CEDAR RAPIDS — For the city of Cedar Rapids, the 2020 legislative session is set to begin next week with an unusual dynamic: one of the area’s top lawmakers is suing the city he is elected to represent.
State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, filed two lawsuits last month against the Cedar Rapids City Council attempting to block votes allowing Cargill to build a 12-track, 200-car rail yard on city-owned land in the Rompot neighborhood.
Hogg, who has lived in the neighborhood, and near the 28-acre site on Stewart Road SE, for 20 years, has become a vocal opponent of the $6.5 million project, which the City Council approved last month through votes on rezoning and changes to the future land use map.
In the lawsuits, much as he had articulated during public hearings before the council, Hogg contended the votes were in conflict with the city flood protection plan, greenway plans, designation of the land as a “Prairie Pollinator Zone” and part of the “Sac and Fox Natureway,” and violate residents’ property rights.
“We are defending land use plans as they existed before, defending property rights, defending the flood plain, natureway and neighborhood,” said Hogg, 52.
The specific legal term for the action filed by Hogg and his wife, Kathryn Hogg, is a petition for writ of certiorari. The city must respond to the challenge of the land use amendment by Jan. 17, and to the challenge of the rezoning by Jan. 27.
The council voted to amend the land use from urban low intensity to urban high intensity to allow the industrial use, and change the zoning from suburban residential to industrial.
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Cargill had said the rail yard is necessary to remain competitive in its market and protect more than 200 local jobs as rail costs had inflated and the availability of rail cars had become unpredictable. The company estimated 70 percent of its shipping is done by rail.
Hogg has served as a state senator representing the northeast, southeast and southwest quadrants of Cedar Rapids since 2007 and before that as a state representative since 2003.
The dual role creates an uncommon situation.
“It is a very strange situation,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said, noting he could not comment on the litigation itself. “You hope he continues to represent the citizens of Cedar Rapids and supports city issues and needs going forward. He has to maybe wear two hats. The personal hat, he is suing us. His hat as state senator, he is representing Cedar Rapids, and not the city as much as the many citizens of Cedar Rapids.”
“I expect him to do his job as a state senator, and I think he will,” Hart said.
While Hogg and other elected officials are called to represent citizens at large, they also hear regularly from city officials, as well as lobbyists paid by the city to advocate its interests and positions in Des Moines. Cedar Rapids has three paid lobbyists on contract, and the mayor, City Council members and high-level city staff also visit the Statehouse during the session for various topics.
“A lot of little issues come up,” said Wally Horn, who retired in 2019 after representing Cedar Rapids for more than 40 years as a state representative and senator. “The City Council, as state senator, comes to ask you for all sorts of things. Can you help on this or on that? And, meanwhile, you have other things you are trying to get done.”
Cedar Rapids has a host of issues with millions of dollars hanging in the balance in the Legislature, such as policies for automated traffic cameras, electric scooters, funding for flood protection, tax credits and a commercial property tax backfill, among others.
Given the personal nature of the rail yard dispute, Horn did not question Hogg’s decision to file the lawsuit against the city, and similar to Hart, expected Hogg would be able to separate his personal situation from his role representing Cedar Rapids as a senator.
Hogg said he doesn’t envision “any impact” and plans to fully participate in the legislative session, which convenes Monday.
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“I will continue to evaluate what I can do to help my constituents,” Hogg said. “Oftentimes that is what the city of Cedar Rapids as an entity wants. That is usually the case; sometimes not. I plan to do best job I can for the 60,000 people I represent.”
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