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

Posts Tagged ‘Police Chief Greg Graham’

City Council poised to award city towing contract to lower-scoring firm after top scorer Darrah’s drops out in response to last-minute change in contract terms

In City Hall, Greg Graham on June 30, 2009 at 5:51 pm

City Hall is ready to turn over the city’s towing contract to the lower-scoring of two bidders after a last-minute change in the bid terms prompted the top-scoring firm to drop out.

Carmela Darrah-Chiafos, owner of the top-scoring bidder Darrah’s Towing and Recovery, on Tuesday said City Hall was ready to award a new two-year contract to her firm a week ago. Darrah’s has held the contract for many years.

But at the last minute, she said the city decided to make the length of the contract just six months, instead of the two-year period stated in the city’s bid documents. The contract long has been a two-year one.

“I was stunned,” Darrah-Chiafos said on Tuesday upon learning the city suddenly was changing the terms of the city towing contract.

She was informed of the contract change two hours before last Wednesday’s council meeting when the City Clerk’s office called to say that Police Chief Greg Graham made the change in the length of the towing contract because that’s the way Graham had done it when he worked for the Ocala, Fla., Police Department.

Darrah-Chiafos said it didn’t make sense for her business to invest in equipment to continue to service the city contract if the contract was only guaranteed for six months. Her bid was based on a two-year contract, not a six-month one, and so she withdrew it, she said.

In city documents provided to the City Council and the public, city staff members acknowledge that Darrah’s scored “higher” than a second company, Pro Tow LLC, and that Darrah’s withdrew because of the change in the length of the contract.

The initial bid documents posted on the city’s Web site state that the contract was for two years, not six months.

A three-member City Hall committee — Sandi Fowler, assistant to the city manager; Cory McGarvey, a police sergeant, and Dennis Hogan, the city’s fleet services manager — scored proposals from Darrah’s and Pro Tow on five criteria. Darrah’s received 91.66 points, Pro Tow, 77.49 points.

Darrah’s won on four of five criteria.

The average age of Darrah’s equipment is 6.9 years, Pro Tow’s, 12.9 years, according to the committee.

During site visits by committee members, Pro Tow’s surveillance cameras weren’t working “due to a lightning strike.” Pro Tow did not have two-way radios installed “at this time.”

Conversely, Darrah’s had in good working order a radio and computer-aided dispatch system integrated with surveillance cameras.

The Iowa Secretary of State’s office lists Marilyn Philipp as company representative of Pro Tow at 941 66th Ave. SW.

The City Council is slated to vote on the six-month towing contract at its Wednesday evening meeting. The current contract expired Tuesday night.

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.

City Hall: Changing organizational tables at PD and Code Enforcement not rearranging deck chairs on the Titantic

In City Hall on June 11, 2009 at 8:08 am

It’s called “flattening” the organization.

Police Chief Greg Graham detailed to the City Council this week how he is shifting the Police Department’s table of organization to have fewer top dogs and, so, a few more dogs to work the streets.

His changes will eliminate two captain slots – now vacant because of retirements – and add five sergeant spots to the department’s table of organization.

This will make for five captain positions instead of seven; 27 sergeant slots, up from 22; while the number of lieutenants will remain at 13, according to a count by the department on Thursday.

In addition, the department will have a civilian manage the city’s animal control operation, which will allow a police sergeant who has been in that slot to return to other department duties.

In the mix, too, Graham is eliminating a vacant detective slot as well as a vacant animal control kennel work job.

Throw all the changes together and the department will still have the same number of swore police officers – about 200. But the police chief says the department will have better “line-level supervision” and less top management.

At the City Council meeting Wednesday evening, council member Justin Shields asked Graham if cutting the number of captains slots might frustrate officers because it limited the number of top posts officers could aspire to fill.

Graham said it might frustrate officers because it does take away a few promotional opportunities. But the chief said he didn’t want to maintain a particular table of organization just so officers can be promoted. Positions need to have “viable functions,” he said.

“We had too many captains,” the chief said.

When all the budgetary math related to the reorganization is done, Graham is saving the city about $83,000, he told the council.

City Manager Jim Prosser also detailed a reorganization of the city’s Code Enforcement office.

The council earlier this year added nine new positions to the Code Enforcement operation to enable the city to more effectively oversee the flood-recovery rebuilding effort in the city.

One of the changes is to a Code Enforcement management position, which will eliminate the housing/zoning manager post and replace it with an assistant code enforcement manager position.

The reorganization will create two positions with the title “nuisance abatement officer.”

Council member Justin Shields told Prosser that he has been urging the city to take care of a couple of particular nuisances for a year. He asked the city manager if the nuisance positions might better get things done.

Code Enforcement now will have the equivalent of 38.5 full-time positions, up from 38.17, Prosser said.

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.

Jade calls it quits on license tussle with Police Department; she sells her downtown Brick’s Bar & Grill; new owner has license approved

In City Hall, Police Department on May 15, 2009 at 8:36 am

Jade Harper-Hronik, the seemingly battle-weary owner of Bricks Bar & Grill downtown, has thrown in the towel.

In a terse one-sentence note to City Hall, Harper-Hronik has told the Police Department and City Council to forget the fight between the business and the city over the renewal of her liquor license. She has sold the business, she tells the city.

The new owner, Drew Munson, had his application for a liquor license approved by the City Council on Wednesday evening.

Harper-Hronik and the Police Department had been going back and forth for many weeks over the application she submitted for her downtown venue’s annual liquor license renewal.

The department said she had not answered some questions truthfully, while she said she had answered all questions several months ago in an earlier application and that the current application was incomplete.
The City Council asked the department to work with Harper-Hronik, but the department came back with additional questions.

Harper-Hronik indicated in her last correspondence with the city that she had attempted to sell the business in the recent past, and apparently now she has.

Police Chief Greg Graham, who arrived in the city a year ago, has signaled that he is going to take liquor license applications seriously.

The downtown Tycoon nightspot also had a go-round with the Police Department and the tavern currently is operating with a kind-of probationary liquor license.

District police station at 1501 First Ave. SE may be ready in mid-June; chief says some contractors, suppliers want to donate for storefront renovation

In City Hall on May 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

At a budget meeting this week, the City Council learned that it will cost as much as $55,000 to renovate a vacant storefront at 1501 First Ave. SE as the Police Department turns the space into its first district station.

In the last few weeks, Police Chief Greg Graham noted that the building’s owner was providing the building rent-free, though he has noted that, among other items, the city needed to put in a first-floor bathroom as part of the renovation work.

Graham this week told the council that he was meeting with contractors and suppliers yet this week, and he said he still hoped to have the district station open and operating by mid-June.

The cost of the renovation may be less than expected, he noted, because he said some contractors and suppliers want to donate work and supplies.

The chief, who arrived from Ocala, Fla., on June 1, 2009, has wanted to open district police stations, and, in fact, has plans for two others.

But the move to open the one at 1501 First Ave. SE comes about six weeks now after police officer Tim Davis was assaulted and hospitalized while investigating a robbery just two blocks from the site of the new district police station. Three teenagers have been arrested in the matter. Davis returned home from the hospital on Thursday.

Downtown establishment Brick’s still going round with Police Department on liquor license renewal

In City Hall, Police Department on May 1, 2009 at 7:53 am

Bars aren’t churches, but, nonetheless, City Hall has some new expectations when it comes to the annual renewal of a liquor establishment’s liquor permit.

So the saga of the downtown Brick’s Bar and Grill, 320 Second Ave. SE, continues.

At the start of April, the City Council set aside a request from the Police Department to deny a liquor license renewal to Brick’s because Brick’s application for the license had some problems. The Police Department called omissions untruths, while the bar’s owner, Jade Harper-Hronik, called it an incomplete application.

Back then, the police made note of Harper-Hronik’s arrest for intoxication and felony convictions of two people associated with the downtown club.

In capturing the consensus of the City Council in early April, council member Brian Fagan asked Police Chief Greg Graham if he would be willing to meet with Harper-Hronik to see if he could create a consequence short of license denial for what the Police Department called untruthfulness. Graham, who said consequences are important, said he would be willing to do so.

It seemed like all was well.

Then a week ago, the Brick’s license matter returned to the City Council agenda, again in a way that looked as though the Police Department was seeking to deny the license renewal.

The matter then was pulled from the agenda.

This week, in a letter to the council, Harper-Hronik refutes the latest questions about her business practices in a letter to the City Council.

Harper-Hronik states that unpaid state sales tax payments have been paid. She states that she has satisfied two liens on the property. She states that her husband, Richard, did not threaten a prospective buyer of the business over the potential buyer’s decision not to make the purchase. She states that inspections of the premises are in the process of being completed.

In early April, Harper-Hronik won sympathy from some council members because she purchased and renovated the downtown Brick’s after the June flood.

She continues to argue that she had correctly filled out paperwork in September on the bar and for another drinking establishment in the city even if there were some questions raised about the latest application.

In any event, should the council ultimately deny a license to Brick’s, the bar can stay open as it appeals to the state’s Alcohol Beverages Division. Appeals can take up to a year to resolve.

And it’s not just Brick’s.

The Police Department in recent weeks convinced the City Council to block the renewal of a liquor license for The Tycoon, which is just down the block from Brick’s. The Tycoon, which did not move to renew its license in timely fashion, now has a probationary license and has agreed to better police its bar customers in an agreement with the Police Department.

After years of neighbor complaints about racket and stray bullets, state ombudsman descends on Police Department shooting range

In City Hall, Police Department on April 30, 2009 at 2:15 pm

The pleas from property owners next to the Police Department’s regional outdoor shooting range out on Old River Road SW reach back to at least 2004.

Those neighbors, led by retired Cedar Rapids firefighter Don Sedrel, made their way to the state office of Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman, which asked the neighbors to try to reach a compromise with City Hall and the Police Department. In March 2007, the neighbors said the problem – the volume and frequency of noise and potential safety hazards from stray and ricocheting bullets – had changed little.

That’s when Bert Dalmer, assistant citizens’ aide/ombudsman, began looking into what state law might say about the police firing range so close to neighbors, Dalmer now tells City Hall in a letter.

In that letter that arrived at City Hall this week, Dalmer concludes that the outdoor range, at 2727 Old River Rd. SW, may violate state law.

He makes note that the particular section of state law in question falls under a section of state law that prohibits hunting near buildings and feedlots.

Nonetheless, Dalmer argues that the law prohibits discharging a firearm within 200 yards of a building occupied by people without the consent of the owner or tenant.

He says four buildings are within 200 yards of the police firing range: Tracy and Cheryl Sedrel’s home at 2901 Old River Rd. SW; the home of Pat Freilinger at 2949 Old River Rd. SW; the home of Chris Simonsen at 2849 Old River Rd. SW; and a business operated by Mike McMurrin at 2665 Old River Rd. SW. Don Sedrel’s place at 3261 Old River Rd. SW is a little farther away, though on Thursday he said he now owns 2901 Old River Rd. SW, too.

Dalmer says the specific section of state law allows exceptions for target shooting ranges that are open to the public and have been used prior to the erection of a building occupied by the public after May 14, 2004.

However, the police range is not open to the public and does not meet the second part of the exception. The range opened in the late 1960s, and two of the occupied buildings nearby were build many years before that.

Dalmer says city officials have noted in the past that the city has taken steps to better supervise the shooting range and to limit the times when shooting occurs.

But he says, “Regardless, I question whether these mitigating actions are adequate to address the prohibitions (in state law).” Neighbors have continued to complain that too little has changed, he adds.

Neither Police Chief Greg Graham nor City Attorney Jim Flitz returned calls on Thursday.

Out at Freilinger’s home and shop on Old River Road SW on Thursday afternoon, he and Don Sedrel said little had changed to make living next to the shooting range tolerable. Law enforcement officers were shooting at the range Thursday morning, they said, and shooting practice had taken place every day this week, Sedrel noted.

Sedrel said what has started out 50 years ago as a pistol gallery for city police officers has become a regional range with city, county, state and federal agencies using it. There are days when neighbors might have to listen to 8,000 rounds of shooting go on, he said.

“There’s absolutely no excuse that anyone should have to live with that kind of noise,” Sedrel added.

Neither he nor Freilinger have heard anything from city officials about the range for what Sedrel thought might be two years.

Both wondered if the city could take its shooting practice to the Matsell Bridge Natural Area near Viola where there is a public shooting range and where the Linn County Sheriff’s Department is establishing a range.

Both said they would not consent to the status quo, but Freilinger said he might be open to working with the Police Department if there is no option in the short run and if closing the range prevented the department from performing its job.

One thing that has changed is that the Linn County Sheriff’s Office has decided to leave the city’s shooting range and open its own in rural Linn County. Meanwhile, the Iowa City Police Department, which also has used the Cedar Rapids range, has been looking for its own place to practice.

Most interestingly, in January 2009, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Greg Graham and other city officials proposed building a $35-million Regional Public Safety Training Center with an indoor shooting range. One of the arguments cited for the need to build a new center was the problems associated with the city’s existing shooting range.

“The State Ombudsman is investigating the possibility of closing the police shooting range because of noise pollution and its proximity to houses and businesses in the area,” the city’s written request for federal funds for the new training center states.

The request went on to say that “the current situation dictates drastic changes and soon.”

In his letter to City Hall in late April, the state’s Dalmer asks city officials to respond within 30 days if it believes his arguments are in error or if the state law does not apply to the city’s police shooting range. After a review of the city’s response, he will decide if formal recommendations to the city are warranted, he says.

A visit with the police chief makes it easy to see how red-light and speed enforcement cameras will bring in some money

In Police Department on April 10, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Police Chief Greg Graham was talking this week about red-light enforcement cameras plus a mobile camera or two to catch speeders.

The cameras, ten or so, will be in place in Cedar Rapids by early summer.

The chief can go on about how he’s bringing the enforcement cameras to the city to reduce the number of crashes here.

He cites studies that show cities that use enforcement cameras can cut crashes by 20 percent. In 2008, he said the Cedar Rapids Police Department worked 5,000 crashes, taking up countless hours of police work. The number of hours worked on accidents far exceeds the number of hours the department is now devoting to patrolling neighborhoods, he said. And then there is all the gnarled metal; the motorist hospitalizations; the insurance claims.

Graham dismisses any suggestion that the cameras are all about revenue. Even so, the cameras are projected to bring $750,000 a year in ticket revenue into the department’s coffers. And that is just the department’s share. A private company will own the cameras, install them and maintain them and even collect the revenue.

It’s hard to imagine the cameras can generate that kind of revenue until Graham keeps talking.

Firstly, the chief, who came to Cedar Rapids from Ocala, Fla., last June, says people run a lot of red lights in Cedar Rapids. In fact, Graham, who always wears his police uniform, has handed out red-light tickets to people himself.

Secondly, Graham hinted that an individual ticket might cost some money because the vendor’s fee may be added to the ticket amount not included in it.

And thirdly, he suggested that a mobile camera designed to catch speeders might work spots on Interstate 380, including the curves through the downtown. It sounded like a revenue gold mine.

Graham challenged residents to prove him wrong so the Police Department gets no revenue from the cameras.

“How great would that be?” he said.