You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
MATTHEW PUTNEY, COURIER PHOTO EDITOR 

People in kayaks on Saturday search Wolf Creek in La Porte City for Jake Wilson, an autistic 16-year-old, that went missing last week.


Local
topical
Search handed over to investigative team

LA PORTE CITY — The large map is taped to the side of a fire truck inside the fire station here. Despite its size, one needs to get close to understand the scale of the search for Jake Wilson.

In black outline, the map shows the wide areas around La Porte City that have been searched since April 8 for the missing 16-year-old from La Porte City. La Porte City Police Chief Chris Brecher said people have walked ditches, searched open areas, looked inside culverts, along roadways and waterways from Vinton to Evansdale — as well as a remote park in Bremer County — and still they have not found the teen. They’ve been through Hickory Hills Park and little parks and drive-off areas in surrounding areas.

“I’m very proud of the people who came forward to help us out. We cleared so much area so quickly,” Brecher said, adding that the volunteer numbers were more than 2,000.

And then there is Wolf Creek, where search and rescue experts braved winter-like conditions as they walked it, dove into it and sent sonar equipment into it.

“We did everything in our power to clear this area. We are extremely confident that this is where Jake is not,” Brecher said Saturday evening, his arm sweeping across the map.

Sheriff Tony Thompson now takes over the lead in the investigation into the missing boy with autism. An investigations team will now begin looking at other angles to try and determine what happened to Jake.

Jake Wilson went missing the night of April 7 after he told his family he was going to walk to Wolf Creek a few blocks from his home. He never returned and his family reported him missing that night.

Thompson and Brecher believe an answer to his disappearance could come from the public. There was a large number of people in town April 7 with a bike ride and a class reunion going on. They are asking anyone who was there that day to upload their pictures and videos to a website. They want to see who is in the background of pictures and videos.

“We need that witness that doesn’t think it is anything. We need that one photo or video,” Thompson said Saturday. “There’s tons of things that a photo can capture.”

The website is www.fbi.gov/laportecityiowa. For those unsure of how to upload to the site, Thompson urged them to come to the La Porte City Police Department for help. Anyone with information on the case is asked to call 291-2515 or local authorities.

Thompson was asked Saturday whether authorities are looking at any connection between Wilson’s disappearance and the missing cousins case from Evansdale in 2012. That was when two little girls were kidnapped and killed after riding their bikes to a recreational area. Their remains were found months later in Seven Bridges Park in rural Bremer County. No one has been apprehended in that case.

“We are looking at about 100 correlations,” he said. “Nothing is off the table.”

But he said these are “substantially different circumstances.” The only similarities are that they both happened in small communities in Black Hawk County and the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office is again involved in the investigation.


Local
Alliance offers 'toolkit' for inclusion

First in a series of stories reprinted from the Spring 2018 Inclusion magazine highlight the inclusiveness of the Cedar Valley.

WATERLOO – The present and future Cedar Valley workforce is a coat of many colors. All employers have to do is put it on to make the local economy shine.

That workforce, still largely untapped, isn’t going to look, sound or act like the workforce of the past.

That workforce is right here in the Cedar Valley. It’s made up of people of all colors, cultures, experiences, traditions and social backgrounds.

It’s not only a future workforce. It’s a current, and future, customer base. Customers dying for the goods and services everyone in the community enjoys. In short, a population that also wants the Cedar Valley to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.

The goal is “economic inclusion,” and that’s the goal of a task force of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, the task force is accumulating ideas and practices from a number of employers near and far and assembling an “economic inclusion toolkit” employers can use to find, recruit and hire workers, and consequently, cultivate a larger customer base.

It’s included on the GCVAC website. It’s has a “soft” opening, Alliance official Lisa Skubal said, and it is going to be promoted and launched in earnest to Alliance members and the community at large now — this spring.

“We’ve talked about how can we help businesses and other organizations that want to be more inclusive,” said Jean Trainor, former president of Veridian Credit Union, who’s been working with the Alliance to promote inclusion and diversity for about six years.

“It’s critical,” Trainor said. “We started really focusing on the workforce shortage. Economic inclusion is the right thing to do. It’s good business. And with the workforce shortage, more businesses and organizations are paying attention to that. Because they’re not finding the workforce they need.”

The workforce is shrinking, and it’s a generational trend, Skubal said. “It’s not exclusive to the Cedar Valley or the state of Iowa. It’s a trend seen nationwide. As you have (baby) boomers retire — and that was a big population — employers are not able to replace as quickly a generation that’s retiring.”

It requires a comprehensive effort of businesses, organizations, schools and economic development groups, Skubal said. “We’re doing something about it here in the Cedar Valley area. What the economic inclusion group is doing is so important because we have a segment of labor that’s untapped out there,” which includes immigrant and refugee populations and an under-employed indigent workforce. Many of them locally already are reaching out to those groups.

“There’s good case examples of businesses, both public and private, that are doing that,” Skubal said. “So the purpose of the Economic Inclusion Toolkit is to share those best practices by those businesses and organizations so they can create that type of inclusion practice within their own company and solve some of their talent shortages as well.”

“What we believe is everyone should be able to participate in the economy … whether it’s employers or employees or customers,” Trainor said. “For Iowa, particularly, it’s probably a little bit more of a challenge because we don’t have the population growth other areas have.

“Our population growth is typically our immigrant population. That’s why it’s important we welcome everyone that wants to come to Iowa and have them participate in the economy here.”

For example, Trainor said, local school districts have students coming from as many as 60 different languages and dialects. “It’s amazing. It’s a big asset, but it presents some challenges as well. So we need to learn how to do it.”

Finding employees

One of the Cedar Valley’s leading practitioners of economic inclusion is Kyle Roed, previously senior human resources manager at Omega Cabinets in Waterloo, who recently moved to a similar position just down Airline Highway at CPM-Roskamp.

He helped institute inclusive practices at Omega.

“We started doing this about two years ago,” he said. “We were struggling to find people, and to get people to stay. What we realized was there was a lot of people who aren’t working simply because they have a barrier to work.

“We had an opportunity to work with the chamber (GCVAC) to identify what demographic groups are not actively working. The minority unemployment rate is much higher than the average unemployment rate. We targeted some of those groups. The other was parents who can’t work because of day care issues.”

An additional barrier was workers who don’t speak English as a primary language, Roed said. Working with the GCVAC economic inclusion committee, “we stared translating documents … that would bridge the gap for new hires.” The local EMBARC group also was helpful in that regard.

Hawkeye Community College’s English language learners training also greatly helped, Roed said — not just for learning English but “learning the language of manufacturing,” preparing those students for the work force.

Another barrier was transportation, Roed said. If workers didn’t have transportation, they couldn’t work to afford their own transportation. Omega partnered with The Loop, a local transportation service operated by Barb Saffold, to help new workers with initial transportation expenses, and to also encourage car pooling.

It was a good investment, Roed said. Omega currently employs about 1,000 people. Of those, 75 percent are white and non-Latino; 16 percent are African-American; 5.5 percent are Hispanic Latino; 2 percent are Asian and 2 percent are of Pacific Islander background. The company also put an emphasis on hiring military veterans, he noted, another under-utilized part of the workforce.

The local refugee immigrant population, particularly Burmese and Congolese, is a largely untapped local workforce, Roed said.

Developing flexible hours to accommodate a part-time work force and providing employment opportunities for disabled or special-needs workers is important.

Child care

Another challenge is child care, Roed said. “That one is a big one. It’s more of a community challenge,” he said. He worked with the local Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral service on day care opportunities.

One goal, he said, for businesses and organizations in the Airline Highway-Burton Avenue areas to build a central cooperative child care operation within short driving distance of the various workplaces there. It’s something he plans to continue working on even after his transition from Omega to CPM-Roskamp.

Overall, all those initiatives require a change in thinking, Roed said. “Let’s change minds that there’s not any good workers out there. Let’s remove barriers for them and get them to the workplace,” and retain them, reducing turnover and overtime expense.

Part of that economic inclusion, Trainor said, is making new workers, and customers, feel welcome by seeing employers and managers who look like them and have backgrounds similar to them.

“You want to feel welcome when you walk into a company, business or an organization or a school,” Trainor said. “If you see people in leadership roles who are like you, you feel welcome.”


Local
topical
UPDATE: Waterloo department mourns officer death

WATERLOO – Waterloo’s police department is mourning the death of an officer.

Robert Jackson Greenlee III, 45, was found dead at his home on Sunday, according to police. No foul play is suspected, and an autopsy will determine the cause of death.

Greenlee, a 24-year veteran of the police force, was a husband, father and respected member of the community, according to the department. He was a patrol sergeant on second watch, said Chief Dan Trelka.

“He was so dedicated and so committed to doing his job the best he could,” Trelka said. “The guy was like a badger, so determined and always going.”

Greenlee last worked on Friday.

One of the new tasks Greenlee took up at his job was using the new traffic enforcement camera, which the department put into service in November. Trelka said Greenlee asked to be involved in the camera program.

“He just took it and ran with it. … One day, he got 66 violations in an hour,” Trelka said.

Greenlee joined the Waterloo department in 1994 while he was a senior at the University of Northern Iowa majoring in criminal justice, according to The Courier archives. He was the son of Bob Greenlee, who retired as a lieutenant at the department.

Funeral arrangements are pending, and will likely include a law enforcement honor guard.

“Whatever the family wants, we will do,” Trelka said.


Govt-and-politics
Iowa lawmakers search for breakthroughs as session winds down

DES MOINES — The 2018 legislative session is headed for overtime.

Republicans who control both chambers of the 87th General Assembly and GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds will need more than the 100 scheduled days to get their work done. The two biggest hurdles to adjournment — state income tax cuts and a fiscal 2019 state budget.

GOP leaders last week moved closer to resolving differences between the House and Senate over the size and scope of the tax cuts. They are starting to move their competing plans through committees with the goal of reaching a compromise in negotiations.

Legislators’ daily expense money runs out after Tuesday.

“We’re still having conversations with the House and the governor to hopefully come to agreement on that tax plan. Once that’s done, then we can start working on the budgets and hopefully wrap up,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny.

On the House side, Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Republicans are looking at a plan that would provide relief to taxpayers but within a “responsible, stable” approach that maintains obligations to education, Medicaid and other priorities.

The House plan would cut state income taxes by $1.3 billion over five years. It does not eliminate federal deductibility or change corporate tax rates. It would cut individual taxes by $140 million in 2019 and $300 million in 2020.

“The projections show that returning these dollars still allow us the room to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities and expectations of Iowans,” said Upmeyer. The projected impact on the general fund would be $99 million in fiscal 2019 and $197 million in fiscal 2020.

Plans offered by Senate Republicans and the governor do seek to eliminate federal deductibility, and the Senate envisions cutting corporate tax rates after 2021.

Reynolds’ package sought to cut individual income tax rates by 23 percent, resulting in $1.7 billion in accumulated relief by 2023. The governor also recommended triggers that would slow implementation based upon economic conditions.

Senate Republicans start with an 8 percent across-the-board cut in personal income taxes in tax year 2019 that grows to nearly $2 billion in five years if certain bench marks are met. It also includes triggers and a plan to eliminate federal deductibility, cut rates more, compress brackets, reduce the corporate tax rate and make other changes.

Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the “bold but prudent” changes cut income taxes $733 million less in state income taxes in the first two years of implementation.

After that, if revenue grows more than 3.6 percent a year, the excess would flow into a trust account until it hits $200 million. At that time, the money would be used to buy down rates, eliminate federal deductibility and begin lowering corporate income taxes in 2021.

“I think there is a lot of common ground. I think the House and the governor’s office, we all believe that we have to do something significant with tax reform so now it’s just a matter of the minutiae of how we get there,” Feenstra said.

When fully implemented, the Senate plan would reduce Iowa’s top personal income tax rate from 8.9 percent to just under 6 percent, compress nine tax brackets into four and lower the corporate rate from 12 percent to about 7 percent, he said.

At the same time, GOP senators still expect to provide about $200 million in new spending next fiscal year and $235 million for fiscal 2020, after closing with a cushion of about $136 million on June 30, 2019.

Rep. Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he likes the cautious course House Republicans have chosen.

“In my aviation background, we used to say that there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots,” said Vander Linden, a former Marine officer and helicopter pilot. “And I think that may apply to tax relief as well.”

Democrats question whether the state can afford tax cuts at a time they say the budget is in crisis due to Republican mismanagement.

This is the second year in a row of midyear budget cuts as tax collections lag expectations. Democrats doubt already strained programs can be maintained while significantly reducing revenues.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, a Coralville Democrat and ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, said Democrats are interested in smart tax policy, too, but the “math just doesn’t add up.”

Jacoby said his household might receive a tax break of a couple hundred dollars under a GOP tax cut. But he asked reporters, “What the heck good is that going to do when the tuition for both of my daughters is going up $800 a kid? That doesn’t help if we’re not funding education. Again, it’s a budget mess.”

After seeing state funds cut again this year, the Board of Regents last week began discussions aimed at raising tuition at the three state universities.

Proposed base tuition increases for resident undergraduates at the University of Iowa and Iowa State are 3.8 percent, while University of Northern Iowa is asking for a 2.8 percent increase. With rising mandatory fees, room and board and other costs, the average estimated cost for a resident undergrad next academic year is about $21,369 — or $533 more than this year.

“The proposed tax cuts in this difficult agricultural time is more like a ruse to somehow make the election candidates look good,” said Regent Larry McKibben, a Marshalltown Republican who previously served in the Iowa Senate.

GOP leaders say they want to make sure federal tax cuts estimated to be at least $1.8 billion make their way into Iowans’ pockets rather than create a windfall for the state.

2019 budget

So far, the only fiscal 2019 budget work lawmakers have done was passing a 1 percent increase, or $32 million, in state aid for K-12 public schools. That was less than the 1.5 percent the governor wanted.

Reynolds proposed a $7.447 billion general fund spending plan, a 2.7 percent increase. Last month, legislators erased a projected general-fund shortfall for the current year by cutting $25 million for state agencies and repurposing $10 million in uncommitted revenues.

That leaves a projected ending balance of $31.9 million June 30.

Iowa law limits spending to 99 percent of the budget, but GOP leaders say they expect to spend less when they release fiscal 2019 targets.

Also unresolved as legislators march toward adjournment are the issues of traffic-enforcement cameras, toughening abortion restrictions, funding private school vouchers, revamping energy efficiency and utilities regulations, the opioid epidemic, the fledgling medical cannabis program and legalizing sports betting.