It was fitting, perhaps, that Mayor Ron Corbett’s last City Council vote involved the need for parking.
For the final agenda item of his final City Council meeting as mayor Tuesday evening, Corbett presided over approval of an agreement to finance a parking garage for Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa’s latest medical pavilion development. One more time, the “open for business” mayor got a chance to provide city financial assistance for business.
Sure, you can be remembered for banishing a “culture of delay,” pursuing bold initiatives and making fateful, generational decisions. But in the end, the one unshakable constant of City Council service is people need a place to park their cars. Lots of parking. The closer, the better.
It’s been nearly eight years since Corbett took the wheel of a council stuck in park. Now he’s handing the keys to the next mayor, Brad Hart. Tuesday was the end of multiple city eras, as Council members Kris Gulick, Pat Shey and Justin Shields also departed. All three were elected in 2005 to the first council under a new form of government. The next council will miss the experience of these “pioneers,” as they were called Tuesday.
With Corbett still in the mayor’s chair, Hart used the public comment period to thank all and wish them luck. Soon, he takes the chair and they return to the public.
So how will the Corbett era be judged?
Clearly, Cedar Rapids is a better city now than it was eight years ago, and Corbett was at the center of a leadership team that helped make it happen. He made his first state of the city speech in the fading Crowne Plaza ballroom and made his last in a newish convention complex. One among many big public projects.
He looked back to that first speech Tuesday as his mayoral portrait was unveiled, recalling a toast he made insisting Cedar Rapids’ “best days are ahead.” What seemed like a boast back then seems less boastful eight years later.
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Some days were less than best. Twice Corbett tried and failed to convince voters to approve a sales tax funding flood protection. He finally succeeded with a tax for streets. But flood protection, despite his efforts, remains underfunded and unfinished business.
Corbett’s drive for a Cedar Rapids casino was dashed and dashed again, as were his hopes for reforming a system for distributing gaming revenues that shafts non-casino counties.
But when the Cedar River rose again in 2016, the city was ready. A city manager hired by the Corbett-led council and his team earned their paychecks. A city once vulnerable and unprepared was prepared and largely protected by HESCO walls and a community mobilization. That alone is quite a legacy for Corbett and the pioneers.
Corbett and the council got stuff done, whether you liked that stuff or not. And despite his now obvious political ambitions, he didn’t use the mayor’s chair as a partisan bully pulpit. That emphasis on results over political tribalism served him well at City Hall, but may hobble his bid to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
In the end, Corbett implored the council Tuesday to “keep your foot on the gas.” Good advice, but he forgot to mention the importance of parking.
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