Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Quad-City Times. Aug. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Flood plan a good start

For decades, the Mississippi River has all too often flooded downtown Davenport and other parts of the city, in many cases inflicting disastrous results.

Some of us can rattle off the years quite easily: 1965, 1993, 2001 – 2019. There were several other floods, of course. According to the city, there were 18 floods since 1878 that reached the 22-foot river stage; seven of them occurring over the last 20 years.

After each flood, the city invariably studies how it can improve, how it can better defend itself. And, over the years, Davenport has gotten better at its flood-fighting capability. There were even several years when some thought we had the problem mostly under control; when the deployment of structural, albeit temporary, defenses along with other techniques, were sufficient to the risk.

We even got national attention for the efforts.

Then came the flood of 2019, when a part of that structural solution collapsed and portion of the city’s downtown was inundated. Flood stage reached 22.7 feet, a record.

So, here we are with yet another study, pointing another possible path toward the future.

As reported in this newspaper, a consulting group retained by the city has offered a set of draft recommendations, revealed last week, on structural solutions to deal with flooding from the Village of East Davenport to the western reaches of the city.

It is not cheap – the price tag ranges from $100 million to $150 million. Nor is it simple. The multifaceted plan suggests a range of solutions varying in scope depending on the part of the city in which they’re employed. The plan includes such things as underground sewer improvements, pump stations, raised roads, berms and flood walls.

After more than a year of seeking public and stakeholder input, the city is opening up the plan to another public comment period, through Sept. 15. Go to the city’s web site to weigh in.

These are far-reaching ideas, and while the city seeks to balance the goals of lasting flood protection with continued access to the riverfront, undoubtedly some of these ideas will meet resistance. Some will believe they do too much; others, not enough.

This is Davenport, after all.

Our own view is this: We believe this is a very good start to what will be a long road ahead. The construction timelines mentioned in this plan, particularly for the more structurally intensive parts, last more than a decade. And the costs are big. Even with federal and state funds, the price tag will weigh on local taxpayers.

Still, we think back to the 2019 floods – and to the resolve that so many expressed back then that the time had finally come to dedicate ourselves to a long-lasting solution that would allow us to experience our riverfront and protect homeowners and businesses, from border to border. And with the clear evidence of a changing climate, and the increasing risk and intensity of flooding and rainfall, the need for that greater level of protection seems all the more important.

We have yet to see exactly what some of these protective measures would look like – and how they would be paid for.

In a 22-minute video, the drafters of this plan said the long-term implementation and funding of these strategies are yet to come. They acknowledge this is the “heartbeat” of the plan.

Still, the draft recommendations strike us as well-thought out and comprehensive. We do worry about the future risks of a 22-foot flood stage threshold, but we also acknowledge that going higher means significantly greater costs, which already are daunting, and entail a far more extensive set of berms and flood walls.

We only hope it is the beginning of an endeavor that will provide the kind of long-lasting resiliency that so many of us said two years ago we wanted.

In order to continue to attract business — and meet the needs of a downtown where residential development continues to grow — we must deal with this problem. But for that to happen, it will require a commitment that will extend for years, perhaps decades, across multiple city councils and mayors. And the only way for that to happen is for the public to demand it.

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Des Moines Register. Aug. 27, 2021.

Editorial: Iowa can’t let up in push to improve mental health care, as one woman’s journey to prison illustrates

Iowa took strides this spring toward offering what supporters say will be a robust and sustainable system for providing mental health treatment for our residents.

Legislation backed by Republicans and a few Democrats means the state, and not county property taxes, will eventually pay for mental health expenses, a change long sought by advocates and one that brings Iowa in line with the rest of the country. Combined with legislation from previous years, the state appears closer than ever to a system adequate to Iowans’ needs.

But legislators and other officials are not close to the finish line, and it’s important that this work remains a priority, as evidenced by a scene this month in federal court in Des Moines.

“It’s a tragic case on many levels,” District Judge Stephanie Rose said as she sentenced Nicole Poole Franklin, 43, to over 25 years in prison for hate crimes. Poole in December 2019 intentionally ran her SUV into a 14-year-old Latina and a 12-year-old Black boy because of their physical appearances.

“It’s unfortunate this country has not prioritized mental health,” Rose said. “It’s clear this woman desperately needed help.”

Poole’s public defender was obligated to paint her in the most sympathetic light, but the story he told in a pre-sentencing brief is all too believable.

Poole “has suffered from severe mental health problems throughout her entire life,” Joseph Herrold begins. A relative molested her when she was 6. She felt her single mother had “little time to devote to her emotional needs when she was a child,” and in fact her mother moved and left Nicole alone as a teenager. Poole — who four years earlier had attempted suicide — stopped going to school and started drinking and using drugs.

Over the past three decades, Poole has been diagnosed with multiple serious illnesses, been treated intermittently, struggled to hold jobs, and periodically gotten into trouble. Drug use exacerbated her mental illness. Her recurring symptoms, Herrold wrote, include “extreme paranoia, hallucinations, delusional beliefs, and erratic behavior.” She did manage to earn a high school equivalency degree and take some college classes while incarcerated.

She married, and her husband died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. She lost her parental rights to her children. After she was arrested for the West Des Moines attacks, she had hallucinations at the Polk County Jail. In custody, she finally got some treatment that restored her competency to face the charges against her.

It’s one more illustration of how difficult a time Iowans, the people who care about them and medical professionals have had in securing reliable, effective help to respond and adapt to mental illness, severe and mild and in between.

A two-word refrain advocates and other professionals have used since the legislative session is “cautiously optimistic.” Polk County in July added new crisis services for children, and the state’s 13 mental health regions are supposed to do the same thing soon.

Mary Neubauer, a member of the state board that oversees children’s mental health efforts, told the Register’s Tony Leys earlier this summer that some more rural regions were not meeting expectations: “We continue to hear from families desperately seeking help for children in crisis,” she said.

Everybody involved in this system should be motivated to find solutions quickly, and to seek out help where solutions are unavailing. Legislators will be tested annually in fulfilling their promise to sufficiently fund the system.

The goal is to interrupt cycles of trauma that beget more trauma, a sober point Poole’s lawyer made in reference to her innocent victims: “Being currently in a more stable mental state, she is also sorry for the psychological trauma her actions have caused them, has some insight into how difficult it is to live with such traumas, and knows how they can reverberate long after physical injuries have healed.”

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Sioux City Journal. Aug. 29, 2021.

Editorial: Woodbury County has little choice but to tap relief funds for jail

Woodbury County and Sioux City leaders are set to formally break ground on the county’s Law Enforcement Center at a Sept. 15 ceremony.

It’s become abundantly clear, though, that a growing number of local residents are in no mood to celebrate the project.

Last week, county supervisors again heard from a vocal group of citizens who have been critical of a series of decisions made by the county board and the panel that oversees the joint city-county Law Enforcement Authority. Chiefly, they object to the county designating $15.6 million in federal COVID relief funds to cover higher than expected costs to construct the jail.

The coalition of union officials and community activists contend a new jail is not the kind of initiative Congress intended when it provided $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments. They argue the county’s share of the American Rescue Plan funds would be better spent on a myriad of social programs that would benefit the community.

While their arguments may be valid, we agree with the county that it’s far too late to be switching gears. With limited cash reserves and no immediate way to go back to local taxpayers for more money, county officials are correct in saying they had no other good options for moving forward with the jail construction.

In March 2020, a majority of voters approved a $50.3 million bond for the project. But, just weeks afterwards, COVID-19 began spreading across the county. A series of pandemic-related disruptions in the supply chain contributed to skyrocketing costs for construction materials, causing the total project costs to balloon to around $65 million.

At this point, it’s not feasible to rebid the project in hopes of getting a better price that wouldn’t require the COVID relief dollars, as many critics have called for. In July, the Authority board awarded a $58.4 million contract to the general contractor, Hausmann Construction. Starting over would undoubtedly trigger a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the county and the Authority, as well as delay the project by months, if not years.

With the aging mechanical systems at the existing jail on the verge of breaking down at any time, costly delays are something the county can ill afford. We supported the bond issue because it made infinitely more financial sense over the long term than the alternative of throwing good money after bad on the more than $22 million in repairs needed for a 30-year-old jail close to inmate capacity with no viable options for expansion.

We recognize that local union officials remain upset with what they view as a broken campaign promise by county officials that the jail would be built with local contractors and labor. They pushed the Authority to award the contract to Sioux City-based W.A. Klinger over Lincoln, Neb.-based Hausman. But even though, as union officials repeatedly pointed out, Klinger’s price was just slightly above Hausman’s, the Authority had no other choice under Iowa law to award the contract to the low bidder.

Like the opponents, we have questions about whether the federal government will ultimately deem the Law Enforcement Center construction eligible for the American Rescue Plan funds. It’s possible the Authority could someday face the nightmare scenario of having to repay the money. But for now, we’ll willing to defer to Authority officials, who say their lawyers have assured them the project qualifies under the federal guidelines.

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