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

Posts Tagged ‘Monica Vernon’

‘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.

Monica passes on mayoral run; has her own business in a tough economy to run and City Council work to carry on, she says

In City Hall on June 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm

Monica Vernon has pulled the plug on her thought to take on mayoral candidate Ron Corbett and any other comers in this year’s mayoral race.

District 2 council member Vernon, founder and president of Vernon Market Research, on Tuesday afternoon said running for mayor calls for a “huge commitment” at a time when she is heavily committed to her business in a down economy and to her City Council post a year into flood recovery.

“It’s true that a lot of people have asked me to consider running for mayor, and I’ve spent some time exploring that,” Vernon, 51, said. “However, I’ve concluded that I don’t have the time to run my business, provide a high level of service as a council member and run for office.”

Even so, Vernon sounded a little disheartened even as she was setting aside the thought of a mayoral run.

In truth, there has been something of a behind-the-scenes mayoral run going on for many weeks, with formidable prospects like Vernon — business owner, past chair of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, past president of Junior League and past chairwoman of the City Planning Commission — trying to assess the political winds.

Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston, a Democrat, toyed with the idea of a mayoral run only to set the idea aside in recent days.

Gary Hinzman, one-time Cedar Rapids police chief and longtime head of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, also has been exploring a mayoral run in recent months, but it’s unclear if he will run for the post.

The one candidate expected to take on Corbett now is council member Brian Fagan, a local attorney.

In the course of sorting out if she would or would not run for what is officially a non-partisan job of mayor, Vernon changed her political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

In the end, Vernon on Tuesday said she concluded she is more interested in governing than in the politics of running for office.

She said, too, that she remains committed to making sure the council “can flex its muscle” and can be as strong “as it needs to be.”

Announced mayoral candidate Ron Corbett — who was president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce when Vernon was chairwoman of the Chamber’s board of directors — had only good things to say about Vernon on Tuesday.

“Monica has certainly been a leader on the City Council and that will continue,” said Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc. “As a small business person her perspective has been extremely valuable. I hope I have a chance to work with her on the council next year.”

Vernon’s current council term runs through 2011.

She said she hasn’t decided if she will support another candidate for mayor or not.

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.

Council rejects push for special new committee in fight for $118.5-million in I-JOBS money; it says established flood-recovery committee is already there to help

In City Hall, Floods on May 21, 2009 at 8:10 am

The business community apparently continues to want to create new entities to try to help the City Council.

This time, City Council member Justin Shields told his council colleagues Wednesday evening that a noontime meeting Wednesday of some local business and other leaders led to the suggestion of a special new committee to help the city decide which projects it should get behind in the competition for $118.5 million in state I-JOBS stimulus funds.

Backers of several local projects are interested in a piece of the $118.5 million in state-distributed funds, including, no doubt, those eager for a new community center/recreation center and also those who want to upgrade the U.S. Cellular Center and add a convention center to it.

At the suggestion of new help, the council, though, decided it didn’t need to create something new to decide how best to compete for the state I-JOBS money.

The council will use the City Hall-based Recovery and Reinvestment Coordinating Team, which has been in place and providing advice to the council since the early days of flood recovery.

Shields and council member Chuck Wieneke both noted that the RRCT has representation from a wide sector of community interests, including the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown District as well as leaders in housing, arts and culture, non-profit agencies, neighborhoods and government.

Council member Monica Vernon and Shields said it was important that the council pick a couple of quality projects and get them submitted to the state I-JOBS competition quickly.

Forget the “wish lists,” Shields said.

As for getting pushed by outside forces, the council currently is in the process of hiring a flood recovery manager, the majority of whose salary will be paid for by the private sector. This was a private-sector idea pushed by Rockwell Collins.

The council also is contributing some money to a private-sector creation, the Economic Planning and Redevelopment Corp., which came to be, to a degree, from some private-sector frustration with City Hall over the pace of flood recovery.

Shields last night said there is a sense in the community that Cedar Rapids never fares very well in competitions for money that the state hands out. So, he said, it was important to make a good case.

At the same time, the state already has earmarked other I-JOBS money to Cedar Rapids and Linn County in the tune of $45.5 million. Proposals to secure these funds must be submitted by Sept. 1.

Of that money, $5 million goes to each of three flood-damaged city buildings, the library, Public Works Building and Paramount Theatre, with another $5 million to provide steam replacement assistance for those who have been on the flood-wrecked downtown steam system. The National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library is receiving $10 million as are backers of a new human services building. Options of Linn County is getting $5 million the city of Palo’s fire station, $500,000.

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.

Council wrestles over hiring local firm vs. hiring “more responsive” one and sides, 5-4, with the Minneapolis outfit

In City Hall, Floods on April 25, 2009 at 8:14 am

Do you hire a professional firm because it’s a local one with a less expensive proposal even if a City Hall review team has concluded another firm from out of state has a better proposal and brings more horses to the task?

That was the central question this week that provoked a spirited debate among City Council members, who, in a rare 5-4 vote, awarded the contract to ProSource Technologies Inc., Minneapolis, Minn.

The city will pay ProSource an estimated $516,400 over six months for the firm to provide data required by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the estimated 1,300 flood-damaged homes and other flood-damaged properties that the city hopes to buy out.

The contractor will obtain right of entry to properties, verify ownership, document the property’s legal description, check an owner’s insurance coverage at the time of the flood and notify lien holders of the intent to demolish a property.

ProSource’s proposal charges the city $380 per property while a bid by AllTrans Inc. of Cedar Rapids would have charged $350 per property for the work.

The City Hall’s review team concluded that ProSource and a third contractor, JCG Land Services of Cedar Rapids, were the top two of four proposals based on of the four contractors’ overall proposals, experience, method of approach to the project and cost.

Council members Tom Podzimek, Monica Vernon, Jerry McGrane and Pat Shey voted to award the contract to AllTrans Inc., while Mayor Kay Halloran and council members Brian Fagan, Kris Gulick, Justin Shields and Chuck Wieneke supported the city staff recommendation to award the contract to ProSource.

Podzimek argued that the council has spent some time over many months discussing what steps it might take to purchase more products and services from local companies. It didn’t make any sense to talk about buying locally if the city wasn’t, too, going to look at hiring locally as well, he said.

Podzimek said this contract related to property acquisitions was a chance to use a local employer with local employees and a chance to give a young, local firm the opportunity to build skills that the firm then could use to bid on other jobs. The city would be using its disaster recovery, he said, to help beef up the resume of a local firm for other disaster recovery projects.

The inference was that the Cedar Rapids firm then could become the out-of-state consultant – the council here as gotten some criticism for hiring out-of-state consultants – that other cities in other states might hire.

On the other side of the debate, council member Shields used the example of a boiler and said he didn’t want anyone building a boiler under the theory that, let’s give this person the job, “You got to learn sometime.” Cedar Rapids needed to hire “the very best,” he said.

Disagreeing with Shields, council member Vernon – she and Shields have been a one-two punch in recent weeks in trying, unsuccessfully, to arrange to have a new flood-recovery chief sidestep City Manager Jim Prosser – said the contract to assess properties for buyouts was a “great opportunity” to buy local and award the contract to the low-cost bidder. She said the contract involved “basic things” for which previous like experience might not be as important as other work the city needs to be completed.

Both Rita Rasmussen, the city’s senior real estate officer, and Prosser emphasized that the local firm did not provide a “detailed scope” of plans of how they would deliver the service.

Rasmussen told the council that the city’s proposal review team had concerns about whether AllTrans had the capacity to do the work in a timely manner. AllTrans did not address “capacity issues,” she said.

Council member Kris Gulick asked, specifically, about “adequate staffing,” and he wondered how many staff members AllTrans would bring to the job and how many ProSource would. Rasmussen said AllTrans listed four employees while ProSource said it would bring many more than that to the job.

The 5-4 council vote backed a resolution awarding the contract to the Minneapolis firm ProSource because it had submitted the “most responsive and responsible” proposal.

In hiring professional firms, cost is only one of several variables that jurisdictions look at in a competition for a city contract.

In matters involving price bids — street contracts, for instance — jurisdictions must pick the lowest responsible bidder.

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.