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UNI to buy University Book & Supply

CEDAR FALLS — After 80 years of serving the needs of students and professors, a College Hill business is becoming part of the University of Northern Iowa.

UNI announced Monday it has signed a letter of intent with University Book & Supply Inc. to purchase the bookstore for $2.4 million plus inventory costs at the time of closing. The only bookstore near campus, it has served as a main source for student textbook purchases.

Six stockholders own the store, at 1009 W. 23rd St. Among those are Kathleen Hesse and Doug Johnson, respectively president and vice president of the business, and its largest shareholders.

“Kathleen and I are getting pretty close to retirement age, and so we started looking at our options,” said Johnson, noting the other stockholders were not willing to buy them out. “It was really coming to light the university might be interested. We approached them with the idea.”

Store owners have been working on an agreement with UNI “over the last several months,” he said. They’ve made it public now because the Iowa Board of Regents will consider the request at its meeting Wednesday.

“We’re excited that they were really willing to work with us,” said Johnson.

The university expects the transaction to be complete by March 1, according to a news release. No general education funds will be utilized in the purchase.

Michael Hager, the university’s senior vice president for finance and operations, said there are two primary reasons the acquisition is a fit for UNI.

“First and foremost, students will continue to have convenient access to the textbooks and course materials necessary for their educational experience,” he said in the news release. “With UNI owning the bookstore it will operate as a not-for-profit entity, which will offer UNI students the lowest possible pricing every year. Taking advantage of this opportunity is another element of the ongoing UNI initiative of providing a high-quality education at a reasonable cost.

“In addition, the acquisition will keep ownership and control of this business in the Cedar Valley, which we feel is very important,” noted Hager.

Johnson said those same reasons are important to the current owners. “We knew the university would be able to do some things that we wouldn’t be able to if they run it as a nonprofit,” he explained.

Textbook sales account for more than 60 percent of University Book & Supply’s business. The store, which serves the broader community as well, also sells other books, apparel, teacher resources and school supplies.

The book selling business has gone through massive changes in recent years with the advent of online retailers and electronic books, developments that also have affected textbook sales.

“We’ve been fortunate that at the University of Northern Iowa we’ve been the sole bookstore,” said Johnson. “We’ve taken pride in that. We felt we’ve been fairly competitive, but it’s a challenge just like anything else.”

He called the current situation unique among regents institutions, noting the University of Iowa and Iowa State University already operate their own bookstores. “Nationally, most (public universities) have their own or lease out to another company,” said Johnson.

The store originated as Latta’s Bookstore in 1937 at 909 W. 23rd St. It moved to the current address in 1962, eventually growing to 28,000 square feet. In a renovation completed in 2003, the store expanded to an adjacent building, adding another 24,000 square feet.

The store employs 20 people full time and 15 to 20 people part time. University officials declined to comment on any changes that would be made once the sale is complete.

“It’s really just an agreement in principle. The final agreement has not been signed,” said Scott Ketelsen, a UNI spokesman. “It would be premature to say anything in detail.”

Voter IDs going out under new voting law

DES MOINES — With Iowa’s controversial voter identification law poised to take effect, Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office plans to begin mailing ID cards this month.

About 123,000 registered voters who do not already have a valid Iowa driver’s license or other accepted identification will receive the cards.

The cards are free and will be sent automatically to roughly 6 percent of Iowa’s registered voters. Pate, the state’s elections commissioner, said the process is designed to ensure all registered voters in Iowa have an identification card starting with the 2018 elections. The state will mail free voter ID cards automatically to every registered voter who does not already have an Iowa driver’s license or non-driver’s ID.

“It should be easy to vote but hard to cheat, and that’s what this new law ensures,” Pate said in a statement.

Registered voters who have a valid driver’s license or non-operator identification card from the Iowa Department of Transportation will not receive a card. They need to take state-issued ID with them to the polls beginning in January 2018.

The law was passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed into law by Republican former Gov. Terry Branstad despite concerns from Democrats and civil rights groups the law’s true intent was to suppress voter turnout.

Besides requiring ID and signature verification at the polls, the law also ends straight-party voting and shortens the early voting period from 40 to 29 days.

During 2018, voters will be asked to show ID before voting. Anyone without necessary ID will be asked to sign an oath verifying his or her identity before casting a ballot.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, Iowa voters will be required to show a driver’s license, nondriver’s ID, passport, military ID, veterans ID or state-issued voter ID card at the polls before they vote.

Voters without necessary ID may use an attester to swear to their identity and residency, or they will be offered a provisional ballot and allowed to provide ID later, up until the time of the county canvass of votes.

Jim Mowrer, a Democrat who is seeking his party’s 2018 nomination to become Iowa’s Secretary of State to replace Pate, took issue with the timing of the mailings in December.

“Sending out voting ID cards during the holidays and without the necessary public education campaign to alert voters of this change shows a lack of commitment and sincerity from Paul Pate,” Mowrer said in a statement. “There is no doubt that thousands of Iowans are going to misplace these ID cards and that thousands more will have a more difficult time participating in the democratic process because of Paul Pate.”

Proponents of the new law argued the changes will improve election integrity, but critics insist they will discourage turnout and raise costs to taxpayers.

Grassley says comments on estate tax misinterpreted

WASHINGTON (AP) — A top Republican senator said Monday his comments were misinterpreted when he defended GOP efforts to scale back the federal estate taxes because it helps those who invest rather than people who spend their money on “booze or women or movies.”

“My point regarding the estate tax, which has been taken out of context, is that the government shouldn’t seize the fruits of someone’s lifetime of labor after they die,” Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a statement. “The question is one of basic fairness, and working to create a tax code that doesn’t penalize frugality, saving and investment.”

The seven-term senator, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, made the comments about the estate tax late last week in an interview with the Des Moines Register. It has attracted attention since.

Grassley told the newspaper, “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

The estate tax affects a very small and very wealthy number of Americans, with only the estates of about 2 out of every 1,000 Americans who die facing the tax.

Under current law, when someone dies the estate owes taxes on the value of assets transferred to heirs above $5.5 million for individuals, $11 million for couples. The Senate bill doubles those limits but does not repeal the tax. The House bill initially doubles the limits and then repeals the entire tax after 2023.

House and Senate GOP negotiators are working out the differences between the two bills, with the goal of completing legislation Congress can send to President Donald Trump before Christmas.

Farm-state lawmakers and other Republicans have long argued the estate tax is a harsh hit on small businesses and family farms. The Tax Policy Center estimates only 80 small business and small farm estates nationwide will face any estate tax in 2017.

Grassley, in his statement Monday, said he wants to ensure the tax code is as fair for “family farmers who have to break up their operations to pay the IRS following the death of a loved one as it is for parents saving for their children’s college education or working families investing and saving for their retirement.”

The Grassley comment immediately prompted a T-shirt from Raygun, which has stores in the Midwest, including Des Moines. The T-shirt read, “Spend every darn penny on booze or women or movies or have $11,200,000: The choice is yours, America!”


Convention center buyer fights back against councilman's claims

WATERLOO — A developer preparing to take over the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center is once again firing back at accusations leveled by a city councilman.

Waterloo City Council members voted 4-2 Monday to reject Councilman Tom Lind’s request to hire a “special counsel” to investigate agreements approved this summer with Leslie Hospitality Co. of Omaha, Neb.

Councilman Steve Schmitt joined Lind in voting for the measure while Bruce Jacobs abstained due to a conflict of interest through his employment.

The vote came after Edwin Leslie said he would welcome a fair investigation of the agreements, which call for the city to turn over the convention center and tax incentives in return for his company, doing business as LK Holdings, investing $20 million to renovate the building and adjoining Ramada Hotel.

Tom Lind calls for probe into Sullivan sale

WATERLOO — City Councilman Tom Lind is calling for a review of the downtown convention center sale following reports the developer was sued by a business partner on a hotel project in Omaha, Neb.

But Leslie took exception with claims Lind made last week that one of Leslie’s Omaha projects failed and it appeared Leslie engaged in “pay for play” by endorsing several council members running for election in November with a Facebook advertisement.

“That is beyond libel, that is beyond slander,” Leslie said. “You’re accusing me of buying council votes. You’re accusing me of buying the vote of someone who wasn’t even an elected official at the time.”

Lind, who also clashed with the developer in August, called for the investigation into the development agreements after learning Leslie Hospitality was sued by a business partner involved in a $40 million hotel and convention center project. That dispute was settled confidentially out of court in November.

“What’s not factual is your statement to this council, on TV, recorded, that says it was a failed business venture,” Leslie said. “The hotel is open today. The renovations that I agreed to make were completed. The funds we agreed to spend, were spent.”

Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson read through a long list of provisions from the approved development agreements that call for the convention center ownership to revert to the city and for the tax incentives earmarked for the project to be withheld if LK Holdings fails to perform as required.

Schmitt was the only council member to ask questions or offer comments during the debate. He asked why Leslie was able to use the convention center Facebook page to endorse council candidates.

Leslie said the Facebook post — it endorsed Mayor Quentin Hart, Councilmen Tom Powers and Pat Morrissey and Sharon Juon, who defeated Lind in the Nov. 7 election — was made on a page he owns, paid for by him personally and was done without the candidates’ knowledge.

“As I stated before, all I want is fairness,” Leslie said. “If you’re upset by the fact that I personally decided to buy a political ad to support your opponent, that’s politics Mr. Lind. … My right as an individual is to support who I feel is the best choice for office.”

Lind made no comments when the issue was discussed. Later in the meeting, he said he wished his colleagues were as interested in the convention center as they were the liquor license they had just voted to deny for a different business.

LK Holdings has already hired staff and has been making improvements to the convention center through an early access agreement. The transfer of the center’s ownership to LK Holdings has been delayed while the city clears up title issues on its part.