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

Was that the city manager screaming inside?

In City Hall, Mayor Kay Halloran on August 14, 2008 at 1:22 pm

The city’s signature City Hall on May’s Island in the Cedar River is still out of commission in the aftermath of June’s historic flood. No definitive word has been offered on when the city might return to the 80-year-old building.

Council member Brian Fagan has said it’s hard to imagine that city government won’t go back to the island at some point.

The city long has made it known that only two cities in the world have had city governments on an island — Cedar Rapids and Paris. Yes, Paris. Apparently, Paris has given that up, though.

For now, City Hall in Cedar Rapids has been moved to what had been an empty AEGON USA office building in a newer office park at 3851 River Ridge Dr. NE.

The temporary place isn’t particularly welcoming, so it’s easy to stay away from it. You don’t just walk in and go to the office you want. You sign in. You’re announced. Someone comes and gets you. The place features cubicles, not private offices.

On a visit Wednesday afternoon, it was easy to imagine how City Manager Jim Prosser might be longing for a return to his real City Hall digs again.

There, he had a suite of offices on one end of the third floor. Part-time mayor Kay Halloran was located at the far end of the hall in her own expansive office. The geography makes it clear there are two power centers in the city’s still-new part-time council/full-time city manager government.

In the temporary City Hall, though, much of that seems to have changed.

For one, the mayor doesn’t have an office.

By all accounts, Prosser is a tireless professional. He has a schedule manager, as he should. And now the city has a gatekeeper-communications liaison, as it should. Getting on Prosser’s schedule isn’t easy, for a news reporter anyway.

But for a 15-minute stretch on Wednesday afternoon, you had to feel for him. All in that one stretch, there was the mayor, who was in the temporary City Hall, checking up, even visiting a bit. And at the same time, there was this reporter, there to review some documents, unexpectedly standing in the same space, taking up Prosser’s time.

Get those mold experts, air quality specialists and remodelers cooking down at the real City Hall, you could almost hear him say.

It was a reminder of way back in 2005 when the city’s ad hoc Charter Commission created a new charter for the city, which voters approved overwhelmingly in June 2005.

One key commission debate centered on whether to create a new city government with a city manager and with or without a full-time, so-called “strong” mayor. Most cities use the part-time mayor and part-time council approach, and the Cedar Rapids Charter Commission opted for that choice as well.

At the time of the commission deliberations, David Redlawsk, a University of Iowa professor of political science, noted that strong-mayor governments often favor more public participation a bit at the expense of streamlined efficiency, while the weak-mayor governments tend to make efficiency paramount, sometimes at the expense of public participation.

Of note, the City Council on Wednesday evening approved the hiring of two consultants, each for more than $100,000. One was to weigh in on damage to flooded electrical equipment in city buildings, the other to advise on mold and air quality testing.

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