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Archive for April 9th, 2009|Daily archive page

Police Chief Graham says Cedar Rapids has too few black police officers; recruiting officers of any race difficult these days, he says

In Neighborhoods, Police Department on April 9, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Police Chief Greg Graham says the 200-officer Cedar Rapids Police Department should have more than three black police officers.

The matter came up Thursday afternoon as Graham took an hour’s worth of questions on a wide range of subjects from the editorial staff and from reporters at The Gazette.

The question about black police officers was posed in the wake of an assault on a Cedar Rapids police officer by three black youth, an assault that has left the officer in the hospital in guarded condition and has increased the city’s police presence in neighborhoods with larger black populations.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, too, the city’s Civil Rights Commission is sponsoring a forum at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Wellington Heights Neighborhood to discuss criminal violence and neighborhood police presence.

The diversity of a city’s police force, the chief said Thursday, should “mirror” the diversity of the city, and three black officers, he said, is too few for a city like Cedar Rapids. The shortage of black officers is something he noticed early on after assuming the chief’s job in June 2008, he said.

The U.S. Census in 2000 put the city’s black population at 3.7 percent, and a census estimate in 2006 put that figure at 4.9 percent. For the Police Department’s makeup to match the city’s racial makeup, the department should have 9 or 10 black officers.

Prior to coming to Cedar Rapids, Graham had been deputy chief in Ocala, Fla., where he worked for a black police chief. But when asked if he had any network of contacts that might help in the recruitment of black officers, he said he wasn’t sure he did.

“The lack of minority officers is something we’re trying to address,” Graham offered.

But, in fact, he said it was difficult to recruit police officers, period, no matter what the race. At the same time, the current economic downturn might make public-sector law enforcement look more attractive to potential recruits, he said.

Graham said the department will be hiring a new recruit class in the months ahead, with training for that class set for summer. He said he would be willing to take questions about the racial makeup of the class at that time.

Oakhill Jackson/New Bohemia creates its own neighborhood redevelopment corp. despite City Hall-endorsed one with $1.5 million in public money

In Floods, Neighborhoods on April 9, 2009 at 3:19 pm

City Hall two weeks ago orchestrated the creation of a non-profit Neighborhood Development Corp. and, it turns out, a neighborhood can create one of those corporations, too.

That is just what has happened.

Eight people sat in a conference room at Horizons family-services agency, 819 Fifth St. SE, on Thursday morning and created the Oakhill Jackson New Bohemia Neighborhood Development Corp.

In the creation, the eight elected officers: Dale Todd, president; Scott Jamieson, vice president; Michael Richards, secretary; Fred Timko, treasurer.

Board members also in attendance were Chuck Hammond, Peggy Whitworth, Mel Andringa and Ed Young Jr.

Todd is a former City Council member, past president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, and currently an associate of Des Moines developer Jack Hatch, who has plans to build the Oakhill Jackson Brickstone Apartments along Sixth Street SE.

E. Scott Jamieson is the CEO of the Horizons family services agency; Richards is president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association; and Timko is president/CEO of Point Builders Inc. and developer of BottleWorks Loft Condos, 905 Third St. SE.

Hammond is CEO at Raining Rose Inc.; Whitworth, retired former director of Brucemore; Andringa is co-founder of Legion Arts; and Young is enterprise manager at the African American Museum of Iowa.

The new non-profit entity has come to be because its board members say they want to get redevelopment moving in the flood-damaged Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood — it contains the New Bohemia arts and cultural district. City Hall hasn’t gotten such redevelopment moving, the board says.

The new board of the new corporation — the name is so long it’s tempting to settle for OJNBNDC — is well aware of the other neighborhood development corporation, the City Hall-endorsed Neighborhood Development Corp., which the City Council created on March 25.

And the new group is well aware, too, that the council has funneled $1.5 million in state funds to the corporation it has endorsed. It is money that will be used to pay a director, Carol Bower of Des Moines, to set up an office here and begin to look at buying up property for redevelopment with a focus on commercial redevelopment.

But so what, the new neighborhood corporation’s members say.

After its meeting Thursday morning, Jamieson said the neighborhood’s own development corporation can work in concert with whatever or whoever is working to help the city recover from the 2008 flood.

But he said the neighborhood’s own upstart corporation can bring “clarity” to the job at hand and get the work started without waiting on City Hall. The corporation can benefit the City Council and is willing to take the council’s help, but it doesn’t need to depend on it, Jamieson said.

Raining Rose’s CEO Chuck Hammond said the new group believes “we’ve got to do something else.” “There are significant needs unmet,” he said.

Jamieson’s helping-services agency employs 90 people in the neighborhood and Hammond’s company employs 65 there.

On Thursday, the board said it wanted to position itself to qualify for federal and state funding as a local nonprofit group.

The board also took steps to make improvements at what has been known as New Bo Park, which sits to the south of the BottleWorks Loft Condos and the WaterTower Place condominiums next door.

The board will assume ownership of the park for now while BottleWorks will make improvements to it and maintain it. BottleWorks’ Timko said the development budget for the loft condos includes money to fix up the park.

The OJNBNRC also committed to a neighborhood cleanup of stray glass and nails, and will call on local AmeriCorps members to help out.

Council passes new budget, but not without anti-Prosser theatrics by three of nine council members

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Jim Prosser, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon on April 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

It is easy to be caught by surprise when the City Council finally gets around to voting on the annual city budget.

The final vote always comes after much discussion and many long, nighttime meetings over three or so months with the final pre-vote meeting seeming to bring some consensus of what the council has tossed into the mix.

But once again on Wednesday evening, three of the nine City Council members – Justin Shields, Monica Vernon and Jerry McGrane — opted to use the council budget vote as theater and as symbolism which they knew would have no bearing on the majority’s vote to approve the budget.

It was the threesome’s chance to lodge a protest vote against City Manager Jim Prosser.

The new budget, approved on a 6-3 vote, adds 26 new employees, increasing the city’s total number of employees to 1,422.

The new budget is huge by Cedar Rapids city budget standards. The regular piece of the budget amounts to $392 million, but the flood fund portion of the budget adds another $359.5 million to the budget, raising the total size of the thing to $752 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

However, Shields, Vernon and McGrane rejected the budget over raises totaling $23,358 to two of the city’s top department heads, Conni Huber, human resources director, and Christine Butterfield, community development director.

The raises came outside the council’s budget deliberations as City Manager Jim Prosser has explained that he was bringing the department heads’ salaries in line with the other six department directors that report to Prosser and in line with salaries of such positions in 23 other cities in the Midwest.

On Wednesday evening, Prosser noted that the move to establish pay equity for the city’s department directors began two years ago, but got pushed aside by last summer’s flood and by the focus on flood recovery. That’s why the two raises came now.

Shields, Vernon and McGrane said they didn’t think Huber and Butterfield should have been singled out for special consideration — Huber’s raise was 15.8 percent and Butterfield’s, 10.2 percent — when the 400 or so other city employees not represented by bargaining units were getting just 2 percent raises and another 800-plus bargaining-unit employees were getting raises in the 3-percent range.

Shields wondered if Prosser had spent any time looking at other classes of city employees to see if their wages were in line with other cities.

Prosser said, in fact, the city does that on an ongoing basis.

Vernon, a business owner, said her employees aren’t given the luxury of a review of 23 other cities to justify where their salaries should be.

Council member Tom Podzimek said the issue was about “fair compensation” based on a review of many other cities. Podzimek wondered if the city really wanted to lose its top directors or if the city wanted to become a “second class city.”

In a moment unusual for him, Prosser got exercised. He said it was his decision to raise the salaries of two of his directors and if Shields or the council had a problem with it they could address it during his performance review. He said he had no difficulty defending the raises so that the salaries were in line with the city’s other department directors and other cities’ directors.

“If you don’t think I did it right, take it out of my salary,” Prosser said.

Shields came right back at Prosser: “Those comments don’t change my mind,” Shields said. “I don’t agree with singling out two employees.”

Shields and Vernon have been at public odds with the city manager.

In recent weeks, the two made a much-publicized attempt to hire a flood CEO that would sidestep Prosser and report directly to the council. McGrane agreed with them.

The council majority, though, dismissed the move out of hand, arguing that the city’s still-new council/manager government is designed with one top dog, the city manager, to report to the council. The council has agreed to hire a flood manager, but that manager will report to Prosser.

It is a City Hall election year.

Six of nine seats are up for a vote, including Shields’ District 5 seat and McGrane’s District 3 seat. Vernon, the District 2 council member, has been thinking of running for mayor.