Linn County Attorney finds allegations against Cedar Rapids mayor "unfounded"

Attorney cites lack of evidence to support claims

Mayor Ron Corbett did not commit ethical violations or engage in a conflict of interest as alleged in a formal complaint made in February by City Hall critic Lisa Kuzela, according to the Linn County Attorney’s Office.

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden announced on Friday that his office reviewed "in great detail" the allegations lodged by Kuzela and concluded that they are "unfounded and without merit."

"(T) here is no credible evidence to support criminal charges or sanctions of any sort," Vander Sanden said.

Corbett called the allegations unfounded when Kuzela first lodged the complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board in February. The state board noted that state law requires that such complaints be filed with the county attorney, and referred the matter to Vander Sanden.

In one allegation, Kuzela accused Corbett of a conflict of interest after the City Council sought proposals from builders, developers and non-profit groups to see if the best of the flood-damaged homes in the city’s buyout program might be renovated and saved. The Affordable Housing Network Inc. or AHNI was among several entities that competed and received buyout homes in trade for a plan to renovate them. A City Hall team, of which Corbett was not a part, scored the proposals.

Kuzela argued that something was amiss because John Smith, chairman of CRST Inc., donated $1 million to the Block by Block program, of which AHNI was a partner, and as a result, Corbett, a CRST employee, should not have voted on the matter.

Vander Sanden said there was no conflict because no one sought or gained any reward from what "can only be described as a generous act of philanthropy that benefited the citizens of Cedar Rapids."

In a second allegation, Kuzela accused Corbett of a conflict because the City Council approved an economic development incentive for Corbett’s employer, CRST Inc.

Corbett did not vote on the matter in one instance and did not attend a meeting in a second, Vander Sanden noted. He said Kuzela presented no evidence to show Corbett participated in discussions before the votes, and in any event, he said that discussion before a vote by a public official with a conflict is not prohibited.

In the third allegation, Kuzela noted that Corbett voted in support of a proposed Cedar Rapids casino that Smith and David Rusch, president/CEO at CRST Inc., are investors in. The list of casino investors was not made public until four months after the council vote, so Corbett did not know of Smith’s and Rusch’s participation in the casino when he cast his council vote, Vander Sanden said.

Corbett on Friday said he didn’t want to comment on a conclusion that he said was never in question.

Kuzela on Friday put it this way: "What did you expect with that tight-knit group?"

"It’s apparent that the Linn County Attorney is the only person in Cedar Rapids who is willing to accept the mayor for his word when he said he didn’t know his employers of CRST were investors of the casino and that it’s OK to give away properties for free to a group John Smith gave money to," she said.

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