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

Posts Tagged ‘EPRC’

At private-sector’s push, City Council launches quest for flood-recovery manager with a job description fit for Superman

In City Hall, Floods on April 19, 2009 at 8:09 pm

More than five weeks have passed now since council member Tom Podzimek suggested that an unsuccessful move by three council members related to a flood-recovery CEO was tantamount to a coup d’état.

Council members Justin Shields, Monica Vernon and Jerry McGrane all wanted this flood-recovery chief to bypass City Manager Jim Prosser and report directly to them and the other six on the City Council. But the other six dismissed the notion out of hand. The city charter calls for one CEO who reports to the council, not two, the six said.

With all the pizzazz of government overthrow now put aside, the council still is in the process of filling the position that Shields and Vernon, in particular, had agitated for.

All of the council members have gotten in line behind the position — the job is now called flood-recovery manager and the person filling it will report to Prosser — and it comes with an unusual twist. The city’s largest employer, Rockwell Collins, has pushed for the City Hall position, and Rockwell Collins is joining other private-sector contributors to pay most of the cost of the public-sector flood-recovery manager.

Conni Huber, the city’s human resources director, last week noted that the council resolution creating the position anticipates that 80 percent of the cost will be paid by private-sector corporations and/or people.

Huber last week also reported to the City Council that a multi-stepped process is underway to try to fill the flood-recovery manager position. There have been two sessions in which the public offered suggestions about the qualifications and experience that the new flood-recovery manager should possess. Council members have weighed in on the matter, too, and others have filled out surveys via the city’s Web page, Huber said.

It wasn’t clear if there was anyone in America who could fill the role after Huber had told the council what kind of person that the public and council members said they were looking for.

The new manager will need to be a top-notch coordinator, a person who can make connections, someone who is a great communicator, who can become the “face of Cedar Rapids flood recovery and reinvestment,” Huber said. The new manager must be expert in finding funding and someone who can quantify how much he or she is accomplishing. The new manager must be a leader, a consensus-builder, articulate, an effective advocate for Cedar Rapids, experienced in disaster recovery and have an advanced degree in public administration, management or some other relevant field.

After Huber finished, Mayor Kay Halloran asked, “Do you feel you can find people (to meet the qualifications)?”

“I always have to be optimistic,” Huber said. “People are out there,” she assured. The task, she added, was to connect with them.

The city now has begun to advertise the new job and hopes to have a list of applicants by May 4.

Interviews will be held June 1 and 2 with council members and others with the hope that the job will be filled by the June 12/13 anniversary of the 2008 flood.

The private-sector push by Rockwell Collins to have a private-sector-backed presence inside City Hall came even as a different local private-sector initiative here created something called the Economic Planning & Redevelopment Corp. The City Council has contributed $50,000 to the EPRC and Linn County about half that amount, but it’s a little murky what the mission of the EPRC’s director, Doug Neumann, will be once the private sector has a flood-recovery manager inside City Hall.

Council member Chuck Wieneke has suggested that the City Council take back its $50,000 from the EPRC now that the city is creating a new position at City Hall.

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City, county contributing to one private-sector effort on flood recovery while private sector contributes to second effort in City Hall

In City Hall, Linn County government on March 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

The private sector’s interest in helping with flood recovery got another boost this week.

The Linn County Board of Supervisors has agreed to contribute $20,000 to the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp., an upstart private-sector initiative created in Cedar Rapids to help with local flood recovery.

For one, the Linn County board’s contribution should help comfort Cedar Rapids City Private-sector help on flood recovery: City, county contributing to one business-led Council member Chuck Wieneke, who has suggested that the council take back its $50,000 grant to the EPRC if the county wasn’t willing to contribute.

Earlier, the county board had tabled the matter.

On Tuesday, Lu Barron, chairwoman of the Linn board, said Tuesday that the board first wanted to get a better feel for the EPRC’s plans and mission before it contributed to the effort. On a unanimous 5-0 vote, the board now is satisfied, Barron said.

The public support for the EPRC makes it a private-public partnership, though the push for its creation came from some local business leaders displeased with the pace of flood recovery in the city. John Smith, president/CEO of trucking firm CRST International Inc., is chairman of the four-person EPRC board.

The EPRC’s director is Doug Neumann, who also holds down a post with the Downtown District.

In the last two weeks, the EPRC’s still-new role got pushed into the background a bit as yet a second, private-sector initiative surfaced in hopes of helping City Hall better deal with the city’s flood recovery. In this second effort, which is being promoted by Rockwell Collins, local business interests have offered to pay to support a new city flood-recovery manager inside of City Hall not outside of City Hall where the EPRC is operating.

Fund-raising for the City Hall position reportedly is underway even as the city and now Linn County are spending public dollars to pay for the first private-sector initiative, the EPRC.

The EPRC’s Neumann and the EPRC board have said that the EPRC will be out chasing federal grants and private grants that the city and county are not.

“I sincerely appreciate that the county supervisors have recognized the value EPRC can have in helping find funds for flood recovery and in helping accelerate progress on the many redevelopment projects we need to revitalize this great community,” Neumann said Tuesday of the county board’s funding support.

Linn County’s Barron said the EPRC and the private-sector-supported flood coordinator inside City Hall may have efforts that overlap a bit, but she said she sees the two positions as working together.

Linn supervisor Linda Langston and Monica Vernon, Cedar Rapids council member, are on the four-member EPRC board of directors.

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.

EPRC works to matter; its director, Doug Neumann, tightropes a middle ground with gentle kicks at ‘mayor’s office’ and business leaders who are ‘off track’

In City Hall, Floods, Mayor Kay Halloran on February 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

The day you know what EPRC stands for may not come until the day is closer for the upstart Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp. to have a quantifiable victory or two for Cedar Rapids’ flood recovery.

Even its director, Doug Neumann, says the acronym is little known and the corporation’s name is pretty cumbersome and bureaucratic-sounding.

But Neumann told the Downtown Rotary this week that the name is what it is and that he and the endeavor had bigger fish to fry. The EPRC’s singular goal, he says, is to find money, particularly from the federal and state government and other non-local sources, to help with the city’s flood recovery.

In that regard, the group is trying to tap the U.S. Department of Commerce’s regional office in Denver, Colo., for $22 million to help fix railroad congestion downtown, support a fiber-optic system for public entities and create a Regional Economic Commerce Center.

The EPRC calls itself a private-public partnership and it has City Council member Monica Vernon, and Linda Langston, Linn County supervisor, on its four-person board.

But make no mistake: The EPRC is where local players in Cedar Rapids’ private sector can focus their muscle to help get the city back on its feet again.

The endeavor’s creation about four months ago came, in part, out of a frustration that City Hall couldn’t do it all, but that it might want to try to.

Apparently, there were some fears with some at City Hall that the private players’ real intent was to create a “shadow government” to run flood-recovery.

In any event, John Smith, president/CEO of CRST International Inc. and the chairman of the EPRC, felt obliged to assure the Downtown Rotary Club earlier this month that the EPRC was not a shadow government. Neumann did the same this Monday.

At the same time, though, Neumann said the EPRC’s intent was to “talk frankly and clearly about progress and problems” in the city’s flood recovery. He then ventured ahead to do so gently.

“When I say that we’ve lacked a strong, confident public voice from the mayor’s office, I don’t say that for any political purpose or because I wish ill-will toward anyone,” he told a crowd at the Downtown Rotary Club on Monday. “I say it because it’s important to identify that shortcoming as one of the major factors impacting long-term economic redevelopment and flood recovery.”

Of note, Neumann, who worked many months on City Hall’s Recovery and Reinvestment Coordinating Team as president of the Downtown District, did not direct his City Hall criticism at City Manager Jim Prosser or the City Council as a whole.

Then he had this to say for the private sector:

“And when I say that some business leaders are off-track when they say there has been no planning for flood recovery, or that they’ve been far too public with that criticism, I don’t say that to be defensive about progress or to pick a fight with anyone.

“I say that because we know that when those comments wind their way to Des Moines and Washington, D.C., that it severely hampers our efforts at long-term economic redevelopment and flood recovery.”