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Archive for the ‘Justin Shields’ Category

‘Vendo’ world is not Monica Vernon’s idea of an afternoon at the pool; she wants Ellis pool fix to include a concession stand

In City Hall, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon on July 9, 2009 at 12:01 pm

The City Council pushed ahead Wednesday evening with plans to fix the flood-damaged Ellis Park swimming pool at an estimated cost of $367,000.

Bids on the work will be opened on July 16 with work to proceed after that.

Council member Monica Vernon, though, is still unhappy with one change that is coming for the renovated pool. It’s the change that will replace a concession stand operated by summer employees with “a collection of vending machines for more efficient operations,” according to a city staff report.

At Wednesday evening’s council meeting, Vernon pointed to the council’s vision statement that calls for the city to build “a vibrant urban hometown.” Vending machines at the swimming pool does not fit that bill, Vernon said.

“I’m sure the vendo companies will be mad at me now,” she said.

Council member Justin Shields agreed. Shields said he’d prefer a city employee operating a concession stand to young children fumbling around with change trying to get a vending machine to work.

Vernon and Shields were the only ones to vote against the Ellis renovation as now configured, but Vernon said she’s going to take another run at her council colleagues to keep a concession stand at the pool.

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Deadline for news on huge pot of federal buyout money has passed; City Hall upbeat that good news will arrive soon

In City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser, Justin Shields on May 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

It’s been something of the Great Waiting at City Hall.

State officials who have come to Cedar Rapids in recent weeks, and city officials themselves, have said that the federal government would make a crucial disaster-funding announcement by the end of April on how it intended to divvy up a huge, $4-billion pot of national disaster relief.

It’s May 7.

These federal Community Development Block Grant funds are the ones that City Hall intends to use to pay for most of the buyouts of 1,300 flood-damaged Cedar Rapids homes. The city has put the cost at about $175 million.

In a talk yesterday, May 6, council member Justin Shields and Sue Vavroch, the city’s treasury operations manager who doubles as a key legislative point person for the city, both noted that they and others at City Hall were sitting on the edge of their chairs on Friday, May 1, expecting an announcement on the crucial federal funds.

Shields said there were “wild rumors” circulating. But nothing came.

Shields and Vavroch said the expectation now is that the announcement will come within the next couple of weeks.

“We are frustrated that we haven’t heard. But we are very hopeful,” Vavroch said.

Shields said he remains upbeat and confident that the dollars will come in.

A big concern of City Hall’s and of the state of Iowa’s has been the way the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development dispensed an earlier allocation of CDBG disaster funds last year. The thought is that Iowa got shortchanged in favor of former President George Bush’s state of Texas, Cedar Rapids and Iowa officials have suggested.

This week, Shields and Vavroch said that it was likely that the federal formula used to divide up the latest $4 billion in CDBG money will be more favorable to Iowa.

City Manager Jim Prosser characterized the arrival of the expected new round of CDBG funds as “huge.”

He noted that the city has been busy putting into place a buyout registration system so that it can begin the process of buyouts as speedily as possible once money arrives.

Vavroch emphasized that the announcement of the new allocation comes first. Actual allocation of funds will take another couple months at least, Prosser said.

Buyouts in the proposed greenway along the Cedar River – there are 192 properties there – will be made with flood-mitigation funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Those funds are expected to arrive in the next few to several months, city officials have said.

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.

Council members Vernon, Shields still frustrated: ‘I didn’t run to walk in St. Patrick’s Day parades,’ says Vernon. ‘Give me a committee. Give me some policy.’

In City Hall, Justin Shields, Monica Vernon on March 18, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Council members Monica Vernon and Justin Shields stopped by The Gazette on Wednesday to talk to the newspaper’s editorial board at Vernon’s request.

Vernon conceded that part of the intent of the meeting was for her to “vent” a little.

She and Shields last week advocated for the hiring of a city flood-recovery manager — Vernon at one point called the job a flood-recovery CEO –- a move that their City Council colleagues endorsed.

But six of the nine council members rejected the Vernon-Shields idea that the new employee should be hired and report directly to the council and not to the council’s top employee, City Manager Jim Prosser.

The council majority said the city’s still-new council/manager government was designed with one CEO, the city manager.

On Wednesday, Vernon and Shields continued to make their case for their minority position in the table-of-organization debate to The Gazette editorial board.

Along the way, they insisted that their unsuccessful move to get a new employee reporting to the council was not a move around or against Prosser.

Shields and Vernon said their central interest is to get more done on flood recovery better and sooner.

“I’m not blaming Jim Prosser for that,” Shields said. “I’m blaming myself for that because I’ve not been able to move anything to help do it better.”

In their view of City Hall, the part-time council and part-time mayor in a council/manager government play a too-small role in governing and are too dependent on the city manager to set the agenda and to bring items to the council for discussion and votes.

In their view, city government and all of its 1,400 employees and all the city’s consultants are there to work for Prosser, not the City Council.

Vernon even suggested reconvening a Home Rule Charter Commission to modify the City Charter so that the City Council might have clear responsibility for more employees whom the council could direct.

The City Charter, which was put in place by voters in June 2005, calls for the Charter Commission to reconvene, in any event, in 2011 and every 10 years after that.

In addition, the charter allows for amendments by the council itself, subject to a voter referendum upon a petition request.

Organizational charts aside, Vernon and Shields acknowledged that there were things that they could try to do to remedy what they see as a problem: that is, too much coming from the city manager and too little from the council.

Vernon said the council needed a better way to get ideas to the table from themselves and from the public and then a better way to sort through those.

Vernon called for the council to establish committees, where small groups of council members can take time to dig into particular topics and then bring the results back to the full council for discussion.

Prosser, she said, doesn’t favor council committees and Mayor Kay Halloran hasn’t created them.

Shields said most every form of government uses committees.

“My God, the federal government would collapse if they didn’t have committees,” he said. “They wouldn’t know what to do.”

At the end of the day, Vernon told The Gazette editorial board that what she and Shields were shouting about was about better government and the ability of the elected council to play a bigger role to get it done.

“This is not a petty deal with the city manager,” Vernon said. “This is about how should the structure work and what should we be doing and are we able to do what we were elected to do.

“… If everything flows through that person (the city manager), who I thought was sort of an operations person, then you tell me what my role is. (Is it) to walk in St. Patrick’s Day parades? Is that the role?

“I didn’t run (for council) to walk in St. Patrick’s Day parades. I don’t mind it. It’s kind of fun. But give me a committee. Give me some policy. Give me a problem to solve.”

Recurring theme at the heart of debate on flood CEO: current City Hall can’t get it right; needs push from private sector

In City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser, Justin Shields, Kris Gulick, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on March 10, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Some in the local business community have been pretty sure they can help City Hall almost since the flood waters began to recede last June.

The latest example of the private sector’s coming to the rescue surfaced last week when council members Justin Shields and Monica Vernon proposed that the city add to its payroll a flood czar of sorts.
Vernon called the position a flood CEO.

The City Council will discuss the matter at its meeting Wednesday evening and may even act on it.
There are two significant features of the proposal:

Firstly, as presented by Shields, the flood czar would report directly to the City Council and not directly to City Manager Jim Prosser. Shields said the city’s organizational chart would include a “dotted line” to Prosser, which apparently means that flood CEO and Prosser would communicate.

This part of the proposal is not particularly new: Shields and Vernon have been trying for some months, without success, to get a staff policy maker who would report directly to the City Council and not be managed by Prosser. Heretofore, the council majority has had little time for such a thing. Prosser is the council’s CEO, and Prosser and the city staff are the council’s policy advisers, the council majority has said.

A second significant feature of the latest proposal is that the cost of the new city employee would be paid by the private sector.

Asked after last week’s meeting, Vernon deferred when asked for details about whom or what this private-sector force might be.

She said it was a “captain of industry” who had come up with the idea.

“I don’t think it’s important to tell you right now,” Vernon said when asked for specifics. “We have some people (in the business community) who are very interested in this and who get it: that it (the new position) needs to be part of city government.”

Suffice to say, it will be a great discuss on Wednesday evening.

Council member Kris Gulick was quick to note last week that creating a CEO slot that reports to the council when the council already has a CEO in the city manager would cause problems for the city’s current structure of “governance.”

Shields did note that Patrick DePalma, a vice president at AEGON USA who headed up the council’s government reorganization task force, recommended a year ago and again in recent months that Prosser needed, at the least, an assistant city manager who would report to Prosser. The council and Prosser have put that idea aside in the past because of cost.

The new wrinkle -– the new allure — is that the private sector will now foot the bill.

In that regard, it’s hard to imagine a local “captain” of industry whose company doesn’t have some entanglement with City Hall.

There are street issues out by Rockwell Collins and economic development incentives as well. The city is leasing an office building as a temporary City Hall with an AEGONUSA sign out front. The city is set to approve a franchise agreement to allow Alliant Energy to continue to operate in the city.

In truth, the city has had relationships with some or all of these private companies for a number of years in the form of donations of executive expertise. No one has suggested any problems with that.

In the broad picture, that the private sector is apparently willing to pay for a flood CEO or specialist is a piece of a recurring theme: that City Hall isn’t doing that good a job on flood recovery.

Chuck Peters, CEO of Gazette Communications, recounted at a recent meeting of the Downtown Rotary Club how he and a few others jumped on an AEGONUSA corporate plane in the days after last June’s flood to see how Grand Forks, N.D., had recovered from a similar disaster in 1997.

That Peters is still telling the story is an indication he doesn’t think lessons learned on the trip got much of an audience at City Hall.

In recent weeks, the Downtown Rotary Club devoted four straight meetings to a newly created, local flood-recovery entity called the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp.

The corporation has City Council member Monica Vernon on its four-person board as well as Linda Langston, Linn County supervisor. But the push to create the corporation came from some in the private sector who feel the city’s flood recovery needs private-sector know-how.

The chairman of the EPRC is John Smith, president/CEO at trucking firm of CRST International Inc. Smith, incidentally, is the boss of newly announced mayoral candidate Ron Corbett, who is a CRST vice president.

Clay Jones, CEO at Rockwell Collins, also has turned up in public talking about Cedar Rapids’ flood recovery. That happened when he crossed paths and spoke briefly with President Obama after the president’s speech to The Business Council on Feb. 13 at the White House.

Keep in mind, the city of Cedar Rapids, after much debate and many meetings of the Home Rule Charter Commission in 2004 and 2005, voted overwhelmingly to get rid of the commission form of government that the city had had in place from the early years of the 20th Century. In its place, voters picked a city government with professional management and a part-time mayor and council.

It’s no little irony that the commission form of government came to be in Galveston, Texas, after a hurricane devastated that city in 1900. Back then, the private sector stepped forward and said that city government needed its expertise if the city was to recover. In the commission government, council members double as experts in certain fields like finance, public works and public safety.

After a few years, the council-manager government, which most cities now have, began to replace commission governments.

Is passage of a local-option sales tax proof that government can work?

In Jim Prosser, Justin Shields, local-option sales tax, Mayor Kay Halloran, Rob Hogg, what worked on March 8, 2009 at 8:20 am

Listen to citizens who come to council meetings, listen to the news, listen to those outside of local government and those wanting to get in on it, and it seems nothing – nothing – works well. Government doesn’t do anything right. …

It didn’t take the Flood of 2008 to push the City Council and City Manager Jim Prosser to focus a great deal of their public comments and much of the city’s Statehouse lobbying energy on trying to figure out a way to convince the Iowa Legislature to give cities more flexibility in raising revenue.

Property taxes, the chief revenue source for Iowa cities and counties, provide most of the revenue now, and those taxes hit those who create jobs, the industrial and commercial sectors, particularly hard in Iowa.

The flood and the task of recovery from it only focused City Hall’s interest in “revenue diversification” all the more. Why can’t cities have an income surcharge or a wheel tax or a tax on alcohol and tobacco use? The nine other largest cities in Iowa joined the cause.

And lawmakers and policymakers in Des Moines spoke back. They told Cedar Rapids City Hall to use a revenue option already available to them first before asking for more. And the one chief revenue-raising source that is available is the local-option sales tax.

After all, nearly every city in Iowa has the 1-percent tax in place, and only six of Iowa’s 99 counties have county seats without the sales tax. Those six include Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

At first, the Cedar Rapids council dithered, thinking state lawmakers might meet last fall and give some special consideration to Cedar Rapids and its flood recovery. On the city’s list of requests was to have the ability to institute a local-option sales tax without a vote by the residents.

There was no special legislative session.

By January, members of the City Council said in public that they had gotten the message from Des Moines: The city’s position would be strengthen in asking for large sums of federal and state funding if the city could show it was doing all it could to raise money locally using the taxing machinery it already had the ability to use. The council decided it would ask voters for a local-option sales tax to be used mostly for help in flood recovery.

By then, though, the state’s existing local-option sales tax law, which sets out a four-month timeline for when such a vote can be held, would not have allowed a vote before late spring.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, then wrote a piece of legislation designed especially for Cedar Rapids and Linn County and Iowa City/Coralville and Johnson County. The bill allowed an expedited vote on the sales tax, allowed the tax to begin to be collected immediately and did not require a metro area to vote as a block. Cedar Rapids could try to pass the tax for flood relief without worrying if Marion, Hiawatha and Robins would vote against the move and bring the tax down.

Hogg led the bill through the Iowa Legislature, the governor passed it and the City Council got the measure on the March 3 ballot.

The council assured the public that 90 percent of the funds would go to flood relief, and then in got even more specific and told the public it would be used in tandem with federal money to buy out as many as 1,300 flood-destroyed homes and rehabilitate many, many more.

The council also created an Oversight Committee to assure the public that a citizen group would help advise the council on how it spends the more than $90 million in sales-tax revenue that will be coming in over the next five years and three months.

On Tuesday, residents voted 59 percent to 41 percent to approve the sales tax.

The measure passed despite a palpable sense of frustration with the pace of flood recovery, a frustration level that Mayor Kay Halloran says she is quite aware of.

The Sunday before the tax vote, a Gazette Communications poll found the mayor’s approval rating at 20 percent and City Manager Jim Prosser’s at 29 percent, and the poll found a slight majority of residents said they had little or no confidence in the council.

In the end, with Sen. Hogg’s push in the legislature and with no little lobbying effort on the part of Halloran, council member Justin Shields and others in Des Moines, the city got a special, one-time deal out of the Statehouse for Cedar Rapids.

The city’s local elected officials — in a year in which six of nine council seats are up for grabs — then helped to make the case for the tax.

The voters this year might toss most up for election out of office. Who knows?

But each of the five people mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor –- Ron Corbett, Gary Hinzman, Scott Olson and council members Brian Fagan and Monica Vernon — supported the local-option sales tax for flood recovery.

And the tax is now in place. It will begin to be collected April 1.

Mayor’s speech downtown is a reminder that all is not well there

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Justin Shields, Mayor Kay Halloran on February 28, 2009 at 6:48 am

A mayor’s annual address on the condition of the city is generally an upbeat affair with a focus on the accomplishments in the year past and the ones sure to come in the year ahead.

That was the case on Friday when Mayor Kay Halloran and Brian Fagan, mayor pro tem, spoke at the League of Women Voters of Cedar Rapids/Marion’s annual State of the City luncheon.

This year, though, it was hard not to feel how far there is yet to go in the city’s recovery from the June 2008 flood, a recovery that must come in the midst of a troubling national economic downturn.

Friday’s event was held in what over the years has become the lone downtown venue for such gatherings: The Ballroom of the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel.

The hotel is in bankruptcy and being run by an interim hotel manager, and for more than a year now, the hotel chain that owns the Crowne Plaza moniker has threatened to withdraw it from Cedar Rapids only downtown hotel.

The previous owner of the hotel had been required to upgrade the building to keep the Crowne Plaza name, and, in fact, much of that work was completed, reports Patrick DePalma, chairman of the city’s Five Season Facilities Commission. The rooms still need new TVs, and, more to the point of the mayor’s Friday speech, there is still a need to upgrade the hotel’s Ballroom, DePalma says.

One of the typical routes to The Ballroom is through the entrance to the U.S. Cellular Center, which is joined to the hotel. You walk in the center’s lobby and head up the towering escalator to the next floor to get to the hotel lobby and The Ballroom. But the escalator has been out of service since the machinery that drives it took on water in the June flood.

Nearly nine months after the flood, there surely are some who, hiking up the stationary escalator steps, aren’t wondering if the city’s recovery from the flood will ever come.

The city’s Facilities Commission oversees the city-owned event center and it plays a role in the hotel because the city owns the land and air rights for the hotel.

The commission’s DePalma says he’s tried to impress on the city the need to get moving on fixing the flood damage to the U.S. Cellular Center’s lobby and to the escalator there. He says the work is dependent on funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he says City Hall controls the schedule on which of the many flood-damaged city properties gets fixed first.

“We’ve talked to the city and said, ‘Let’s get this done,’” he says. “The work that needs to be done is fairly minor in terms of how much it would take and how much it would cost compared to (other projects).”

DePalma says the city’s first focus in the downtown is to fix elevators in damaged parking ramps.

“We understand that,” he says. But he says he hopes the U.S. Cellular Center comes soon after.

“Any pressure you can put on them,” DePalma says. “It’s not a difficult thing to take care of. But I can’t hire a contractor.”

Under consideration, he says, is doing away with the escalator and replacing it with an elevator and a staircase.

The public now can ride the elevator next door that leads into the hotel lobby on the second floor.

For whatever reason, the audience was a little smaller this time for the mayor’s annual address. The League of Women Voters put the count at about 300, down about 60 from the year before.

Six of nine City Council members did not attend to hear their council colleagues, Halloran and Fagan, speak. Council member Justin Shields was on hand.

The center of the city’s government has been operating out of an office building in a northeast Cedar Rapids office park since the flood. The council holds its formal Wednesday evening meetings in an auditorium nearby on the AEGON USA campus. The flood-damaged City Hall downtown remains empty and awaiting renovation.

Council ready to take yet another step to assure the distrustful

In City Hall, Floods, Justin Shields on February 25, 2009 at 9:22 am

It looks like the City Council is sufficiently eager for voters to pass a local-option sales tax to help with flood recovery that the council will bite its collective tongue and again try to assure people who think the council can’t be trusted to spend the tax money correctly.

At its meeting this evening, the City Council will approve a resolution that specifies that 90 percent of the revenue from a local-option sales tax will be used “for the buyout, rehabilitation and relocation of flood-damaged housing.”

The tax is expected to generate about $18 million a year for the city in each of five years and three months that the tax will be in place should voters approve it on March 3.

Earlier, the council voted to use 90 percent of the tax revenue for flood relief and 10 percent for property-tax relief. The council-approve language on next Tuesday’s ballot reflects that earlier vote. Of the 90-percent of the tax revenue to be used for flood relief, the ballot language says the revenue will be used “for the acquisition and rehabilitation of flood damaged housing caused by the flooding of 2008, and matching funds for federal dollars to assist with flood recovery or flood protection.”

The language was designed to give the council some flexibility to use the money in the unlikely event that federal dollars, for instance, take care of more of the housing relief than the council now anticipates it will.

However, council critics were sure that meant the council would use the money in ways other than flood relief.

At last week’s council meeting, council member Justin Shields fumed about public distrust in the council and its intentions for the sales-tax revenue. At Shields’ insistence, the council, from member to member, assured that the money would be used to address the city’s couple-hundred million dollars in flood-damaged housing relief.

City Hall, then, issued a press release on Friday.

Earlier, the council voted to create a nine-member citizen oversight committee to oversee how sales-tax revenue would be spent.

Still people were questioning the council.

So tonight the council will pass a new resolution.

At last check, no one is calling for oversight committees and new resolutions to be passed by the Linn County Board of Supervisors or the city of Marion, for instance, both of which will also bring in plenty of tax-revenue should the ballot measure pass in those cities on Tuesday.

City Council aspires to bigger league; was split with smaller-ball Linn County inevitable?

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Floods, Jim Prosser, Justin Shields, Linn County government on February 22, 2009 at 11:03 am

On a 3-2 vote, the Linn County Board of Supervisors has decided not to study to see if it makes sense to join forces with the Cedar Rapids City Council in a new public administration building, which is being called a Community Services Center.

Even Supervisor Linda Langston, who was one of two on the short end of the vote, said she’d only continue to participate with the city in a public planning process about a building on two conditions: if the city shortened the length of the process and if the city treated the county nicer, as a “full partner.”

Ben Rogers, one of two new supervisors and the youngest of the five, was alone in advocating that the planning process could do nothing but help no matter what it came to conclude. Rogers noted, too, that joining forces with the city didn’t necessarily mean building new buildings. It could mean renovating existing ones, he said.

As much as anything, the supervisor drama on Friday served as a reminder that the city of Cedar Rapids and Linn County are two entirely different animals. They always have been.

Cedar Rapids and its City Hall are big entities with a complicated set of responsibilities: water, waste water, airport, cultural attractions and entertainment and sports venues for starters.

There’s also a downtown, which community leaders ranging far beyond City Hall say is vital to the future vitality of Cedar Rapids and to the city’s ability to keep and attract employers and employees.

Most importantly, Cedar Rapids is what community leaders in and out of City Hall never tire of reminding people of: It is the industrial and commercial economic “engine” for the city, county and region.

City Hall plays a central role in all of that as it oversees and regulates development in the city.

Linn County doesn’t.

The differences could no more clearly have been drawn between Wednesday evening’s City Council meeting and Friday’s late-morning meeting of the county supervisors.

On Wednesday evening, the City Council enthusiastically endorsed moving ahead on a public participation process to see if it makes sense to build a new Community Services Center of some kind that city, county and school district might somehow share.

Council members Brian Fagan and Justin Shields talked passionately about the city’s need to challenge the notion that it was good enough to just restore a damaged city to the way it had been before the flood.

“Sometimes out of ashes you want to rise from those ashes and build something better than what was there before,” Shields said.

 “I think this is a unique opportunity … that the city, county and school districts have to really come together and think of all the things that we do and they do and see if we can’t come up some plan that will put those facilities together and make them better than they ever were, and look to the future that we’re building for the next 50 to 100 years,” Shields said.

Fagan put the matter in a larger framework. He said the city was doing nothing short of challenging what he said was the conventional approach that the Federal Emergency Management Agency tries to insist on. Fagan said FEMA wants jurisdictions to rebuild flood-damaged buildings as they were, while he said he wants to rebuild better than before.

His hope, he said, was that the Obama administration might share his view of how a city should come back after a flood.

“This is an opportunity for us again to be an example for the country in terms of how we rebuild,” Fagan said.

And council member Tom Podzimek wasn’t even at the meeting. He was sick. Podzimek is most insistent of the need for council members to look to the long term and to measure things like a building’s energy efficiency, its environmental impact and its life-cycle costs before making decisions about building or renovating.

Friday morning, over at the Linn County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Brent Oleson, the new representative on the board from Marion, seemed to state the case for the supervisor majority best.

He said the supervisors didn’t want any kind of new building in which they shared a board room or council chambers with anyone else. The county needs its own, he said.

Oleson revealed  that  Podzimek had called him Thursday evening to talk about the need for more information before moving ahead.

Oelson, though, rejected the Podzimek notion, and the Fagan one for that matter.

“I’m not going to be paralyzed,” Oelson said about the need to get more facts. He said he had plenty of facts.

The county’s Administrative Office Building can live on another 70 or more years, he said. Let’s fix it, he said, and move back in.

Oleson said it was time to separate needs from wants.

Would I want a “greener” building that would be the pride of all of Iowa? Maybe, he said.

“But it’s not feasible now,” he concluded.

Supervisors Lu Barron and Jim Houser were quick to note the existing building can be made more “green.”

Barron was the swing vote on this, and she stuck with the majority in withdrawing from any co-location discussions with the city in a new Community Services Center.

After all, she noted, the public participation process calls for the hiring of two consultants to help lead the process over six or more months. Does the county want to share in those costs? she wondered.

Even Supervisor Langston questioned the need for consultants from out of state, hinting that’s what City Hall had in mind.

The city has had two consultants, national consultant Camp Dresser & McKee and local consultant Howard R. Green, leading months of behind-the-scenes discussions on the co-location idea to date.

In the longer view, this parting of the ways between the supervisors and City Hall isn’t really surprising.

It was only just a few years ago, in the early 2000s, that now-likely mayoral candidate Ron Corbett, then president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, worked to get city and county to merge some of their operations. He threw in the towel on it.

Instead, the city changed its government to a one with a professional city manager and a part-time council, while the county enlarged its government to five supervisors without a professional manager.

On Friday, Les Beck, the county’s chief planner, encouraged the supervisors to stay in the planning process on co-location of facilities. Beck said planning led to “informed decisonmaking,” a concept which Cedar Rapids City Manager Jim Prosser talks a lot about. Planners talk that way.

The planning process, though, would have required spending some funds on it and, maybe, a lot of money down the road on new facilities, and the county opted out.

This is a city election year. Six of nine council members face re-election, including the mayor.

What happened between the county and city last week, no doubt, will help shape the election debate with at least three questions:

Do voters want the city to be better than before? How much planning does that require? And just where does a new public building fit on the priority list?