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Archive for March 11th, 2009|Daily archive page

Council majority repels ‘overthrow’ of city’s government; questions remain about possible strings attached to private-sector help

In City Hall, Floods on March 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm

City Council member Tom Podzimek last night said he wasn’t going to let three of the nine members of the council “overthrow” the city’s council/manager form of government.

On a 6-3 vote, the council majority agreed with Podzimek.

At issue was an idea pushed by council members Justin Shields and Monica Vernon for the city to hire a new staff person who would be flood coordinator or what Vernon last week termed a flood CEO.

The point of contention was this: Shields and Vernon –- both who have been lone voices on the council for months saying that City Manager Jim Prosser has too much power -– insisted that this new person report directly to the nine-member City Council, and not to Prosser.

In fact, Shields turned bitter when six council members endorsed the idea of getting some help for the city’s flood-recovery effort but in stronger terms insisted that that person report to Prosser.

“I don’t know what the big issue is with who he is going to report to,” Shields said. “… You people just have something in your mind that says the city manager is in complete control of everything. I just don’t understand that.

“We hired the city manager. He reports to us. But we can’t hire this person and have him report to us and ask those two people to work together very closely to get a job done for the citizens of Cedar Rapids?”

He and Vernon, though, were on the short end of the vote along with council member Jerry McGrane.

The vote result proved a strong endorsement of the central role of a city manager in the city’s just-3-year-old council/manager government, while at the same, it left puzzling questions about an unnamed private-sector person or persons who has dangled money at the council to help pay for the new flood help.

In fact, immediately prior to the vote last night, Shields said the council ought to check to see if the private-sector entity ready to pay 80 percent of the cost of the new employee was still willing to pay if the person reported to Prosser.

Vernon, though, suggested that the council vote on the matter and check with the person or persons later about helping pay.

A week ago, Vernon identified the person as a local “captain of industry.” A week ago, too, Shields and Vernon said the entity would pay the entire cost of the new employee, But last night they said the entity would pay just 80 percent of the cost.

No one on the council made any effort last night to ask about or shed light on where the private-sector money would be coming from.

In truth, Shields and Vernon weren’t even close to finding a majority on the council.

“Who drafted this?” council member Brian Fagan asked about a proposed resolution that would require a new flood-recovery coordinator report to the council.

Fagan said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with the proposal to fill such a position if it meant that person would bypass the council’s existing CEO, Prosser.

Council member Kris Gulick agreed. In the week since the idea of a flood CEO was proposed by council members Shields and Vernon, Gulick said he had sought out experts on how a council/manager government should work. He said he found “very few” who thought it a good idea to have “two bosses” making demands on the same city staff.

Podzimek, a contractor, called himself just “a simple carpenter.”

But he said that the line of authority that Shields and Vernon were proposing for a new flood coordinator was like building a house and having the job turn tough. He said he didn’t need a second contractor “crisscrossing over me,” taking his carpenters and electricians this way and that “when I’m still trying to build my home.”

Vernon did extract this from her council colleagues: The council will help Prosser interview and select the new employee, called a flood recovery program coordinator.

SEE PREVIOUS POST: Private sector and recurring theme at City Hall.

Candidate Corbett says city doesn’t need a full-time mayor or a flood CEO

In City Hall, Floods, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on March 11, 2009 at 11:37 am

Some critics of City Hall in the business community can begin to long for an earlier time when the city had a full-time mayor, not the current part-time one, to run the show.

Ron Corbett, who announced his candidacy for mayor this week, dismissed such a suggestion in a talk with The Gazette’s editorial board.

Critics who might be thinking about mobilizing the community to change the city’s form of government shouldn’t waste their time, Corbett implied.

“I think you can have strong leadership in any form of government,” Corbett said.

It was only in 2005 that Cedar Rapids residents overwhelming voted to replace its century-old commission form of government with the current professional city manager and a part-time council and part-time mayor.

The commission government had five full-time council members who doubled as department administrators.

But as Corbett pointed out this week, the commission government really was not a strong-mayor form of government. The mayor in that set-up had one of five votes, just like the current part-time mayor is one of nine votes on the council.

What those romanticizing about the past recall, he said, is the city’s long-time, legendary mayor, Don Canney. He said people remember Canney as a strong mayor, but he added it was not because of the form of government.

“It was because he stepped up as an individual,” Corbett said of Canney. “I believe individuals can step in and make a difference.”

Back in 2004, Corbett, then president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, led a petition drive that amassed a required 10,000 signatures that prompted the convening of a Home Rule Charter Commission. (The City Council at the time could have convened the commission, but it wanted to see the signatures).

Over many months, the Charter Commission studied government and opted to give voters the option of council/manager government with a part-time mayor and part-time council. It rejected the option for a full-time mayor.

One of the central arguments in that discussion, which also applied to the commission form of government, was that full-time elected positions prevented talented people from running for City Hall office because they didn’t want to give up careers to do so.

Corbett this week said that was the right decision.

He then talked about the news conference he held at 10 a.m. Monday to announce his run for mayor.

Fifteen minutes after the event, he said he was back at his desk at trucking firm CRST International Inc. on the city’s west side working on the employees’ health-care package.

Holding city office while having a job outside of city government “grounds” a person in real life, Corbett said. He said he wouldn’t want to give that up as mayor.

On a second front, the City Council this evening is going to discuss hiring a new executive to focus on flood recovery, what council member Monica Vernon — and possible mayoral candidate — has called a flood CEO.

The council discussion will be interesting, in part, to see where such a new employee might fit in the City Hall scheme in relation to City Manager Jim Prosser.

Corbett said the city doesnt’ need a flood CEO. He said the city needs a stronger mayor.

The city manager can deliver what a flood CEO might with “the right direction from the mayor and City Council,” he said.