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

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.

  1. I’m glad someone in the media has seen through their shenanigans . i look for more of this feigning interest in fiscal responsibility until after the next elections. at which time they can get back to business as usual.

  2. Mr. Prossor like to ram things like this down other people throats. It won’t make any difference because come November (he) will be out of there along with the council. We can hire him and we can fire him. Prosser is walking a very thin,thin, line.

  3. Actually, the earliest that Prosser could be gone would be January 2, or, more likely, January 6, at the first Council meeting of the newly elected Council. And that’s assuming he can’t sweet-talk enough members of the new Council in the 2 months between the elections and the inauguration.

    Further, who would run the City if they unceremoniously fired Prosser on Jan 6th? The City Attorney? A departmental Director? The time it would take to get a new Manager into place would mean February or March of 2010 before the new Council could conceivably remove Prosser from office.

    Because, as much as I would like for new Council members to start a search process right after they are elected, I would prefer that hiring a new City Manager be completely above-the-board.

  4. If the new City Council has sense enough to fire Prosser,which I’m sure they will do,then why can’t the City Council run the city until a new City Manager is hired.Hopefully when they hire a new City Manager we don’t get stuck with another “Speed Dial”.I don’t think he’s going to be able to sweet talk anyone else after all the stupid things he has done with this council.He is just getting too arrogant.must think that no one can take his place.WRONG.
    I wonder if he’s ever heard that song “I’m Leaving on A Jet Plane”?Get your ticket early Mr.Prosser because you’re out of here.We don’t need or want you.

  5. With election time getting close,let’s not be fooled by some of the theatrics going on.If I was running for reelection then I’d do,and say,everything I could to make you think that I was for the people.Do your arithmetic 6 for;3 against;which side is going to win.You can pretty well tell ahead of time how the majority of the Council is going to vote,so you just vote opposite,if it is something the people don’t want passed.It will still pass anyway but you think this makes you look good.Let’s just go ahead and elect new people for the positions that are opening up in November.
    Don’t put any of these present members in any other position on the council.

  6. Mr. Prosser is doing his job – managing the city. His justification for raising the two director’s salaries seems reasonable. The City Manager still reports to the City Council, who can approve or disapprove his recommendations, so I don’t quite understand the power struggle going on. In the wake up the 08 flood, he seems to be doing his job as well as anyone could be expected to be.

  7. It sends a very bad signal to the people of Cedar Rapids with layoffs and salary freezes everywhere but the City government.

    When the salaried employees received bonuses, I was told by a Council Member thatb this was done to prevent losing Department Heads.

    Pay very close attention to who brings options to the Council. The Department Heads. Fine. Pay closer attention to what these options are. Think very hard about if these are the only options.

    New Department Heads will be a necessity on Jan 6th 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: