Newly elected Cedar Rapids council members take oath of office

Mayor encourages council to 'strike while the iron is hot'

Rick Smith
Published: January 6 2014 | 1:22 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 1:42 am in
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Six of nine City Council members here on Monday began new terms, including new member Ralph Russell, who said he knew just how tough a job he might be taking on.

In comments after taking the oath of office, Russell recalled the time during his career as a civil engineering consultant when an unnamed small-town city council decided to upgrade the main street through town with a project that required hefty assessments against properties along the route.

The small-town council unanimously approved the street-improvement project, though four of five council members subsequently were voted out of office and three of the five ultimately lost their local businesses.

Five years later, Russell said he returned to the town to visit some of the objectors. Nine out of 10 had changed their minds. The project had made the city better, he said they told him.

"I developed such a huge respect for local government elected officials, I just decided at the time, when I retire if I have ambition and time, Iím going to run for City Council," said Russell, 67, the former president/CEO of Howard R. Green Co. Now, "I canít wait to get started," he said.

Mayor Ron Corbett, 53, who easily won re-election to his second four-year term in November, was among the six on Monday who took the oath of office.

"Thereís an old saying that says, ĎStrike while the ironís hot,í" the mayor said in brief comments. "It may not feel like things are very hot in Cedar Rapids today with the temperature at minus 17 degrees. But we are hot."

He said the city of Cedar Rapids has "a lot of great things" underway, which he credited to hard work and not to good fortune.

"

So my challenge for myself, the council, the business community and the citizens of Cedar Rapids is not to get complacent in 2014 and be satisfied with what happened in 2013," the mayor said. "Itís for us to look forward to 2014 and to strike while the ironís hot and work to create more jobs and more opportunity for the people of Cedar Rapids."

Three of the six council members sworn in on Monday have served on the council for the eight years since the city changed to a part-time council with a full-time city manager.

District 3 council member Pat Shey, 54, said he considers himself, District 1 council member Kris Gulick, 55, and District 5 council member Justin Shields, 72, "the three pioneers" of the cityís council-manager form of government that started in Cedar Rapids in 2006.

In the eight years in office, Shey said that the current City Hall council chambers is the fourth place the council has met thanks to cityís historic flood of 2008.

"I never told anybody that I knew how they felt, because I didnít know how they felt. It was a tough time," he said, recalling the flood and its aftermath. He said a "high-performing" City Hall "team" has led the city back from the flood, and he singled out City Manager Jeff Pomeranz and Mayor Corbett for special credit.

In his third term, Gulick said he wanted the council to focus on helping Cedar Rapids grow as a regional economic force. In particular, he said the city should be "a cheerleader" for upstart entrepreneurial businesses.

"Because somewhere somebody is sitting around in the garage or maybe at their computer tinkering with something that could be our next largest employer 30 years from now," Gulick said.

New at-large council member Susie Weinacht, 50, thanked voters for "trusting" her to help shape the cityís future. District 5 council member Shields, who for the second election cycle in a row did not face opposition, said the city has made "great strides" in flood recovery, and he said he is looking ahead, not behind.

About 60 people, including family and friends of the council members, other local elected officials and city employees, attended the swearing-in ceremony at City Hall. City Council members Monica Vernon, Scott Olson and Ann Poe, whose terms run through 2015, were on hand.

Russell and Weinacht replace Chuck Swore, who was defeated in his bid for re-election, and Don Karr, who did not seek re-election.

Corbett on Monday said Vernon would continue to head up the councilís Development Committee; Gulick, the Finance and Administrative Services Committee; and Shields, the newly named Public Safety and Youth Services Committee. Olson will head up the Infrastructure Committee and Poe the newly named Flood Protection Committee.

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