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

Posts Tagged ‘Ron Corbett’

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.

Burglars hit mayoral candidate Ron Corbett’s home; calls it unnerving; campaign secrets still safe, he says

In Ron Corbett on June 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Burglars busted into mayoral candidate Ron Corbett’s home during the daytime Wednesday, ransacked the place and made off with jewelry, money, a computer, electronics, a couple bottles of wine and a bottle of champagne.

Corbett, who was in Pennsylvania at the time with four of his five children visiting his 90-year-old grandmother, was still trying Thursday to determine with his wife, Benedicte, all that was stolen.

The 48-year-old former state lawmaker said he didn’t know if the burglary was an isolated incident or if it’s a part of an uptick in crime that’s confronting the city. He said he will ask Police Chief Greg Graham about that.

Never a burglary victim before, Corbett noted that Cedar Rapids historically has been a safe, family-friendly community with a good education system and work ethic.

“That’s really been the bedrock of our community,” he said.

It appears, he said, the burglars spent some time inside his house at 321 30th St. SE because they opened every closet and drawer. He said the burglars used his children’s backpacks to carry stolen items from the house. One backpack, partially filled, was left behind, an indication that the burglars got scared away, he said.

The burglars also threw a stack of some 50 red-colored and blue-colored “Ron Corbett for Mayor” T-shirts around one room, so they know now that they burglarized the home of a possible future mayor. Corbett said the T-shirts are intended for campaign backers to wear in Saturday’s Freedom Festival parade.

“They didn’t take any campaign secrets,” said Corbett in a stab of comic relief regarding what he said was an event that had shaken up his wife and made him and his children uneasy.

“My wife comes home and the house is all torn apart. Certainly a part of her feels violated, coming into your home, seeing things in a shambles. It really is kind of unnerving,” he said.

Corbett said he supports Police Chief Graham’s call for opening a police substation on the city’s east side and Corbett said he likes the idea of opening one on the city’s west side, too.

“Whatever we can do to get police in the neighborhoods will help,” he said.

At the same time, Corbett said he has not liked the delay in getting the proposed police substation open at 1501 First Ave. SE. He noted that the city is now hurrying to open a temporary spot in a commercial building a block away after council member Monica Vernon complained about the delay.

“You squawk a little and the city can make some things move,” he said

For now, Corbett said he needs to take care of family matters.

“I’m a victim like anybody else,” he said. “It doesn’t make me a special victim just because I’m running for office.”

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.

Lone mayoral candidate Corbett, a Republican, gets backing of Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO

In Brian Fagan, Monica Vernon, Ron Corbett on June 2, 2009 at 4:44 pm

Ron Corbett is still out there running for mayor all by himself, though word is that council incumbents Monica Vernon and Brian Fagan – if not others – are biding their time, waiting to enter the race.

On Tuesday, Corbett, a former Republican state legislator and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, won the endorsement of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

Scott Smith, the council’s president, said Tuesday that the council’s endorsement of Corbett was by a unanimous vote.

The council represents nearly 5,000 workers in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas.

“Ron has a great track record of building coalitions and providing leadership,” Smith said. “We are proud to endorse his candidacy for Cedar Rapids mayor.”

Smith called the trades council’s early endorsement “an unusual step” for the council. But he said the endorsement was intended to send a message that those in the union trades “are looking for a consensus candidate for mayor.” That’s Corbett, he said.

Corbett brought out dozens of union trades workers in mid-March when he spoke outside the city’s flood-damaged and all-but empty Veterans Memorial Building, which is home to City Hall. Corbett castigated the current mayor and City Council on that day, accusing them of embracing a “culture of delay” and failing to get the city’s key, flood-damaged facilities back up and functioning.

Ray Dochterman, business manager for the Plumbers & Pipefitters Local #125, was there that March day, and on Tuesday, he, too, spoke on behalf of the trades council in endorsing Corbett.

“It is time to rebuild this city, and we believe Ron Corbett is the best person to take charge and do that,” Dochterman said.

Corbett, vice president at trucking firm CRST Inc., on Tuesday thanked the trades council for its backing.

“Like this organization, I want to work together with community members and businesses to create jobs and find the best path forward for Cedar Rapids,” Corbett said in a published statement.

Mayoral hopeful Corbett fires a new campaign shot: Don’t let city officials use new state-granted power to build a new city hall without a citizen vote

In City Hall, Ron Corbett on May 17, 2009 at 8:48 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett keeps running for office even if no one yet has joined him.

In his latest campaign video on his campaign Website, Corbett is calling into question a change in state law, which applies to Iowa jurisdictions recovering from last year’s natural disasters and allows them to pass big bond issues to pay for public building projects without a citizen vote.

The law change was one Cedar Rapids’ lobbyist at the Iowa Legislature was instructed to pursue by the Cedar Rapids City Council.

The new law — it was approved with great final support by both houses of the legislature — does allow citizens to request a referendum on a bond proposal in a reverse referendum it they can muster signatures on petitions equal to at least 20 percent of the number of people who voted in the last presidential election. In Cedar Rapids, that would mean 13,332 signatures.

“Iowa has a longstanding tradition to allow people to vote on bond issues,” Corbett says in his campaign video.

In the video, Corbett recalls the Cedar Rapids school district’s effort to pass a bond issue some years ago, and Corbett says he, as president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce at the time, helped the district scale back its plans to “the basics” in a way that convinced voters to back the bond issue.

Corbett is aware of the upside to the law change that will allow cities like cities like Cedar Rapids, which is trying to recover from a disastrous flood, to push ahead with bond issues without a citizen vote. The city faces tens of millions of dollars in building renovations and building replacements, and, arguably, such work could be delayed for long periods if the city must seek the required 60-percent voter approval on every issue.

For example, take the city’s downtown library, which was damaged in last June’s flood beyond repair. The city’s library board has decided it would prefer to build a new library at a new downtown site farther from the river. Federal dollars will pay for much of the work, but the money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency doesn’t all come in upfront. The thought is the city will need to bond for some projects to get the construction started as the FEMA money comes in. The same could apply to a host of other projects.

What Corbett singles out in his latest video, though, is what he says is the push in some quarters to build a brand new City Hall. And he fears the new change in Iowa law would allow such a thing to happen without a citizen vote.

We’ll see: Building a new city hall won’t be universally endorsed because the city’s existing City Hall, which is in the flood-damaged, now-unoccupied Veterans Memorial Building on May’s Island in the middle of the Cedar River, has a following. It will be renovated and hold something in any event.

What isn’t clear either is just want members of the City Council want to do. Council member Tom Podzimek said recently that the council has no preconceived notions as it begins a public participation process on the future of city government buildings in June. Council member Kris Gulick said he wants to see a financial analysis of retrofitting and retooling existing buildings as that discussion unfolds.

Corbett earlier has said the city doesn’t need to build a new “Taj Mahal” to house city government.

And he repeats that in his latest video: “I don’t think we need a new city hall,” he says. He says the city has plenty of existing buildings. If building a new city hall happens, though, voters should have a chance to vote on it, he says.

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.

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,

Corbett TV out with latest; calls for economic development; but are all i’s dotted, t’s crossed in video episode’s property-tax math?

In Ron Corbett on April 21, 2009 at 8:11 am

Corbett TV is back with its latest video installment.

This time, mayoral candidate Ron Corbett — —  is making the point that the city needs to do a better job of attracting new companies to town to expand the city’s tax base. A bigger tax base, with more taxpaying industries, businesses and people participating, will mean less pressure to raise taxes on current taxpayers.

We need a bigger pie, Corbett says.

We need a return to a time not so many years ago when new industries — he cities Cedar River Paper, PMX Industries, Genencor — seemed to show up in the city regularly.

Of course, you can’t have Corbett TV without a video, and it always helps to employ a backdrop to make the current point.

To date, Corbett has stood in front of the abandoned, flood-damaged Swiss Valley Farms plant near the Cedar River to lament the loss of local industry. He’s been outside of the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall indicting current city leaders for what Corbett calls “a culture of delay.” And there was the closed, flood-damaged Ellis Park swimming pool in another video. Why couldn’t city leaders get the pool open this season? Corbett wondered.

In the latest Corbett TV video, he’s standing down at the construction site of the new $140-million-plus federal courthouse going up now between the river and Second Street SE and Seventh and Eighth avenues SE.

He points out that MidAmerican Energy used to sit on the site, and when the utility was there, it paid property taxes to the city. Now, the site is in government hands and no longer will generate property taxes.
In this little example, the property-tax burden will fall harder on the rest of the residents if something isn’t done to expand the local tax base to make up for what is being lost at the courthouse site, Corbett suggests.

Corbett TV’s latest didn’t come with a blackboard to do all the higher math. The Corbett TV video was trying to make the point that economic development is important.

The blackboard, though, might have been useful to do the adding and subtracting of property taxes, taking into account MidAmerican’s move to different digs in Cedar Rapids, to a property that had been vacated in northwest Cedar Rapids by Highway Equipment Co. Highway Equipment had built a new home on the city’s southwest side and moved there.

Actually, too, private utilities are treated differently than other private entities in terms of property taxes. The taxes they pay to local jurisdictions are called franchise fees, not property taxes, Casey Drew, the city of Cedar Rapids’ finance director, explains.