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

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:


  1. Sometimes I think Mr Shields isn’t on the same page as the other Council members

  2. If the downtown district believes it is going to get better service and better-maintained parking facilities by privatization I believe they are in for a rude awakening. If it does ultimately happen I suspect fees will increase substantially.

    What does the City mean by “privatization”? Will the structure be sold to the private company? If the parking garage is sold what happens if the company does not make a profit? Will the company close the facility and let it decay? Will the company file bankruptcy? Will the City have a mini “farmstead” on its hands. Will the City have to buy another worthless building so it can force a cleanup?

    I may be setting up a straw man but I think the City Council needs to be very careful if they want to privatize. I routinely find individuals that think “privatization” is always better than government. I’m sorry to say I was formerly in this camp. The historical gross incompetence and unmitigated greed of select companies in the private sector has changed the way I look at private enterprise. For many, privatization has been totally discredited. Examine the legion of companies that have utterly imploded due to their own incompetence. Some recent and notable examples include Bear Sterns, Enron and Countrywide. These were large public companies that were run by the “best and brightest”. When these companies stubbed their toe the government came running to the rescue? Did the top executives who ran these companies into the ditch return their multi-million dollar bonuses? How many public and private companies file bankruptcy each year? The denigration and vilification of government, elected officials and public employees must stop. The private sector needs to get over itself.

    Further reading on the arguments against privatization can be found at the following web site.

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