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

Posts Tagged ‘Pat Shey’

Corbett lambasts ‘culture of delay’; calls for fix of City Hall; labor, vets turn out; Councilman Shey there, too; calls Corbett ‘status quo’

In City Hall, Floods, Ron Corbett on March 19, 2009 at 10:02 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett on Thursday morning stood outside the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall and called on city government to repair the building and return to it.

In so doing, Corbett said the city would honor the veterans for whom the building stands as a memorial and it would put local workers back to work.

Nearly 100 labor union members and veterans stood to listen to Corbett speak, but surprisingly, no one from the local electronic media was on hand to record the event.

Turns out, the Linn County Board of Supervisors had summoned the media to the flood-damaged federal courthouse just down the street, a building that the supervisors have their eyes on for the possible future location of the county’s juvenile court operation.

In any event, Corbett had props, TV cameras or no TV cameras.

He held up one of the familiar “We’re Back” signs that have gone outside many buildings that were damaged by the June 2008 flood and are now open and back to life. Only Corbett’s sign had a circle with a line through it, signifying that the Veterans Memorial Building is not back on its feet. He then ripped the circle off so the sign said, “We’re Back.”

“This is why we need a new game plan for Cedar Rapids, a game plan that shows leadership and says, “We’re back.”

Just 10 days ago, Corbett –- vice president at trucking firm CRST and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and former speak of the Iowa House of Representatives -– attracted every media outlet when he formally kicked off his campaign for mayor.

He spoke without nearly all of them on Thursday.

In his remarks, Corbett took exception with the City Council’s plans for a six-to-nine month study focused on the prospect of building a new government building to house city government and perhaps “co-locate” other jurisdiction’s offices in the new building or at the same site.

“Does the city really want to build a new Taj Mahal dedicated to government?” Corbett asked. “The least expensive plan is to rebuild and move many of the functions of city government back into the Veterans Memorial Building.”

Of course, what most know as City Hall is the Veterans Memorial Building, which was built in the 1920s to honor veterans even as it became home to City Hall.

Corbett said placing City Hall on an island in the middle of the Cedar River made perfect sense in the 1920s and keeping it there makes sense today.

“Many years ago this site was chosen for city government because it was a neutral site between the communities of Cedar Rapids and Kingston,” he said. “That decision brought people together and still does today. This memorial and home to city government has served us well. It is time to reach back to that same unifying spirit.”

Corbett said the current City Hall administration has been given the approval to spend $24 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief money to bring the Veterans Memorial Building back to life. Instead, he said, city leaders have set the matter aside to spend many, many more months exploring the idea of building a new facility somewhere else.

At the end of the day, the city must restore the Veterans Memorial Building in any event, he said, and he said the city should do it out of respect for veterans and to get people in down economy back to work.

“The culture of delay is hurting everyone,” Corbett said. “It is time to get on with our lives.

“We have 7,900 people in this county unemployed. We have laborers in the construction trades that stand ready to work. Unfortunately, we have a City Council stuck in a culture of delay. … We are losing an entire construction season. The delays have to stop.”

Ray Dochterman, business manager of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125, said his appearance at Corbett’s event on Thursday was not yet an official endorsement of Corbett for mayor. But he said he invited 50 members of his union to come out and listen to Corbett, and 50 members showed up.
Dochterman liked that Corbett was talking about turning federal dollars into jobs.

“You know we’re a little short of jobs right now,” he said.

Scott Smith, president of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council, was on hand Thursday, too, to hear Corbett.

“He’s got some good ideas, and I think he’s looking to take charge and get work going here that needs to be done,” Smith said. “It’s been nine months since the flood, and there’s not a whole lot of progress.”

George Hammond, a long-time member of the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission, said veterans just want the city to use the federal money to bring the building back to life whether city government returns to it or not.

“All we want is the building back,” Hammond said.

Standing on the edge of the crowd was City Council member Pat Shey.

Later, after the Corbett speech, Shey said he was “disappointed” with Corbett what Corbett had to say. He called it advocacy for the “status quo.”

Shey said the council is still negotiating with FEMA over the amount of damage to the building even as the city begins a public participation process to help figure out what is the best future use for City Hall.

“I cannot recall any discussion about building a Taj Mahal,” Shey said. In fact, he said no one has advocated building a “new” structure for city hall.

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Shields fumes over what he says are sales-tax vote distortions; Shey quotes Mark Twain

In City Hall, Justin Shields, Pat Shey on February 18, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Council meetings begin with comments from the public, and last night a couple of citizens suggested that the council would use the $18 million in annual revenue from a local-option sales tax to balance its budget, not for flood relief.

Council member Justin Shields, of late, has had a short fuse for such misinformation because he says the city needs the sales-tax revenue to get back on its feet after the flood.

Shields tried to set the record straight, saying it would be a “crying shame” if the March 3 vote on a 1-percent local-option sales tax went down to defeat at the hands of statements from people who weren’t telling the truth.

Shields then went around the council table and asked each of his council colleagues to state what the council intended to do with 90 percent of the sales-tax revenue. Ten percent goes to property-tax relief.

To a person, each council member said the 90-percent of the money would go for flood-damaged housing, to buy it out or repair what can be fixed or to pay local matches for federal dollars used for buyouts or repair.

“All for housing, all the time,” council member Monica Vernon said.

When council member Pat Shey’s turn came to talk, Shey took particular offense to a citizen’s suggestion that the council spent only 25 minutes at a meeting deciding on the ballot language for the March 3 local-option tax vote. The meeting in question might have lasted 25 minutes, but Shey said he and his council colleagues have been thinking about flood recovery since June 17.

Shey, too, was concerned about misinformation and he paraphrased a piece of Mark Twain wisdom to make the point: “A rumor can be halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on.”

Council not using L-word or F-word, but it seems to sense: big hike in property taxes might louse up sales tax

In City Hall, Kris Gulick, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey on February 8, 2009 at 9:11 pm

At last Thursday evening’s budget meeting, City Council member Pat Shey put it this way: “We’re going to ask a lot from citizens this year.”

Shey mentioned higher fees: The proposed new budget includes a 14-percent hike in the city utility bill — for water, waste water, storm sewer and garbage services; and the proposed budget includes a brand-new 2-percent fee on electric and natural gas bills.

And then Shey mentioned the 1-percent local-option sales tax, which the council is asking voters to approve on March 3.

With the fees and the sales tax, he didn’t think the public would take kindly to a 14-percent boost in property taxes at the same time.

That level of property-tax increase was what the city manager had proposed for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

But Shey said, maybe the question was this: “What can we do to trim services.”

He wasn’t alone among council members, who sent Casey Drew, the city’s finance director, City Manager Jim Prosser and the city government’s department heads back to the drawing board. In short, the message was this: go find some place to cut.

One inference from what Shey had said is the council has the ability to louse up passage of the local-option sales tax if it doesn’t take it easy on property taxes, which is the principal revenue source for local governments in Iowa.

And the council – and a host of local groups from the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to Hawkeye Labor Council – doesn’t want to louse up the prospects for the sales tax, the revenue from which they say the city needs as it works to recover from the 2008 flood.

The sales tax will raise between $18 million and $23 million a year for Cedar Rapids for five years and three months.

However, it’s still unclear what the City Council is going to cut out of its proposed budget.

No council member has mentioned the L word – layoffs – or the F word – furloughs.

Two-thirds of the city’s 1,400 employees are in bargaining units, and the council pretty much agreed that those bargaining units wouldn’t have any interest in opening up contract agreements that are set to pay those employees raises of 3.25 to 3.5 percent.

So council members Kris Gulick and Monica Vernon said the council may have to lower wages for the other third of employees outside of bargaining units. The part-time council’s annual salary is tied to the cost of living index, which went up 1.1 percent in the last year, and maybe that is where wage increases should be for others, Gulick and Vernon said.

The City Council has been at its budget-making business for a good month now. That’s where council members have been Thursday evenings, and a Tuesday evening or two.

In the process, the city government’s department heads have trooped in, stating needs, making their cases for how to better deliver services.

Until last Thursday, it had been an odd few weeks. Everyone was asking for more. No one, including council members, was talking about less.

But then, after all, it was a time of recovery from a natural disaster.

Last Thursday evening, all those department heads were back, sitting, shoulder to shoulder, and listening to what the council had to say.

Suddenly, the tone shifted.

City Council is out there on energy issue with Obama — 30 minutes after his inaugural speech

In Chuck Wieneke, City Hall, Jim Prosser, Monica Vernon, Pat Shey, Tom Podzimek on January 20, 2009 at 7:19 pm

The City Council spent its lunch hour Tuesday – 30 minutes after President Barack Obama finished his inaugural address – talking about how city government and the city as a whole should use energy in a way that doesn’t compromise the lives of generations to come.

Obama had just said: “… and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable, but no less profound, is a sapping of confidence across our land; a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights. Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.”

Most of the nine-members on the council — whether they support Obama or not — can sound a little bit like him when it comes to thinking about the future.

“Sustainability” and a look out for the future has been a constant theme of this council and of City Manager Jim Prosser.

Developing an energy management plan is among the council’s top priorities.

In an hour-long discussion Tuesday, council member Pat Shey might have provided the best suggestion on how the council could begin to move on an energy policy and an energy management plan. He said the council should lead by example.

In the post-flood era, the council can do that, others said, by making sure that the city builds energy-efficient, LEED-certified buildings to reduce energy use in the future. The city, they noted, will be renovating or replacing many flood-damaged city buildings in the years ahead.

Shey also called on the council to create an energy-management scorecard, which local developers would be required to complete so the city had a sense of how energy-efficient and sustainable any proposed project might be.

The city already has such scorecards for smart growth and infill development, and Shey said the energy scorecard could be used like the others to make it clear — “It raises the consciousness,” he said — of what the council is trying to promote in the city.

“But we need to start with us,” he said.

Council member Monica Vernon and others said that any energy plan needs to start immediately and be applied to all the construction that is coming in the city as flood-damaged homes and apartments and businesses are rebuilt.

Building codes can be revised as a way to help bring desired energy practices about, she and council member Chuck Wieneke said.

Council member Tom Podzimek pointed to Portland, Ore., and said that city posts on its Web site the millions and millions of dollars it has saved over the years by having an energy management policy in place.

Such an effort can make a city “a beacon,” Podzimek said.

Podzimek and Wieneke agreed to work with the city staff on the formulation of an energy policy and plan.

In signing on with Podzimek, Wieneke said, “Tom wants to deal with the universe, and I can kind of hone it down to the planet.”

Podzimek had been talking about the council’s need to focus on energy production, distribution and consumption as it develops an energy policy.

But he also looked ahead and suggested a very specific step the city might consider taking to ready for the future.

Any time the city is replacing parking meters downtown, he said the city ought to install meters with plug-ins for the fast-approaching time when people can plug their electric cars into them.

“We know that’s coming,” he said.

After the meeting, he said the city would need to put a pencil to paper and work out whether it made financial sense now to buy some electric cars in the near term and install plug-ins to see how it worked.