Category: Simply Put

Simply Put – December 20, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
Gracing the cover of The Progress Review’s annual holiday edition are the lyrics of a popular Christmas hymn, Joy to the World. Many variations of the song have been produced by recording artists over the years. Some of the more recognizable versions have been sung by Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Whitney Houston, Nat King Cole, Neil Diamond and Mariah Carey.
While each artist adds their own unique interpretation to the performance of the song, Joy to the World is also easily recognized as an instrumental piece. The Progress Review’s annual Lights of La Porte City slideshow, which can viewed online on our Facebook page, features a rendition performed by Doug Hammer.
The story of how Joy to the World came to be is an interesting one that dates back 300 years. When Isaac Watts composed the hymn in 1719, it came at a time when songs that accompanied worship services were little more than a recitation of psalms or scripture set to music.
As the story goes, Watts found the practice boring and complained of the congregation’s seeming indifference as they recited passages in what he thought was a monotonous fashion. His father’s response was a challenge: If you don’t like it, write something better. So, with Psalm 98 as his guide, Watts did just that and thus, Joy to the World was created. It’s hard to imagine he could have expected that his composition would become a beloved hymn, sung in churches throughout the world three centuries later.
While the song predates The Progress Review by more than 150 years, there is something to be said for holiday traditions and the joy of the season that radiates from the birth of the Christ child.
As you explore the pages of this special holiday edition, we hope you’ll enjoy the messages of peace and hope shared by area pastors and the thoughts of fifth grade students at La Porte City Elementary School, who write about “What Christmas Means to Me.” We very much appreciate the time members of the clergy, students and their teachers have invested in these compositions that offer a 2017 perspective on the joys of the season.
We also thank the number of area businesses who express their holiday greetings on the following pages. It is their commitment to the community that helps make this special edition possible.
Christmas Day will soon be upon us. As you celebrate the season with family and friends, please accept our best wishes for a holiday that is filled with wonders of His love.

Simply Put – July 12, 2017

The Fourth, Fireworks and FacebookThe Fourth, Fireworks and Facebook
Iowa legislators certainly did no favors to cities throughout the state with the quick turnaround time associated with the new fireworks law. Senator Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who helped guide the bill to passage in the Senate said, “We’re eliminating an 80-year ban that’s been put in place and Iowans are now going to be able to celebrate the Fourth of July just like many other American citizens across the country are able to celebrate by using fireworks.  When then Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed the bill into law on May 9, municipalities had just a few weeks to determine where they would allow the sale of fireworks to take place during the legally established sales period that ran from June 1 to July 8. 
During those 38 days, tents sprouted up in Iowa cities large and small throughout the state, much like early corn plants enjoying the warm and humid weather of early summer. These “temporary structures” were a source of conundrum for cities because tents where fireworks are sold are not subject to certain building codes, such as fire supression measures, that are required for the licensed retailers selling from a permanent structure. Imagine if a fire broke out in downtown La Porte City. Because of their close proximity, the consequences could be devastating for neighboring businesses and buildings. 
It’s no surprise selling from a tent quickly became the preferred option for fireworks retailers. They could avoid expenses associated with meeting the more stringent building codes required of permanent buildings by waiting just three days, June 13, as opposed to June 10, to sell from temporary locations.
Commercial grade fireworks can be a source of great stress for individuals suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, as well as pets, whose hearing can be more sensitive than their human owners. Unfortunately, complaints during the recently concluded summer fireworks season were not limited to just those special populations. The most common fireworks complaints related to when and where they were being set off. 
Over the past three weeks, users of social media could find a myriad of references related to fireworks. Whether in favor of pyrotechnics or against, common sense would dictate that the simple act of respecting where and when fireworks are used would eliminate many of the conflicts reported. Yes, it’s legal to shoot off fireworks on your property. When said fireworks land on someone else’s property, though, cleaning up the resulting mess is the only right thing to do. 
There’s no doubt that ripping off a good rant on one of the many social media platforms can feel refreshingly good at times. Just know that those complaints are not likely to be seen or responded to by local authorities. It’s not their job to monitor social media posts made by local citizens. “The City” isn’t friends with anyone on Facebook. It doesn’t follow anyone on Twitter, nor does it send out or receive photos on Instagram. In La Porte City, seeking a response from Public Safety or City Hall requires a willingness to identify yourself when contacting authorities so the complaint can be properly investigated.
Now that the 4th of July has come and gone, expect the fireworks controversy to begin to fade. If you haven’t already, though, mark your calendar for Sunday, December 24. Much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator, fireworks will be back for another limited run.

Simply Put – April 19, 2017

By Mike Whittlesey
When a controversial issue or significant event occurs, sometimes it is difficult for those closest to it to step back and look at the bigger picture.
Consider the Cedar Valley Nature Trail bridge that crosses Wolf Creek in La Porte City. The bridge was closed in September 2015, blocking the path trail users take on their way to and from Gilbertville.
As an avid user and supporter of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, let me be clear: the sooner access can be restored to the trail, the better. In a perfect world, open access to the trail would never be threatened by aging infrastructure and the ongoing demands of regular trail maintenance.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
What once was a new recreational trail system in 1984, now offers evidence that portions of the pathway have not been aging gracefully over the past 30 years.
It would be easy to look outside our community for a solution to the problem. True, it’s not our bridge. The responsibility for maintaining it falls under Black Hawk County jurisdiction.
“So let them pay for it,” some might say. A most excellent suggestion, if it were only that easy. Where should the County go to get this funding? Not from the Conservation budget, which is limited to $25,000 annually for trail maintenance. Not from the Board of Supervisors, whose only likely commitment will be $77,000 for an engineering study. Not from the state either, as hope for bridge funding has plummeted, much like state revenue estimates. How about the Black Hawk County Gaming Association? Nope, they’ve already pledged more than a million dollars to County Conservation for the long overdue upgrades to the Hartman Nature Center.
Taking a step back from the trees reveals the forest of complications the Conservation Board must navigate to restore the Cedar Valley Nature Trail. First, it’s important to remember that recreational trails are not essential services. When lots are drawn for who gets funded by the taxpayers, Conservation, by default, often gets a shorter stick.
Second, when it comes to fixing trail bridges, La Porte City’s bridge is one of nine along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail in need of some type of repair. Clearly, without a consistent funding mechanism in place, maintenance of recreational trails in the county will continue to be rough going, as Conservation officials are seemingly in a constant scramble to find the money for needed repairs.
Recently, Vern Fish, former Executive Director of County Conservation, wrote a guest editorial for the Waterloo Courier. In it, he wrote about the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, created in 2010 when Iowa voters showed their support for it by a nearly 63% majority.
Haven’t heard of the Trust? That’s because its funding is dependent upon an increase in the state’s sales tax. The next time the sales tax is raised, the first three-eighths of one cent, by law, goes to fund the Trust. For the past seven years, the Trust, which would help pay for soil and water conservation, watershed protection, trails, lake restoration and more, has sat empty, awaiting the legislative action needed to fund it.
This year, legislation has been introduced that would raise the sales tax one-eighth of a cent each year for three years to begin funding the Trust. The increase in sales tax would be offset by an identical reduction of income taxes, minimizing the tax burden on Iowans. For more information about the Trust, logon to
In the meantime, when it comes to open access on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, who will speak for La Porte City? If $600,000 is too much to pay for realigning the trail around the defective bridge, the initial plan developed by County Conservation and subsequently criticized by a group of trail enthusiasts based in Waterloo and Cedar Falls, where is the $1.5 – $2.5 million needed to repair the bridge going to be found? In the words of Vern Fish, “It is time to ‘Fund the Trust’ and fulfill the mandate that the citizens of Iowa approved in 2010.”
On the other hand, area residents who believe it’s strictly the county’s problem to solve should be prepared to wait several years for something to happen.

Simply Put – March 15, 2017

This week, the front page of The Progress Review is filled with stories originating from local schools. I hope you take the opportunity to read them. They’re some of the stories we most enjoy sharing. Let me explain.
An article written in 2012 by Grace Chen offers several ways students benefit from participation in high school sports. Included on the list are such noble concepts as community representation, improved academics, teamwork, cooperation and positive mentors.
I’ve always believed that students can learn lessons on the courts and fields upon which they compete that are difficult to simulate in the classroom. The same is true for those who participate in fine arts.
There are very real life lessons to be learned about success, failure, effort and perseverance, as young people experience the highs and lows of making (or not making) the team, earning a spot in the starting lineup (or a spot on the bench), being cast in a lead role (or not being cast at all), as well as ascending to first chair (or falling to the third) in the school band.
Speaking at the Rewards and Recognition event after winning the Class 3A State Championship in 2011, Union Head Football Coach Joe Hadachek said, “You have to know how to lose in life, as well as win in life, because you’re not going to win every battle.”
Participation in extracurricular activities go a long way toward helping students learn these valuable lessons that will serve them well long after they graduate.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with some high school students about their participation in the Academic Decathlon. As I wrote the story that begins on the front page of this edition of The Progress Review, I realized I needed to expand my thinking about how, when and where these important life lessons present themselves to the young people in our schools.
I “get” success on the athletic fields and fine arts stage. Each of these “spectator sports” come with a passionate crowd to cheer on the participants. Other activities, such as Union Schools’ growing robotics program, and the high school’s Academic Decathlon team, typically fly under the radar but are just as valuable.
One of the first questions I asked the Academic Decathlon participants I interviewed was, “Why?” Knowing you are going to be tested over ten academic disciplines, which include seven different multiple-choice exams, a personal interview, giving an impromptu speech and writing an essay with no notes to use for assistance, why would you sign on for something like this? And for those students whose grade point averages hover south of 3.0, why take this class? When it comes time to compete, there will be no cheering crowds, no video highlights posted on Facebook. As someone whose modest high school GPA met “sandbagger” standards, I would not have had the courage to take such a class.
As I listened to their responses, it soon became apparent what a remarkable journey these students and their teacher have taken together over the past seven months. The life skills they’ve learned and the relationships they’ve developed will remain with them long after they’ve graduated from high school.
The same can be said for students involved in the district’s robotics programs. Can you imagine taking a robot you’ve designed into a competition and having your opponent help you make repairs when it breaks down? See “Core Values” on page one. They trump a win-loss record every time.
When I asked the question, “How does the Academic Decathlon team advancing to State compare to the Union football and volleyball teams competing in their respective state championship games?” senior Alek Stone pulled no punches with his response.
“Equally important but not equally publicized,” he said.
I agree with you completely, Alek. Now let me see if I can do something about that…

Simply Put – March 8, 2017

In a recently released report, US News & World Report has identified and ranked the nation’s best states. Founded in 1933 as a weekly news magazine, the publication shifted to publishing primarily online in 2010 and is known for its annual rankings of hospitals and colleges and universities. Using data compiled by the global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, US News & World Report ranked each state in the following broad categories: Health Care Quality, Education, Crime and Corrections, Infrastructure, Opportunity, Economy and Government. In all, 68 separate metrics were evaluated and compiled. Care to take a guess at where Iowa placed in the overall rankings?
If you said sixth overall out of 50 states, give yourself a pat on the back. Only Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington, states one through five on the list, topped the Hawkeye State. Iowa’s rankings in each of the seven areas is summarized in the following chart:

What kind of data was used to rank each state? US News & World Report says the data used comes from reliable governmental and private sources, and the weight assigned to each category was based on a survey that McKinsey conducted about what matters most to people. At this time, the two areas identified as most important to Americans are health care and education.
According to McKinsey’s Andre Dua, “What we’ve helped do is collect a wide range of data – a lot of data from publicly available sources. But we’ve also created our own proprietary data, particularly into how citizens view the performance of governments.”
Why should we care about state rankings? Beyond bragging rights, why should we care how Iowa compares to the rest of the nation? Managing Editor, Brian Kelly, said, “Viewed as a whole, a news analysis and rankings platform is designed to inform engaged citizens, business leaders and policymakers alike about what’s working and what needs improvement across the country.”
Assistant Managing Editor, Mark Silva, added, “In a union such as this, each state has something to learn from the others. Some have better health care, some better education, some more economic opportunity for their citizenry. Drawing any comparisons should be more than a matter of bragging rights. It requires clear-eyed measures to make real judgments.”
When it comes to solving the challenges that face society, be it at a local, state or national level, we can only hope that those entrusted with the responsibility of making policy will do so with an open mind and a willingness to learn from others.


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