Monthly Archives: July 2008

Rebuild Iowa — A logo and so much more

Finally, the Rebuild Iowa Commission is hard at work. They even have a logo. Sharp.

So what inspiring message did the best and brightest deliver to weary Iowans?

State and federal officials acknowledged Thursday there will be “huge gaps” between the financial aid government can provide and the resources that will be needed for many Iowa communities to recover from the state’s worst natural disaster.

“We will work to get every dollar that we deserve, but it won’t be enough,” said David Miller, administrator of Iowa’s homeland security and emergency management division. “In the end, there will be these huge gaps between what’s available from the feds and what’s really needed.”

Miller said rough estimates indicate that gap in unmet needs easily tops $1.25 billion, with housing being paramount as local officials grapple with such issues as buyouts and temporary rental units and spin off concerns over retaining workers, maintaining their tax bases and keeping stable economies.

 Oh. Bummer. So, I make a motion to change the name of this panel to the Rebuild Some of Iowa Commission. Second?

But, on the bright side, the Gov. Culver acknowledged the state will have to step in to help fill some of that gap, and that the Legislature is coming back in September. Also, the commission, headquartered in flood-ravaged Urbandale (sarcasm), is going to have a meeting in Cedar Rapids on July 31.

So where’s the state’s gap-filling money going to come from?

First, they’ve got to dip into reserves. After all, with people hurting, why should the state be allowed to sit on a pot of extra tax dollars paid by Iowans? Give it back to people who need it.

Second, this Legislature has approved huge spending increases over the last two years. It’s time to revisit those increases now that circumstances have changed. I’m not saying teacher salaries and other big ticket spending items aren’t important, but it might be prudent to shave back the rate of increase to provide more recovery dollars. And if we’re bonding for a prison, what about bonding to pay for repairs to other public facilities hit by flooding?

Third, there should be some move to give local governments more revenue tools to deal with the disaster, even if they’re temporary and and allowed only in disaster-designated counties. The sputtering Model T funding structure we have now is a barrier for local officials.

Fourth, lawmakers should take advantage of a bipartisan atmosphere to come together on at least one big, tough issue, like property tax reform or sustainable infrastructure funding. I know that’s a long shot, but wouldn’t it be a monument to Iowa’s gritty disaster response if lawmakers solved one of those protracted, perennial problems? I think it would. Forget the election. Think legacy.

And sell RIO logo apparel. I bet it would fly off the shelves. (Sarcasm)

UPDATE — Looks like Culver, who appeared on Iowa Press today, is already rejecting idea No. 2:

JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Chet Culver says the state won’t have to cut back on ambitious and expensive long-term education and alternative energy programs despite the heavy cost of this year’s flooding.

Culver says the state has more than $600 million in reserve funds and has controlled spending, giving it a fiscal pad.

Speaking Friday, Culver also ruled out any increase in the gasoline tax to help pay for flood recovery efforts.



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What’s Offending Us?







1. The New Yorker. What’s more offensive, this magazine cover, or the fact that a candidate who has put himself and his family through an 18-month meat grinder of a presidential campaign still has to prove he loves his country, or that the media treats the manufactured patriotism debate as a real story?

The cover, definitely.

2. Bud Light. How dare those Beligian ‘ferriners take over the King of Beers. Next thing you know they’ll start churning out a weak-tasting mass-produced barely recognizable facsimile of good beer.

3. Unsightly clusters of outdoor smokers. From The Des Moines Register:

Government efforts to push smokers out of public places have some Des Moines officials worried about the fallout from clusters of puffers on sidewalks and in parking lots.

“It’s going to force them out in areas where they’re more visible,” Des Moines City Manager Rick Clark said.

 Streets and sidewalks are not included in the bans, and City Councilwoman Christine Hensley said she is concerned the result could pose an image problem.

“It’s one of those issues we’ll have to deal with,” Hensley said. “Every time you make a decision on smoking, it pushes it someplace else.”

Clark said there are no plans to go after sidewalk smokers, but city officials will study the entire smoking issue.

People, on sidewalks? Horrors. They should be rounded up and bused to the nearest casino.


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Who’s on (Flooded) First?

Abbott and Costello

Welcome to this official briefing for the owners of flood-damaged homes. I’m Mr. Abbott and this is my deputy, Mr. Costello. We’re with the Combined Recovery Advisory Panel, and we’re here to clearly explain the current situation with regard to where and how rebuilding can proceed in the flood zones.

Now, in order to make this easy to understand, we’re going to use a series of hypothetical homeowners. And to avoid and confusion with real victim-subjects, we’ve given them very unique names.

1. Who owns a yellow-placarded home in the 500-year flood plain.

2. What owns a red-carded home in the 100-year flood plain

3. I don’t know owns a yellow-placarded home in the 100-year flood plain

4. Too early to tell owns a purple-carded home in the 100-year flood plain.

Go ahead with your questions.

“So which homeowner can go ahead, get a permit and start rebuilding now?”



No. They’re on hold, for now.

“Who’s on hold?”


“I’m confused. Who can start repairs?”

That’s right.

“What’s right?”

No. They have to wait. Do you understand?

“Uh…I don’t know.”

No, no, no. They need an engineer’s certificate proving they’re at least a foot above the 100-year plain before they seek a permit.

“Wait. Who does?”

No. I don’t know.

“What gives? Aren’t you supposed to be the people in charge?”

Of course. We understand everything. We wrote the rules. It couldn’t be simpler.

“Right. So tell me, which homeowner might be eligible for a federal buyout at some point?”

Clearly, it’s too early to tell.

“Sure, but could you at least make a guess?”

Certainly. Glad to. It’s too early to tell.”

“OK, now I’m getting dizzy. Maybe it’s the heat. I need to know which people can rebuild. And ‘I don’t know’ just isn’t going to cut it, folks.”

Right. They need to be a foot above the plain before they start cutting anything. Who is cleared to build. What’s still being held up. As for buyouts, we still believe it’s too early to tell.

“That’s WHAT I’m ASKING…”

You don’t need to shout.  

“This is outrageous. I quit. Shame on you guys. You just really don’t give a damn.”

Not true. Flood control measures will be discussed at the next briefing, sir.

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Nuts About News

The Columbia Journalism Review chronicles how some of America’s most trusted news sources handled Jesse Jackson’s cutting remarks aimed at Barack Obama’s manhood. Some papers left readers dangling.

OK, I’ll stop now.


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I Say Give Him A Break

So John Gillick walked into the Gazette Tuesday to share his story with me. He lives, or used to live, at 1027 10th Street NW, which was flooded. I’d never met him before, but he seems like a pleasant guy.

Gillick said that in his hurry to evacuate on the fateful flooded Thursday he had to leave his car behind, parked at the curb in front of his place. He tried to go back to get it after getting his wife and a few of their belongings out in her car, but it was too late.

Of course, it was several days before he was allowed back into his neighborhood. Between evacuation and return, the police had his car towed away. He’s not sure exactly why and he says the police haven’t been able to give him a definitive answer. In any event, Darrah’s Towing hauled it away and it’s now sitting in impound.

Gillick would have liked to get a few bucks from the junk man for his trashed car, but it looks like he’s going to have to let Darrah’s keep it. He really needs the money, probably more than they do, but rules are rules, as we’ve all heard again and again.

“It just gripes me to no end,” said Gillick, who spent much of Tuesday trying in vain to get an explanation and maybe catch a break.

My sympathy for Gillick is compounded by the fact that his once yellow-carded house has now been red-carded. Oh, and he also owned one of the famously smashed Ellis boathouses. Oh, and he says his wife’s mother had a stroke in the middle of all this misery. Good Lord.

Sure, there are probably steps he could have taken to avoid this car mess. And yes, I know without laws there is chaos. But as an unapologetic pushover, I say give him a break and let him get a few bucks out of his car. He needs a little good news, clearly.

And good luck to all the John Gillicks out there, who have been served injury with a side of insult.

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Chrome Horse is Sound

Some great news from Manager Mark Dukes’ blog, posted on Monday:

“The building which houses the Chrome Horse and 3rd Street Live is structurally safe and sound.

“An independent structural engineer – hired by the Chrome Horse – inspected the building from basement to ceiling Monday morning and pronounced it safe to repair the business. He said there was no structural damage from the flood; nothing in the foundation had moved, no cracks, no nothing. This confirms what we have been thinking from eyeballing the structure the past couple weeks, so obviously we’re very happy to get an official confirmation.

“For those of you who have run into people who insist the building is, or has been, demolished, have ‘em check this out. Or better yet, have ‘em drive by and see for themselves. We’re not going anywhere, and neither is this stubborn 100-year-old building! – Duker”

 If  anyone out there has updates to pass along about other flooded local joints, let me know.

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One Is the Loneliest Number

Anyone else out there scratching their head about the recent news that Cedar Rapids gets only one seat on the Gov. Culver’s 14-member Rebuild Iowa Commission? That’s the group Chet created to guide Iowa’s disaster recovery efforts.

Now, I don’t mean to diminish or question the credentials and talents of those who were named to the commission late last week. All are good, capable Iowans to be sure. But when the state’s second largest city is devastated by an unprecedented natural disaster, you’d think we might rate a few more seats on an important panel that could have a big impact here.

Consider the fact that there are as many members on the commission from Creston and Sioux City as there are from Cedar Rapids. Can you imagine if Des Moines had been hit as hard as Cedar Rapids, and then only one person from the capital city was appointed to the recovery commission? Wouldn’t happen. All Hell would break loose.

True, there are four members from “The Corridor,” including Jim Fausett, the longtime mayor of Coralville, Cedar Rapids attorney Caroll Reasoner, Iowa City businessman Bill Bywater and Bill Gerhard of Iowa City, president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council.

So what’s this council do anyway? Pretty important stuff, according to the governor’s office:

The commission will report to the Office of the Governor and to the Legislature within 45 days of the first meeting. This report will include an assessment of the storms’ impact on the state – including our people, schools, businesses, and private and public infrastructure — and recommend initial steps the legislative and executive branches can take to assist in recovery.

The Commission will develop a comprehensive long-term vision for rebuilding a safer, stronger, and better Iowa. In doing so, the Commission is charged with reaching out to stakeholders at all levels of the private sector and government, and citizens of all walks of life, from all parts of the state. This innovative and inclusive process will be accompanied by recommendations for strategies to achieve that vision.

The Commission will continue to advise on the state’s ongoing recovery efforts at the federal, state and local levels, and assess progress towards meeting the rebuilding vision.

The Commission will also be empowered to create and appoint ongoing task forces focused on specific issues, and, as necessary, develop further recommendations in these areas in order to support a strategic recovery process.

 Maybe the commission will appoint a Cedar Rapids task force, or a corridor task force. Who knows? In any event, Reasoner is carrying a pretty heavy load of local needs and hopes into this thing, and I wish her well. I also wish she had some more local members by her side.

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