Legal fees continue to mount in state discrimination suit

Andringa quits. Hensley collects.
Not much has been happening of late in Chris Godfrey’s lawsuit against Gov. Terry Branstad and five other state officials named in the retaliation, defamation, extortion and discrimination proceeding.
But that doesn’t mean the state officials’ lawyers haven’t been busy — busy billing, at least.
The LaMarca Law Group, which is representing the defendants for up to $325 an hour, submitted another bill to the state the other day. It’s for $34,931.51, bringing the total paid by the taxpayers to date — by Cityview’s calculations — to $907,015.97.
The four-year-old case, when you cut out the rhetoric, is really about $150,000 in pay cuts the state forced on Godfrey during what would have been the final 46 months of his fixed six-year term as head of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Board. Branstad tried to force Godfrey to resign early — it may or may not be relevant that Godfrey is a Democrat and is openly gay — and when Godfrey refused to go quietly the Governor cut the commissioner’s salary by as much as the law allowed. Godfrey didn’t take that well. He sued.
The suit, in Polk County District Court, has been on hold since last May, when one aspect of the case was sent to the Iowa Supreme Court for a ruling. The Supreme Court has not yet considered the issue — it’s scheduled for the 2016-2017 term — and after it does the case will go back to district court. And whoever loses surely will appeal.
If the state loses, it could well be responsible not only for the million-plus in its own legal fees but for Godfrey’s fees, which probably will be as much or more. He is represented by Roxanne Conlin, who is not known as a shy biller and who — just to add spice to the case — was the Democrat gubernatorial nominee who lost to Branstad in 1982.
Meantime, every party except the Governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds has moved on. Chief of staff Jeff Boeyink, Legal Counsel Brenna Findley, Communications Director Tim Albrecht and Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert — all defendants — have left the Branstad administration. Godfrey himself now lives in Washington, where he is the chief judge and chairman of the Employees Compensation Appeals Board of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Members of the Iowa Board of Regents rarely resign, so it was particularly odd that Mary Andringa quit the other day after just one year on the nine-member board. The chairwoman of the family-owned Vermeer Corp. in Pella said she just didn’t have the time to devote to the board, and the Regents’ press release noted she holds “multiple other board positions and national governmental relations roles.”
What it didn’t note — and what Andringa’s bio on the board site never noted and what her conflict-of-interest form didn’t note until it was amended last week — was that one of those other board positions was at Herman Miller Inc., which the Iowa City Press-Citizen pointed out last week, and what it also didn’t note was that Herman Miller just got a no-bid contract to supply furniture and fittings for the big new children’s hospital at the university. And what it didn’t note, either — and what no one seems to have noticed — was that Andringa was head of the hospital and clinics committee of the Board, which, in a way, is rather like being chairman of the board of the University of Iowa Hospitals — the hospital that gave the big, no-bid contract to the company on whose board she sits.
At last report, Andringa owned 47,467 shares of stock in Herman Miller, which is worth about $1.5 million and produces dividends of about $28,000 a year, though she does not list that stock on the amended disclosure form. According to the latest filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, she is paid $146,000 a year for her board services. She joined the board in 1999. In 2014, she also joined the board of Milliken and Co., a privately held company in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
The last regent to resign in mid-term was Nicole Carroll of Carroll, who moved out of state in 2014. Tom Bedell, once of Spirit Lake, resigned in the middle of his term in 2007 after he failed in a ham-handed power play on the board. 
Midwest Housing Equity Group filed its income tax form for 2014 the other day, and it shows that “director and consultant” Chris Hensley was paid $48,000 during the year and worked 20 hours a week for the Omaha-based company, which syndicates and sells tax credits from developers of low-income housing.
Nevertheless, the Des Moines City Council member didn’t think the fees and directorship constituted a conflict of interest when she cast a tie-breaking vote last December to allow local developers to apply to the Iowa Finance Authority for low-income-housing tax credits. The vote raised eyebrows and hackles. And as it turned out, one of the winners of those credits uses Midwest Housing to market its credits. And that means a tidy profit for Midwest.
Polk County Republicans ratified their platform the other day.
There’s a lot in it about God and guns and abortion— the Republicans are for two out of three — and about gay marriage and the federal income tax, which the Republicans are against. The wide-ranging document comes out against traffic cameras — “including red light and speed cameras” — as a threat to Americans “in a free society.”
The county Republicans are for the death penalty, and they ungrammatically “support an individual’s right to refuse vaccinations for themselves [sic] and for their [sic] children.” They would eliminate the U.S. Department of Agriculture, defund the United Nations, prohibit collective bargaining on wages for public employees, repeal Obamacare, eliminate “No Child Left Behind,” get rid of the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Homeland Security, “significantly narrow the scope of authority” of the Environmental Protection Agency, require mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, and defund Iowa Public Television and Iowa Public Radio.
Among other things.
An earlier version called for the elimination of direct election of United States Senators, instead going back to the days of having state legislators pick the Senators. Perhaps the county Republicans dropped that when someone pointed out to them that both U.S. Senators were Republicans — and that the Iowa Senate is controlled by Democrats.
Circulation at The Des Moines Register is still slipping. Print and digital circulation of the daily Register averaged 84,012 in the fourth quarter of last year; the Sunday figure was 137,799, according to figures the newspaper submitted to the industry’s Alliance for Audited Media. There’s no exact year-to-year comparison, but six months earlier the averages were 141,146 for Sunday and 84,333 for weekdays.
The drops in recent years have been precipitous. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Sunday circulation averaged 215,881; daily circulation averaged 105,374.
In the four-county metro area — Polk, Story, Dallas and Warren counties, which the newspaper considers its home market — Sunday print circulation now averages 73,102, daily 44,382. The report doesn’t break down digital sales by region because it’s hard to know where a digital subscriber lives. As of six months ago — the latest figures available — the Sunday Register had circulation of 63,344 in Polk County, going into about a third of the households; the daily number stood at 40,854, covering less than a quarter of the households.
The two-year Cityview audit, by the Circulation Verification Council, also was released last week. It showed the print edition with an average net circulation of 26,411. Almost all of that is in Polk County. Cityview, which, of course, is free, has kept its circulation at that number for several years.
And last week, too, Cityview owner and publisher Shane Goodman was named Publisher of the Year by the Association of Free Community Papers. That’s a big deal.