Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Oct. 1, 2012.
Justice closer in child's death
When word came down last week that a press conference was scheduled in Floyd concerning the Evelyn Miller case, there was, of course, a stir in the newsroom.
It had been seven years since the body of the 5-year-old was discovered. Despite the time lapse, no one has forgotten — not the family of Evelyn, the communities of Floyd and the Cedar Valley and those who have covered and read the stories.
And certainly not those involved in the investigation.
On Thursday, a group of those people spoke at the news conference, in which it was announced murder charges were being brought against Casey Frederiksen.
"We finally, over the course of seven years, feel like we have enough evidence to bring the case to the county attorney's office," said Chari Paulson, assistant director for the Division of Criminal Investigation. "All of the evidence has pointed us directly at Casey Frederiksen."
Evelyn Miller disappeared July 1, 2005, from an apartment in rural Floyd County. She lived with her mother, Noel Miller, Frederiksen and the couple's 1- and 2-year-old sons. When she went missing, Evelyn was in the care of Frederiksen.
Two kayakers found the girl's body in the Cedar River between Floyd and Charles City on July 6, 2005.
It was a heartbreaking discovery after a massive, weeklong search involving hundreds of law enforcement officials, firefighters, specialty teams and volunteers.
No one living in the area will forget that week.
Sheriff Rick Lynch noted he and other officers helped collect Evelyn's body from the river — a difficult moment in his career. On Thursday, he was visibly emotional.
"This is a glorious day," he said.
We can only imagine the feelings that came with this landmark day for those who were personally involved.
"It's been a long time, and a lot of professionals have been working very hard, and they have a right to be proud," said Floyd County Attorney Normand Klemesrud.
We too, are proud of these professionals.
With Frederiksen already securely behind bars for many years on child pornography and drug convictions, law enforcement officials were able to be meticulous in gathering evidence. Still, it's been long seven years for many.
Richard Christie, Evelyn's grandfather, summed up the pain that family members have been living with since the news of July of 2005.
"This is the happiest day in the last seven years," he said. "We are hopeful and prayerful that justice will be done."
Due to the work of all these public servants who have had a hand in this investigation, we are closer to that day.
The Gazette. Sept. 28, 2012.
Learn from Wisconsin's deer disease strategy
Chronic wasting disease has arrived in Iowa, with seven cases detected in whitetail deer this summer. And that long-feared, and expected, reality is prompting state regulators and lawmakers to consider how best to respond.
All seven cases of the fatal neurological disease were detected among captive deer herds owned by breeders at pay-to-shoot preserves, prompting some calls for tighter regulations on those businesses. One key lawmaker, Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines and chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, told The Gazette's Orlan Love that the enclosed private hunting areas, where CWD can spread quickly, may be more trouble than they're worth.
We think the Legislature should rely on best wildlife management practices and science as it responds to the disease, rather than searching for scapegoats. Iowa should look to what's worked in other states, such as neighboring Wisconsin, where the first case of CWD was detected in February 2002. Since then, the state has recorded more than 1,800 confirmed cases. Deer hunting is a $1.4 billion business in Wisconsin, according to state figures.
Wisconsin has focused on containing and minimizing a large area of southern Wisconsin where the disease is prevalent, called the CWD Management Zone. Wisconsin has expanded hunting in the zone, offering a holiday hunt around Christmas and New Year's and a "Bonus Buck" program that allows hunters to harvest an additional buck if they first take one buck and an antlerless deer. Landowners can get licenses to hunt postseason and that state has deployed sharpshooters to cull herds.
Wisconsin also has more than 600 captive herds. When CWD is detected in one of those, the facility is depopulated and remains fenced off to stop wild deer from entering. Wisconsin lawmakers also voted to make baiting and feeding of deer within the management zone illegal.
Tim Marien, a biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, says the effort has helped contain the disease and reduce the deer population in the zone. But an effort that once was able to spend $5 million annually thanks to state and federal funding is now down to $400,000 because of budget cuts. That's reduced the amount of monitoring, testing and surveillance that are critical to tracking the spread and scope of the disease.
Iowa officials, no doubt, have their own ideas and strategies. But one thing we can take from Wisconsin is that it's more important now for Iowa to contain rather than blame.
Globe Gazette. Oct. 1, 2012.
Teacher pay hikes good place to start
Grab your chalk and write "uncertainty" on the board. Because there's a fair amount of it in a task force recommendation on education that will wind up going to Gov. Terry Branstad.
Still, there has to be a starting place, and that's what this body of 13 recommendations contains. A rough draft has been approved with the final recommendations expected to be released Oct. 15, forming the basis for Branstad's 2013 education reform package.
Keys to any education legislation in Iowa are teacher pay and how teachers are graded and promoted.
The task force recommendation suggests starting pay be increased by about $10,000 over the next three years, to an average of $40,000 to $45,000 statewide. Current minimum starting pay for teachers is $28,000.
Teachers would be put in one of six roles — initial, career, model, mentor, lead and emeritus — with pay increasing as teachers move up the ladder. Teachers who progress would be expected to take on more responsibility, including helping less-experienced and/or poorer-performing teachers improve their skills.
Those roles would still need some "flushing out," according to Ryan Wise, a facilitator who led the task force that consisted of staff from the state Department of Education, teachers, higher education officials and others.
Department of Education Director Jason Glass said this approach is different from the 2012 education reform package that met with little legislative success.
We hope by different he means better with more broad backing. Lawmakers hacked such things as annual performance evaluation for teachers and retention of third-graders who cannot read at that level in the 2012 version.
How legislators will react to this one is anybody's guess. You can be sure teachers will have lawmakers' ears as they do their homework on the final version.
We do like the increase in teacher pay. Iowans concerned about education and the state's ranking know that quality teachers are a must, that they must have a quality, rewarding environment to work in and that we must at least stay abreast with other states.
We don't know if $10,000 over three years is enough. But we'll find out about that and other aspects of the report when the polished version is issued and the reaction pours in.
It should be an educational experience for all of us.
Quad-City Times. Sept. 28, 2012.
Branstad starts one-sided negotiations
In a 1,038-word section of their collective bargaining contract, Iowa's organized AFSCME workers and the governor agreed to specific benefits and costs for the health care portion of compensation.
The state police contract covers the health benefits in 249 words. Health benefits for UE Local 893/Iowa United Professionals representing social workers are described in 765 words.
AFSCME workers must provide a $50 co-pay for emergency room visits. Organized state police officers pay $100 for the same trip.
The list of differences goes on and on in contracts negotiated separately among the state organized employee groups.
Into this complex scenario stumbles a $125,000 study authorized by the governor that concludes "the state must move the employee premium cost share to at least 20 percent employee paid, which is typical in the marketplace for health plans."
Do that, says the consultant, and taxpayers will save $53 million annually.
Who could be against savings?
The consultant and governor know that health benefits aren't negotiated in a vacuum. Increasing employee costs will affect other wage and benefit negotiations. So it's preposterous to imply any specific savings on a negotiated benefit.
Employees' premium concessions are about half of $116 million in savings identified by the consultant, mostly from wellness and fitness incentives becoming common in all workplace plans, which is terrific. Health plans are evolving everywhere to emphasize fitness over treatment, thanks, in part, to the Affordable Care Act's focus on cost control.
But the state of Iowa's consultant report goes beyond trends and suggests a specific compensation change that can only be interpreted as the state's first volley in negotiations.
Problem is, the state agreed to contracts effective through June 30, 2013. Gov. Terry Branstad already tried to disrupt the contract in July when he signed an order encouraging employees to voluntarily increase their premium payments outside of the contract.
We share the governor's enthusiasm for savings, wellness and fitness. But we worry when either side in a public employment contract launch negotiations without the other side.
We were among Iowans livid when former lame duck governor Chet Culver rolled over and approved bargaining agreements with zero negotiations.
Branstad overreacts in the opposite direction by launching negotiations without actually engaging state workers. Worse, he expended $125,000 for the privilege.