Council Meeting Date: April 14, 2014
Council Meeting Location: City Hall, 220 Clay St, Cedar Falls, IA 50613
In Committee, I cover boards, Greenhill and city reorganization. In Council, I cover a couple agenda points of significance. In My Briefs, I vent about government funded funerals.
- Committee of the Whole (5:30pm, Mayor's Conference Room, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
In this work session, we review Board Membership, Greenhill Road improvements, and the City's reorganization plan. I'll try to break it down into bite-sized chunks.
Boards - It's hard to find people to serve on our many boards and commissions. Mayor Crews is suggesting waiving the residency requirement for additional boards: Building Appeals, Electrical Appeals, Plumbing Appeals, Mechanical Appeals, Human Rights, Visitors & Tourism. I believe first preference should always be given to Cedar Falls residents, but I'm not too concerned about the waiver, particularly for the very specific nature and scope of these 'technical' boards. A better question is why do we need so many boards or so many members on boards? Especially as we harmonize codes within the county, state, country and international community. Perhaps a regional board would be better to hear the rare appeal cases. Most boards are statutory mandates from a days gone by, yet another example of the government's inability to operate in a modern age.
Greenhill - AECOM recommended spending a good sum of money to meet the demands of an unknown future. Staff outlines an interim approach where we will signalize certain intersections to improve left-hand turning and pedestrian accommodation, but we will forgo adding more lanes until there is a greater understanding of the need, not to mention the hope of living out the current useful life of the road prior to major reconstruction. This is a prudent financial approach since we still have 20 years of useful road life. At that time, we may very well wish to add faster, safer, more aesthetically pleasing features like roundabouts to save time, energy, property and lives.
City Reorganization - City Council and staff can wait until personnel costs reach crisis proportions, or demonstrate prudent leadership by implementing an aligned, lean city structure. For the last two years, we have planned and executed numerous cost saving and efficiency measures with good success. The next step is to review our organization from the top to determine how we can realize more savings without compromising organizational effectiveness.
This is one of most thoughtful and comprehensive reorganization plans I have seen, private or public sector. When implemented, it should save $500K-700K annually. Council and staff are fully committed to delivering constituent value at all levels - focusing on resource and goal alignment for maximum effectiveness. In this plan, we eliminate a director position, remove certain supervisory functions and realign functional areas to focus on the mission of the city.
-Regular Council Meeting (7:00pm, Council Chamber, ELECTRONIC AGENDA)-
Special Order of Business
We pass two resolutions making about $1.5 million in new sanitary sewer investments - gotta keep it flowing.
New Business - Resolution Calendar
G.1 a&b) We approve bids for our annual street reconstruction project and the Prairie Parkway extension. For some reason, Peterson Contractors always edges out the other bidders by razor thin margins. 0.6% on one, 0.3% on the other. Both were $2+ million projects. I've witnessed the trend over the years and need to learn more about our open bid process.
G.2.f & g) We approve 3-year Teamster contracts for Police, Public Works and Parks (Firefighter contract is still outstanding). The bargaining agreements provide for 2%, 2.5% and 2.5% base wage/salary increases over the next three years. Of course there are many other compensation components like pension, health care and ancillary benefits. In a future post, I will explore the collective bargaining process in greater detail.
G.2.x) We enter into an outsourcing agreement for custodial services. Projected savings: $70,000/year. Upon further inspection, this is very significant. We utilize part-time employees for custodial services today, a labor classification that doesn't receive lucrative full-time benefits such as guaranteed pension and $30/month health care. The $70,000 may be indicative of private market efficiencies - custodial specialization.
Government Funded Funerals - For years, the city has met with our legislative representatives to focus on city priorities - there are many, and they are significant. Progress on city issues seem to require herculean effort. So when a bill of questionable purpose (in terms of role of government and taxpayer funding) is moved through the bowels of Des Moines with the ease of a double-dose laxative, I feel compelled to say something. This is my most recent letter to the editor:
GOVERNMENT FUNDED FUNERALS, Nick Taiber
Rep. Bob Kressig has guided one of his top legislative priorities through the House - government funded funerals. His bill directly appropriates funds to Sing to Me Heaven - an organization that provides money for funeral costs. While I applaud the non-profits’ mission, the appropriation is an improper use of taxpayer money.
Rep. Kressig talked about this at a recent forum, and as expected, all the other politicians’ heads nodded in unison and agreed this is a ‘good idea’ and ‘we need to get this done’. Oh really? Compassion is hardly the forte of government. With the right appeal, compassion should flow freely from individuals, family and charitable organizations. I can assure you the politician is more interested in winning a favorable headline than following through on the effectiveness of the appropriation to alleviate need and suffering.
This appropriation likely violates our observed, and celebrated, establishment clause - separation of church and state. The organization’s name, Sing to Me Heaven, would imply a religious association of angels welcoming a child into the kingdom of Heaven with song. Ordinarily, funerals are as much a religious ritual as a memorial of life.
Losing a loved one is tragic. Yet as a society, do we want government to be the hand of compassion or should we rely on individuals, neighbors, co-workers, community, non-profits and churches to act in love with our brothers and sisters?