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IOWA CITY — Iowa’s newest regent — James “J.C.” Risewick, president of Des Moines-based Seneca Cos. — was chosen from among seven applicants for the recent state Board of Regents vacancy, although he submitted a bare-bones application that didn’t include his education or employment history.
All other applicants for the regent seat — vacated by longtime member Milt Dakovich’s death Feb. 24 — offered details about their education and employment backgrounds, some providing resumes and information about jobs they held as far back as 1994.
Risewick — who over the past two years has donated $59,517, both in cash and plane flights, to Gov. Kim Reynolds — reported he’s not currently employed, according to application documents provided to The Gazette in response to an open-records request.
In announcing his appointment to the Board of Regents on June 21, Reynolds said Risewick is president and chief operating officer of Seneca Cos., which also lists him as its leader on its website, with the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office and in his new bio posted on the Board of Regents website.
“With a background in human resources recruiting, sales training, management and field sales, he has been able to leverage his experience to effectively grow and operate Seneca Companies Inc., a business consisting of approximately 400 employees spanning over 18 states,” according to his regents bio, boasting his nearly 20 years of experience in human resources, sales and executive-level leadership.
“He is currently the president and chief operating officer of Seneca Companies, a family-owned company providing a variety of services and solutions around the fuel systems industry.”
Although Risewick didn’t include any educational history in his regent application, his new board bio reports he graduated from Miami University of Ohio with a bachelor of science in business administration and attended the executive education program at the Carlson School of Management through the University of Minnesota.
All six other applicants, according to educational information they provided, earned degrees from Drake University — three getting law degrees and three earning some form of business degree. Two received undergraduate degrees from one of the regent universities.
Other applicants included longtime Des Moines City Council member Christine Lee Hensley, a Republican who served on the City Council from 1994 to 2017. Hensley is listed as chairwoman of the board of directors for Iowa Student Loan, a not-for-profit offering private student loans for families.
Serving alongside regent Nancy Dunkel, who represents Iowa’s public universities on the student loan board, Hensley in her application reported having served on 20-plus boards over the past decade.
Nicholas Ryan — a Republican and CEO of Concordia Group, founder of Global Direct Mail and Marketing, and president of Thomas Capital Advisors — also applied, according to the Governor’s Office. He’s currently serving on the Iowa State Board of Health, a policymaking body for the Iowa Department of Public Health.
In her application, Republican Cheryl Weisheit cited a long list of volunteer and board experience — such as with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central Iowa, Fort Dodge Chamber of Commerce, Des Moines Chamber Alliance and Iowa Energy Center.
The group of applicants included four Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent — a point of interest, as Iowa Code requires the nine-member volunteer board to maintain political balance, with no more than five members associating with the same political party.
The current board — with all members appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds — is Republican heavy, with five Republican members, three identifying as independents and one Democrat. Dakovich was a Republican, and his successor Risewick is, too.
The board, also needing gender balance, has five women and four men. All are white.
The small pool of applicants to fill Dakovich’s vacancy included two women and five men, one of whom is Black and identifies as Liberian. That applicant, Webster Kranto of Des Moines, is a Democrat who attended both Iowa State University and Drake.
He chairs the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission and is vice chairman of the Iowa Board of Corrections.
Although all applications provided by the Governor’s Office included the Board of Regents heading, one applicant — Nathan Borland, a lawyer in Des Moines — told The Gazette he didn’t specifically apply to be a regent and isn’t sure he would have accepted an offer.
None of the applicants have made significant political donations in recent years on par with Risewick; Regent David Barker, who’s donated $250,180 in monetary and in-kind donations to Republicans since 2019; or board President Michael Richards, who’s given $28,552 to Republicans since that year, according to a review of state documents.
A few did give some, however. Applicant Hensley contributed $1,350 to Republican candidates since 2020 — including $1,000 to Reynolds. Ryan gave $3,550 to mostly Republican candidates over that period — although none to Reynolds.
And Weisheit has given $4,406 to Republicans since 2020 — including $450 to Reynolds.
Of Risewick’s $59,517 in campaign contributions to Reynolds since 2020, $39,517 has been in-kind donations in the form of flights on his company’s private airplane. His father, Christopher Risewick, also donated $35,807 to Reynolds in 2020, including a $25,807 flight on June 26, 2020.
The governor’s schedule, according to records provided to The Gazette in response to an-open records request, shows she flew that day to Washington, D.C., for a “workforce budget meeting” in the White House.
Although the Governor’s Office didn’t produce details of all four flights J.C. Risewick donated to the governor over the past two years, portions of Reynolds’ calendar that were made public — paired with flight records — show the new regent flew the governor to Prairie du Chien, Wis., on Oct. 27, 2021, to get her within a 30-minute drive of the funeral for Iowa State Trooper Ted Benda.
His company plane also flew Reynolds to and from Dubuque the afternoon and evening of Aug. 12, 2021, for the “Field of Dreams” game, according to the governor’s schedule and flight records.
Risewick in his application did mention his service on the board of Impact Iowa’s Heroes and with ChildServe’s board of trustees. And he cited that service and his ownership of Seneca in his recently filed Board of Regents conflict-of-interest forms.
To the question of whether he or any member of his family beginning June 21 did or will receive any gifts or loans from any source from which a regent institution or board buys goods or services or has business dealings, Risewick reported receiving $3.1 million in commercial loans from GreenState Credit Union.
No other regent reported receiving any gifts or loans on their disclosure forms.
The board did not immediately provide details of its dealings with GreenState Credit Union.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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