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

EPRC works to matter; its director, Doug Neumann, tightropes a middle ground with gentle kicks at ‘mayor’s office’ and business leaders who are ‘off track’

In City Hall, Floods, Mayor Kay Halloran on February 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

The day you know what EPRC stands for may not come until the day is closer for the upstart Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp. to have a quantifiable victory or two for Cedar Rapids’ flood recovery.

Even its director, Doug Neumann, says the acronym is little known and the corporation’s name is pretty cumbersome and bureaucratic-sounding.

But Neumann told the Downtown Rotary this week that the name is what it is and that he and the endeavor had bigger fish to fry. The EPRC’s singular goal, he says, is to find money, particularly from the federal and state government and other non-local sources, to help with the city’s flood recovery.

In that regard, the group is trying to tap the U.S. Department of Commerce’s regional office in Denver, Colo., for $22 million to help fix railroad congestion downtown, support a fiber-optic system for public entities and create a Regional Economic Commerce Center.

The EPRC calls itself a private-public partnership and it has City Council member Monica Vernon, and Linda Langston, Linn County supervisor, on its four-person board.

But make no mistake: The EPRC is where local players in Cedar Rapids’ private sector can focus their muscle to help get the city back on its feet again.

The endeavor’s creation about four months ago came, in part, out of a frustration that City Hall couldn’t do it all, but that it might want to try to.

Apparently, there were some fears with some at City Hall that the private players’ real intent was to create a “shadow government” to run flood-recovery.

In any event, John Smith, president/CEO of CRST International Inc. and the chairman of the EPRC, felt obliged to assure the Downtown Rotary Club earlier this month that the EPRC was not a shadow government. Neumann did the same this Monday.

At the same time, though, Neumann said the EPRC’s intent was to “talk frankly and clearly about progress and problems” in the city’s flood recovery. He then ventured ahead to do so gently.

“When I say that we’ve lacked a strong, confident public voice from the mayor’s office, I don’t say that for any political purpose or because I wish ill-will toward anyone,” he told a crowd at the Downtown Rotary Club on Monday. “I say it because it’s important to identify that shortcoming as one of the major factors impacting long-term economic redevelopment and flood recovery.”

Of note, Neumann, who worked many months on City Hall’s Recovery and Reinvestment Coordinating Team as president of the Downtown District, did not direct his City Hall criticism at City Manager Jim Prosser or the City Council as a whole.

Then he had this to say for the private sector:

“And when I say that some business leaders are off-track when they say there has been no planning for flood recovery, or that they’ve been far too public with that criticism, I don’t say that to be defensive about progress or to pick a fight with anyone.

“I say that because we know that when those comments wind their way to Des Moines and Washington, D.C., that it severely hampers our efforts at long-term economic redevelopment and flood recovery.”

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  1. If Neumman talks out of both sides of his mouth anymore we’ll have to make him an honorary city councilman. He’ll fit right in with Fagan and Vernon.

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