Metro Briefs

BY DI STAFF | MARCH 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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Iowa City officials host public input session

The Iowa City Planning and Zoning commission met on Thursday to discuss the comprehensive plan.

The meeting provided a chance for members of the public to express their opinions on the plan; however, despite the large turnout, no one chose to do so.

The commission decided to postpone the public discussion to its next meeting, March 21.

The Iowa City Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1997 and will be approved this year by various city departments. City officials hope the updated plan will guide Iowa City growth and development for the next 10 to 20 years.

The Iowa City City Council set a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss the comprehensive plan, and the councilors will also provide an opportunity for the public to discuss the issue.

According to the plan, since 1997, the city has worked to complete plans for eight of the 10 districts that were split up to take into account the challenges of each district.

— by Jordyn Reiland

State reaches contract agreement with AFSCME

The state of Iowa reached a contractual agreement with AFSCME on Thursday, and the state Department of Management said the contract will save the state $94 million.

According to a release from Gov. Terry Branstad’s Office, the contract costs $94 million less than it would have under the contract that was approved two years ago.

“We were able to come to an agreement with AFSCME on two of the three major components of the new contract, and for the first time in bargaining history, there will be no across-the-board pay increases for the duration of the contract,” Branstad said in the release.

However, he said, he was disappointed that a majority of state employees will continue to pay nothing toward their health insurance. Iowa is one of six states in the country in which this is the case, the release said.

“This is simply unfair to the vast majority of Iowans who pay some, if not all, of their own health-insurance cost and whose tax dollars continue to fund this expensive benefit for most state employees,” he said in the release.

— by Kristen East

Iowa Department of Management details impacts of sequester

One state official said federal funding for Iowa has been cut by $46 million as a result of sequestration.

David Roederer, the director of the Department of Management, held a press conference on Thursday to discuss the effect of the $85 billion in automatic cuts known as sequestration on Iowa.

The cuts would be equivalent to the loss of 237 full-time positions affecting 205 programs, Roederer's report said.

The Iowa Department of Education will sustain some of the biggest cuts with a predicted $14 million in cuts along with 131 full-time equivalent positions. Those cuts would hit such programs as Head Start, which provides education, health, and nutrition to low-income students and families.

The Iowa Department of Public Health would see nearly $9 million in cuts ranging from comprehensive cancer control and HIV prevention to rural health care.

College aid would also be cut by $218,000 with cuts to GEAR UP — a grant program designed to increase the number of low-income college students.

— by Brent Griffiths

Proposal would allow Johnson County residents to possess and use fireworks

The Johnson County Board of Supevisors discussed changes in the county fireworks ordinance on Thursday but deferred action until March 12.

The supervisors discussed what qualifies as firework material, what age should be appropriate to purchase fireworks, and how and where they may be used. Individuals under 21 years old would not be able to possess fireworks under the proposed ordinance.

The proposed changes also include an application that must be submitted to the supervisors at least 14 days before anticipated possession, storage, and/or the firing of a firework display.

Under the ordinance, individuals wishing to possess standard consumer fireworks would be required to hold proof of homeowner’s insurance in an amount no less than $1 million. For a display of display fireworks — those used for city celebrations including the Fourth of July — the hold would need to have workers’ compensation insurance. 

— by Quentin Misiag

UI physician charged with OWI

A University of Iowa physician has been accused of driving while intoxicated after reportedly crashing into a tree.

Clinical Assistant Professor Decontee Fletcher, 30, was charged March 6 with OWI.

Iowa City police officers responded to a report of a motor-vehicle accident at the intersection of Morman Trek Boulevard and Hawkeye Park Road. Fletcher’s vehicle had crashed into the trees at the intersection, the police complaint said.

Witnesses saw Fletcher in the driver’s seat trying to drive away after the accident. Fletcher allegedly admitted to driving and crashing the vehicle. She also reportedly admitted to drinking wine before driving. Police reportedly located a cup in the vehicle that smelled strongly of alcohol.

Fletcher had red, bloodshot watery eyes, slurred speech, and a strong scent of ingested alcohol, the police complaint said.

OWI is a serious misdemeanor.

— by Rebecca Morin

UI reports lower retention rates

A report released by the state Board of Regents indicates that of first-year, full-time students in the entering class of 2011, 85.5 percent returned for a second year at the University of Iowa.

In the previous 10 years, that number has been as low as 82.3 percent to a high of 86.6 percent in 2002 and 2009, respectively.

The report highlighted a trend of lower retention and graduation rates for minority students. In 2011, the average minority student retention rate was 82.2 percent compared to an 85.5 percent retention rate for non-minority students.

Women and minorities in STEM programs were highlighted, too. In 2012, UI officials saw an 11.9 percent increase in minority STEM students and 13.8 percent increase in women STEM students.

— by Jonathan Solis

Iowa regents to introduce transparency task force at meeting

Since its inception on Feb. 6, the state Board of Regents’ Transparency Task Force has gained eight members. The last member will come from a public nomination and will be announced at the regents’ meeting on March 13.

The task force comprises Iowa legislators, regents, a member of the Governor’s Public information board, and officials from each regent university. Mark Braun, the University of Iowa interim vice president for Strategic Communication, represents the university community.

The task force is charged with recommending best practices in responding to requests for public information and for public access to information that may interest Iowans.

— by Jonathan Solis

UI officials propose increase in parking rates

The University of Iowa has proposed an increase in parking rates for fiscal 2014 to the state Board of Regents, as much as 16 percent for some permits.

The UI parking system netted $5.16 million in fiscal 2012, and officials expect to net an additional $4.5 million this year.

The proposed rate increases over the five-year proposal will generate revenue for the purpose of replacing or constructing new parking facilities, improving Cambus service to commuter lots, and expanding commuter programs, among other goals.

The increase would also go toward the deconstruction currently underway on the UI Hospital and Clinics ramp 2. Additionally, it would help cover the 286-space lot built on Melrose Avenue in order to accommodate the parking spaces lost in ramp 2.

— by Jonathan Solis

UI reports increase in offenses, charges, and arrests

The University of Iowa police recorded more offenses, charges, and arrests than Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa forces combined in 2012, but the department also saw a decline in student alcohol-related charges.

The UI police reported 3,345 offenses and incidents, an increase of 358 from 2011 to 2012, according to reports gathered by the state Board of Regents.

Charges and arrests have risen correspondingly. Last year, 421 more people were charged than in 2011. Additionally, 226 more people were arrested in 2012 than 2011.

Of those arrested, about 43 percent were students. At Iowa State, 52 percent of those arrested were students.

Charles Green, the assistant vice president for the  UI Police, said the university's larger football games, higher number of liquor establishments near campus, and the static patrol policy of downtown Iowa City all contribute to the higher numbers.

“I did a study comparing us to Iowa State in 2005. Iowa State had 13 liquor establishments near campus, and we had 52,” Green said. “When you combine those factors, it’s not uncommon to have higher total rates.”

However, 2012 had 121 fewer alcohol-related charges than in 2011. The same charges have risen by 151 at Iowa State.

Green said the department’s involvement with the Partnership for Alcohol Safety under the shared leadership of UI Vice President forStudent Life Tom Rocklin and Mayor Matt Hayek has contributed to the decline.

“We’re constantly trying to educate the public on harmful drinking that could compromise not only their safety but their education too,” Green said.

As far as the total number of arrests goes, he said, variables from the weather to number of police actively on duty cause “those numbers to fluctuate year to year, so it’s a guessing game.”

— by Jonathan Solis

Regents to discuss replacement for Hawkeye Court apartments

The University of Iowa is seeking the state Board of Regents’ approval to work with a Dallas firm to construct and operate a 270-unit apartment building. The new complex would replace a portion of the Hawkeye Court apartments.

The Dallas firm, Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions LLC, would “plan, construct, and manage the apartment complex with limited financial risk to and participation by the university,” according to the regents’ agenda.

The apartments in question were first occupied in 1960 and are “beyond their useful lives.” The UI has funded them in recent years just to ensure they are safe for tenants.

— by Jonathan Solis

Iowa City, Ames named top college towns

Two Iowa cities can now add yet another national accolade to their repertoire.

According to a recent study by the American Institute for Economic Research, Ames and Iowa City have been named No. 2 and No. 4 respectively in a list of the 75 Best College Towns and Cities for 2013. Ithaca, N.Y., home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, was named No. 1 on the list.

The study says the “college experience” means more than just attending a well-respected university. The research firm also notes that where the city or town is located also packs some punch.

Josh Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City-Coralville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said national media attention concerning Iowa City isn’t out of the ordinary and noted the area has historically been able to combat economic troubles well.

“It certainly doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “It seems like every several weeks, Iowa City, Ames, and Des Moines pop up on indexes as great places to live, work, and visit. Because of our infrastructure, we’ve shown we can thrive, even in economic downturns. It’s a testament to the university, UI Hospitals and Clinics, and the like.”

Nancy Bird, the Iowa City Downtown District executive director, echoed Schamberger’s thoughts on the no-surprise accolades and said the Downtown District is a vital component to an overall prosperous Iowa City.

“The University of Iowa and other learning institutes such as Kirkwood help support a very informed populace and a creative and innovative environment,” she said. “The North Side and Downtown Iowa City neighborhoods reflect that. The level of community engagement and new businesses forming around new ideas and out-of-the box thinking in the Downtown District is really inspiring.”

Not to be confused with the “Best Party School” ranking, the study scrutinized cities and towns on demographic and economic data — including cost of living, number of residents with college degrees and per capita income.

Arts and leisure amenities — the number of entertainment and cultural opportunities per 100,000 people — and accessibility were also contributing factors.

Rachel Schunk, the vice president of communications for the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, said the number of factors that go into determining the top college town listing are prevalent throughout the area.

“Iowa City’s strong economy, skilled workforce, exceptional education system, and diverse arts and cultural offerings make for an appealing quality of life for both students and professionals,” she said.

Aside from ranking top college towns and cities, the study also identified the top major, medium, and small metropolitan areas. Boston, San Jose, Calif., and Ann Arbor took top honors in those categories respectively.

In the college town listing, three other Big Ten schools were named: Champaign-Urbana, Ill. (6), West Lafayette, Ind. (7), and Bloomington, Ind. (16) all rounded out the top 20.

— by Quentin Misiag

Fewer faculty at the UI resigning

Fifty-two faculty members at the University of Iowa resigned in fiscal 2012, according to a state Board of Regents report released Thursday.

That is a 17.5 percent decrease from fiscal 2011, when 63 faculty members resigned.

The UI had more faculty resignations than both Iowa State University, at 26, and the University of Northern Iowa, at 34.

However, UNI’s resignation rate went up 277 percent from fiscal 2011.

Those who resigned at the UI and returned a resignation survey said they felt the greatest satisfaction with the general atmosphere of Iowa City and the UI, with satisfaction in the university’s commitment to diversity a close second.

Those who responded to the survey felt most dissatisfied with their compensation and the university’s commitment to research excellence.

Approximately 46 percent resigned in order to accept positions at another university.

— by Jonathan Solis

UI residence halls operating at full capacity

The state Board of Regents is reviewing its universities’ residence systems for fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2018.

Currently, the residence system at the University of Iowa operates at a net revenue of $7.5 million annually, but officials estimate it will take a hit of $329,182 in fiscal 2014 because “recent bonding for new capital projects,” according to the report.

The UI residence system has operated at the full capacity since at least fiscal 2008, and officials anticipate operating at full capacity in the coming years.

The report also highlights a plan to decommission Quadrangle after the completion of the new west campus residence hall. It would be razed and would potentially be replaced by a new residence hall or academic building, depending on needs.

— by Jonathan Solis

UI officials hope to expand distance education programs

The University of Iowa’s response to the state Board of Regents Strategic Plan for Distance Education includes a new internship program encouraging political-science students to undertake internships at the State Capitol.  The program is set to have 10 students from the UI in Des Moines this spring.

In 2011, 859 users requested information about distance-education programs, the report said.

Also, the UI College of Nursing moved all of its course work online, according to the regents' report.
In addition, UI officials are making increasing efforts to market distance education students using print, media, billboard, web, and electronic messaging.

— by Jonathan Solis

Excavation remains being sent to land near Iowa City subdivision

Several complaints over the moving of heavy amounts of dirt into a southside Iowa City subdivision have prompted some neighborhood residents to bring their frustrations before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

During Thursday’s meeting at the Johnson County Administration Building, Sandhill Estates resident Tim Kasparek said an overwhelming number of semi-trucks delivering dirt, noise and pollution have disturbed a once-peaceful area that juts up to the 207-acre Terry Trueblood Recreation Area. The park, currently under construction, was acquired by the city in 2006 from S&J Materials.

The swath of land used for dumping is currently owned by S&G Materials in unincorporated Johnson County, however nearby homes lie within the city limits. Kasparek believes the dirt is being derived from the remains of the former University of Iowa Parking Ramp 2 and the site of the future UI Children’s Hospital.

“It’s literally become a 24-hour process,” he said of the dumping activity.

Jerry Liska, the head of engineering services ground maintenance near UIHC, confirmed that dirt is indeed being transferred from Ramp 2 and Children’s Hospital sites, but wasn't aware of where it has been transported to.

“The dirt is probably coming from the UIHC Children’s Hospital and Parking Ramp 2 complex but as far the hauling of the dirt, the location is unknown to me,” he said. “Since the beginning of this month, they've been hauling dirt day and night. I would say there’s at least eight or nine trucks pulling in and out at a time. [The UI] has several different companies that they have contracted to move the dirt.” 

The UI Facilities Management website lists Reinbeck, Iowa-based Peterson Contractors Inc. as the primary company for the approximately $16 million ramp replacement.

UI spokesman Tom Moore confirmed the removal of the dirt from the hospital complex to Sandhill Estates, but couldn't comment as to whether the UI directed Peterson to do so.

"Excavation work on parking ramp 2 began around Feb. 18," he said. "The university hired the contractor to remove the dirt."

Stan Pyatt, a Peterson representative, said he couldn't comment on whether or not the company is removing dirt from the UI Children’s Hospital and Parking Ramp 2 complex to the Sandhill Estates neighborhood.

“We’re doing just about exactly the plans and the specs allow for us to do,” he said. “I’m not going to say if we’re moving it or not. We very well could be contracting the removal out. If [residents are] concerned with it, then maybe we shouldn't build a new hospital. We are only working for [the UIHC]."

Pyatt said any individuals seeking comment on the suspected removal should contact a representative with Providence, RI-based Gilbane construction or the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the county has received several complaints from neighborhood residents in recent weeks regarding the ongoing activity on the unincorporated swath of land adjacent to the subdivision. When she visited the area on March 2, she said she noticed a number of semi trucks releasing dirt.

“My understanding is that they’re trying to fill this lake in to be ready for development,” she said. “The county hasn’t been able to find any tools we have available to limit all of this activity over night. Our planning and zoning department has been working on it.”

— by Quentin Misiag

UI Police introduce new physical and sexual abuse reporting policy

The University of Iowa introduced a new policy Tuesday that requires university employees to immediately report any knowledge of physical and sexual abuse of children.

The UI Policy on Physical and Sexual Abuse of Children is a response to state legislation concerning implementation of reporting policies at postsecondary institutions, a UI police release said. The policy went into effect in January.

The new policy, now listed in the UI's operations manual, reads, “all university employees who in the course of employment receive information related to physical or sexual abuse of children must immediately report such information to the University of Iowa police. In the case of incidents not on the Iowa City campus, local police authorities should also be called in order to avoid any delay in response.”

— by Kristen East

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