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Archive for the ‘Monica Vernon’ 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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Vernon vents; dresses down City Manager Prosser for not getting police substation in storefront at 1501 First Ave. SE open quickly

In Greg Graham, Jim Prosser, Monica Vernon, Neighborhoods on June 18, 2009 at 9:10 am

Council member Monica Vernon, fresh off her decision on Tuesday not to try a run for mayor, took time at Wednesday evening’s council meeting to tear into City Manager Jim Prosser.

Vernon, who for many months has made it clear she thinks the current City Council has acceded too much power to Prosser, was angry that the Police Department had not yet gotten the city’s first police substation open in a vacant storefront at 1501 First Ave. SE.

Police Chief Greg Graham initially had said he wanted to be in the building in June in the wake of an attack on police officer Tim Davis just two blocks away.

It’s not worked out that way, and Vernon isn’t happy about it.

Wednesday evening, looking straight at Prosser, Vernon declared that the city has a crime problem, that crime is at its worst in the summer, and it was important to have gotten the substation open.

She called the matter “a can-do moment” and said Prosser has not had a “can-do attitude” about getting the project done.

Vernon then lit into City Attorney Jim Flitz, suggesting that he worries too much about preventing problems rather than solving them.

“I’m really disgusted about this,” Vernon said.

Council member Tom Podzimek calmly weighed in and suggested that the council take what steps it can to speed matters along. Then Podzimek defended Flitz: “I do think our attorney’s job is to keep us out of jail.”

Flitz said he didn’t have anything to do with the procedural steps required by state law to take bids on a renovation project.

The building needs about $50,000 in renovation work before it can be occupied. Last week, Chief Graham said it would likely be fall before the building is ready.

Prosser explained that he had taken a risk by proposing that the building’s owner do the renovations rather than the city so the job would not require public bidding and could be done faster. The cost of that was too great and couldn’t be done, he explained.

By looking at that approach, though, the project got delayed a bit, he said.

“We tried something and it didn’t work,” he said.

Even so, Prosser assured the council that the Police Department has taken additional steps to beef up their presence in the area even if the substation, which he called “symbolically” important and a good practical asset, is not yet in place.

Council member Jerry McGrane said neighborhood leaders are disappointed that the substation isn’t open yet. He called it “very unsettling.” He suggested Prosser talk to the neighborhoods.

City Council lets it be known: It’s not hand-outs to everyone who asks

In Chuck Wieneke, Monica Vernon, Tom Podzimek on June 17, 2009 at 8:41 am

Ask and you shall receive, it seems, can often be what happens with the City Council when a business shows up seeking a little financial consideration for doing something.

The current City Council has put something of an elaborate apparatus in place to try to help it judge whether a request for tax breaks or other incentives makes sense.

At its last council meeting, a council majority decided to use the apparatus and to follow what it was saying.

The upshot: Cedar Valley Heating & Air Conditioning won’t get a property-tax break of an estimated $75,000 over 10 years – about 44 percent of the total bill – if it builds a new 11,640 sq. ft. metal building to house its business at 60th Avenue SW and Fourth Street SW. Cedar Valley also intended to rent space in the building to four other shops.

In return for the tax break, Cedar Valley told the City Council it expected to retain four jobs and create three new ones, all with an average wage of $15 an hour.

Seven of the nine council members said they didn’t need time to think about the deal: They rejected it out of hand.

That was so even though council member Monica Vernon made mention of the issue that often can be the only one that guides such decisions. Aren’t we inviting this business to go to another community if we don’t grant the tax break? Vernon asked.

Other council members pointed to the five-point scorecard that the council established in May 2008 as part of an Economic Development Investment Policy.

The five points: Does the request facilitate significant investment that shows a strong commitment to the community? Does if help retain and create “high-quality” jobs? Does it add diversity to the region’s economy? Does it provide a long-term community benefit? Does it comply with sustainable development principles?

City staff credited Cedar Valley with only one “yes.”

The City Council majority thought that the one positive score — that the proposal created well-paid construction jobs — was a stretch. Council member Chuck Wieneke didn’t think $15-an-hour ranked as good pay for a trade job.

Council member Tom Podzimek put it most bluntly: “We’re not in the business to provide tax incentives to build a metal pole building,” Podzimek said.

Lone mayoral candidate Corbett, a Republican, gets backing of Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO

In Brian Fagan, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on June 2, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Ron Corbett is still out there running for mayor all by himself, though word is that council incumbents Monica Vernon and Brian Fagan – if not others – are biding their time, waiting to enter the race.

On Tuesday, Corbett, a former Republican state legislator and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, won the endorsement of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

Scott Smith, the council’s president, said Tuesday that the council’s endorsement of Corbett was by a unanimous vote.

The council represents nearly 5,000 workers in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas.

“Ron has a great track record of building coalitions and providing leadership,” Smith said. “We are proud to endorse his candidacy for Cedar Rapids mayor.”

Smith called the trades council’s early endorsement “an unusual step” for the council. But he said the endorsement was intended to send a message that those in the union trades “are looking for a consensus candidate for mayor.” That’s Corbett, he said.

Corbett brought out dozens of union trades workers in mid-March when he spoke outside the city’s flood-damaged and all-but empty Veterans Memorial Building, which is home to City Hall. Corbett castigated the current mayor and City Council on that day, accusing them of embracing a “culture of delay” and failing to get the city’s key, flood-damaged facilities back up and functioning.

Ray Dochterman, business manager for the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local #125, was there that March day, and on Tuesday, he, too, spoke on behalf of the trades council in endorsing Corbett.

“It is time to rebuild this city, and we believe Ron Corbett is the best person to take charge and do that,” Dochterman said.

Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc., on Tuesday thanked the trades council for its backing.

“Like this organization, I want to work together with community members and businesses to create jobs and find the best path forward for Cedar Rapids,” Corbett said in a published statement.

City Council ‘steam team’ leader Vernon says work underway to create an equitable way to dispense $21 million in steam conversion funds

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Monica Vernon on May 21, 2009 at 9:41 am

City Council member Monica Vernon, the City Council’s “steam team” chief, reports that the city’s Pat Ball, utilities director, and Mike Sable, a special assistant to the city manager, are helping to work up an approach to dispense $21 million in state funds to help those in the downtown steam network convert to their own systems.

ernon said the effort involves devising an “equitable” way to hand out the funds. She said a proposal may be coming in front of the council as soon as next week.

The money consists of $5 million in state I-JOBS funds and $16 million in money set aside by the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

The City Council brought absolute clarity to the lingering downtown steam issue two weeks ago when the council voted unanimously not to allow public funds to be used to rebuild Alliant Energy’s flood-destroyed Sixth Street Generating Plant as a coal plant.

There had been a push to find federal and state money to rebuild the Alliant plant –which provided low-cost steam power to the key industries Quaker and Cargill, the two hospitals, Coe College and the downtown and near downtown — as a coal plant. Alliant, a private entity, cannot directly receive public money, and so it would have had to be allocated to the City Council for use.

The council, though, concluded that burning coal and environmental issues associated with it represented the past, not the future. Council members said a new era of taxing emissions from coal plants will make mean that coal may not be as much of a bargain as some now think it is.

Vernon says her jump from Republican to Democrat has nothing to do with a possible mayoral run against Republican Corbett

In Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on May 5, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Council member and mayoral prospect Monica Vernon says her jump from the Republican to Democratic Party on Tuesday has nothing to do with her plans to run or not run for mayor.

She declined to say if she was in or out of the mayoral race.

A Republican since she first registered to vote as a teenager, Vernon, 51, says she has been thinking for “a long time” about changing political parties, “and I just changed.”

At the same time, she says that the Republican Party is different than it once was and so, she says, is she.
“And as a woman, as a person who believes that we must absolutely take action and make progress here (in Cedar Rapids), being a Democrat makes more sense to me,” she says.

She adds, “I want to be true to what I am. … I want to be somewhere that’s closest to where I am. … It’s really a tough one. But I’ve got to be true to myself.”

Vernon, a business owner in her second year of a four-year council term, says she is someone who understands both Republican and Democratic parties well and is someone who has friends in both places.

City Hall elective office is non-partisan; candidates don’t run by political party. But political parties, nonetheless, play a role behind the scenes.

When Vernon was elected in 2007 to the District 2 council seat, she received the backing of both labor and business, which she says is proof that she is a person who has a history of crossing party lines.

The only declared mayoral candidate to date is Ron Corbett, vice president of trucking firm CRST Inc. and a former Republican speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.

Why did mayoral prospect Monica Vernon change from Republican Party to Democratic Party?

In Brian Fagan, Linda Langston, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on May 5, 2009 at 12:41 pm

First it was U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Now it’s Cedar Rapids council member Monica Vernon.

In recent days, Specter changed his political party affiliation from Republican to Democrat as he readies to try to keep his seat in the U.S. Senate from the state of Pennsylvania. He said he couldn’t win the Republican primary there in a Republican Party that he said had moved to far to the right.

But why is Vernon — a long-time Republican with a husband, Bill, who as recently as 2008 was a member of the party’s state central committee — moving to the Democratic Party?

Vernon, who is the second year of a four-year term as District 2 council member, has been among a group of people considering a run this year for Cedar Rapids mayor, which, like other City Council seats in Iowa, is a non-partisan post.

This year’s mayoral race, though, surely will come with a partisan flavor.

To date, only Ron Corbett, a former Republican speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, has announced that he is running for mayor.

On Monday, Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston, a prominent Democrat, said Democrats were urging her to take on Corbett. She said she was considering a mayoral race, but was not yet convinced she would run.

Council member Brian Fagan is another person mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate, and Fagan is registered to vote without political party. He changed his registration to Republican so he could compete in the January 2008 presidential caucuses, and he changed it to Democratic so he could vote in the June 2008 primary, the Linn County Auditor’s Office reports.

The county office said it processed Vernon’s change of party from Republican to Democratic just today, Tuesday.

Solution to downtown steam troubles now focusing on public dollars to rebuild Alliant’s Sixth Street plant as it was — as a coal plant

In Alliant Energy, Monica Vernon on April 23, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Federal, state and city officials all are looking hard to see if an infusion of public dollars could rebuild Alliant Energy’s flood-damaged Sixth Street Generating Station to what it was.

That is, a coal-fired plant delivering relatively low-cost steam for heat and other uses for the downtown and the near downtown, vital industries nearby, including Quaker and Cargill, the hospitals and Coe College.

Tom Aller, president of Alliant subsidiary Interstate Power & Light Co., emphasized in comments to The Gazette’s editorial board on Thursday afternoon that Alliant as a private utility cannot and is not seeking public financial support to rebuild the Sixth Street plant as a coal-fired plant.

At the same time, Aller said that Lt. Gen Ron Dardis, head of the Rebuild Iowa Office, City Council member Monica Vernon, who is heading up a council “steam team,” and others have talked to Alliant Energy recently about what options the utility had given customers if the Sixth Street station was rebuilt as a coal-fired plant.

Aller said he suggested soon after the June 2008 flood that public officials ought to consider the issue of rebuilding the Sixth Street plant through the prism of economic development for the city. He said public officials are now doing just that.

The city’s Vernon on Friday afternoon acknowledged that there is now a flurry of discussion on the federal, state and city level over rebuilding the Sixth Street power plant as a coal plant to provide steam.

“There are more alligators in this thing,” Vernon said. “It’s potentially doable.”

She said the Iowa Department of Economic Development may be looking to contribute $16 million to such a plan and, additionally, that U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration could be a funding source. Some city dollars would be involved, too.

In early 2009, the Sixth Street Generating Station’s eight largest customers, which have used most of the plant’s steam, rejected Alliant’s proposals to rebuild the plant as a coal plant because the proposed future steam rates, which would have had to cover the capital costs of rebuilding, were too high.

Aller said an infusion of public dollars to pay to rebuild the plant or to pay much of the cost of rebuilding it would allow Alliant to provide steam rates lower than had been proposed and lower than the current sky-high rates, which this winter were part of a temporary steam system using natural gas. With public dollars used for rebuilding, steam rates, though, would be higher than they had been before the flood, he said.

Dee Brown, Alliant’s regional director of customer operations, was much more direct that Aller when she said, unequivocally, that rebuilding the Sixth Street Generating Station as a coal plant is the only real long-term solution for the customer group — Quaker, Cargill, the hospitals, Coe College, the downtown and others — that has depended for many years on the steam plant and the steam pipeline system running from it.

Alliant could rebuild the coal-fired plant in a year, Brown said, while other long-terms solutions — one idea is to build a $250-million waste-to-energy plant — would take five or more years.

The biggest customers like Quaker and Cargill, upon which holding the group of steam users together depends, aren’t going to wait five or more years for a long-term solution, Brown said.

Aller said Alliant believes it can rebuild the coal-fired plant with new, reconfigured equipment with a natural-gas backup that will allow the plant to meet federal emission standards into the future.

Such a coal-fired plant would provide a reliable energy source with stable steam rates, which come with burning coal, and the plant also would provide a redundant natural-gas backup system, Aller said.

In recent months, much of the discussion in and around City Hall has centered on figuring out a short-term solution — perhaps subsidizing current high steam rates associated with Alliant’s interim, natural-gas system for five years — while an effort was made to come up with a long-term solution.

Aller said it has been clear to him that no one will spend money on a short-term solution unless there is a clear, long-term solution in place. He said state officials seem to agree with him on that now.

The city’s Vernon said the city is still working to begin a long-term study on a “green,” waste-to-energy power plant. But she said such a system might be appropriate elsewhere even if public money is available to help rebuild Alliant’s coal-fired Sixth Street plant as a coal plant.

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.