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

Archive for June 30th, 2009|Daily archive page

City Council set to up its Statehouse lobbyist spending from $15,000 a year to $60,000 a year

In City Hall on June 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm

It’s not every year a City Council brings in some key local Statehouse lawmakers to a City Council meeting to applaud what they have done for City Hall and the city.

The current City Council, though, did just that.

By the council’s count, it had a good run this year at the Iowa Legislature.

The city got special consideration to hold an expedited local-option sales tax referendum for flood-recovery, a vote that succeeded and will bring in $90 million or more into city coffers over five years.

The legislature also gave cities the ability to institute a franchise fee of up to 5 percent of gas and electric bills; gave cities recovering from natural disasters the ability to sell bonds for public buildings without asking voters first; steered $20 million in I-JOBS earmarks to flood-damaged city facilities; and on and on.

Whether in response to what the council considers legislative victories or not, the council on Wednesday evening is prepared to up its spending on lobbying in and around the Statehouse from the just-ending fiscal year’s $15,000 a year to $60,000 a year in the new fiscal year beginning today.

In recent years, the city has contracted with former state Democratic legislator Larry Murphy of L & L Murphy Consulting, Oelwein, to do the city’s lobbying in Des Moines.

In the new fiscal year, the council proposes to keep Murphy and also hire Gary Grant of Grant Consulting LLC of Cedar Rapids. Grant was district director for Republican Congressman Jim Leach from 1993 through 2007.

The total contract for the two firms is for $70,000, which includes an extra $10,000 for lobbying in Washington, D.C., if necessary, Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, noted on Tuesday.

Drew said the expanded contract will provide the city with more help in developing a Statehouse legislative strategy and will provide additional lobbying and increased communication with state elected officials and state agencies.


City Council poised to award city towing contract to lower-scoring firm after top scorer Darrah’s drops out in response to last-minute change in contract terms

In City Hall, Greg Graham on June 30, 2009 at 5:51 pm

City Hall is ready to turn over the city’s towing contract to the lower-scoring of two bidders after a last-minute change in the bid terms prompted the top-scoring firm to drop out.

Carmela Darrah-Chiafos, owner of the top-scoring bidder Darrah’s Towing and Recovery, on Tuesday said City Hall was ready to award a new two-year contract to her firm a week ago. Darrah’s has held the contract for many years.

But at the last minute, she said the city decided to make the length of the contract just six months, instead of the two-year period stated in the city’s bid documents. The contract long has been a two-year one.

“I was stunned,” Darrah-Chiafos said on Tuesday upon learning the city suddenly was changing the terms of the city towing contract.

She was informed of the contract change two hours before last Wednesday’s council meeting when the City Clerk’s office called to say that Police Chief Greg Graham made the change in the length of the towing contract because that’s the way Graham had done it when he worked for the Ocala, Fla., Police Department.

Darrah-Chiafos said it didn’t make sense for her business to invest in equipment to continue to service the city contract if the contract was only guaranteed for six months. Her bid was based on a two-year contract, not a six-month one, and so she withdrew it, she said.

In city documents provided to the City Council and the public, city staff members acknowledge that Darrah’s scored “higher” than a second company, Pro Tow LLC, and that Darrah’s withdrew because of the change in the length of the contract.

The initial bid documents posted on the city’s Web site state that the contract was for two years, not six months.

A three-member City Hall committee — Sandi Fowler, assistant to the city manager; Cory McGarvey, a police sergeant, and Dennis Hogan, the city’s fleet services manager — scored proposals from Darrah’s and Pro Tow on five criteria. Darrah’s received 91.66 points, Pro Tow, 77.49 points.

Darrah’s won on four of five criteria.

The average age of Darrah’s equipment is 6.9 years, Pro Tow’s, 12.9 years, according to the committee.

During site visits by committee members, Pro Tow’s surveillance cameras weren’t working “due to a lightning strike.” Pro Tow did not have two-way radios installed “at this time.”

Conversely, Darrah’s had in good working order a radio and computer-aided dispatch system integrated with surveillance cameras.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office lists Marilyn Philipp as company representative of Pro Tow at 941 66th Ave. SW.

The City Council is slated to vote on the six-month towing contract at its Wednesday evening meeting. The current contract expired Tuesday night.