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

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.

  1. I hope the good Lord doesn’t strike me down for saying this, but Tom Podzimek is correct. Vernon and Shields are responsible for creating this new form of government and now they don’t like that they got exactly what they asked for. Time to clean house.

  2. It’s been the 6 that have been doing nothing so far, Vernon at least goes on the radio and talks with the citizens and explains items. The others sit in there comfortable homes, and look for ways to ignore the city’s problem. I thought the flood CEO was suppose to be paid by private sector, now it’s 80% with the rest we are paying the 20%. Great, hit us again we are done for the count.

  3. It is obvious that three council members still to not understand their roles. They also are clueless about how to create and sustain an organization that is efficient and effective. I wish they would stop subverting progress and take a class that focuses on effective leadership. Thanks to the six members who voted for what is good for the whole community, not just the “captains of industry”!

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