Category Archives: Simply Put

Simply Put – February 24, 2016

By Mike Whittlesey

Are the good people of La Porte City unknowingly killing their community? Before we dismiss such thoughts as utter nonsense, perhaps a close inspection of the book with a provocative title, 13 Ways to Kill Your Community is in order. The book’s author, Doug Griffiths, grew up in a small town in Alberta, Canada and was an award-winning teacher before seeking office as a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Province of Alberta, where he served for four consecutive terms and gained the reputation as a passionate advocate for building strong communities. Last year, he retired from politics to form a company that develops practical tools communities and organizations can use to assess and identify the challenges threatening their growth, along with strategies that can help turn those challenges into opportunities for success.

The book Thirteen Ways to Kill Your Community came about as a result of Griffiths’ extensive work with rural communities, particularly those working hard to find ways ensure a vibrant and prosperous future. While individuals, governmental bodies and the communities they represent certainly do not carry with them an overt desire to harm or damage their own community, the author speaks to the attitudes, beliefs and actions that are sometimes taken for short-term gain that ultimately hurt, not help, the places where they live.
Want to kill your community? Try Chapter 2, entitled “Don’t Attract Business.”

“Shop local” is a phrase often heard in smaller communities like La Porte City. Because so many residents in our community work in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area, much of their purchasing power goes with them when they travel north on U.S. Hwy. 218. What can the locals find there that isn’t always present in their home town? In many cases, it’s competition, the engine that drives free enterprise. Competition offers consumers choices when it comes to price, quality, selection and service. In a small town, a limited number of retail opportunities can make competition hard to find. After many, many years in La Porte City, for example, the closing of the Pronto Market leaves Casey’s as the only convenience store in town.

For students of economics, the value of competition is not a new revelation. Unfortunately, its value is sometimes lost in smaller communities. In the context where local shopkeepers are neighbors and friends with members of the governing body that determines whether new businesses are welcomed or turned away, economic decisions can become more difficult to make. Last summer in La Porte City, the proposed construction of a Dollar General Store on the north edge of town was initially declined before the City Council reconsidered the project’s value in terms of property tax revenue, new jobs and retail sales dollars invested in the community. Will the new store become competition for existing businesses? Most definitely. Fortunately for La Porte City residents, history has shown that such competition will give area residents improved selection when it comes to prices, quality, variety of merchandise and service. Savvy business owners understand that every dollar entering the community gets passed around town several times. The dollars spent in Waterloo and Cedar Falls? Gone. And not likely to find their way back to La Porte City where they could have exchanged hands at local businesses several times over.

The lessons taught in the chapter “Don’t Attract Business” can be applied beyond the obvious Main Street merchants. Last fall, a structural failure of the bridge spanning Wolf Creek in La Porte City interrupted the continuous path of the 46 mile long Cedar Valley Nature Trail (CVNT). Replacing the bridge will cost millions of dollars, money neither Black Hawk County Conservation nor the City of La Porte City has, or will have, in the near future. As officials and government leaders explore options to restore traffic so that the trail can, once again, travel unimpeded through our community, detour signs for cyclists who use the trail will soon be posted along the route. The detour will encourage riders to leave the trail in Gilbertville and proceed south to La Porte City via Canfield Road. The reality is that many recreational riders will opt to skip the detour altogether and simply turn around and go back from where they came. For local eateries and other La Porte City businesses that cater to CVNT users, a detour that bypasses the community is a lost opportunity (and revenue).
Is the traffic that passes through town on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail important to La Porte City? Are there economic benefits for our community that should be considered if the City Council is called upon to make decisions regarding this issue?

Communities that thrive, Griffiths notes, are the ones where people come together and seek solutions for the greater good. Consider an issue confronted by our community nearly 40 years ago when, for a brief time, La Porte City was without a physician. Because of the concerted effort organized by a number of area residents working together, medical care and pharmacy services were restored to the citizens of La Porte City. Where would our community be today without them?

When it comes to attracting businesses to La Porte City, we shouldn’t wait for a similar crisis to get started.

Simply Put – January 20, 2016

By Mike Whittlesey

The following column is written in response to a letter to the editor from Justin Murphy. Read the letter here.

In a world where social media makes it easy to voice personal opinions in a public forum, signing one’s name to a letter to the editor takes conviction. Mr. Murphy should be commended for his fortitude.
As the Editor in Chief, I am ultimately responsible for everything that appears in the print, online and digital editions of The Progress Review. When we purchased La Porte City’s newspaper in 2002, we made a commitment to the community to continue producing a weekly newspaper that dates back to the 1870s.
As Mr. Murphy noted, readers looking for scandals are not likely to find them in the pages of The Progress Review. If publishing the “negative happenings” in our community was a priority, it would be worth my time to investigate rumors circulating around town. But it is not. There are several reasons why.
Every printed page in The Progress Review comes with a cost. That is why, on average, 40% of the content we publish each week is devoted to advertising. Advertisers make it possible to keep the subscription price our readers pay lower than many other weekly newspapers in the state. Consequently, my job as editor is to publish the news and feature stories I believe our readers will find informative and meaningful, given the limited space available.
While I have certainly heard a number of rumors circulating around town during my tenure at The Progress Review, I must admit that I definitely do not make an effort to “keep up-to-date with rumors spreading around like wild fires.” At The Progress Review, before any article gets investigated or written, a simple question helps determine its worthiness for publication: What is the value of the story?
In the case of the suspension of Union High School football players, it is their status as juveniles that helps keep their names from being made public in this newspaper. In many cases, law enforcement officials and school district administrators are not obligated to release the names of juveniles to the media, out of deference to their juvenile status. Investigating such rumors is a moot point if the names of the students in question are not willingly made available to the media.
In response to other examples cited in Mr. Murphy’s letter, what value does a “town alcoholic” story have to offer the community? How about an “abusive husband” story? What is the merit to publishing a story about an alleged “student-teacher scandal”? In each of these examples, no investigation conducted by The Progress Review is likely to advance the story beyond its rumor status. Publishing unsubstantiated rumors is akin to action “that is defamatory or that maliciously or damagingly misrepresents.” In other words, libel. Our readers deserve better than that. That is also why the names of specific individuals referenced in Mr. Murphy’s letter were redacted prior to publication.
Over the past 14 years, there are numerous reports of “negative happenings” to be found in the pages of The Progress Review. The police reports and law enforcement press releases we do publish have what the aforementioned “scandals” lack- an event that takes place resulting in the accused being formally charged with a crime. It is not The Progress Review’s job to report accusations based on rumor or innuendo. Would such stories sell more papers? Perhaps. We choose to leave investigations of possible misdeeds to the agencies who are far better equipped to conduct them properly.
In 2016, the number of family-owned newspapers in the United States continues to decline. As publishers of La Porte City’s hometown newspaper, we are afforded the opportunity to share the stories about the people and events in our community like no other media outlet. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously, the reason we continue to look for ways to improve our community, not tear it down. It’s also the reason why, after 14 years, The Progress Review’s commitment to our home town remains as strong as ever. –MW

Simply Put – December 23, 2015

By Mike Whittlesey

With stories of violence and terrorist organizations dominating the headlines, this week’s cover on the annual holiday edition of The Progress Review is most appropriate. As the commercialization of the Christmas holiday threatens to obscure its true meaning, we offer you, dear reader, this issue filled with features designed to celebrate the season in all its glory.
The festive words and images of young people begin the celebration on pages four and five, as fifth grade students at La Porte City Elementary School share “What Christmas Means to Me,” with family, fun and food as recurring themes. In case you’re wondering, the tradition of the Christmas pickle dates back to the late 1800s, though no one seems to know exactly who was responsible for starting the practice of hiding a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree. Conspiracy theorists speculate an excess of glass ornaments for sale by the F.W. Woolworth Company as a more credible origin than the country of Germany, whose actual Christmas traditions do not conform with the myth of the pickle. Regardless, the tradition has become wholly American over the years. Kids- please endeavor to keep the tree in an upright position as you search for any pickle ornaments that may be hanging in the branches!
Music, of course, is a big part of the holiday season and our community is blessed an abundance of vocal talent, expertly cultivated by dedicated instructors and transformed into a series of holiday concerts that delight and entertain. In addition to the school concert photos presented on pages four and five, you can find galleries of holiday concerts posted on The Progress Review’s Facebook page.
During this most busy time of the year, we are grateful to the area ministers who have shared the messages of peace and hope featured on pages 8-10. This is where you can also find service worship times for several area churches.
Sprinkled among the season’s greetings from area advertisers that help make this holiday edition possible, you’ll find holiday-related stories, puzzles and other features we hope you enjoy. As the “most wonderful time of the year” arrives, please accept our holiday greetings to you and your family, along with a special wish for peace on earth and good will toward all.

Simply Put

 

By Mike Whittlesey

The fifth and final installment of Dave Stueve’s narrative about his recent safari experience in South Africa is published this week as the sport of trophy hunting in Africa remains under fire following the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe last month.
I am not a hunter. My enjoyment of the great outdoors is devoted primarily to riding a bicycle on the abundance of nature trails our little corner of the world has to offer. The last arrow I shot was probably in a junior high physical education class and I’ve since been pardoned for the arrow that somehow wound up on the roof. With the exception of my dad’s air rifle some 35 years ago, I’ve never shot a gun and have no desire to own one.
When Dave Stueve opened Double Lung Archery in La Porte City in 2007, he quickly developed a full-service Archery Pro Shop with a loyal following of customers who willingly come from near and far to support a business that caters to hunters. And make no mistake, hunting is big business in Iowa. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates the economic impact hunters, anglers and wildlife viewers amounts to $1.5 billion each year, supporting more than 17,800 jobs statewide.
Though not a hunter myself, a large portion of The Progress Review’s readers actively participate in outdoor related activities and have an interest in reading about the exploits of their fellow hunters. It is also important to acknowledge that hunter-generated revenue makes it possible for non-hunters like myself to enjoy the bike trails and state parks funded by the hunting industry. Not only do hunters account for $100 million in state and federal taxes annually, they also help fund the state’s fisheries, law enforcement activities related to wildlife, habitat/wetland restoration, as well as outdoor education and safety training. Without these dollars, many of the outdoor recreational activities enjoyed by non-hunters would not exist as they do in their present form.
Having said that, luring a lion out of its protected sanctuary for the purpose of killing it and cutting off its head cannot be explained away as animal conservation. That Cecil’s tracking collar went missing after the kill was made suggests the hunting party knew their actions were unethical, even if the subsequent investigation determines the hunt was not illegal. As this issue of The Progress Review goes to press, the investigation surrounding the hunter, his guide and the Zimbabwe landowner has not yet been completed.
In the meantime, the moral indignation expressed by those who have vandalized the property of the hunter responsible for the deed does nothing to address the problem of protecting endangered wildlife. While spewing pigs’ feet on the grounds of a hunter’s vacation home may make for dramatic television, it certainly is not a convincing statement about the sanctity of animal life. I can think of at least one pig who would have objected to such an argument.
Those morally opposed to hunting certainly deserve to express their feelings and have their voices heard. To label all trophy hunters as evil, though, is an oversimplification of the issue and does a disservice to the legitimate conservation efforts many hunters passionately pursue. As the debate rages on, many outdoor enthusiasts make the claim that banning hunting in Africa is actually more harmful to the animals there. Hard to believe, yes. The historical numbers, though, would seem to support such a claim.
In a 2006 research piece published in Conservation Biology entitled “Trophy Hunting and Conservation in Africa: Problems and One Potential Solution, the authors state, “The greatest threat to the sustainability of trophy hunting on communal land is the failure of governments and hunting operators to devolve adequate benefits to local communities, which reduces incentives for rural people to conserve wildlife.”
In other words, when the hunters and the money they spend in Africa disappears, so to does the natives’ motivation to maintain conservation efforts that previously protected the wildlife there.
In a 2011 research piece published in Environment, author Nicolas Jordan Deere noted that following the ban of trophy hunting in Kenya (1977), Tanzania (1973–78) and Zambia (2000-03), there was an accelerated loss of wildlife in each of those countries.
Kenya, for example, has lost some 60%-70% of its wildlife after initiating a ban on hunting. Faced with the prospect of literally starving to death as African wildlife consume the vegetation dirt-poor resident farmers ordinarily feed their livestock, it should not be surprising that poaching remains rampant in Kenya. Food on the table will trump animal conservation every time these conditions are in conflict.
The low socioeconomic conditions present in many African countries, coupled with hunters who are willing to pay five figures for the opportunity to hunt in Africa, places some African governments in the difficult position of publicly condemning an activity they routinely accept big dollars to allow. A recent news report from Zimbabwe noted that local officials were hopeful the furor over Cecil’s death would soon dissipate so the business of legal hunting could resume.
How long the topic of trophy hunting in Africa remains a top story in the news remains to be seen. Instead of Africa, it’s an issue that could just as easily be focused on our very own backyard. For many years, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued permits to conduct deer management hunts at designated times during the year. Designed to thin the excess deer population, these hunts address concerns related to the damage deer inflict on crops and ornamental gardens, as well as the number of motor vehicle accidents involving deer. Over a 25 year period, managing the deer population in this manner has become accepted practice, much like trophy hunting is today in many African countries. If Iowans and their state government view large numbers of deer as a nuisance and a danger, is it surprising that African landowners view the excess number of giraffes threatening the food supply of other animals much in the same way?
The ethical treatment of animals, regardless their country of origin, is not a high contrast, black and white problem. As we navigate the muddy waters of this complex social issue, let us hope that civil public discourse will be the rule of the day. Without it, we lack the clarity needed to help find the answers we seek.

Simply Put – July 29, 2015

By Mike Whittlesey

Last week’s RAGBRAI visit to La Porte City can only be described as a valiant effort that came up short. I’m referring, of course, to pie. On Thursday, July 23rd, the community learned first-hand that the voracious (and legendary) appetite RAGBRAI riders have for pie is a well-deserved one, indeed. The 1,500+ slices of pie prepared by the American Lutheran Church were gone by 1 PM. More than 1,000 fry pies offered at the Amish Family Foods booth were happily devoured before the day was done. And that’s not counting the pie for sale at the Sacred Heart and St. Paul United Methodist church booths.
While the effort to meet the pie demand may have disappointed some of the late-arriving guests making the ride from Cedar Falls to Hiawatha, clearly the effort to show riders and their support personnel a good time in La Porte City did not. The combination of near-perfect weather and local citizens highly motivated to offer a healthy dose of LPC hospitality to riders coming to Iowa from all around the world had many offering words of thanks to bystanders as they pedaled out of town.
If there is one word that can sum up the RAGBRAI experience, it is TEAMWORK. Many riders make the journey accross the state as part of a team, and the creative names and uniforms they display are an important part of the RAGBRAI culture, each with its own unique story to tell.
The sense of collegiality shared among riders on the daunting 462 mile journey from Sioux City to Davenport was clearly evident on the streets of La Porte City, as cyclists used commands such as “rider on!” and “rider off!” to express their intentions to those riding around them. When potentially dangerous obstacles along the road were encountered, riders were also quick to warn those behind them with a shout and pointing of the arm at the offending terrain.
The safety of participants is clearly the number one concern for RAGBRAI organizers. That accidents along the way become newsworthy events is a tribute to just how few serious injuries are incurred over the course of the ride, a remarkable feat considering how many moving parts there are making the trip across the state.
Hosting the world’s largest bike ride for the first time in 32 years, teamwork was essential for those planning La Porte City’s role as a pass-through community along the 2015 RAGBRAI route. Over the five month process of planning for “Ride LPC 7-23,” the steering committee held fast to its commitment to closely adhere to the guidelines and recommendations established by RAGBRAI organizers. The end result affirmed those efforts, as Main Street vendors enjoyed a tremendously successful day serving riders who thoroughly enjoyed the time they spent in La Porte City.
Given the feedback from riders in 2015, La Porte City will not have to wait another 30+ years to receive another invitation to host RAGBRAI. Taking what has been learned from this year’s experience, the goal will be to make the next one even better. That’s a lot of pie!

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