The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Archive for May 13th, 2008|Daily archive page

Cedar Rapids’ new chief excited, confident; gets high marks from Prosser & his chief in Florida

In City Hall, Police Department on May 13, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Greg Graham sounds confident, says he’s excited and promises to incorporate plenty of input and consultation into the mix before making any changes at the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

“There’s not going to be any surprises,” said Graham, 46, deputy police chief in Ocala, Fla., whom City Manager Jim Prosser named Cedar Rapids police chief on Tuesday.

In naming Graham on Tuesday, City Manager Jim Prosser said his decision to pick a candidate from outside the department over two in-house finalists came down to picking the one who best matched what the city of Cedar Rapids needs.

Prosser said he weighed three primary factors: proven ability to implement community-oriented policing and get results; experience in the use of performance measures; and leadership development.

Two representatives from the Police Executive Research Forum of Washington, D.C., which helped the city find chief candidates, said three months ago that most in the Cedar Rapids department had told them they wanted a new chief from outside the department.

“That certainly was something I heard as well,” Prosser said. “But at the end of the day, … if it had turned out that an internal candidate was the best match, that’s who I would have picked.”

At the start of the week, Graham and two in-house police captains, Steve O’Konek, 46, and Bernie Walther, 47, were still in the running for chief. Another finalist from Florida dropped out and one from Fort Wayne, Ind., reported he had been passed over.

Prosser broke the news to the Police Department in person on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday afternoon, he called Graham “a demonstrated leader” who knows how to develop relationships in the community and who knows how build teams and build the capabilities of others.

“He was clearly looking at addressing the long-term needs of the community from a quality-of-life standpoint,” Prosser said of Graham.

Graham will be Cedar Rapids’ first police chief from outside the city’s Police Department ranks for more than 30 years.

“Anytime you pick an outside chief in law enforcement, it’s always a fairly traumatic experience,” Graham said. “We went through it here (at the Ocala Police Department) when we picked an outside chief for the first time in our history about five years ago. And it ended up a very good thing for us.”

For eight months in 2003 when the Ocala department was picking a new chief, Graham served as interim chief.

His current boss, Police Chief Samuel Williams, had only good things to say Tuesday about the deputy chief his department in Ocala is losing.

“Yes, he is very talented,” Williams said of Graham. “Cedar Rapids is getting one of our best officers. He has worked in all facets of the agency from patrol to administration and everything in between.”

In Cedar Rapids’ new council/manager government with its new city charter, the city manager picks the police chief with advice and consent of the City Council. The council is slated to vote on Graham’s selection at Wednesday evening’s meeting, a vote that is expected to be a formality.

Graham and his wife, Amy, have three teenage children, Tyler, 17, Mark, 16, and Kalin, 13.

On Tuesday, he said he has spent his entire law enforcement career at the Ocala Police Department since joining it in 1983. He has pulled duty in patrol, investigations drugs, intelligence, internal affairs and administration.

He often has been the public voice of the Ocala department when there has been some explaining to do.

“I’ve always thought that it was important that bad news should be delivered by the chief or top level management,” the Ocala deputy chief said. “Too often, I’ve seen chiefs, when things go bad, they hide in their office. I’m not afraid to get out there and confront the issues head on.”

Graham talked about using performance measures to track everything from where too many crashes might be occurring to where too many late-night bar fights break out.

And he called himself “very conservative” in his willingness to look at ways to bill those for police services who are behaving outside the norm.

For instance, he said his department began to bill bars where officers were called to too often, and it began to bill out-of-city motorists involved in vehicle crashes in the city of Ocala. Seventy percent of crashes in the city, he said, involve those who live outside the city. Billing them for police services at crash scenes has helped the police recoup some of costs and it has educated the public to drive safely in Ocala. To date, crashes have dropped by 14 percent, he said.

Graham begins the Cedar Rapids job June 1.

Conni Huber, the city’s human resources director, said he will be paid $122,907 a year. Like Fire Chief Steve Havlik, Graham also will have a vehicle for commuting and city business.

Mike Klappholz, who retired as chief in March, was earning $114,129 when he left.

“It’s certainly going to be a challenge for me,” Graham said about the Cedar Rapids job. “… Not only do I have to get to know (the department) and the community, but they have to get to know me.

“But I think it’s going to be great. The department seems to be very eager to do the right thing to make Cedar Rapids safe and to make a difference in the community. And that’s what I’m committed to.”




Gardening initiative is started in Oakhill, but not before some back-and-forth between neighborhood and City Hall

In City Hall, New Bohemia on May 13, 2008 at 4:54 pm

On Monday evening, about 40 or so neighborhood residents turned out to start a new community garden and gardening classroom on city park space that the neighborhood calls Poet’s Park.

Michael Richards, the president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association, initially had asked City Hall to let the neighborhood set up its demonstration garden on one of many vacant lots the city now owns in a part of the neighborhood for which a new housing initiative is targeted.

But City Hall didn’t like the idea, saying the properties were being readied for housing. Once a garden is in place, it might be impossible to move it, was part of the thinking.

To that, Richards landed on Poet’s Park, a recent creation. For that space, the neighborhood and the city have had an agreement in place that allows for the planting of prairie beds of prairie flowers to help create kind of a peaceful, reflective spot.

However, setting up a community garden is different than a couple of flower beds.

Julie Sina, the city’s parks and recreation director, noted in the last couple weeks that the city can’t just automatically let people start tilling city park space whenever they get the urge. What if others didn’t want the garden on park space? It’s easy to get the tiller out, but who is going to make sure someone follows through?

For that reason, the city has a policy and procedures for community gardens, and the city devotes a couple of large spaces for just such a thing.

In any event, Sina suggested that Richards create his community demonstration garden along Otis Road and not in Poet’s Park.

Richards would not have it. Asked how he got his way, Richards said on Tuesday, “I guess raw persistence.”

The neighborhood now is planning a 30 by 50 foot garden, and gardener Steve Hanken will oversee the operation, Richards reported.

At last night’s gardening kickoff, Richards said a group of about 40 people turned out, with 12 to 15 families arranging to help with the demonstration garden. Many of those also received seeds to plant in backyard gardens they are going to create as part of the neighborhood gardening effort.

Richards said a vacant city lot at 12th Avenue and Eighth Street SE was his first option for the demonstration garden, but Poet’s Park, also on busy 12th Avenue SE, is nearly as good.

He said it’s good because of its visibility. “That really drew people” to Monday evening’s event, he said.

No, it wasn’t as easy as he had thought to get a neighborhood gardening project, which is designed to spread gardening enthusiasm to more people, Richards said.

“I guess I was surprised it took so long, but we’re happy where it is. There were 40 really happy people last night,” he said.

Richards offered this quote, too, about persistence: “First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Then, they fight you. … and then you win — if you speak with a clear voice.” Richards didn’t say that first. Ghandi did.



Prosser picks Florida deputy chief as Cedar Rapids’ new police chief

In City Hall, Police Department on May 13, 2008 at 2:07 pm

Local law enforcement officers, at both the Police Department and Linn County Sheriff’s Office, this morning have reported that City Manager Jim Prosser has selected Kenneth Greg Graham, 46, deputy chief of the Ocala, Fla., Police Department, as Cedar Rapids’ next police.

Graham goes by Greg in Ocala.

In picking Graham, Prosser opted not to choose two local police captains, Steve O’Konek, 46, and Bernie Walther, 47, who also were finalists for the position.

In Cedar Rapids’ form of government, the city manager selects the police chief with approval from the City Council. The City Council will vote on the selection at its meeting Wednesday evening, though the vote is likely a formality.

Prosser last week said he would inform the council and Police Department before making his selection public.

He was at the Police Department at 8 a.m. Tuesday. By the time he left at 8:45 a.m., news of his pick for chief was already circulating.

Prosser said he would comment later Tuesday.

Ocala, Fla., is about half the size of Cedar Rapids, and its police department has fewer sworn officers.

In Graham’s public interview in front of the Cedar Rapids Civil Service Commission last month, he said Cedar Rapidians would see a lot of him if he became the city’s new police chief. About three times a month, “I put on a uniform, I get in the police car, and I go out and work calls for service,” Graham told the seven-member local panel interviewing him. “The chief’s got to be everywhere.”

Graham will be the department’s first chief to be hired from outside the ranks for more than 30 years. He told the committee interviewing him last month that a willingness to listen would be especially helpful to an outsider’s adjustment.

“I enjoy when people disagree with me because that’s when you learn,” he said.