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Archive for May 7th, 2008|Daily archive page

Police Department watchers: Relax; City Hall says police chief announcement likely next week, not this week

In City Hall, Police Department on May 7, 2008 at 6:33 pm

The city manager’s office on Wednesday said it hoped to name the city’s new police chief next week, the week of May 12.

Four finalists remain in the running, two out-of-staters, and two locals. They are Kenneth Greg Graham, 46, deputy police chief in Ocala, Fla.; Jeff Hadley, 37, police captain in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Steve O’Konek, 46, and Bernie Walther, 47, Cedar Rapids police captains.

After a first round of interviews of seven candidates, the city’s Civil Service Commission determined that five of the seven were qualified to be the Cedar Rapids chief. The commission ranked the five, with O’Konek first, Graham, second, Hadley, third, Capt. Joseph D’Agostino, 49, of the Port St. Lucie, Fla., fourth, and Walther, fifth.

D’Agostino withdrew after a second round of interviews with City Manager Jim Prosser, Mo Sheronick, assistant city attorney, and Conni Huber, the city’s human resources director.

Prosser makes the final selection with the approval of the City Council.

The new chief replaces Mike Klappholz, who retired in March.

During the first interviews, Sheronick noted that the Cedar Rapids department has not had a chief from outside its ranks for more than 30 years.

Videotapes of the first round of interviews can be found at



Are worlds colliding? Can City Hall insist on nice design from developers focused on less regulatory red tape?

In City Hall, Paul Pate, Tom Podzimek, Viewpoint on May 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm

One of the roles of City Hall is to oversee what gets built in the city.

In that world of development, there are two interests that often seem to pull in different directions.

On the one hand, there is the development community — developers, landowners, builders, Realtors, engineering companies and others.

And then there are those on the City Council who have an interest in design and beautification, extras that can cost builders more than they might have planned on investing.

Earlier this week a Rhode Island tourism expert was in town talking to elected officials about their plans for riverfront improvement through the downtown, plans that include a RiverWalk, an outdoor amphitheater and other amenities.

Council member Tom Podzimek asked Robert Billington what communities in the Blackstone River Valley of Rhode Island and Massachusetts were doing to prevent themselves from looking just like every other community in the nation. Billington told Podzimek that the Blackstone Valley hadn’t figured out what to do with the expanding number of strip malls either.

“They (developers) can build what you want,” Billington said. “… But if you don’t know what you want, you’re going to get what they want.”

The factors brought to bear of what is built and how it is built in a community can include more than just more taxes,  jobs and money for the community, Billington said.

Be that as it may.

At this week’s Wednesday evening council meeting, city staff will report on yet another special endeavor – it is being called an “event” this time around – in which a selected group of developers, builders, Realtors and others in the development community have been huddling with city staff to try to streamline what the development community perceives as City Hall hurdles, rigmarole and red tape. All the regulation slows down building projects and drives some off, the development community says.

Twice in the mayoral administration of Paul Pate, from 2002 through 2005, similar efforts were made.

One of those, in part, did away with special design standards required of building projects along major routes at the gateways to the city. The thought of the design standards, adopted during Lee Clancey’s mayoral run, was that there was merit to beautify the spots people saw first when they came to Cedar Rapids. But the developers and builders ultimately prevailed: The bow to beautification at certain spots simply prevented people from building there, the development community insisted.

Apparently many of the recommendations of the second Pate-era development task force were put aside as the city changed its form of government and a new City Council and the city’s first city manager took over in 2006.

So, City Hall and the development community are back at it again.

Surely, the effort has merit. The very nature of government regulation is that it slows the pace, and who would object if regulation can be thoughtfully tweaked to accomplish without obstructing.

It might be nice to hear from a contingent of neighborhood representatives who have battled development projects in recent years to get their read on any proposed changes.

How the hopes for design standards and “sustainable” practices — another idea supported on the City Council – fits into streamlining regulation remains to be seen.

It’s easy, though, to remember the City Hall effort, which it set aside in December, to insert itself into planning for a better future for the long-struggling Westdale Mall.

In the Westdale instance, the city staff had proposed suggested special design standards for the mall’s periphery where two developers were planning to build a couple of restaurants and to renovate the former Big Lots store building. The developers wondered who was going to pay the additional costs to incorporate the design standards into the project. Ultimately, the development was set aside.

Remember, too, the construction of the new neighborhood Hy-Vee Food Store at 1556 First Ave. NE a few years ago on the busy, highly visible First Avenue East. Improving the exterior look of the store required local tax incentives or the company would not have replaced its old, ugly store with the new one.


Mayor Halloran answers the call for jury duty; not surprisingly, passed over as juror

In City Hall, Mayor Kay Halloran on May 7, 2008 at 3:06 am

Mayor Kay Halloran recalled her days as a practicing attorney this week and the times in which clients would call her asking for some advice on how to get out of jury duty.

Halloran said her answer was always the same: Do your duty. Her idea was something like this: Wouldn’t you want someone like you in the jury box if you were on trial?

So early Monday morning, there was the mayor, joining in a large pool of fellow Linn County citizen who had turned out at the Linn County Courthouse to perform jury duty.

Her number was called among a group of 16 potential jurors to hear one of the cases on the docket, a civil case involving a traffic accident of some sort. The civil jury needed just half of the 16, so attorneys on both sides of the case asked questions of the potential jurors and picked some and not others.

Halloran didn’t stand much of a chance to make it.

Mayors know people. They have entanglements.

For starters, Halloran knew attorneys on both sides of the civil case. Surely, police officers would be testifying. Police officers work for the city, the place the mayor leads.

Early on, one of the attorneys, Robert Wilson of Cedar Rapids, asked Halloran a question by calling her “Mayor Halloran.”

“The jig was up from the beginning,” Halloran said.

Wilson, of late, has represented the former city’s Veterans Memorial director, Gary Craig, as Craig worked out a resignation from his job. Halloran is an ex officio member of the Veterans Commission in her role of mayor. Even now, a state audit is underway looking at veterans’ issues in the city.

In the end, one of the attorneys asked her to explain the difference to other jurors between the criminal standard of evidence, which is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, and the civil standard, which is the preponderance of the evidence.

Then she was sent packing. She said she was just kidding when she said she felt rejected. But she sounded like she wouldn’t have minded sitting on the jury.

“I would have served cheerfully,” the mayor said. “But I can understand why I wasn’t anybody’s first choice.”

She was back at her duty station at City Hall by early afternoon.