Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. Oct. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Iowa Board of Regents elevates kowtowing to Republican lawmakers over health and safety

The Board of Regents, and the Iowa university administrators it oversees, is finally getting the message.

In looking after the education and safety of the young adults under their charge, the regents and the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa can shrug their shoulders at sexual bias or discrimination and abuse involving people of color, they can sell their utilities to the highest bidder and refuse to release details and they can decrease the proportion of their spending that supports teaching. The courts might hold them accountable for some of it. They’ll endure some mild carping from the public about other parts.

The people they really need to worry about are Republicans controlling state government, since they control some of the purse strings and can target university policies through legislation.

And the only thing that will reliably seize their attention is an instructor or administrator saying something they disagree with. That gets people dragged before oversight committees, it gets new laws drafted and it becomes part of the justification for providing the schools with far less money than they say they need.

To be sure, UI leaders deserved the condemnation they got for retaliating against student groups for advocating Christian beliefs. And legislation requiring First Amendment training on campuses should make the universities better.

But the regents’ COVID-19 policies for this school year — no mask requirements, best if you don’t even encourage masks — seem to reflect a desire to use whatever independence the board has to mollify the governor and lawmakers who have focused on taking away mitigation tools from subordinate bodies instead of on effective mitigation.

This context made the dust-up that has played out at UNI all but inevitable. Professor Steve O’Kane told his upper-level students their grades would suffer if they didn’t wear masks. He said he knew this could provoke a confrontation, and it did (set in motion by a complaint from a student who is not one of O’Kane’s students).

UNI kicked O’Kane out of the classroom and said he will get a poor performance evaluation, affecting his pay, and be required to undergo training. He says he’ll require masks again in the spring if he’s allowed back in the classroom.

“What the administration is forced to do is immoral and unethical,” he told the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s Cleo Krejci. “And it all boils down to Iowa politics.”

Briefly, because this ground has been covered many times and the facts haven’t changed no matter how unhappy they make people:

— Mask requirements are no more than an inconvenience for almost everybody.

— Among other benefits, masks make it less likely for the wearer to infect other people, meaning their effectiveness is correlated with widespread use.

— State law did not require the Board of Regents to prohibit mask requirements.

Some critics of UNI’s handling of the episode suggest administrators and other faculty should, like O’Kane, ignore immoral rules. Insubordination is a line nobody should cross haphazardly — for the sake of their own jobs, obviously, but also, sometimes, for fear of muddying the distinction between “immoral” and “disliked.”

O’Kane is justified in his choice. And his bosses, unfortunately, have justification to punish him.

Caught in the middle are O’Kane’s students. “Nobody in that class really cares about masks. We wear masks, and we don’t even think about it,” senior Brian Yarahmadi told Vanessa Miller of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, adding, “The students are kind of the ones that are punished because we don’t have this class now.”

He said that before a weak compromise was arranged where O’Kane will teach the plant systematics course online while another professor oversees a truncated in-person lab segment. In a new statement, the students in the class say they should get a tuition refund and relaxed grading, along with other demands. They’re right that it’s a poor solution.

Better: The regents should humbly reconsider their policy on mask mandates.

But they won’t, because they’ve finally gotten the message that health and safety are not their primary concern. No, the most important thing they do is to ensure that nobody at an institution of higher learning challenges a conservative idea.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Oct. 8, 2021.

Editorial: Republican lawmakers must back Iowa’s tradition of nonpartisan maps

It was surprising to see Iowa Republicans reject the first proposed redistricting maps drawn by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

The message from Iowans had been loud and clear: Hold with state tradition to create unbiased legislative and congressional districts rather than drawing them to create political advantage for one party.

This rejection in a special Iowa Legislative session Tuesday narrows the opportunity to keep Iowa’s gold standard of nonpartisan maps alive, but our state elected officials still have an opportunity to uphold that tradition.

Every 10 years, state legislatures across the country must redraw district boundaries following the census. The Iowa approach follows a nonpartisan redistricting process supported by the state’s residents of both parties. The process has served Iowa well for decades.

Republican lawmakers said they believe the maps can be improved on a second round by addressing compactness and population deviation. Democrats fear that some other reason will be offered by the Republican majority when the second set of maps are released, triggering the creation of a third set of maps that then potentially could be amended with the majority Republicans leading that process.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency now has one more shot at creating maps that meet all the measures of the Iowa Code — and are also compact, as Iowa Republicans want, before we get to that third stage.

Every lawmaker must do right by Iowans and support the nonpartisan maps on this next pass. Iowa’s gold standard approach to fair and impartial maps depends on elected officials to do the right thing.

Dubuque County supervisors took a positive step this week in lending their support for hiring a consultant to help improve diversity, equity and inclusion strategies within the county.

The idea came from county Human Resources Director Dawn Sherman, who noted that such an effort is needed to ensure that underrepresented populations know about county programs and services available to them, as well as providing fair and equal opportunities to all in hiring practices.

Sherman is right, and supervisors are right to affirm her.

Moving toward inclusivity takes more than platitudes. As Sherman noted, every department should seek to view every outreach through the lens of equity. Bringing on a consultant to help assess where gaps exist in matters of diversity.

Although county supervisors are wise to be thrifty with taxpayer money, a temporary consultant could provide tools to help structure diversity strategies that could guide the county for years to come.

That’s a good investment and an important step in ensuring equity in meeting the needs of Dubuque County citizens.

Convivium Urban Farmstead’s commitment to Dubuque’s North End became even more pointed with last week’s announcement that the nonprofit will open a second location which will serve as a community kitchen.

With the original locale at 2811 Jackson St., and a new renovated site to open at 2900 Central Ave., Convivium has become a shining North End star.

After running a community garden and kitchen, Convivium owners Leslie Shalabi and Mike Muench doubled down on their commitment to serving local needs when they began distributing free weekly meals during the pandemic. The new community kitchen on Central will become the new home for those distributions in addition to providing kitchen space for other endeavors.

Revitalizing the North End neighborhood is a key driver for Shalabi. The community kitchen will include potential pop-up restaurant space that could serve as a catalyst for future restaurants and food service businesses.

Cheers and bon appetit to the Convivium team as they embark on this new endeavor in the North End. It’s exciting to see folks investing in their neighborhoods.

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Quad-City Times. Oct. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Better ‘use of force’ data is needed

Ever since, and even before, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, the use of force by police has been a top concern for many Americans. Yet, there still are major gaps in our knowledge about how publicly-paid police officers use force.

That’s true in the Quad-Cities, too. As Emily Andersen reported recently, when this newspaper sought data for the last five years on use of force incidents from the five largest police departments in the Quad-Cities and the two county sheriff’s departments, the figures we received varied. As Andersen reported, “there isn’t a universal policy in the U.S., or even state to state, that defines what kinds of force should be tracked, or even if departments should keep records of use of force.”

As a result, departments, if they track incidents at all, do it differently.

Reformers and police executives have urged a more systematic method of reporting, and the FBI set about creating a national database in 2015. The agency then began collecting data in 2019, but the effort has been limited. It’s a voluntary database, and only a fraction of police agencies are reporting data.

Only a handful of Iowa agencies participate in the FBI’s database, though Davenport is one of them. In Illinois, just 59 agencies are submitting data, including East Moline and Moline.

If you think those are the only limitations, think again. The FBI won’t even release information until certain participation thresholds are met; and even then, according to the Washington Post, only national- and state-level data will be released.

This makes little sense. Accountability doesn’t just happen at the national or state level; it must occur in individual communities. Which means local information is vital.

This newspaper has been able to document shootings involving local police agencies, which have provided that information. But shootings aren’t the only type of force authorities employ.

Some reformers believe the way to get greater participation in the FBI’s system is by tying federal funds to it. That seems logical to us. The federal government established this database for a reason, and it doesn’t make sense not to use it.

There is a lot of controversy in the United States over the use of force by police departments, and a basic step in dealing with these issues is to have good data. Partial reporting just doesn’t cut it.

On the local level, Andersen found varying degrees of data reporting.

Bettendorf has gone so far as to require a separate reporting form so officers can log information when there is an encounter. Davenport, which again takes part in the FBI system, responded to the newspapers’ records request with a detailed list of various force types, and how often they were used.

The department’s response seemed the most robust of all the local agencies, but it would not answer any questions about its data.

An East Moline official said the information that department provided was derived by using keywords to search old police reports. Moline was only able to provide a total number of use of force incidents for each year without detailing which types of force were used

Given the inconsistencies and gaps in data, it’s hard to make judgments about individual departments, especially in comparison with one another. That’s unfortunate. It is important that people be able to hold their local police departments accountable – and that, in part, is done by using data to compare them with others, especially those in the surrounding area.

Frankly, we think it would be a good step for our local police agencies to take the initiative and get together to come up with their own standardized method of reporting on this issue. They cooperate on a range of other things, this could be another one.

Ultimately, though, the federal government should use its leverage to ensure police agencies across the country accurately provide information about their use of force. Then that information ought to be shared with the people so they can make their own judgments – both about how force is used nationwide, and in their own states and communities.

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