ISU president seeking greener runways

Iowa State University President Steven Leath resigned today, effective later this spring, in order to lead Auburn University. Impressed by Leath’s land-grant university experience, Auburn’s trustees hired him following a controversial closed search. In a message to ISU supporters, Leath said he and his wife had “expected to retire here.”

However, we now realize our destiny is in Alabama and leading one of the nation’s great Land-grant universities to even greater prominence.

I leave with a promise fulfilled, and that was to leave the university better than I inherited it. I leave with Iowa State achieving record enrollment, retention rates, graduation rates, job placement rates as well as records in fundraising and research funding, and numerous other metrics. I am proud of the many accomplishments that we achieved in economic development and community engagement.

A brief statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter thanked Leath for his service and noted, “ISU has made great strides during his tenure, including achieving record enrollment.”

The terms of Leath’s contract at Auburn have not been finalized, but it’s a safe bet he will be paid substantially more than the $525,000 base salary he has received since the summer of 2015. The previous Auburn president earned $2.5 million a year, mostly in deferred compensation. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press that Leath “will be forfeiting deferred compensation of $625,000 that would have accrued had he remained [ISU] president in June 2020.”

Leath had several good reasons to jump ship.

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Weekend open thread: A new job for Steven Leath?

Some non-legislative news caught my eye this weekend: Iowa State University President Steven Leath may be leaving Ames soon. Cynthia Williford reported for the Opelika-Auburn News on March 18 that “multiple sources” say Leath is on the short list for Auburn University president. His “experience in agriculture and leadership at a land-grant university could make him an attractive pick,” she noted.

Leath “declined comment then hung up” on Gavin Aronsen of the Iowa Informer. I had a hunch he might look for a job in the South with Bruce Rastetter’s tenure on the Iowa Board of Regents ending soon.

Alluding to the “planegate” scandal, the Des Moines Register and Iowa State Daily stories on the Auburn rumor included the following two sentences: “Leath used the plane for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home. He’s reimbursed the university for those flights.” I still maintain that Leath did not fully reimburse ISU’s foundation for all of his medical travel.

Iowa State finally gave the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth records including names of passengers who flew with Leath on the university’s King Air. But this story by Erin Jordan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette hints that the university was trying to avoid having the Iowa Public Information Board assess the Register’s complaint.

However, because Clayworth already had many of the unredacted records, ISU eventually decided to give him the full set, [ISU general counsel Michael] Norton said. Because of the resolution, the board did not have to rule on whether the records about potential donors were public information.

“It’s a gray area,” Norton said.

Norton has not responded to my follow-up questions, such as: Will ISU release King Air passenger names to others who request them? Will the university give Clayworth or anyone else names of passengers on future trips, for which the Des Moines Register doesn’t already have unreacted records?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Another story that may interest Iowa politics watchers: two months after being sentenced, former State Senator Kent Sorenson began serving his 15-month federal prison sentence this week, Grant Rodgers reported on March 15. Prosecutors had asked for probation, given Sorenson’s cooperation with the investigation into former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. Rodgers linked to a blog post in which Sorenson wrote, “I have been very open about the mistakes I have made. I truly believe the sentence I received was unjust. The judge was politically motivated, his wife is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” Sorenson’s family are asking for donations to help support his wife and kids.

UPDATE: Clayworth’s report on passengers who flew on ISU’s King Air went online the evening of March 19. I enclose some excerpts below.

Clayworth clarified that the Register “had less than 80 of the 600+ pages [of King Air records]. ISU was told multiple times that we did NOT have all the records.”

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Four oddities from the audit of ISU president's weapons policy compliance

Iowa State University’s Office of Internal Audit has completed its review of “the storage and transportation of weapons to ensure current practices are in compliance with ISU’s Firearms and Other Weapons policy.”

ISU officials requested the audit after Bleeding Heartland reported in November that President Steven Leath and some companions on his hunting trips neither requested nor received written authorization to transport weapons on university aircraft, as required by ISU policy.

In their brief report on what appears to be an open-and-shut case of the president not following the rules, internal auditors managed to create a lot of wiggle room. ISU staff have not responded to my follow-up questions or provided documents that could address inconsistencies in the new official narrative.

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Will ISU's president ever fully cover the cost of his personal medical travel?

Six weeks after Iowa State University released the Internal Audit report on ISU Flight Service and University Owned Aircraft, I’ve made surprisingly little headway toward filling in the gaps.

Not for lack of trying.

The Iowa Board of Regents and ISU have withheld information that should have been included in a “comprehensive audit” purporting to cover every flight President Steven Leath has taken on a university airplane.

For today, I will focus on one issue: ISU staff’s refusal to tell me whether Leath has reimbursed the ISU Foundation for the full cost of flights to Rochester, Minnesota in July 2015. The matter raises questions about the foundation’s compliance with federal tax code and the accuracy of ISU’s official narrative.

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17 Iowa politics predictions for 2017

Two weeks late and humbled by the results from previous efforts to foretell the future, I offer seventeen Iowa politics predictions for the new year.

I struggled to compile this list, in part because it’s harder to come up with things to predict during a non-election year. I didn’t want to stack the deck with obvious statements, such as “the GOP-controlled Iowa House and Senate will shred collective bargaining rights.” The most consequential new laws coming down the pike under unified Republican control of state government are utterly predictable. I needed time to look up some cases pending before the Iowa Supreme Court. Also, I kept changing my mind about whether to go for number 17. (No guts, no glory.)

I want to mention one prediction that isn’t on this list, because I don’t expect it to happen this year or next. I am convinced that if the GOP holds the governor’s office and both chambers of the Iowa legislature in 2018, they will do away with non-partisan redistricting before the 2020 census. I don’t care what anyone says about our system being a model for the country or too well-established for politicians to discard. Everywhere Republicans have had a trifecta during the last decade, they have gerrymandered. Iowa will be no exception. So if Democrats don’t want to be stuck with permanent minority status in the state legislature, we must win the governor’s race next year. You heard it here first.

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