116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After Cedar Rapids lost its city hall in the flood of 2008, staff eventually contemplated where their new home base should be.
Should the city’s central operations facility be in the Veterans Memorial Building? The former federal courthouse? What would the cost of relocation be and where would the entire city organization fit? Was it feasible to house all operations in one building?
While staff debated the merits of various locations, City Attorney Jim Flitz looked at Jeff Pomeranz, the recently hired city manager, and said the Cedar Rapids team needed to stay together at the old federal courthouse.
The federal government had already sold the building to the city for $1, so upon Flitz’s suggestion, Cedar Rapids began the process of converting the property into present-day City Hall.
“We never looked back,” Deputy City Manager Sandi Fowler said. “ … It was the right decision and really retooled how we returned to downtown and how City Hall is today, and now we can’t imagine it any other way.”
If Flitz had not steered the team toward this path, Fowler said, she wonders how differently the city would operate today.
It’s that steady hand and reliable advice Flitz is known for providing as city attorney that Cedar Rapids officials say they will miss when he retires from his role at the end of July.
Pomeranz said he has worked with four city attorneys in cities around the nation throughout several decades in city manager roles.
“Jim is absolutely tops,” Pomeranz said. “He’s a very hard worker. He’s very dedicated to what he does. He’s committed to doing the right thing and giving the very best advice for his clients.”
Flitz will be difficult to replace, Pomeranz said. His long tenure has been a tremendous asset to the city, Pomeranz added, with institutional knowledge that is “unmatched by just about anyone.”
“You could always trust him, could always rely on him and always feel comfortable that when you talk to him, you’d just be given great advice and the most appropriate advice under the circumstances,” Pomeranz said.
Drawn to public service
After beginning his career in the private sector, Flitz said he was ready to work on more challenging litigation that affected a broader population. He started working in the city attorney’s office in 1986.
“I remember walking into City Hall and feeling a foot off the ground because I was representing the city of Cedar Rapids,” Flitz said of his first day.
When Flitz started, he worked on a variety of cases — contract disputes, personal injury cases, property tax appeals.
Once he reached his current position in 1998, the issues became more complex — helping the city navigate Federal Emergency Management Agency policies for the first time after the 2008 flood, adding sexual orientation to the city civil rights ordinance, constructing the ImOn Ice Arena, funding a hotel downtown and defending the city in high-profile cases such as challenges to its automated traffic enforcement system.
What Flitz said he is perhaps most proud of, though, is helping to transition the city’s form of government from commissioners to the city council-city manager form in 2006. He led the effort to revise all city ordinances in compliance with the new system.
“I was very proud of the work that I was able to do in charting a path through waters that were unknown at that time,” Flitz said.
Until the city hired its first full-time city manager, City Finance Director Casey Drew said Flitz served in the role on an interim basis. He provided reassurance during a time when Cedar Rapids underwent a fundamental change in how it operates.
“He always was the same person,” Drew said. “He’s always pretty calm, and I think he helped transition that change in form of government just by who he is.”
‘Unparalleled’ legal mind
Flitz’s knowledge of municipal law is “unparalleled in the state of Iowa and maybe across the country,” Fowler said.
In the approximately three decades she has worked with Flitz, Fowler said he has always taken care to provide the best legal advice. He reserves his opinions until he learns everything about a situation.
“He will listen and want to get all of the information, and then later you will see the result of his contemplation of what you’ve shared with him, and it’s always brilliant,” Fowler said.
When reviewing any legal matter, Fowler said Flitz considers more than whether the city is on solid ground and in compliance with the law. He seeks to help run the city better and be fair to all involved — staff, property owners and taxpaying citizens alike.
“How do we provide better services to the city residents and what programs are we trying to accomplish and what do we want to get from those programs?” Fowler said. “And that was always so amazing to me, that he would try to figure all that out so that he could give us the best thinking about how to get things accomplished.”
Flitz not only has a top-notch legal mind — he is caring, has a good sense of humor and has always been someone people can count on, Drew said.
“He’s someone who is willing to tackle the difficult stuff — and being the attorney for the city of Cedar Rapids, there’s always a lot of difficult stuff that has to be taken on,” Drew said.
Flitz also carries a sense of quiet confidence that the city, as a team, will be successful in any endeavor, Fowler said.
“He would always be the person in a meeting, at the end of the conversation after you hash everything out, and he would say, ‘This is going to be fine. We will be able to work our way through this and it’ll all be fine,’” Fowler said. “And he’s so smart that you really trust him that he knows what he’s talking about. He’s not just saying it. In his head, he has a path that if we follow it, it really will be fine.“
After decades of defending the city through all sorts of litigation, Flitz said he often comes to work thinking to himself that he has the best job. He said he will miss the city team and working with talented, dedicated people to make great things happen.
“I wish people in the community can come to know them the way that I have,” Flitz said of his fellow city officials. “These people come to work every day, trying to make Cedar Rapids better than it was yesterday.”
The city’s strong record in litigation is not just because “super great lawyers” work for Cedar Rapids, Flitz said — though he believes that to be true.
“We have a great client too — a client that really exists for no other reason than to promote the public health, safety and welfare of the citizens of this community,” Flitz said.
Comments: (319) 398-8494; email@example.com