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

Dismissed Civil Rights director leaves budget challenges for his successor

In City Hall, Jim Prosser on January 25, 2009 at 8:39 pm

The city’s Civil Rights Office is a largely autonomous city operation with just a handful of employees overseen by its own citizen commission. Traditionally, its director and staff members have waltzed through city budget meetings, hearing mostly ‘thank you’ from council members for the work they did.

The latest annual budget appearance was different.

The commission’s brand-new director, Karl Cassell, has inherited budget problems, he told the City Council last week.

Cassell reported that the office’s current budget, crafted by dismissed former director, Kenneth White, was based on revenue projections that were not accurate.

As an example, Cassell reported that the budget factored in about $180,000 in grant money the office had not secured. Cassell said even if the former director had managed to secure the grants, it would have not been a sustaining way to cover annual bills. Each year would have required going out and finding a similar amount of money, he told the council.

Cassell, who had been executive director of the Jane Boyd Community House in Cedar Rapids when he was named executive director of the city’s Civil Rights Office in late November, said his office has an operating reserve, though he said that reserve is being depleted by rent costs for space his office doesn’t need. He further noted that office is locked into a lease at the 425 Plaza Building – formerly called the APAC Building – until 2010. Three work spaces in the Civil Rights Office’s suite of offices are not used, he added, and he wondered if, perhaps, his office might lease the extra space to someone else.

In the budget year beginning July 1, Cassell said his office will draw on some reserves and will forgo hiring a sixth staff member. That person was supposed to have been hired in the current budget year, but was not.

Looking ahead, Cassell noted that 2010 Census will show that the city of Marion has more than 29,000 people, which is the line beyond which a city in Iowa must devote staff resources to civil rights. Cassell said he expects that the Cedar Rapids office can handle the Marion caseload on a contractual basis. Cases in Marion now are referred to the state of Iowa’s Civil Rights Commission.

At least two local Civil Rights Commission members accompanied Cassell to the office’s budget hearing with the City Council last week.

Cassell got a warm reception.

City Manager Jim Prosser thanked Cassell for working closely with him and Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, on the budget matters.

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