case of collective public cowardice.

Filed under: Cedar Rapids City Council, , ,

Politics, FEMA and the city: People! It’s complicated!

Judging by the uniform tone of comments on the story I wrote for today’s front page, readers do not understand what actually is happening.

The subtext of the entire story is that FEMA’s announcement of $77 million for Cedar Rapids is no more than a symbolic gesture, with no immediate effect. So when FEMA says the city is “moving too slowly,” well, that doesn’t mean a lot, because in the next breath FEMA says it’s important for the city to move slowly through a rigorous cost estimate process. Prosser says the city won’t see any money until its detailed damage and repair estimates are complete.

But FEMA did say the city was moving too slowly and the $77 million was a surprise. It was done behind the city’s back, you might say. So exploring that is worth a news story, right?

Now, Journalism 101. News stories are bound by a couple of things. They can’t be too long, and they must be written in plain language, with a clear, strong lead. If those rules are violated, nobody reads the story, because it’s boring and confusing. This is something public officials often fail to acknowledge.

But on the other hand, public officials sometimes have reason to be frustrated. Reporters like me can easily oversimplify a complicated issue, and in the process make public figures look bad. Politicians, especially, are aware of the fact that many readers are idiots, and if there’s something slightly negative in the headline, then that’s it. Lights out. The reader puts down the newspaper, sips his coffee, and is utterly convinced that so-and-so has bungled such-and-such.

My hope, and usually it’s a failed hope, is that the reading public take a more nuanced approach. I write a news story like today’s hoping readers get to the fourth paragraph and see that there is a tension between what FEMA says and what the city says. But no! All the comments on the website display a profound lack of understanding and an almost religious commitment to bash city government.

If there’s anyone out there, I’d be interested in his or her thoughts.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Quarrel over jail spills into mall corridor

A quarrel over the jail surfaced Wednesday between the Linn County supervisors and Sheriff Don Zeller.

Zeller and Col. Karl Kolz showed up at the supervisors’ formal session Wednesday at Westdale Mall and sat at the table.

Toward the end of the session, Kolz asked the supervisors to affirm their commitment to quickly rebuild the county jail on May’s Island.

Supervisors Lu Barron and Jim Houser were in the room, as was county Strategic and Legislative Services Director Mike Goldberg.

Kolz wanted to know when work will begin on the building. Zeller sat next to him and was silent. The subtext was Thursday’s meeting to discuss the possibility of a joint Johnson/Linn County Jail, an idea Zeller vehemently opposes.

Kolz: I guess I don’t know why we wouldn’t occupy the building per se, but if we are, the sooner the better.

Mike Goldberg: It’s moving forward… It just can’t be brought on line as fast as the courthouse.

Goldberg didn’t have information at hand to give a timeline.

Barron: We’ve kind of been in transition here with some job descriptions changed.

Kolz raised the point that area jail officials who are housing Linn County inmates would like to know when the Linn County Jail might be restored.

Kolz: We’re not able to tell them anything at this point.

Houser: As soon as we know anything, we’ll keep you informed.

Kolz: That would be handy.

After the meeting, Zeller and Barron stood in the mall corridor for several minutes, engaged in animated conversation.

Filed under: County Government, Flood, , , , ,

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