Cedar Rapids leaders leery of public dollars for council tuition

Divided board approves $2,500 fee so Susie Weinacht can be in Leadership Iowa

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CEDAR RAPIDS — A surprise debate emerged this week during a City Council meeting over a request for public money to cover the $2,500 tuition for council member Susie Weinacht to participate in the 2016-17 session of Leadership Iowa.

Leadership Iowa, which launched in 1982, is an issues-based course sponsored by the Iowa Association and Business and Industry Foundation that promises opportunities for leadership and networking, city officials said. Weinacht is among a competitively-selected class of 40 who will meet over eight months beginning in October in two- and three-day increments at locations around the state.

Approving the tuition had been included with few details in the consent agenda, which includes routine business and gets approved as one slate without discussion. Documents note Weinacht will pay her own way for travel and lodging,

City Council member Justin Shields requested the matter be removed from the consent agenda for a public vetting, after which a 15-minute discussion ensued.

“There’s thousands of these type of organizations across the country,” Shields said. “You could make the same case for just about every one of them. Unless we are prepared to go in and start looking to send people to every organization under the sun, I will be strictly opposed to this.”

Mayor Ron Corbett defended the plan, noting it is an honor for Weinacht to get accepted, that she appears to be the first city official ever to participate, that the connections made through the program could pay dividends for the city and that the city covers costs for other council members to participate in various associations.

“If council wishes, the majority of council can vote against it, but quite frankly I think it would be shortsighted and petty,” Corbett said.

The board ended up approving the expense by a 4-3 vote with Corbett, Scott Olson, Kris Gulick and Pat Shey in favor and Ralph Russell, Shields and Ann Poe opposed. Weinacht abstained and Scott Overland was not present.

“I’m a longtime former member of Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and I’m very familiar with this program,” Russell said. “But for this amount of money I would be looking at other leadership and networking opportunities.”

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