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

Archive for March 12th, 2009|Daily archive page

Seeming calm after City Hall storm: Private sector still will help pay for so-called flood CEO no matter who he or she reports to

In City Hall, Floods on March 12, 2009 at 4:31 pm

Dust settled Thursday at City Hall after a City Council dispute the night before in which a council majority asserted the primacy of the city manager as the council’s singular top employee.

A key question left after a 6-3 vote on Wednesday evening was whether unnamed private-sector people would be willing to help fund a new flood coordinator for the city if the person reported to City Manager Jim Prosser and not directly to the City Council.

The private sector is willing, council member Monica Vernon reported on Thursday.

By way of background, Tom Hobson, senior manager for government affairs at Rockwell Collins, on Thursday said Rockwell Collins leaders convened a meeting last week with local business figures, Gov. Chet Culver and city officials, a meeting which included Vernon, council member Justin Shields and Prosser.

Hobson said what emerged at the meeting was an agreement on the need to hire a new specialist working for city government and “dedicated” solely to flood recovery. In agreeing to help fund the position, those from the private sector never insisted that that the so-called flood CEO report directly to the City Council and not the city manager, Hobson said.

Vernon and Shields on Wednesday evening tried to make a case with the a council majority that the new flood specialist should bypass Prosser and report directly to the council. Before the council vote on the matter, Shields wondered if the council first should check to see if the private-sector help to fund the position was contingent on such an arrangement.

On Thursday, Vernon said a private fundraising effort is now under way to raise money to help fund the new flood coordinator at City Hall who reports to Prosser.

A week ago, Vernon and Shields reported to the council that the private sector would foot the entire bill. On Wednesday evening, the two said the city would pay 20 percent of the cost. On Thursday, Rockwell[‘]s Hobson said there is no specific percentage that will be paid by the private sector. It will be a joint public-private effort, he said.

On Wednesday evening, both Vernon and Shields insisted that it was necessary for the new specialist — Vernon has termed the position a flood-recovery CEO — to report directly to the council, not Prosser.

Six of nine council members instantly rejected the line-of-authority component of the proposal, saying the design of the city’s government charter and the council/manager form of government calls for the council to have one CEO, which is Prosser’s role, and not two.

Most colorfully, council member Tom Podzimek accused Vernon and Shields of trying to “overthrow” the city’s form of government, and he said he wouldn’t stand for it.

Vernon argued that the city needed to try something different because the current setup in which everything flows through the city manager hasn’t been working.

To that, council member Kris Gulick said if Vernon thought things weren’t working well, they likely would work worse under the organizational design that she and Shields had in mind. Gulick said having a city staff taking directions from two bosses was a bad idea.

Council member Pat Shey agreed. He said that Vernon and Shields needed to try to convince the council to replace the city manager if that was their wish and not try to do an end run around him.

On Thursday, Gulick said the council did agree unanimously that it made sense to get “more hands on deck” to help with flood recovery.

Meanwhile, Prosser on Thursday was calling the whole debate over CEOs “theoretical” and “largely irrelevant.” He said he would have been able to work through any arrangement.

The debate was anything but irrelevant on Wednesday evening.

“I don’t know what the big issue is with who he is going to report to,” said an embittered Shields, who was on the losing end of a 6-3 vote that never had a chance. “… 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. I never will.”