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

Council pushes back a bit against vocal neighborhood leaders; nice drama unfolding between grass roots and City Hall on neighborhood flood recovery

In City Hall, Neighborhoods on March 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

The outspoken leaders in three neighborhoods hit by the June flood haven’t been the least bit bashful at letting the City Council know what it is doing wrong with the city’s flood recovery.

This week, those leaders – Michael Richards in Oak Hill/Jackson, Frank King in Time Check and Greg Stokesberry wit South West Area Neighbors — got some push back from the City Council.

The three neighborhood presidents had pitched proposals for the council to consider among 19 others as the council decided how to divide up $10,160,406 in special state funds as part of a new state Community Disaster Grant program.

Stokesberry was seeking $41,500 to help in the development of his neighborhood’s association. And all three presidents – aligned in a newly-created umbrella association called River Neighborhoods Alliance — were seeking $37,000 to create a new program called “Once-a-Neighbor Always-a-Neighbor” and $100,000 to create a peer advocacy center. Dianne Yanda, president of the Cedar Valley Neighborhood Association, also is listed as a member of the new neighborhood alliance.

In short, they didn’t get their money.

A council consensus converged around the thought that another of the proposals before the council, which did not come from this group of neighborhood leaders, was for a $100,000 grant to help with neighborhood organizational development. This proposal called for working with flood-impacted neighborhoods to strengthen their community connections and to advocate for their needs.

The council decided that the neighborhood organizations could work with the city to best figure out how to spend the $100,000.

Council member Justin Shields put it most bluntly when he said from what he could see there has been quite a bit of “disarray” among neighborhood associations and the arrival of some new faces on the scene as well.
“It’s a poor time to just start throwing money at them,” Shields said.

Council member Jerry McGrane, a member of the Oak Hill/Jackson Neighborhood Association and the group’s past president, said he wasn’t sure that the South West Area Neighbors had held a meeting in six months.
To all this, Oak Hill/Jackson’s Richards says City Hall is only willing to give “lip service to direct involvement” from existing neighborhood associations.

“Paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars for out-of-state consultants to ‘foster neighborhood governance’ is a very shallow and costly sham,” Richards says.

What all of this translates to in the larger picture is an unfolding drama that centers on just how much grass-roots-directed neighborhood leadership there should be versus how much City Hall-assisted neighborhood leadership there should be.

In the last two weeks, the neighborhood leaders also took it a bit on the chin after Stokesberry, Richards and King “demanded” that the city’s new Local-Option Sales Tax Oversight Committee include strong representation from the city’s flooded neighborhoods.

All three were among the 71 applicants for the committee. King withdrew his name, and the other two weren’t picked in a group of 24 finalists. Jon Galvin, vice president of Northwest Neighbors Association, was chosen, but then withdrew his name in protest.

Richards has said none of the 24 finalists is a neighborhood association member as far as he knew. But at the same time, he has said he and others will be providing plenty of sales-tax oversight whether they are on the committee or not.

To the great credit of most of these neighborhood association chiefs, they have taken time to be a part of City Hall-orchestrated Neighborhood Planning Process that will has been gathering more than 200 people together in eight workshops over four months to help create a game plan for neighborhood flood recovery.

Every time the sometimes-frustrated Richards has been asked about the city-led initiative, he has said he wouldn’t miss being a part of it.

As for the $10.1 million that the council handed out this week, about half went to fill flood-recovery gaps on the housing side and half on the business side. Included in the grants is $1.5 million to start a Neighborhood Development Corp., which will set up shop in one of the flood-damaged neighborhoods and focus on housing and commercial redevelopment in those neighborhoods. Habitat for Humanity also received $1 million to help it build 20 new homes this summer.

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  1. If I lived in Oak Hill/Jackson, I, for one, would be outraged at the gall of the City to start the neighborhood planning process all over again from scratch, and ignore the 9-month process that created a Neighborhood Plan for Oak Hill/Jackson last year, finalised and submitted less than a month before the floods of 2008.

    The City seems content, however, to ignore those findings and pat itself on the back for winning awards by collecting the biggest group of neighborhoods ever planned at the same time, and plod ahead with the “process” of trying to make citizens feel like they have a voice.

    Unless, of course, they started the Oak Hill/Jackson plan using last year’s plan as a guide, in which case I withdraw my concern about that, but the rest of the process is still broken.

  2. This is just another example of how elected officials will do what they want and not listen to the people of Cedar Rapids.I
    can’t believe how some of them have changed since they got into
    office.The flood has really brought out the worse in some people.
    You know who I am talking about.

  3. I have to laugh at “once a neighbor always a neighbor”. Where does Frank King live now? I know it’s not in is old neighborhood he got out ASAP. I also remember all the neighborhood associations backing the LOST vote. Well what do they think now? PERSONS can be wise,thoughtful and rational. PEOPLE can be irrational, easily fooled and led like a collection of lemmings toward the cliffs edge.

  4. Sarah Henderson was right all along about that council.

  5. I would like to clear up Mr Augustine and his misstatement of facts. I spent 4 months and many thousands of dollars of my own money after the FEMA money was gone rebuilding my home. When my health started to fail I made a decision to buy a smaller home that would be easier for me and my wife to take care in case my health continues to decline. We then made a decision to donate the use of the home (which was almost complete) to the Greenshirt Volunteers who will help 50 families (minimum) rebuild their homes using professional volunteers. As far as the Oversight Committee I removed my name from the list because I am already on the Replacement Housing Task Force and one is enough for me. I would ask Mr Augustine what exactly has HE done for anyone other than himself? He should not be casting stones without first finding out the facts he is speaking about. MY family has lived in the NW neighborhood for in excess of 100 years and 4 members lost their homes on the NW side. I believe I am qualified as a resident and a NEIGHBOR. I still believe the passing of the sales tax was and remains the best option to help people get on with their lives. If I were you Mr. Augustine I wouldn’t worry to much about the sales tax forcing you out of your lovely riverfront property. It will be the Corp of Engineers that your check comes from. It may be years but I feel pretty confident that there won’t be many houses sitting on the wet side of the levy. We voted to support the tax for the people who WANT to be bought out. You that don’t will just have to pay your lawyer to make sure you get that big check you are hoping for.One of your riverfront neighbors actually thinks that the sales tax vote would force them to sell. Now I have to laugh that people could be so poorly informed that they vote on something they don’t even understand.

  6. As I believe it always a good idea to know the facts before speaking, particularly on record (or as Cal Coolidge was heard to say, “It’s better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”), here are the facts as regards the South West Area Neighbors.
    On August 4, 2003 the Iowa Non-Profit Corporation bearing the same name was administratively dissolved by the Iowa Secretary of State for failure to file a biennial report. Upon becoming aware of same, I filed the by then four unfiled reports, application for reinstatement and appropriate fees with the Secretary who reinstated SWAN of February 26, 2009. That information is available on line at http://www.sos.state.ia.us for anyone choosing not to take my word or any councilpersons choosing to know the facts before they speak and should answer any questions regarding the legal status of SWAN.
    As the reinstatement was in process I have taken the following steps towards the reorganization of SWAN. As the geographical area of SWAN is larger than any other association in town, the neighborhood has been divided into ten enclaves: Rockford Road Area, 16th Avenue South, 380 Corridor, Wilson Avenue South, Greater Czech Village, Gateway Garden Apartments, Cedar Valley Apartments, Hawthorne Hills Area, Prairie Oaks/Hideaway Manor, and the Industrial Park. I am in the process of recruiting a leader from each enclave to comprise the initial Board of Directors.
    Monthly “socials” comprised of entertainment, refreshments, informative presentations and business meetings as necessary will be held at different locations throughout the SWAN area beginning on May 12 in the Czech Village at the band stand. A “Block Party” geared towards the flood impacted residents of the SWAN area is scheduled in conjunction with the St. Ludmila Kolach Festival June 12, 13 & 14.
    The churches of the area are being invited to join an Ecumenical Advisory Board to address issues germane to their congregations and to help spread the word of our activities. Programming for the nursing homes and care centers in the area is being arranged. And a relationship with the CRPD has been fostered to help promote and implement their Neighborhood Policing and/or SARA programs.
    With no funding, no response to informational requests to the City, and the cooperation of the Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation and the Cedar Rapids City Council you’ve witnessed to date, that’s what we’ve got going.
    As regards the “disarray” mentioned by one councilperson, it would be informative to note that the Applications for Community DISASTER Grant Funding and subsequent communications regarding same were signed on to by all six neighborhood associations (one half of Cedar Rapids total neighborhood associations) bordering the river and whose membership was most affected by the flood; all of which comprise the River Neighborhoods Alliance. It seems the only disarray is in the minds of those feigning concern for neighbors and neighborhoods while not only failing to step up when given the opportunity, but resisting well thought-out plans submitted by the leadership of the those heretofore receiving all the lip service.
    More is in the works to help those most in need, to speak for those who can’t or are afraid to speak for themselves, and to expose those who are lining their pockets with monies meant for recovery, not enrichment.

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