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Local
Joe Lichty: Giving back to his community

Twelfth in a series on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.

WATERLOO — Joe Lichty can be described as exceptional, engaged and dedicated because of his persistent devotion to his family and community.

Lichty grew up south of Waterloo on the family farm.

“I’ve been born and raised here my whole life,” Lichty said. “I grew up with five brothers. With five brothers, we can also call on each other whenever we need a project or to fix something. We’re used to calling on each other as a very close farm family, so maybe that’s where the roots come from.”

A good friend of his family recruited him to work at Veridian Credit Union after he graduated from Iowa State University.

“As soon as I got in the door I absolutely loved it,” Lichty said. “It’s a great career that really invests in employees and development.”

He went to St. Mary’s Catholic School in east Waterloo as a child and graduated from Columbus High School. Growing up in a rural area and going to school in the city helped him develop a sense of belonging everywhere.

“I love being in the community, and it’s nice to know the community part of it is valued,” Lichty said.

Rolling up his sleeves as a volunteer is important to Lichty. He has been on the board of directors for the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley for two years. He’ll serve as vice president next year.

“(It’s) a fun one to be a part of because the volunteer center really promotes effective volunteerism in the community,” he said.

He personally enjoys giving his time, Lichty said.

“Being involved in the community you were brought up in makes you feel valued, that you know you can make a difference, an impact,” he said. “It takes volunteers to make the world go round.”

Lichty is proud to call the Cedar Valley his home.

“There are a lot of great people here in our community, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of them over the years,” Lichty said.

Lichty plays softball for Veridian-sponsored teams during the summer and is a coach for his 4-year-old son’s T-ball team.

“It spreads you pretty thin, but it’s also fun to be active and part of your kid’s life,” Lichty said.

He and his wife, Melanie, also have a 3-month-old baby.

Lichty appreciated the support he received when Melanie was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in 2011 at age 30.

“The MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) is very near and dear to our heart,” he said. “It’s been challenging and rewarding, because she married a guy that can take on more and do things to help our and help our family out.”

Lichty and his family helped raise $1,000 for MDA and saw to it those funds stayed local, said Lauren Finke of the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley. Annually, the Lichtys participate and raise funds during the National Association of Letter Carriers golf tournament and bowling tournament.

‘Being involved in the community you were brought up in makes you feel valued, that you know you can make a difference, an impact. It takes volunteers to make the world go round.’

COURIER STAFF PHOTO 

Joe Lichty works for Veridian Credit Union and is involved with the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley. Photo taken at Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls.


Govt-and-politics
Waterloo and county get money for safer roads

WATERLOO — The city is getting state funds to fix an increasingly dangerous intersection on West Ridgeway Avenue.

The Iowa Transportation Commission has approved a $310,000 grant for Waterloo to install traffic signals and a turning lane at the T-intersection of Ridgeway and Greyhound Drive.

It’s part of nearly $8 million earmarked this month under the Iowa Traffic Safety Improvement Program for 44 projects statewide, including rural road projects in Black Hawk and Fayette counties.

Waterloo Traffic Operations Superintendent Sandie Greco said the city sought the grant as vehicle counts and accidents began increasing with the opening of Love’s Travel Stop and other development in the growing Greenbelt Center business park.

“There have been accidents, and some of them have been rear-end,” Greco said. “When (John) Deere lets out, the traffic is very, very heavy on Ridgeway.”

Crash data for the intersection show a pattern of broadside collisions between traffic on northbound Greyhound Drive turning left to head westbound on Ridgeway. It is difficult for vehicles at the stop sign on Greyhound to make that turn when traffic is heavy, especially during peak hours caused by workers from the John Deere Product Engineering Center.

Between from 2014 through the middle of 2018 eight people were transported to hospitals for injuries from accidents at that location. There were also two reported rear-end accidents as eastbound vehicles on Ridgeway slowed to turn right, or south, onto Greyhound.

The safety grant will pay for traffic signals at the intersection and construct a right-turn lane from eastbound Ridgeway onto Greyhound. Greco said the construction project is expected to begin in 2020.

The city also received a $5,000 grant to pay for its “Vision Zero Initiative,” an education and awareness campaign with a goal to prevent traffic accident fatalities.

Meanwhile, Black Hawk County received the $286,000 it sought for edge treatments on County Road C57, or Cedar-Wapsi Road, when it is resurfaced in 2019 from U.S. Highway 218 to U.S. Highway 63.

“We are going to put 13-foot lanes on the road, which currently has 12-lanes,” said County Engineer Cathy Nicholas. “This money will pay for the additional asphalt widening … and we’re going to add edgeline rumble stripes.”

The 6-inch wide rumble stripes will alert motorists who drift toward the shoulder, while 6-inch painted markings will be more visible to motorists, especially in the fog and snow.

“The (Iowa Department of Transportation) is taking a more systemic approach to road safety,” Nicholas said. “They want us to target more corridor level projects instead of just putting all our money at one bad intersection.”

Nicholas noted traffic is increasing on Cedar-Wapsi Road since IDOT built an interchange at U.S. 218, which opened in 2016. The average daily traffic has increased by 27 percent, according to state data.

Fayette County is also getting $430,588 in safety funds for similar edge treatments on County Road W51, or Cedar Road, from near Elgin to Iowa Highway 56.

County Engineer Joel Frantz said the project, likely to be done in 2020, will add edgeline rumble stripes and also install a safety edge that creates a taper from the roadway to the shoulder. The current condition can be unsafe for a vehicle when the tire drops off the pavement on the soft shoulder.


Govt-and-politics
State lawmakers mulling changes to Iowa’s judicial selection process

Thomas Levis

DES MOINES — Judges in Iowa’s courtrooms are chosen by a system widely praised for curtailing the role of politics in the process.

That may change. Legislators may tweak the law to give the governor more power in the process, and Gov. Kim Reynolds signals she is open to the idea.

Republicans who support the change say the current system gives lawyers too large of a role in the nominating process to the detriment of the public. But legal experts say altering the nominating system would be foolish.

“I just think tampering with that formula is an extraordinarily bad idea,” said Jerry Anderson, dean of Drake University Law School.

Iowa judges are selected by a merit-based process written into the state Constitution. A nominating commission interviews and vets candidates, then provides a list of recommendations to the governor, who appoints one of the finalists to the bench.

Each of Iowa’s 14 judicial districts has an 11-member nominating commission, and there is a separate commission of 17 members at the state level for nominations to the Iowa Supreme Court and state appeals court.

The state commission consists of eight lawyers elected by their licensed peers in Iowa, eight members of the public appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate and a chair who is the most senior member of the Iowa Supreme Court who is not the chief justice.

After judges or justices are appointed and serve part of their terms, they stand for retention — letting voters decide if they stay in office.

The merit selection process was enshrined in the Iowa Constitution in 1962. As with all constitutional amendments, the merit selection process had to be approved by separate sessions of the Legislature and then by Iowa voters.

With Republicans controlling the Iowa House, Iowa Senate and governor’s office for at least two more years, changes are being discussed.

“There are several people in our caucus that have made this a priority and have looked at our system,” said Jack Whitver, leader of Senate Republicans. “Frankly, over 20 years-plus there have been a lot of decisions that legislators feel conflicted with what they wanted to do or their intent. This is a long-term issue that several in our caucus want to start looking at.”

Republicans have watched as in the past decade the Iowa Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal — years before the U.S. Supreme Court did the same — and struck down Republican-written laws that attempted to require a three-day waiting period before a woman could get an abortion and ban the use of telemedicine in abortions. A related law — which would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected — is in the court system now and is expected to reach the state’s high court.

In 2010, voters removed three state Supreme Court justices who were up for retention that year and who were part of the unanimous ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

The campaign against the justices was led by social conservative Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican who has run unsuccessfully for governor.

Earlier this year, Reynolds appointed the first woman to the Iowa Supreme Court since that 2010 vote. The state commission now is seeking candidates for another Supreme Court vacancy that Reynolds also will fill.

Making changes to the merit selection process would require a constitutional amendment. Republican legislative leaders say that is unlikely, but they could consider changes to the nominating commissions.

Those legislative leaders think lawyers and the Iowa State Bar Association have an outsized role in the process, which suggests legislators may consider changing the makeup of the commissions. A bill filed last session in the Iowa Senate would have removed lawyers from the nominating commissions and replaced them with gubernatorial appointments instead.

“I envision us to continue to have a merit-based system, which is what many people say is what’s good about the Iowa process,” Whitver said. “Right now the (state) commission is made up of eight lawyers that are only elected by lawyers. So the general public has no say in who those people are. ... So maybe balancing that out so normal citizens have a greater role than just attorneys.”

Linda Upmeyer, the Republican House speaker, said members of her caucus also have expressed interest in changing the process.

“I think the goal at the end of the day is just to make sure that there’s not a single entity that has sort of an outsized weight in how that’s done. If there are people in Iowa that would like to seek a judgeship but there’s no path for them, then that may not be the way we want to go,” Upmeyer said. “We may want to just make sure that there’s good balance there so that people get consideration and that the governor has a group of people that she can choose a judge from that at least shares her world view.”

To Anderson, that sounds like an attempt to make judicial selection political — which is what the current system was created to avoid.

“It’s basically to politicize the process. That’s how I read that. And that’s exactly what we don’t want,” Anderson said. “We have a judiciary that I think is the best in the country in terms of quality from top to bottom. Why would you mess with the process that has produced that quality of judges?”

Experts said the balanced makeup of the nominating commissions is appropriate because lawyers and members of the public bring different perspectives to the application process, and that it is important to have lawyers on the commissions because they have firsthand, working experience with the candidates in the courtroom.

Other Iowa legal experts and lawyer groups also said changing the judicial nominating process would be unwise.

“The system for selecting judges that the people of Iowa put in place through constitutional amendment more than 50 years ago is still the best system in the country for putting qualifications, temperament and experience ahead of politics. As a result, we have the best judges in the country,” Saffin Parrish-Sams, president of the Iowa Association of Justice, said in an email. “Shifting control to the political branches of government will only inject politics into the courts, and it will weaken our system of checks and balances.”

Tom Levis, president of the Iowa State Bar Association, disputes the group has an overly influential role in the nominating process. He said lawyers from regions across the state vote on the lawyers who are placed on the commissions.

“Injecting politics into this process of selecting our judges is crazy. It’s exactly why we got merit-based selection back in 1963, to get politics out of it,” Levis said. “There isn’t anything that’s broken. We’re getting good judges, good, quality judges. I think it’s just a terrible mistake ... to try to change the process for nominating judges.”


AP
Trump: Government stays closed as long as Dems reject wall

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says parts of the government will stay shut as long as Democrats refuse to build more barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, seemingly dashing hope for a Christmas miracle that would soon allow several departments to reopen and employees to return to work.

Asked when the government would reopen, Trump said: “I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they’d like to call it.”

“I’ll call it whatever they want but it’s all the same thing,” he said at the White House after offering holiday greetings to U.S. troops stationed around the country and the world.

Trump argued that drug flows and human trafficking into the U.S. can only be stopped by a wall.

“We can’t do it without a barrier. We can’t do it without a wall,” he told reporters.

Democrats oppose spending any money on a wall or fence, pushing instead for increased use of technology to control access at the border.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of Congress, blame Trump for the stalemate and for “plunging the country into chaos.” They pointed to problems beyond the shutdown, including heavy losses on Wall Street and Trump’s decision to fire his defense secretary.

“The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it,” they said in the statement.

Trump had said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government in a fight over the wall, but now blames Democrats for refusing to vote for a House-passed bill that includes the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall.

The White House presented a counteroffer over the weekend to Schumer that is between Trump’s $5.7 billion price tag and the $1.3 billion Democrats have offered, said budget director Mick Mulvaney. He did not elaborate, but a Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the private talks said the White House offered $2.5 billion — an initial $2.1 billion plus $400 million Democrats called a “slush fund” for the president’s other immigration priorities.

Mulvaney said he was waiting for Schumer’s response. Schumer’s office said the parties remained “very far apart.”

Trump chimed in Monday from the White House, where he has been cooped up in the mansion since Saturday, when the shutdown began. Trump, who typically spends Christmas at his Florida estate, tweeted at one point Monday about feeling lonely.

“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” he tweeted. “At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”

Trump met Monday on border security with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other department officials. Senate negotiators continued talks behind the scenes with Democrats and Republicans. The House and Senate briefly gaveled into session on Christmas Eve before quickly closing again with no further action.

Several Cabinet departments and agencies have been closed since Saturday after their funding lapsed, and Mulvaney warned the shutdown could stretch into January, when Democrats are set to take back control the House.

Trump excused federal employees from work Monday and Christmas is a federal holiday, meaning the public could begin feeling the shutdown’s effects today. Some 800,000 federal workers must either work without pay for the time being, or stay home and wait to be paid later.

Trump promised to make Mexico pay for the border wall. Mexico has refused.