Weekly News Roundup: Branstad’s North Korea Excuse, Allegations of Misappropriated DNR Funds

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The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

Branstad Uses North Korea Negotiations As Excuse to Delay Lawsuit Brought by Fired State Employee

State attorneys for Terry Branstad are arguing that a lawsuit filed against the former governor should be suspended because he will be unable to attend a Dec. 4 trial as he performs his “vital duties to this country” as ambassador to China which “make it extraordinarily difficult” for him to defend himself in trial proceedings. The lawsuit was brought by Larry Hedlund, a former state criminal investigator who was fired in 2013 shortly after he reported Branstad’s security detail for speeding. “China, the most populous country in the world, that borders both Russia and North Korea, and is one of the world’s largest economies is arguably the most important diplomatic posting of the United States,” Branstad’s lawyers argued, saying the trial should be delayed until his service as ambassador “during this highly tumultuous time for our country” is over.

Is Iowa becoming a red state as college grads bail?

That was the question posed in a New York Times report Saturday that analyzed the economic decline of small towns in the state, changing their demographic and political makeup and “leaving a less educated and less mobile group of voters more likely to vote for Republicans, whom they see as more in touch with their lives and beliefs.” The report quoted longtime pollster J. Ann Selzer, who predicted that political pundits will likely consider Iowa a swing state for one more presidential election cycle but perhaps not any longer than that. “We educate the hell out of our people, but our economy can’t use them, so they leave,” Dave Swenson, an Iowa State University economist, also told the Times.

Iowa City says to expect no changes to City of Literature status after US withdraws from UNESCO

The State Department announced Thursday that the US would withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — more commonly known as UNESCO — by the end of 2018. The announcement concerned people living in Iowa City, which in 2008 was designated as the country’s only UNESCO City of Literature (and one of just 20 throughout the world). The executive director of the Iowa City program, John Kenyon, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen that he had “no reason to expect” changes to the city’s UNESCO status as a result of the decision, which came during the program’s annual book festival. The State Department said it decided to withdraw from the UN’s cultural arm because of its alleged anti-Israel bias.

Former Iowa DNR official alleges manure management funds were misspent

A former Iowa Department of Natural Resources employee who served as its coordinator of animal feeding operations for 14 years before he was let go this August, has filed an appeal to get his job back. Gene Tinker was told that the state’s budget woes were the reason for his termination, but his program received $1.6 million annually in fees from livestock farms, the Associated Press reported. The program was set up as an environmental regulatory check on barn construction and manure management. Although a 200 state law prohibits the DNR from transferring the fees to other funds, Tinker is now alleging that the department did exactly that, and state Sen. David Johnson, a former Republican who is now the Statehouse’s sole independent member, has called for an audit.

State Medical Examiner’s Office May Lose Accreditation

The Des Moines Register reported that a shortage of pathologists at the the Iowa Medical Examiner’s Office may cost the lab its national accreditation after problems with the delayed return of cremated remains of the dead to their family members — a problem that’s been ongoing since 2016.

Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.