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Archive for May 17th, 2009|Daily archive page

Mayoral hopeful Corbett fires a new campaign shot: Don’t let city officials use new state-granted power to build a new city hall without a citizen vote

In City Hall, Ron Corbett on May 17, 2009 at 8:48 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett keeps running for office even if no one yet has joined him.

In his latest campaign video on his campaign Website, Corbett is calling into question a change in state law, which applies to Iowa jurisdictions recovering from last year’s natural disasters and allows them to pass big bond issues to pay for public building projects without a citizen vote.

The law change was one Cedar Rapids’ lobbyist at the Iowa Legislature was instructed to pursue by the Cedar Rapids City Council.

The new law — it was approved with great final support by both houses of the legislature — does allow citizens to request a referendum on a bond proposal in a reverse referendum it they can muster signatures on petitions equal to at least 20 percent of the number of people who voted in the last presidential election. In Cedar Rapids, that would mean 13,332 signatures.

“Iowa has a longstanding tradition to allow people to vote on bond issues,” Corbett says in his campaign video.

In the video, Corbett recalls the Cedar Rapids school district’s effort to pass a bond issue some years ago, and Corbett says he, as president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce at the time, helped the district scale back its plans to “the basics” in a way that convinced voters to back the bond issue.

Corbett is aware of the upside to the law change that will allow cities like cities like Cedar Rapids, which is trying to recover from a disastrous flood, to push ahead with bond issues without a citizen vote. The city faces tens of millions of dollars in building renovations and building replacements, and, arguably, such work could be delayed for long periods if the city must seek the required 60-percent voter approval on every issue.

For example, take the city’s downtown library, which was damaged in last June’s flood beyond repair. The city’s library board has decided it would prefer to build a new library at a new downtown site farther from the river. Federal dollars will pay for much of the work, but the money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t all come in upfront. The thought is the city will need to bond for some projects to get the construction started as the FEMA money comes in. The same could apply to a host of other projects.

What Corbett singles out in his latest video, though, is what he says is the push in some quarters to build a brand new City Hall. And he fears the new change in Iowa law would allow such a thing to happen without a citizen vote.

We’ll see: Building a new city hall won’t be universally endorsed because the city’s existing City Hall, which is in the flood-damaged, now-unoccupied Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island in the middle of the Cedar River, has a following. It will be renovated and hold something in any event.

What isn’t clear either is just want members of the City Council want to do. Council member Tom Podzimek said recently that the council has no preconceived notions as it begins a public participation process on the future of city government buildings in June. Council member Kris Gulick said he wants to see a financial analysis of retrofitting and retooling existing buildings as that discussion unfolds.

Corbett earlier has said the city doesn’t need to build a new “Taj Mahal” to house city government.

And he repeats that in his latest video: “I don’t think we need a new city hall,” he says. He says the city has plenty of existing buildings. If building a new city hall happens, though, voters should have a chance to vote on it, he says.