Recession, deaths, and the Flood in ’08-09

BY DI STAFF | MAY 15, 2009 7:30 AM

Violent deaths mark year

Iowa City residents and the UI community contended with a series of shocking slayings and suicides during the 2008-09 academic year.

Following allegations that he tried to trade grades for sexual favors, UI political-science Professor Arthur Miller committed suicide in August 2008.

Three months later in November 2008, oboe Professor Mark Weiger committed suicide after a former student filed a lawsuit alleging inappropriate conduct.

Also last November, Michelle Kehoe, 35, of Coralville, was charged with killing her 2-year-old son, Seth Kehoe, and injuring her older child, 7-year-old Sean Kehoe.

Her trial, originally slated for March, was moved to Oct. 28.

On Oct. 19, 2008, Iowa City resident David Christian allegedly killed his neighbor over a game of chess. Police allege that Christian and Michael Steward got into a fight, and Christian forced Steward’s head between his legs and applied pressure until Steward was unresponsive.

The number of deaths shocked the town — prior to 2008, local police hadn’t investigated a murder since 2004.

— by Zhi Xiong

Recession affects schools’ budgets

Iowa is not exempt from the nation’s economic turmoil.

With less money in the state, UI officials are dealing with how to make difficult budget cuts. The state Board of Regents recently met with UI officials to discuss how to balance next year’s fiscal budget.

With Gov. Chet Culver’s mandated budget cuts, all state universities could face roughly an $86 million cut.

But federal stimulus funding will lessen the blow — after that funding, the cut across the state universities will likely be around $6 million.

UI officials spent a good part of the spring semester — with the help of six budget committees — completing the university’s budget proposals. They intend to have a more concrete plan by June after meeting again with the regents.

To combat budget cuts, tuition hikes were set for next year — residents will see an increase of $6,824 in tuition and fees, and nonresidents will pay $22,198.

And though there was talk of temporary reductions in pay and layoffs, UI President Sally Mason said those options will not be needed next year.

— by Anna Lothson

Same-sex marriage comes to Iowa

Iowa found itself at the center of national attention last month when the state Supreme Court ruled, in Varnum v. Brien, that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Jubilant gay couples hailed the controversial decision and Iowa City community members and UI students celebrated at a rally on the Pentacrest. On April 27, couples around the state — including more than 40 in Johnson County — took advantage of the new law by applying for marriage licenses.

Since the decision, Vermont and Maine have passed legislation granting same-sex couples the right to marry, and other states are considering similar bills.

— by Shawn Gude

Obama wins Iowa

Last November, Democratic candidate Barack Obama won Iowa’s seven electoral votes as he defeated Republican challenger John McCain to win the presidency.

The victory was fitting for Obama; his win in the 2008 Iowa caucuses provided an impetus for his ultimately successful campaign.

In November, Obama received around 53 percent of the 1.32 million votes cast. Johnson County voters overwhelmingly backed Obama, giving him 70 percent of the total vote. Nationwide, Obama garnered 365 electoral votes; McCain captured 173.

— by Shawn Gude

High-profile legal cases

The UI and local community tuned in as two high-profile issues wound through the local courts.

Former Hawkeye football player Abe Satterfield, who has been accused of sexually assaulting a Hawkeye athlete in Hillcrest in October 2007, has had his trial pushed back a second time.
The 20-year-old faces charges of second- and third-degree sexual abuse.

Satterfield’s attorney filed a motion to delay the trial, asking for more time to get hold of important medical records and witness testimonies.

Another former Iowa football player allegedly connected with the crime, 19-year-old Cedric Everson, will likely have his June 1 trial rescheduled as well. He is accused of second-degree sexual abuse, or aiding and abetting the alleged attack.

Investigations in the university — deemed incompetent by outside legal experts — ended in two top officials’ firings last semester.

In April, many pondered the role of alcohol in a killing that earned 22-year-old Curtis Fry a controversial 10-year prison sentence.

Fry killed an Iowa City man in February 2008. He had traveled from Wilton, Iowa, to celebrate his 21st birthday and wound up breaking into the home of Patrick McEwen later that night and beating him to death.

Experts testified Fry was blacked out from drinking at the time of the incident, which his attorneys initially used as a defense.

Sixth District Judge Mitchell Turner found Fry guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of the state’s original charge, second-degree murder. Last week, Turner doled out the maximum prison sentence for Fry, who will likely be eligible for parole in fewer than four years, according to legal experts.

— by Zhi Xiong

Violence hits downtown

Iowa City police spent much of the spring working to combat a slew of male-on-male violence in or near downtown.

Alcohol-fueled violence is a frequent occurrence on any college campus, authorities have said, but according to Iowa City Police Chief Sam Hargadine, there has been an increase in unprovoked attacks.

While fights around the bars’ closing times are nothing new in Iowa City, more men are now ending up in the hospital with life-altering and life-threatening injuries. In one case, a UI sophomore was attacked by a group of six men while walking home alone. The attack was unprovoked, he said; it left him with a broken jaw, unable to eat solid food for a month.

Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay said police are facing the dual problems of bar culture and bystander culture. Because fights have become the norm downtown, witnesses are more prone to encourage the confrontation than to call police.

Police are also struggling with the issue of understaffing. There aren’t enough officers to catch the perpetrators, authorities agree. Though, during the last month of spring semester, police added four overtime officers — two from Iowa City police and two from UI police — to address the issue of violence on the Pedestrian Mall.

— by Regina Zilbermints

The Flood leaves its mark

The summer of 2008 brought new and unprecedented challenges for the UI after a 500-year flood hit campus and the city.

As officials worked feverishly to slow the floodwaters from overrunning buildings, the university got national attention from many politicians — including former President George Bush.

But valiant efforts by community members didn’t result in saving all the buildings — a sixth of the campus was damaged. But moral remained high, and people came together to rebuild after the water receded.

UI officials are still dealing with the effect of the flood. UI Senior Vice President for Finance Doug True said damages are predicted to cost roughly $743 million. As of April, he said, approximately $124 million had been contracted, leaving a bulk of work ahead for the UI.

The state Board of Regents recently approved the university’s request to move the Hancher/Voxmann/Clapp complex, which was severely damaged. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to foot 90 percent of the bill. Officials are now considering eight possible locations for the facilities.

True said creating a full prevention and mitigation plan will continually be worked on to protect the university from future disasters.

— by Anna Lothson

Around the city

After spending $30,000 over a nine-month period to find him, the Iowa City City Council fired City Manager Michael Lombardo less than a year into his tenure.

Lombardo and other city officials have refused give the exact reason behind the council’s unanimous vote to terminate his employment, saying it’s a personnel issue. The council made the decision April 17 — less than two weeks before Lombardo would have reached the one-year mark.

Thanks to efforts by many, Iowa City was named the world’s third City of Literature in November 2008.

Joining Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia, the designation made Iowa City part of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Creative Cities Network.

“We would not have been able to be competitive for such a designation if it were not for the fact that some of the best people in the world when it comes to arts and literature come through Iowa City,” UI President Sally Mason told the DI in March.

Last September, the City Council unanimously passed a smoking ban to apply to some public outdoor locations. An extension of the state’s Smokefree Air Act, the law prohibits smoking cigarettes in some parking ramps and certain areas on the Pedestrian Mall.

Police officers have not issued many tickets to violators of the law — taking more of an educational approach by asking smokers to move to a place outside of the prohibited areas.

Still feeling the effects of last summer’s flood, the council is also dealing with difficult budget cuts in the middle of an economic recession.

— by Chris Clark

On the alcohol front

To help solve the ongoing issue of binge drinking among UI students, officials formed the Alcohol Steering Committee. The 23-person group is co-chaired by UI Provost Wallace Loh and Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey, and members plan to meet quarterly, said Victoria Sharp, UI special assistant to the provost on alcohol safety.

In January, Loh hired UI alumna Mary Stier as to be anti-binge drinking consultant to work for seven months. Stier will receive $25,000, funded through the UI Foundation.

In March, the university won the Prevention Excellence Award from Outside the Classroom — the company that developed the AlcoholEdu program required for UI freshmen — for the third year. Only 10 schools receive the award.

At the end of March, nearly 70 community members — including local business owners and city and university officials — attended a partnership for alcohol safety summit to discuss the problem and brainstorm ideas.

The Iowa City City Council also made strides to reduce excessive drinking by reducing the high bar density downtown. The council voted in favor of an ordinance on a first consideration that could prohibit any new bar — a business open between midnight to 2 a.m. whose main revenue comes from consumption of food or drink — from opening within 500 feet of another bar anywhere in Iowa City.

UI students engage in binge drinking at rates far surpassing the national average, according to studies by Peter Nathan, a UI professor emeritus of community and behavioral health. Seventy percent of UI students engaged in high-risk drinking in the past two weeks in comparison with 44 percent of college students nationally, his data shows.

— by Tessa McLean

Student leaders point to successes

Former UI Student Government President Maison Bleam, Vice President Bridget Szeluga and their administration said they are confident in the changes they made to the UI campus during their tenure.

Some changes include dual printing on UI computers, 24-hour library access during finals, and extended Cambus hours for the 2009-10 school year.

Another initiative the group implemented was the “Think If You Drink Campaign,” which warned students about the dangers of drinking through pamphlets and bar napkins.

The goals that they did not accomplish included eliminating 7:30 a.m. classes, bringing concerts in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, putting a new-release movie theater in the IMU, and increasing lighting on dark areas of campus.

The new administration for 2009-10 is led by President Mike Currie and Vice President JD Moran. Their group hopes to accomplish a platform of 11 issues, including U-bill parking, locked-in tuition, a renovation to the IMU basement, and increased recycling in the dorms.

— by Michele Danno

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