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Archive for the ‘Jerry McGrane’ Category

Brouhaha in Oakhill Jackson over weeds and native plants and the power of a City Council member to call in the mowers

In Jerry McGrane, Neighborhoods on July 22, 2009 at 8:57 pm

Mike Richards and Jerry McGrane are engaged in a spitting match over Poet’s Park.

The dispute – between the president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association and his predecessor, now a City Council member — is over a small flower garden that sits with a landmark stone at 12th Avenue and Otis Road SE to tell passers-by that they are in the neighborhood.

The spot, created on city land several years ago by the neighborhood association, is now called Poet’s Park.

On Wednesday afternoon, Richards fired off a press release, saying that McGrane had inappropriately used his standing as a City Council member to call on the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to mow down what Richards says were native Iowa prairie plants at the site.

McGrane fired right back, saying he did nothing of the kind. He said he brought the park up to city staff a few weeks ago in a general discussion about maintaining the smaller parks in the city.

Further, he said “due to Michael Richards’ laziness” as the neighborhood president, the garden at the triangular intersection at 12th Avenue and Otis Road SE had all gone to weeds.

McGrane also disputed that there were many native plants at the site, “unless you want to call weeds native plants,” he said.

Richards fired back: Just because McGrane doesn’t know what native plants look like doesn’t mean they weren’t there, Richards said.

As Richards tells it, all this came to light on Wednesday when a team of AmeriCorps Green Corps members showed up at the park at Richards’ request to clean up and weed the flower garden. The city employee was just finishing up his mowing at the site, Richards said.

Tim Reynolds, one of the Green Corps members, late Wednesday afternoon said the space in question was home to native plantings. Three other areas in the park also have plots of native plantings, and he said the Corps members cleaned those up and put new mulch in them on Wednesday.

Richards thought there the plants had been permanently damaged, though Reynolds said they would grow back.

McGrane said he knows someone willing to donate money to replace what he says was weeds with new plantings.

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Flood victim McGrane first council incumbent to enter this year’s City Hall race

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane on April 14, 2009 at 5:18 pm

District 3 council member Jerry McGrane announced Tuesday announced that he is seeking reelection to the city’s only council district that includes both east-side and west-side precincts.

McGrane, 69, lost his home at 1018 Second St. SE to the June 2008 flood, and he says he wants to stay on the council because he personally understands what other flood victims still wrestle with as they work to recover from the flood.

“I’m still the voice of the City Council when it comes to flooded people,” McGrane says.

At the same time, McGrane, who parlayed his past work as president of the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood Association into an election victory in 2005, says he also wants to retain his seat on the council so he can be a lead voice on neighborhood revitalization efforts.

“We still have a lot to accomplish with the Enhance Our Neighborhoods effort, and there’s a lot of housing problems and the beginning of a lot of crime problems,” he said.

McGrane and his wife, Judy, currently reside in one of the manufactured houses provided to flood victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though he will return in June to the Oakhill neighborhood in a house now under construction at 1105 Eighth St. SE.

Of note of late, McGrane joined forces with council members Justin Shields and Monica Vernon in an unsuccessful effort to wrestle some control away from City Manager Jim Prosser. The three-member minority on the nine-member council tried to create a flood recovery CEO that would sidestep Prosser and answer to the council. But the council majority nixed the idea, saying the city’s charter allows only one chief executive.

McGrane, though, said his campaign for reelection has nothing to do with trying to replace Prosser, the city’s first city manager in the city’s three-year-old council/manager government.

“I’m running because I’ve done a good job. I’ve helped a lot of people,” McGrane said.

District 3 comprises both the flood-damaged Oakhill Jackson/New Bohemia areas on the east side of the Cedar River and the flood-damaged Czech Village area on the west side of the river.

McGrane said he is aware of reports brought back from Grand Forks, N.D., where some Cedar Rapids city leaders went after the June flood to see how the North Dakota city had dealt with its own flood disaster in 1997. Apparently, the entire City Council up for reelection in Grand Forks was defeated following the flood.

McGrane said it would be a mistake for Cedar Rapids voters to fill all six seats up for election in 2009 with new faces. Much has been invested in the city’s flood recovery to date, and some continuity is important to see the recovery through, he said.

McGrane characterized himself as a council member who listens more than talks, and he noted that he is the only current council without a college degree.

“What you see is what you get,” he said. “No thrills. No frills. Here I am. If you don’t want to know the answer, don’t ask me.”

His council district also stretches into higher-end neighborhoods on the city’s southeast quadrant, and McGrane noted that he sided with neighbors to make sure the East Post Road bridge over Indian Creek remained a two-lane bridge and to block a plan to connect two sections of Bever Avenue SE that neighbors feared would turn the street into a thoroughfare.

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.

Wall Street Journal and now CBS News take a fresh look at the progress of city’s flood recovery

In City Hall, Floods, Jerry McGrane on February 13, 2009 at 12:28 pm

The lamentations from city and community leaders have been growing increasingly urgent in recent weeks and months. Not enough federal-funding support is getting to Cedar Rapids to help it recover from last June’s flood, the leaders have been pleading. The fear is the city’s flood recovery has dropped from view.

 

The message may be getting some traction on the national stage.

 

Just this Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal featured a story on the city’s struggles since the flood. The Journal reporter was in Cedar Rapids on Jan. 30, at one point riding with council member Jerry McGrane and Linn supervisor Linda Langston in McGrane’s pickup as they toured flood-damaged neighborhoods.

 

SEE the Journal story;

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123431814390771265.html

 

Word came Friday that veteran CBS News reporter Dean Reynolds will be Cedar Rapids on Monday to get his take on the state of the city’s recovery.  Keep an eye out for Reynolds’ report. 

Much-fussed-over East Post Road bridge likely to include trail, sidewalk

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Kay Halloran, Monica Vernon on January 29, 2009 at 8:05 am

It has been a couple years – years.

That’s how long the City Council has gone around and around about trying to build a little bridge on East Post Road SE over Indian Creek.

Last night, in what is still not entirely clear, the council discussed the latest design of the bridge and, when it came up for air, council members said they broke, 5-4, to build a new two-lane bridge with a 14-foot-wide trail on the upstream side and a 6-foot-wide sidewalk on the downstream side.

The 5-4 vote was in favor of tentatively adding the sidewalk.

It was unclear exactly who was for what. But council members Brian Fagan, Jerry McGrane and Mayor Kay Halloran were clearly against the sidewalk, while council member Monica Vernon said the city doesn’t build bridges every day and so builds bridges for what might come in 30 or more years. All city bridges have walkways on both sides, so why not here? Vernon asked.

Few local projects have generated more citizen interest and more citizen cynicism of City Hall.

Originally, the city’s engineering staff and the city’s transportation consultants designed the bridge as a three-lane one with a middle-turn lane. The engineers said the turn lane was needed for people making turns on Cottage Grove Parkway SE just to the north of the bridge.

An outpouring of citizens, though, wanted no part of a third lane. They came to believe that a third lane, coupled with a wide trail on one side of the new bridge and sidewalk on the other, was all a ruse: City Hall’s real intent was to convert what was built into a four-lane thoroughfare as a prelude to widen all of the pretty, curvy, two-lane East Post Road SE into a four-lane road.

The engineers have vowed no such thing, but the fear lingers.

The new, pending design, which the council will apparently formally vote on in the weeks or months ahead, includes substantial, decorative barriers between the two-lane roadway and trail and sidewalk and also raises the trail a bit above the roadway so the road one day can’t be expanded on to the trail.

In last night’s discussion, the council kind of laughed at itself for yammering away about the bridge design for so long. Along the way, council members have developed something of an affection  for staff engineer Ken DeKeyser, who has drawn the short straw on the city’s engineering staff and has had to try to shepherd the project through the public and the council to reality.

“Let’s do it and get it done,” council member McGrane said last night.

Council member Justin Shields said the bridge was an example of the council’s commitment to building something attractive and building something using the approach of “complete.” That is an approach of building streets that takes into account vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians and aesthetics.

“I think it’s a beautiful bridge,” Shields said.

City Hall interest in replacing the bridge ramped up way back in 2002 after a flash flood on Indian Creek. Neighbors in the Sun Valley Neighborhood, which was flooded that year, pushed City Hall to look at any and all impediments to the flow of water that contributed to the flood. One thought was that the bridge itself could be improved to allow more water to flow under it.

Can City Council ‘steam team’ solve steam issue for industries near downtown, the hospitals, Coe College and the downtown? Is a city power plant in the offing?

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey on January 27, 2009 at 2:43 pm

At council member Monica Vernon’s urging, the City Council last week created a four-member “steam team” to try to see if City Hall might help salvage a low-cost steam utility for industries near the downtown, the downtown itself, the city’s two hospitals and Coe College.

The council has expressed worry about the future of steam system before, but has little action to show for it.

Vernon – fresh off a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., with council colleagues Justin Shields and flood victim Jerry McGrane – said more action than talk would be in the offing.

But it was McGrane, known as a specialist in neighborhood and housing issues, not utility issues, who stepped out and provided a glimpse of what might be coming.

McGrane reported last week and repeated at the council meeting that federal officials told the Cedar Rapids contingent during their visit to D.C. that federal dollars might be available for a new city-owned municipal steam power operation, particularly one that might be on the cutting edge environmentally.

Let’s wait and see.

It was back in September that the council first commented publicly about steam when some members contemplated subsidizing steam rates. The council had learned then that Alliant Energy had told steam customers dependent on the utility’s flood-damaged Sixth Street Generating Station that it would provide steam from temporary boilers this winter for four to five times the previous cost.

Suffice to say the customers can’t endure such a price hike for long. Some building owners in the downtown already have abandoned Alliant’s steam system, installing their own boilers to provide heat.

In early January, Alliant announced that it had not reached an agreement with its eight large customers – which include Quaker, Cargill, the two hospitals and Coe College — to provide steam for next winter. Steam is used for heat, sterilization and industrial processing.

However, last week, Alliant announced to the City Council that it had met with the eight big customers again with a new offer that was now under consideration by the customers. The new offer would provide steam for the next three to five years at rates significantly lower than the current ones but still significantly higher than the rates that the customers had paid prior to the June flood.

At the same time last week, though, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital told the council that they both were considering Alliant’s new offer even as they were heading out to try to secure $4.65 million in federal money to build their own steam operation.

Coe and St. Luke’s both said they still were interested in a solution that would provide reasonably priced steam and that would keep the existing group of steam users together.

Alliant representatives said the value of the utility’s latest offer to the large customers is that it would keep them together and the steam infrastructure in place to buy some time for a longer-term solution to be found.

One idea that the City Council wants to investigate is the burning of municipal solid waste and sludge from its waste-water treatment plant to generate energy.

The council has given approval for a $1-million study to see if it makes sense to burn solid waste and sewage sludge to generate power.

As for the council’s steam team, its members are Vernon, McGrane, Shields and Pat Shey.

McGrane says federal funds might be available for city to get into the steam utility business

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Downtown District, Floods, Jerry McGrane, Monica Vernon on January 21, 2009 at 3:13 am

The city of Cedar Rapids already has city-owned utilities -– a water plant, a waste-water treatment facility and a sanitary sewer and storm sewer system. It also considers its garbage pickup and recycling operation as a utility.

Council member Jerry McGrane on Tuesday suggested he might be pushing his council colleagues in the direction of creating another utility, one that would create steam for heat and other uses in and near the downtown.

McGrane made note of his lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., last week with council colleagues Justin Shields and Monica Vernon to talk to Iowa’s Congressional delegation and some federal agencies about federal funds to help Cedar Rapids with its flood recovery.

McGrane said the Cedar Rapids delegation was told that federal money might be available to support the reestablishment of a downtown steam system if the city itself actually was involved in the ownership of such a utility. The thought is the city could have a private entity run the operation and ultimately buy out the city’s investment after a number of years.

It remains to be seen: McGrane is more of a decisive voice on matters concerning neighborhoods and housing.

However, council member Monica Vernon said on Tuesday, too, that the city had to figure out a solution to the steam problem.

The problem exists because the June flood damaged Alliant Energy’s aged Sixth Street Generating Station, which had produced electricity and inexpensive steam and ran it through a network of Alliant steam pipes to Quaker and Cargill and other industries near downtown, to Coe College, the city’s two hospitals and the buildings downtown.

This winter, Alliant has created a temporary setup to provide the steam, but at a price four to five times the previous price with no promise of rebuilding to prior more reasonably priced steam again.

This week, Coe College and St. Luke’s Hospital announced plans to seek federal funds to build their own steam system, and they will be in front of the City Council tonight to talk about the plan.

The two entities, though, said this week they are still open to a broader solution to the steam issue, though Pat Ball, the city’s utility director, on Tuesday forewarned the council not to expect any big news at its meeting tonight.

An Alliant spokesman said the same.

‘Send three to Washington, D.C., anytime,’ says one observer; 6 instead of 9 makes for a meeting of reasonable length

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon on January 14, 2009 at 9:05 pm

It might have been -11 degrees outside last night with a wind as stiff as a coffin.

But it was easy to endure what with the pleasant feeling leaving last night’s regular Wednesday evening council meeting.

It lasted only about two and half hours.

Most of the meetings soldier on more than an hour or an hour and half longer. With the meetings beginning at 5:30 p.m., council members and sometimes dozens of the city’s top staff members don’t get to their vehicles until 9:30 or 10 p.m. By then, most of the public is long gone.

One observer noted that three of the nine council members – Justin Shields, Monica Vernon and Jerry McGrane – were not on hand at last night’s meeting.

The three had gone to Washington, D.C., on a lobbying trip for the council and the city.

“Give me a lobbying trip to the nation’s capital every Wednesday,” the observer said.

The point: A council of six members means far less council discussion than a council of nine members. On many issues, every council member feels obliged to talk, which can make for a lot of profundity.

As the city’s Charter Commission was deciding back in 2005 how many members to recommend for a City Council, the number nine, though quite a change from the five members of the council at the time, seemed fine.

A visit at the time to the Davenport City Council, which had and has 11 members and who all were prone to speechifying back then, made nine seem particularly appealing.

Council cancels special meetings; members head to Des Moines and DC in search of flood-recovery help

In City Hall, Jerry McGrane, Justin Shields, Mayor Kay Halloran, Monica Vernon on January 13, 2009 at 12:49 pm

The City Council had intended to hold one of its “brown-bag” discussions at lunch Tuesday and then to convene a budget session at 5 p.m.

Both meetings have been called off for a more urgent priority: Lobbying and arm-twisting any lawmaker or policymaker at the state or federal level that the City Council can get his or her hands on. The council is in the hunt for more state and federal funding for the city’s flood recovery and it wants state lawmakers to make some changes so the city can raise money in new ways. Now the city and other cities in Iowa say they must rely too heavily just on property taxes.

On Monday, Mayor Kay Halloran traveled to Des Moines for the first day of the legislative session. She’ll be there today, too, for the governor’s state of the state address.

Accompanying Halloran were Linn County Supervisors Jim Houser, Ben Rogers and Brent Oleson. The group was armed with easels and photographs to remind lawmakers from across the state of the devastation that Cedar Rapids experienced in the June flood, the mayor said.

Halloran said Gov. Chet Culver has called flood recovery a top priority, and she said she and the supervisors were there to make sure Cedar Rapids and Linn County are on top of that top priority list.

At the same time, council members Monica Vernon, Justin Shields and Jerry McGrane were slated to leave the Eastern Iowa Airport at 6 a.m. Tuesday on a lobbying trip to the nation’s capital. They’re scheduled to return on Wednesday.

Vernon said she and her council colleagues will join representatives from the city’s Washington, D.C., lobbying firm to visit the members of the city’s Congressional delegation. Vernon said staff members of the delegation also will accompany her, Shields and McGrane to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Vernon said she and her colleagues intend to give HUD representatives a first-hand account of the problems the city of Cedar Rapids is having in trying to work around HUD rules and regulations in handing out funds to disaster victims. HUD’s Community Development Block Grant money, which is a chief source of disaster relief, was never intended for disasters and so the program’s rules don’t fit the situation, Vernon said.