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Archive for May 15th, 2008|Daily archive page

Czech/Slovak museum board wants ‘Bridge of Lions’ renamed ‘The Vaclav Havel Bridge of Lions’

In City Hall, Mayor Kay Halloran on May 15, 2008 at 6:26 pm

The board of directors and staff of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library are asking City Hall to rename the 16th Avenue bridge, now known as the “Bridge of Lions,” as “The Vaclav Havel Bridge of Lions.”

The 16th Avenue bridge over the Cedar River, of course, connects two early neighborhoods that were home to Czech immigrants coming to Cedar Rapids. Today, Czech Village is on the west side of the bridge and what had been the earliest Czech neighborhood is on the east side adjacent to the former meatpacking plant where many of the immigrants first worked.

And, of course, Havel, a playwright and essayist and advocate for human rights and freedom, is widely known for being popularly elected president in 1989 of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic after the non-violent Velvet Revolution brought down the communist government there.

Havel then became the first president of the Czech Republic in 1992 when the Czechs and Slovaks established separate republics. He continued in the role as president of the Czech Republic until 2003.

Havel came to Cedar Rapids in 1995 to dedicate the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library along with then-President Bill Clinton and Michal Kovac, then president of the Slovak Republic.

In a letter to Mayor Kay Halloran and the City Council, Richard Mitvalsky, one of the museum/library’s directors, said renaming the 16th Avenue bridge for Havel would pay tribute to his “lifelong Czech patriotism, commitment to the many causes of human rights and as a standard-bearer for democratic thought as both a writer and major political figure.”

The bridge renaming, too, would add “a distinct dimension to the overall cultural character of our Czech neighborhood,” Mitvalsky says in his letter to City Hall.

He notes that the city in recent years has named the 12th Avenue bridge, just upriver and near the African American Historical Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Shields uses vote on police chief to object to idea of privatizing parking operation with lower-wage employees

In City Hall, Justin Shields, Police Department on May 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm

The agenda item Wednesday evening was a formality — approving City Manager Jim Prosser’s new choice for police chief. The council had met the finalist candidates. And by city charter, council members had the ability to advise on the choosing along the way.

Nonetheless, council member Justin Shields used the vote on the chief to connect to another vote that is expected to be coming in the weeks ahead. That is one on privatizing some or all of the city’s parking operation, which even advocates acknowledge will mean replacing public employees with lower-paid employees working for a private parking manager.

Shields made note that the city’s new police chief, Greg Graham, will be paid $122,907 a year while his predecessor, Mike Klappholz, was earning $114,129 a year when he retired in March.

Shields, president of Hawkeye Labor Council, said he couldn’t figure out why the city was paying the new chief more than the old one even as it was contemplating running its parking operation on contract, which he said invariably means lower-paid employees.

“I don’t understand how that fits together,” Shields said.

“If the philosophy is to cut wages,” then why raise the chief’s salary? he wondered.

He said Iowa already has a problem with low wages, and he didn’t’ like that at least part of the city’s approach seemed to be to contribute to that.

In the end, he called the new chief an “excellent” pick and voted to approve his selection along with the other council members.

But he had used the moment to fire a shot over the bow for the coming debate over public v. private parking.

The Downtown District has been excited about looking at privatizing the downtown parking operation, hoping to get what it says might be better service and better-maintained parking facilities.

A committee studying the matter had narrowed the competition to two private vendors in recent weeks, and the city said the council would be asked to decide before July 1, the start of the new budget year, on whether or not to make a move to privatization.

To read about public v. private, go to: http://www.gazetteonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080416/NEWS/383977789/1006/news