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Posts Tagged ‘Brian Fagan’

City Hall puts cost of “A Season of Progress” report and mailing at $31,444; mayoral challenger Corbett sees report as incumbents using tax dollars to respond to criticism

In City Hall on July 6, 2009 at 11:39 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett says it figures.

It’s just four months from the November city election, and the City Council — six of the nine members’ seats are on the ballot — is out with a spiffy, six-page mailing called “A Season of Progress.”
City Hall puts the cost of the “one-year progress report” on the city’s flood recovery at $31,444. The sum is what it costs to write the report, design it, print it and mail it to 63,000 households, the city reports.

“Any challenger like myself, no matter what the office is, always has to go up against the power of incumbency,” says Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc. and a former state legislator.

“When you can use taxpayer dollars to respond to challenges from someone like me and others, it certainly is that built-in advantage of being the incumbent,” Corbett continues. “… It’s a disadvantage that I have.”

Mayor Kay Halloran says Corbett is entitled to his opinion, but she says the mailing to Cedar Rapidians was an appropriate report at the one-year mark of the city’s flood recovery.

“We had certain commemorative activities to mark the one year, and the idea was to show people that we have made a significant amount of progress, and while they are clearly impatient as I am also, we aren’t standing in place,” the mayor says. “We’re marching straight ahead. Not as fast as they would want us to. Not as fast as I would want us to. But as fast the circumstance permits and FEMA money allows.”

Kathy Potts, who is challenging incumbent council member Jerry McGrane for the council’s District 3 seat, says her very first question when she saw the City Hall mailing was this: How much did it cost?

“The wasteful spending that this city continues to do is frustrating,” Potts says.

Beyond that, she says she also thinks, “There they go again, trying to convince us they are doing a wonderful job.”

Corbett says all he can do is pick apart what the six-page progress report trumpets. He singles out two items:

He notes that the report praises all the flood-damaged businesses that have reopened. But he notes that the City Council has decided to add a year to its lease on temporary quarters in a northeast Cedar Rapids office park rather than returning to the downtown. And he notes, too, that the City Hall report celebrates the demolition of 70 flood-damaged properties. With more than 1,200 more demolitions to go, Corbett says 70 homes in a year isn’t much of a victory.

The city’s new fiscal year began July 1, and the City Council’s new budget eliminates the cost of printing and mailing City Hall’s monthly four-page newsletter. Each issue has cost about $18,000 to produce and mail, the city reports.

The city will continue to produce an e-mail version of the monthly newsletter.

Corbett is the only candidate in the mayoral race at this point.

Two possible candidates, council member Monica Vernon and Linda Langston, Linn supervisor, have said they will not seek the mayor’s slot.

Council member Brian Fagan, a local attorney, is expected to run against Corbett while Mayor Halloran is not expected to seek reelection.

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Past council candidate Bates back with profanity-tainted yelling; but a criminal charge from an earlier episode in September was dismissed

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Greg Graham on May 21, 2009 at 11:37 am

One of the last times Robert Bates — a City Council candidate in 2005 who is open about his criminal and prison past — showed up at a City Council meeting, he ended up getting arrested.

That was in early September, and the misdemeanor criminal charge of disorderly conduct for disturbing a lawful meeting was the result of Bates’ profanity-laced and yelling-tainted performance during the council’s public comment period.

Turns out, Bates, who runs a traveling concession business, contested the charge and beat it in February.

On Wednesday, he was back at the City Council podium with a new version of public comment that featured profanity, a loud voice, personal attacks and a short refusal to leave the microphone when the council’s 5-minute time limit had been reached.

Council member Brian Fagan, the council’s mayor pro tem, asked Bates to moderate his comments twice, and then Fagan had to insist that Bates leave the microphone.

By then, Police Chief Greg Graham had moved to the side of the room to accompany Bates outside.

Bates asked if he was getting arrested again, to which Graham did not respond.

In his presentation, Bates once again brought up a decade-old dispute with the Linn County Sheriff and the Police Department. Bates also is a flood victim, and he talked, too, about what was not being done for flood victims.

Bates also had a notable outburst in the council chambers in the fall of 2007 when he sought to run for City Council a second time. However, a citizen successfully challenged some signatures on his nominating petitions and, as a result, he did not have enough signatures to qualify to run.

On Thursday, Bates said he and Chief Graham talked for about 15 minutes outside the City Council meeting on Wednesday evening in a discussion that he said did not result in any criminal charge.

He said he is just “standing up for our American rights” of free speech to make the point of how he and other flood victims feel.

He said he is planning a new run for City Council this year.

Wellington Heights’ president invites council for an awareness walk; castigates suggestion that garbage crews wear bullet-proof vests

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Neighborhoods on May 15, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Terry Bilsland, longtime president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, this week invited the City Council on a 20-block-long neighborhood walk the evening of May 21 to help concerned citizens make it clear they aren’t going to put up with criminal activity.

The walkers will travel through parts of both the Wellington Heights Neighborhood and the Mound View Neighborhood, which are split by First Avenue East.

A similar walk a few years ago mobilized council member Brian Fagan and others to push for a new Enhance Our Neighborhoods initiative, an initiative that got set aside a bit after last June’s flood, but is now, City Hall says, back on the front burner.

Evidence of that is the Police Department’s move to open a district police station in June at 1501 First Ave. SE between the two neighborhoods. Code enforcement officers and other city employees will call the district station home, too.

Bilsland, who is known for working with City Hall to try to get things done, had another issue on his own front burner that he let the City Council know about this week. Bilsland referred to a TV news report in which a city solid waste employee apparently said he wanted the city to issue him a bullet-proof vest to pick up garbage in Wellington Heights.

Bilsland, who is not shy about chiding the local media when he says it unfairly characterizes Wellington Heights, said the matter suppossedly centered on a dispute over garbage, and Bilsland wanted to know how often that has happened in the neighborhood and how often it happens elsewhere in the city. He was sure it was a rare event and certainly no more frequent in one place than another.

He told the City Council that he expected solid waste employees to wear the bullet-proof vests citywide if such vests were ever issued, and Bilsland said he’d be out checking to make sure the workers — if the city was going to spend such money — had the vest on even when it was 100 degrees outside and no matter which part of the city they were in.

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.

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, roncorbett.com.

State lawmakers from Cedar Rapids see to it that owners of abandoned flood-damaged homes don’t louse up a return to life for neighbors

In Brian Fagan, Floods, Rob Hogg on April 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm

A common lament in flood-hit neighborhoods here comes from those fixing up their homes while neighbors next door or down the block have abandoned theirs.

On Thursday, the Iowa Legislature did something about that.

State lawmakers passed a bill and sent it to Gov. Chet Culver that will permit Cedar Rapids and other cities to go to court and in expedited fashion take title to disaster-affected abandoned properties if a concerted effort to find the owner has failed.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, managed the bill through the Iowa Senate and on Thursday said that the city of Cedar Rapids has told him that it thinks the owners of 150 to 200 flood-damaged properties have simply walked away from them and can’t be found.

“The biggest thing is it gives the city clear title to this property that has been abandoned so the city can then do something productive to the property,” Hogg said.

Hogg said Rep. Todd Taylor, D-Cedar Rapids, managed the bill in the Iowa House.

The legislation, he said, is “very much in favor” of people who are trying to repair their homes or the business people who are trying to bring their businesses back in the flooded zones.

“One of the things that is so challenging right now is you might have an owner here and an owner here who are bringing their properties back, but these other properties, their owners have just walked away from them,” Hogg said. “And they’re in as dilapidated a condition as they were last June when the flood waters receded.

“And so it’s unfair to the people who are trying to bring their properties back to have neighboring properties that have just been totally walked away from. And hopefully this procedure will allow the city to do something very quickly about that.”

Hogg said the bill includes a provision that brings the legal action to a halt if the owner shows up within the period of the action. The city must work to find an owner of a disaster-affected property at least 30 days before going to court. At least 60 days then must pass before a court hearing on the matter.

If the court agrees the property has been abandoned, the court awards clear title of the property to the city at the property’s existing market value. The city pays that amount to the court, and if unclaimed, the money reverts to the city after two years.

Hogg said the bill, which addresses property damaged by a disaster between May 1 and Sept. 1, 2008, is designed to remedy “truly abandoned property.”

Cedar Rapids City Council member Brian Fagan on Thursday said the city had pushed for the legislation because abandoned properties, which had been a problem for the city prior to the flood, are especially a problem since the flood.

“Certainly we want to be respectful of property rights, but the huge, overriding concern is the health, welfare and safety of our residents,” Fagan said.

Council majority repels ‘overthrow’ of city’s government; questions remain about possible strings attached to private-sector help

In City Hall, Floods on March 11, 2009 at 7:55 pm

City Council member Tom Podzimek last night said he wasn’t going to let three of the nine members of the council “overthrow” the city’s council/manager form of government.

On a 6-3 vote, the council majority agreed with Podzimek.

At issue was an idea pushed by council members Justin Shields and Monica Vernon for the city to hire a new staff person who would be flood coordinator or what Vernon last week termed a flood CEO.

The point of contention was this: Shields and Vernon –- both who have been lone voices on the council for months saying that City Manager Jim Prosser has too much power -– insisted that this new person report directly to the nine-member City Council, and not to Prosser.

In fact, Shields turned bitter when six council members endorsed the idea of getting some help for the city’s flood-recovery effort but in stronger terms insisted that that person report to Prosser.

“I don’t know what the big issue is with who he is going to report to,” Shields said. “… You people just have something in your mind that says the city manager is in complete control of everything. I just don’t understand that.

“We hired the city manager. He reports to us. But we can’t hire this person and have him report to us and ask those two people to work together very closely to get a job done for the citizens of Cedar Rapids?”

He and Vernon, though, were on the short end of the vote along with council member Jerry McGrane.

The vote result proved a strong endorsement of the central role of a city manager in the city’s just-3-year-old council/manager government, while at the same, it left puzzling questions about an unnamed private-sector person or persons who has dangled money at the council to help pay for the new flood help.

In fact, immediately prior to the vote last night, Shields said the council ought to check to see if the private-sector entity ready to pay 80 percent of the cost of the new employee was still willing to pay if the person reported to Prosser.

Vernon, though, suggested that the council vote on the matter and check with the person or persons later about helping pay.

A week ago, Vernon identified the person as a local “captain of industry.” A week ago, too, Shields and Vernon said the entity would pay the entire cost of the new employee, But last night they said the entity would pay just 80 percent of the cost.

No one on the council made any effort last night to ask about or shed light on where the private-sector money would be coming from.

In truth, Shields and Vernon weren’t even close to finding a majority on the council.

“Who drafted this?” council member Brian Fagan asked about a proposed resolution that would require a new flood-recovery coordinator report to the council.

Fagan said he had a “fundamental disagreement” with the proposal to fill such a position if it meant that person would bypass the council’s existing CEO, Prosser.

Council member Kris Gulick agreed. In the week since the idea of a flood CEO was proposed by council members Shields and Vernon, Gulick said he had sought out experts on how a council/manager government should work. He said he found “very few” who thought it a good idea to have “two bosses” making demands on the same city staff.

Podzimek, a contractor, called himself just “a simple carpenter.”

But he said that the line of authority that Shields and Vernon were proposing for a new flood coordinator was like building a house and having the job turn tough. He said he didn’t need a second contractor “crisscrossing over me,” taking his carpenters and electricians this way and that “when I’m still trying to build my home.”

Vernon did extract this from her council colleagues: The council will help Prosser interview and select the new employee, called a flood recovery program coordinator.

SEE PREVIOUS POST: Private sector and recurring theme at City Hall.

Mayor and five possible mayoral candidates have one thing in common: All support the local-option sales tax

In Brian Fagan, City Hall, Gary Hinzman, Mayor Kay Halloran, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett, Scott Olson on March 1, 2009 at 11:00 pm

There have been local-option sales tax elections in years past in which elected officials and would-be elected officials have deferred to the voters and not expressed an opinion one way or another of the matter.

Not this time. At least not with Mayor Kay Halloran and the five people whose names to date are afloat as possible candidates for mayor in the November election.

Halloran is a strong supporter of the local-option sales tax, as are council members Monica Vernon and Brian Fagan, both who considered possible mayor candidates.

In favor, too, of the sales tax are three other possible mayor candidates: Ron Corbett, Gary Hinzman and Scott Olson.

In recent weeks, backers of Corbett conducted a private phone survey to check out what voters might be thinking about in this year’s upcoming mayoral race.

The Corbett backers asked those surveyed to pick from five possible candidates: Corbett, Fagan, Hinzman, Olson or Vernon.

Olson, a commercial Realtor who was narrowly defeated in his run for mayor in 2005, said last week that additional taxes like a local-option sales tax do have a “negative connotation.” But he said the unique circumstance of the flood recovery “overrides” that concern. “We have many people in need,” he said.

Olson said the local revenue raised by the sales tax will help those who own flood-damaged housing but, for one reason or another, don’t qualify for federal funds. He noted, too, that a citizen oversight committee will be in place to help direct how the sales tax money is spent.

Hinzman, director of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and former Cedar Rapids police chief, said last week that he normally doesn’t jump at a tax increase.

“But it makes better sense than having no concept as to how Cedar Rapids bails itself out of this disaster,” Hinzman said. He said the sales tax will help the city “recover and heal as a community.”

“Without the local-option sales tax, it will be extremely difficult to get beyond the past,” he said.

Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST International Inc., said passing the local-option sales tax will “definitely improve” the city’s chances to secure increased federal and state funding.

“Given the scale of our disaster, we can’t pretend that we can recover and redevelop without these funding sources,” said Corbett, past president of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and former speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.

He said the local-option sales tax will provide a temporary “window of opportunity” that will give the city time to work hard to recruit companies to the city to add jobs and rebuild the city’s tax base.

Alliant COO Protsch talks about life after low-cost downtown steam, about the new world with Obama, about a proposal for a $200-million biomass plant

In Alliant Energy, City Hall, Floods on March 1, 2009 at 10:50 am

It was a little telling when Brian Fagan, mayor pro tem of the City Council, quickly looked into the audience at Friday’s State of the City speech when asked about the future of what had been a low-cost steam energy system for the downtown and vital industries and others nearby.

And Fagan drew plenty of chuckles when he saw Eliot out there and asked if he wanted to take the question on.

Eliot is Eliot Protsch, the chief operating officer of Alliant Energy, the utility which had provided that cheap steam from its aged and now flood-damaged and disabled Sixth Street Generating Station.

Amy Reasner, the local attorney who was moderating the event, wasn’t sure if the State of the City speech was designed to have those in the audience help define the city’s current situation.  But in any event, Protsch came to the stage and took to the microphone.

In short, Protsch put it this way:

There might be a solution for the “very large industrial customers” located near the plant. But customers in the downtown and even farther from the Sixth Street plant will need to look for another solution.

“I believe at the end of the day, what I just asserted to you, will end up being where we find ourselves in Cedar Rapids,” Protsch told the audience of about 300 gathered in The Ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Five Seasons Hotel.

He added a caveat: “… absent a very large subsidy from somewhere, with the emphasis on very large.”

In an interview at the end of the Friday event, Protsch broke the issue down this way:

The 100-year-old Sixth Street Generating Station worked to provide low-cost steam to eight large users and another 200 smaller ones in and around downtown because the plant had few capital costs and it burned relatively cheap coal without any giant burden required for emission controls.

In fact, it was sufficiently cheap to burn coal to boil water to produce steam that piping the steam through an old, inefficient, poorly insulated and sometime-leaky piping system didn’t matter much.

All that changed with the June flood, which disabled the plant.

Now Alliant and its customers, he said, face two choices, neither attractive.

Protsch said the coal alternative would require huge capital costs — $52 million to retrofit the plant and likely $150 million or more in the years ahead to add emission controls to it to meet the changing and emerging environmental regulations. The capital costs, which would be built into the utility rates, make the idea unworkable, he said.

The natural gas alternative is different: It doesn’t require high capital costs upfront, but he said the cost of natural gas is both higher and more volatile. Suddenly, producing steam with natural gas has a much higher cost, and one too high to be able to ship steam great distances through an old, inefficient piping system. Short of digging up downtown streets and replacing the steam pipes, this idea won’t work, he said.

Protsch said Alliant has been telling smaller users, including all of those steam users in the downtown, that they should look at another solution for their steam needs. Many customers already have converted to their own systems, he said.

“I believe they all should be looking hard at that,” he said. “Because absent -– again absent a big subsidy from somewhere –- I just don’t think it’s going to be economic for anybody to restore the steam service the way it was burning coal.”

The story could be different for large industrial users like Quaker and Cargill –– Alliant continues in ongoing discussions with them, he said — next to the Sixth Street power plant. He thought “a natural gas facility of some sort” could work for them. Alliant wouldn’t have to be part of that solution, but “we’d like to be,” he said.

“Mostly, we want our customers to put in the most efficient steam production capability that they can so that they remain viable,” Protsch said. “So that’s our goal. Whether we have a role in it or not is less of an issue.”

For some months, there has been much discussion at City Hall, from local legislators and from Alliant itself about the lobbying effort in Washington, D.C., and in Des Moines and even at City Hall to find some kind of short-term and/or long-term subsidy to solve the downtown steam matter.

Asked about that, Protsch said Alliant representatives were in Washington, D.C., in recent days was being discussed with Iowa’s Congressional offices about the building of a $200-million power plant that would burn biomass to produce energy in and near the downtown.

Protsch noted that such an idea had been studied in the past.

If any such federal grant would surface, he suggested that it would be made to the city of Cedar Rapids, who then might lease land from Alliant to build such a biomass facility.

“We’re open to that,” he said.

For those looking at the big national and global energy future, Protsch said they need look no further than Cedar Rapids.

“Look at Obama’s budget bill,” he said. “It’s got carbon trading. Coal generates more carbon than natural gas, and you’ve got to build that into the cost.

“This is a microcosm of national energy policy, right here in Cedar Rapids. Because it’s an economic analysis associated with burning coal, biomass or some other fuel versus natural gas.

“It’s a microcosm of putting energy production closer to where it is utilized or moving energy greater distances either in a pipe or wire. It’s a manifestation old infrastructure being replaced by new infrastructure with vast differences in capital costs …”

In short, it isn’t good news in any event for those who had loved the low-cost steam from the disabled Sixth Street Generating Station.

It will cost too much to retrofit the Sixth Street Generating Station and add emission controls – Protsch doubted the small plant could win any environmental waiver — to burn coal.

And it cost too much to pipe more expensively produced steam from natural gas though an old, inefficient system of pipes.

“Absent” some big subsidy, Protsch repeated along the way.