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

Archive for April 21st, 2009|Daily archive page

Little tidbit of the past shows up for forward-looking library; past director Barkema wins jobless claim on top of $65,170 in severance benefits

In Cedar Rapids Public Library on April 21, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Much of the news about the city’s flood-damaged main library is forward-looking. The library board is now hoping for a spectacular new library at a new site to replace the empty, flood-damaged one on First Street SE.

The library board and the City Council last week said they will ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to approve their request to allow the city to build a new central library at a new location. FEMA can permit the building of a new facility at a new location if the existing building has sustained more than 50 percent damage. FEMA has concluded that the main library did in the 2008 flood.

The City Council will approve the letter to FEMA this week.

Another tinier tidbit of library information has surfaced this week, too. It is backward-looking.

The city has decided not to appeal an unemployment claim filed by former library director Lori Barkema.

Barkema resigned a year ago, leaving with $65,170 in severance benefits. The total included about $15,000 in unpaid leave and four months of salary and benefits, the city said then.

Barkema subsequently filed for jobless benefits. Initially, a state of Iowa claims representative denied her jobless claim, saying that she resigned voluntarily.

However, Barkema appealed the decision to a state administrative law judge. That judge, Steven Wise, ruled in Barkema’s favor in December. The city could have appealed the decision to the state Employment Appeal Board, but has chosen not to, Conni Huber, the city’s human resources director, noted on Tuesday.

In the administrative law judge’s decision, he concludes that Barkema did not really have a choice but to leave. The library board offered to let her resign in the face of what seemed likely termination, so she didn’t leave of her own choice, the judge says.

“To voluntarily quit means a claimant exercises a voluntary choice between remaining employed or discontinuing the employment relationship and chooses to leave employment,” Wise states in his December ruling. “The unemployment insurance rules provide a claimant has not voluntarily left employment if the claimant was compelled to resign when given the choice of resigning or being discharged.”

The ruling also provides a look into the process that led to Barkema’s departure from the library in April 2008.
The ruling says:

In January and February of 2008, the library board created an ad hoc committee to look at “concerns regarding” Barkema’s job performance. Barkema addressed the concerns with an action plan, a plan that the board found “inadequate.” The board then hired a consultant, John Langhorne, to evaluate matters.

Langhorne interviewed Barkema, library staff members and board members. He determined that a “significant lack of trust” between Barkema and the board and that the trust was “damaged beyond repair,” according to the administrative law judge’s ruling.

Langhorne and Joe Lock, a library board member on the board’s ad hoc personnel committee, then both met with Barkema. According to the judge’s ruling, Langhorne told Barkema she needed to resign or the board was going to terminate her. Lock knew that Barkema’s mother had recently died, and he suggested to her that “this would be a good reason to give the public for her resigning,” the judge’s ruling states.

The judge states Barkema “reasonably believed” that she had been given a choice, and she chose resignation over termination because she did not want to be discharged.

In an e-mail to Barkema’s attorney on April 23, 2008, the city’s attorney’s office stated that, “Lori was not asked to resign, but allowing her to resign and accepting it is very much part of the consideration here.”

She resigned and the library board accepted the resignation later that day, the ruling states.

An employer may be justified in discharging an employee, but the city presented no evidence of any misconduct by Barkema that would justify the denial of jobless benefits, the judge notes.

Corbett TV out with latest; calls for economic development; but are all i’s dotted, t’s crossed in video episode’s property-tax math?

In Ron Corbett on April 21, 2009 at 8:11 am

Corbett TV is back with its latest video installment.

This time, mayoral candidate Ron Corbett — —  is making the point that the city needs to do a better job of attracting new companies to town to expand the city’s tax base. A bigger tax base, with more taxpaying industries, businesses and people participating, will mean less pressure to raise taxes on current taxpayers.

We need a bigger pie, Corbett says.

We need a return to a time not so many years ago when new industries — he cities Cedar River Paper, PMX Industries, Genencor — seemed to show up in the city regularly.

Of course, you can’t have Corbett TV without a video, and it always helps to employ a backdrop to make the current point.

To date, Corbett has stood in front of the abandoned, flood-damaged Swiss Valley Farms plant near the Cedar River to lament the loss of local industry. He’s been outside of the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall indicting current city leaders for what Corbett calls “a culture of delay.” And there was the closed, flood-damaged Ellis Park swimming pool in another video. Why couldn’t city leaders get the pool open this season? Corbett wondered.

In the latest Corbett TV video, he’s standing down at the construction site of the new $140-million-plus federal courthouse going up now between the river and Second Street SE and Seventh and Eighth avenues SE.

He points out that MidAmerican Energy used to sit on the site, and when the utility was there, it paid property taxes to the city. Now, the site is in government hands and no longer will generate property taxes.
In this little example, the property-tax burden will fall harder on the rest of the residents if something isn’t done to expand the local tax base to make up for what is being lost at the courthouse site, Corbett suggests.

Corbett TV’s latest didn’t come with a blackboard to do all the higher math. The Corbett TV video was trying to make the point that economic development is important.

The blackboard, though, might have been useful to do the adding and subtracting of property taxes, taking into account MidAmerican’s move to different digs in Cedar Rapids, to a property that had been vacated in northwest Cedar Rapids by Highway Equipment Co. Highway Equipment had built a new home on the city’s southwest side and moved there.

Actually, too, private utilities are treated differently than other private entities in terms of property taxes. The taxes they pay to local jurisdictions are called franchise fees, not property taxes, Casey Drew, the city of Cedar Rapids’ finance director, explains.