It’s about time

BY ART CULLEN

Finally, the Iowa Legislature might address the need for a geriatric sex offenders unit to keep the likes of William Cubbage from raping again. We are grateful to Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, for guiding a successful vote in the Senate Human Resources Committee this week that calls for a study of providing for such a facility. Segebart gives an example of bipartisanship by joining with Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, in demanding action by next January.

To a certain extent, we have to agree with Storm Lake attorney Willis Hamilton, who believes that study bills are just that — studies that lead nowhere. Hamilton has been waging a legal battle with the state for years on behalf of the estate of Mercedes Gottschalk, 95, whom Cubbage, 85, raped in a Pomeroy nursing home in 2011. Hamilton maintains that the Legislature has the full authority to immediately fix the problem of dumping sex offenders into settings that are not secure, like nursing homes.

Former Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, introduced a bill in 2013 that would have appropriated $100,000 to determine how many sex offenders were in jail, in civil commitment or in private care facilities. It passed both chambers on a bipartisan basis. Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed it. Perhaps Segebart realizes that he has a better chance for success once Branstad is living in Beijing and not Des Moines.

Segebart also would have a tough time getting any sort of new funding out of the Republican-controlled statehouse this year.

Hamilton explains to us that sex offenders may remain under state control their entire lives under civil commitment statutes. They are the only class of offenders for whom this indefinite provision is carved out because of evidence that sex offenders, pedophiles in particular, often cannot be rehabilitated. Cubbage is the perfect example — a repeat rapist over the years with a dullard’s IQ who refused to participate in therapy at the civil commitment unit for sex offenders at Cherokee. The state sprung him from that unit by saying he had received the full benefit of treatment, and by using some fancy arithmetic determined that he was “less likely” rather than “more likely” to reoffend because of his age. Then he raped Gottschalk. More recently, Cubbage was charged with assaulting a female worker at the Independence Mental Health Institute. Last the public knew, Cubbage was being evaluated for mental competency. We might never know where Cubbage ends up due to privacy laws as the state secretly shuffles him from place to place, the genesis of which was a desire by the Department of Human Services to get him off the state dole and onto the Medicaid rolls. It was shameful.

The state has the authority to hold Cubbage but no place safe to put him.

The Cherokee Mental Health Institute is the perfect setting for a geriatric sex offender unit that could be housed next door to the existing civil unit for sex offenders. It’s an easy call.

We have studied long enough. We need to get the facility organized.

But we understand Segebart’s constraints, and hope that Hamilton is wrong. We hope this bill does lead to at least a modicum of justice for Mercedes Gottschalk, and to the immunization of nursing homes from violent sex offenders like him. We will check back next January.

Whacking SL United

The Storm Lake City Council made the best of a bad situation this week by proposing a budget that keeps residential property taxes static — following a 9% increase this year — and holds most critical city functions like public safety and streets harmless. But the budget does not fund many of our aspirations, such as building a better community by strongly supporting economic development and marketing in The City Beautiful.

We speak of a cut to Storm Lake United’s operations of 126% over the past two years, from $68,000 to $30,000 in the proposed budget. We are not speaking of similar cuts to marketing Storm Lake, which we think are foolhardy but arguable amid the fiscal calamity we have witnessed in recent years.

SL United facilitates retail support, recruitment and location. It supports industry by maintaining regular contact and helps it get what it needs from the community — a huge factor in Storm Lake’s success. (Sorry, but nobody else takes care of local business and industry than Storm Lake United — not the Iowa Department of Economic Development, not Iowa Lakes Corridor of Opportunity and not City Hall.)

It helps recruit health care professionals. It advocates for Buena Vista University. It supports lake restoration. It organizes community celebrations and helps to staff them. And yes, it markets Storm Lake to the world with great success over the past 10 years. You may or may not like CEO Gary Lalone, but the numbers from his former career and current effort suggest that he is one of the best salesmen and marketers this town has known. We’re lucky to have him and don’t understand why the city keeps slapping Storm Lake United.

Councilmen Tyson Rice and Mike Porsch pledge they will do anything they can to fix this horrible situation from a group that helps Storm Lake’s property tax base grow. They know we’re eating our seed by defunding Storm Lake United. We hope the other council members join them and fill this gaping red hole. We should increase, not decrease, SL United’s funding. The funds are there if they want to find them. In fact, City Manager Jim Patrick said he will find those funds after getting an earful.