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

Posts Tagged ‘2009 City Election’

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.


Possible mayoral candidate Gary Hinzman has a good question, but the answer might best be divined by some good reading

In City Hall, Gary Hinzman on May 7, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Gary: Two pieces of suggested reading — the city charter and the city’s nepotism policy.

Mayoral prospect Gary Hinzman asked the city’s Board of Ethics a simple question: Do his wife, Linda Hinzman, and daughter, Paula Hinzman Mitchell, as well as a brother-in-law have to quit city employment if he is elected the city’s part-time mayor.

They won’t. But he is not going to get a simple answer like that.

At a meeting at noon Thursday at City Hall, the Board of Ethics concluded that it doesn’t have jurisdiction in the matter because Gary Hinzman is not now a city official and is not a prospective candidate for city office with a business relationship with the city that might create a conflict should he be elected.

The board members suggested that Gary’s relatives confer with the city’s human resources office or their department supervisors if they had any question about the matter.

However, board member Bill Quinby noted that, as he understood it, city employees in the city’s council/manager government report to the city manager and not to elected officials.

City Attorney Jim Flitz, who attended the board meeting, agreed with Quinby, saying city employees report to managers and directors who, in turn, report to the city manager.

Flitz made reference to the city charter which he says spells out what the City Council can and can’t do. He noted that the charter treats police and fire chiefs differently than other city employees.

The city charter gives the council, of which the mayor is one of nine members, the responsibility to hire the city manager, city attorney and city clerk.

The charter also says the city manager hires a police chief and fire chief “with the advice and consent of the city council.”

The city charter goes on to say it is the city manager’s duty to “supervise and direct the administration of city government and the official conduct of employees of the city appointed by the city manager including their employment, training, reclassification, suspension or discharge as the occasion requires, subject to state law.”

In another section, the charter says this of the City Council’s role:

“… (N)either the City Council nor any of its members shall control or demand the appointment or removal of any city administrative officer or employee whom the city manager or any subordinate of the city manager is empowered to appoint, but the council may express its views and fully and freely discuss with the city manager anything pertaining to the appointment and removal of such officers and employees.

“Further, a council member may not interfere with the supervision or direction of any person appointed by or under control of the city manager.”

Flitz also noted to the Board of Ethics that the city has a nepotism policy.

In that policy, it states that “no employee shall be supervised, either directly or indirectly, by a family member.”

Earlier this week, Hinzman said he was seeking an answer to the question about city-employee relatives should he decide to run for mayor. As much as anything, he wanted to be able to have something to lean on should the question come up.

Hinzman, long-time director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, is a former Cedar Rapids police chief. He is sensitive to issues surrounding relatives in city employment because of questions raised in 1987 when he was police chief and his wife, then a civilian staff member in the Police Department, was positioned to become the department’s accountant. Then-Public Safety Commissioner Floyd Bergen transferred the accounting position to the auditor’s office to resolve the matter.

Don’t forget mayoral prospect Gary Hinzman; he asks ethics board if a city employee must quit should a relative become mayor or council member

In City Hall, Gary Hinzman on May 6, 2009 at 9:14 am

Don’t forget about mayoral prospect Gary Hinzman, long-time director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and a former Cedar Rapids police chief.

In a talk with Hinzman on Wednesday, it was clear Hinzman isn’t going to let some successful fund-raising by mayoral candidate Ron Corbett, a former Republican speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, or comments this week about possible mayoral interest from Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston, a Democrat, stop him from considering a mayoral run.

Nor will Tuesday’s news that mayoral prospect and City Council member Monica Vernon has moved from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.

Hinzman noted that his plan, if he does decide to run for mayor, is to shoot right down the middle and run as an independent and as an agency director who he says knows how to get things done. After all, elective city office is non-partisan, he said.

A call to Hinzman this week was prompted by an announcement that the city’s Board of Ethics – the only such local board in Iowa – will convene at noon Thursday to take up an issue first raised by Hinzman in an e-mail to the ethics board.

Hinzman on Wednesday said he wants to make sure that there would be no conflicts, should he become mayor, with having his wife and daughter working for the city and him serving as part-time mayor.

His wife, Linda, is a financial analyst in the city Finance Department and their daughter, Paula, is a supervisor in the city’s Housing Services office.

Hinzman said the ethics board will consider issuing an advisory opinion on the matter.

He said he just wants to have an answer should he be queried about it in the future, though, he said he suspects that city employees would not need to give up their jobs should relatives get elected to the City Council.

At the same time, Hinzman said he is making sure he can direct a state agency at the same time as he might be mayor. He is fairly sure he can do that, too. He points to Eugene Meyer, now head of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, who served as mayor of West Des Moines while head of the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation.

As for getting in the mayoral race, Hinzman said there is some value for now in sitting on the sidelines. One fear, he said, is that the political parties will commit huge resources to party candidates and make it tough for a non-partisan candidate to compete.

Hinzman said a smart candidate with half as much money as the big spenders can compete. Staying on the sidelines now will lessen the amount of money a campaign will need to raise, he said.

Two weeks ago, Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc., reported that he had already raised some $42,000, nearly the amount that each of the candidates spent in the 2005 mayoral race.

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.

Rumor mill is right: Linn Supervisor Langston says she is considering suggestions that she run for Cedar Rapids mayor

In City Hall, Linda Langston on May 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston says she’s been asked to consider running for mayor of Cedar Rapids, “so I’m considering it,” she says.

Langston commented on Monday after she was asked about rumors that she might try a go at the mayor’s race.

She said she would make a decision soon.

“I really like the job I’m doing now, but I’m not ignoring the other,” Langston said. “Someone said, ‘This decision is yours, but you really got to want it.’

“And I’m not entirely sure at this point in time if I really want it. I am happy with the job I am presently doing. But I have not completely written off the consideration that other people have asked me to take seriously.”

Langston, a Democrat, said she is getting much of the push from other Democrats.

What she mostly needs right now, she said, is information. She said she’s developed a sense of what people want in a mayor and where they want the city to go as she has attended community gatherings and neighborhood meetings.

Now she said she is trying to figure out, “Is there any aspect of my alignment and interest that fits with the broader community?” she said.

Langston noted that Cedar Rapids’ form of government is not a strong-mayor form: The mayor is one of nine votes on the council.

“And the challenge is constructing what I would think of as a working consensus,” she said. “And when you don’t know the other players …”

The reference to players is a recognition that six of the nine council seats, including the mayor’s seat, are up for reelection in November.

“I consider myself a good consensus-builder, but it’s still a tough time. It’s a tough time to consider this,” Langston said.

She said she will decide quickly to put an end to the rumor mill that is churning now over her possible mayoral bid.

Ron Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc. and former state Republican legislator, previously has announced his candidacy for mayor.

“Clearly, Ron is very committed to this,” Langston said. “Whether I am in or out of this race, I have absolutely every belief that Ron is in it for the long haul.”

Six of nine council seats up for election this year; one seat, Jerry McGrane’s, now has a race

In City Hall on May 4, 2009 at 2:02 pm

We have a City Hall council race.

Kathy Potts, a self-described homemaker and community activist who ran unsuccessfully last fall as a Republican for a spot in the Iowa Legislature, will compete to unseat incumbent Jerry McGrane for the District 3 seat on the City Council.

Potts, 50, who grew up in Mississippi, came to Cedar Rapids in 1999 with her husband, Tom, and four children when her husband took at job with Rockwell Collins.

If elected, she said she will listen to constituents, work hard to serve them and will see what she can do to see that the city depends more on local experts and less on out-of-state consultants to help on city projects.

She calls the current council “indecisive,” “lacking in leadership” and sometimes focused on matters that aren’t important.

Potts, of 1118 First St. SW, gives the council an average grade on flood recovery.

She and her family had water in their basement following the June 2008 flood, though she notes that they were fortunate compared to others nearby and many others in the city. An adult son and his wife now live with her and her husband because of flood damage to their residence, The Roosevelt apartment building downtown.

Cedar Rapids often is said to have — whether real or imagined — a west side and east side divided by the Cedar River, and the District 3 council district is the only one of the city’s five council districts with precincts on both sides of the river. Potts says both sides of the river are the same to her.

She calls District 3 a diverse district with neighborhoods and areas of differing income levels as well as the downtown.

She says she wants the city to work to keep and create jobs so that her children and their children can stay in the city.

Part of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood is in the District 3 council district, but Potts says she can’t find a bad part of that neighborhood no matter how hard she looks. She says there may be three or four bad houses here and there, but there isn’t a bad neighborhood, she says. She does not want the Police Department to get “heavy-handed” in reaction to a recent flurry of neighborhood crime, she says.

Potts says she is not running against incumbent McGrane, 69, a retiree and former Oak Hill Jackson Neighborhood Association president, but rather running to show voters what she has to offer.

“Jerry’s a nice guy,” she says.

Potts becomes just the third candidate to make it known publicly that she or he is running for a seat on the council. Six of nine council seats are up for a vote in the Nov. 3 election.

In addition to McGrane, Ron Corbett also has announced he is running for a spot on the council. Corbett, 48, vice president of trucking firm CRST Inc., wants to be mayor.

Corbett not bashful about letting would-be mayoral-race foes know that he’s beating bushes for bucks for the coming match

In City Hall on April 24, 2009 at 10:15 am

This year’s mayoral race looks like it will be richer than the 2005 race in which Kay Halloran, a retired attorney and former state lawmaker, defeated Scott Olson, a commercial Realtor and architect, in a close contest.

That conclusion comes after mayoral candidate Ron Corbett’s fund raiser downtown Thursday evening in the Armstrong Centre, an event that 135 people attended, he reports.

In brief remarks at the gathering, Corbett pushed for a greater emphasis on economic development and for what he said is the need to “repair” Cedar Rapids’ “image” as a progressive city on the move.

Corbett also announced that, to date, his campaign has raised $42,325.

It’s not May yet, it’s still six months from the Nov. 3 election, and no one else has entered the race against Corbett, vice president of trucking firm CRST Inc. and a former state legislator and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

But Corbett already is closing in on raising as much money as Halloran did and Olson did in 2005, which was the first election in the city’s new council/manager government, a government with part-time elected officials.

In 2005, Olson took in $54,701 in campaign contributions and Halloran, $53,302, $20,050 of which included her own money.

Asked at the time what races for the part-time mayoral slot should cost in Cedar Rapids, Halloran said, “I’m glad it wasn’t any more than that, that’s for sure.”

The job is a four-year one with a salary of about $30,000.

Keep in mind, the 2005 campaign spending amounted to chicken feed compared to spending in the 2001 mayoral race here in which Paul Pate — a former state senator, former Iowa secretary of state and former gubernatorial candidate — defeated three-term incumbent Lee Clancey, the city’s first female mayor.
In that race, the two candidates together raised $226,811. The mayor’s job then was a full-time one and paid about $80,000 a year.

In the Halloran-Olson race in 2005, Olson said the $54,000 he raised was “probably the right range” for a competition for part-time Cedar Rapids mayor.

He raised $4,750 from three political action committees — Realtors, builders and building trades — and the rest from 240 individual contributors.

Halloran had about 100 individual contributors and raised about $11,000 from labor political action groups.
To date, Corbett says he has had more than 240 contributors.

Four people are considering taking Corbett on: council members Brian Fagan and Monica Vernon, Gary Hinzman, long-time director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and a one-time police chief here, and 2005 candidate Olson. Incumbent Halloran has not announced her intentions.

Asked in passing this week about Corbett’s fund raising, Fagan said the 2009 mayoral race won’t be about raising money.

One campaign novelty to date — a pioneering one for a local Cedar Rapids race — is Corbett TV, which is Corbett’s own video enterprise that he runs at his campaign Web site,

Corbett TV out with latest; calls for economic development; but are all i’s dotted, t’s crossed in video episode’s property-tax math?

In Ron Corbett on April 21, 2009 at 8:11 am

Corbett TV is back with its latest video installment.

This time, mayoral candidate Ron Corbett — —  is making the point that the city needs to do a better job of attracting new companies to town to expand the city’s tax base. A bigger tax base, with more taxpaying industries, businesses and people participating, will mean less pressure to raise taxes on current taxpayers.

We need a bigger pie, Corbett says.

We need a return to a time not so many years ago when new industries — he cities Cedar River Paper, PMX Industries, Genencor — seemed to show up in the city regularly.

Of course, you can’t have Corbett TV without a video, and it always helps to employ a backdrop to make the current point.

To date, Corbett has stood in front of the abandoned, flood-damaged Swiss Valley Farms plant near the Cedar River to lament the loss of local industry. He’s been outside of the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall indicting current city leaders for what Corbett calls “a culture of delay.” And there was the closed, flood-damaged Ellis Park swimming pool in another video. Why couldn’t city leaders get the pool open this season? Corbett wondered.

In the latest Corbett TV video, he’s standing down at the construction site of the new $140-million-plus federal courthouse going up now between the river and Second Street SE and Seventh and Eighth avenues SE.

He points out that MidAmerican Energy used to sit on the site, and when the utility was there, it paid property taxes to the city. Now, the site is in government hands and no longer will generate property taxes.
In this little example, the property-tax burden will fall harder on the rest of the residents if something isn’t done to expand the local tax base to make up for what is being lost at the courthouse site, Corbett suggests.

Corbett TV’s latest didn’t come with a blackboard to do all the higher math. The Corbett TV video was trying to make the point that economic development is important.

The blackboard, though, might have been useful to do the adding and subtracting of property taxes, taking into account MidAmerican’s move to different digs in Cedar Rapids, to a property that had been vacated in northwest Cedar Rapids by Highway Equipment Co. Highway Equipment had built a new home on the city’s southwest side and moved there.

Actually, too, private utilities are treated differently than other private entities in terms of property taxes. The taxes they pay to local jurisdictions are called franchise fees, not property taxes, Casey Drew, the city of Cedar Rapids’ finance director, explains.