Government

Cedar Rapids ethics board rejects 'newbo evolve' claim

Council member: Complaint was 'frivolous to begin with'

A rainbow appears over Mount Trashmore, still marked with the logo from the weekend's newbo evolve festival, during Balloon Glow at the Sinclair Levy BoTown Entertainment Park in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A rainbow appears over Mount Trashmore, still marked with the logo from the weekend's newbo evolve festival, during Balloon Glow at the Sinclair Levy BoTown Entertainment Park in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Cedar Rapids Ethics Board has dismissed a complaint against three city officials alleging abuse of power related to GO Cedar Rapids, a local tourism bureau that closed after a summer festival lost millions.

City Council member Scott Overland serves as an unpaid volunteer on the 18-member GO Cedar Rapids board of directors, which put on the “newbo evolve” festival in August. While the organization received public hotel-motel tax money from council, Overland received no personal economic benefit, which is how city code defines conflict of interest, according to a Nov. 2 opinion from David L. Baker, ethics board chairman and former Iowa Supreme Court justice.

“Therefore, a conflict within the meaning of the Cedar Rapids municipal code did not occur,” Baker wrote.

Charles F. Elias, of Cedar Rapids, filed the complaint Oct. 22, contending Overland and Assistant City Manager Angie Charipar, who serves on the GO Cedar Rapids executive committee, are responsible for the actions of GO Cedar Rapids and benefited personally and professionally. City Finance Director Casey Drew overstepped his role in supporting the organization, the complaint asserted.

“It was frivolous to begin with and the complaint was a misuse of the ethics board,” Overland said. “I appreciate the quick resolution to the matter.”

This was the first known filing related to the financial debacle, in which GO Cedar Rapids board members accused two since-fired executives of inflating ticket sale and sponsorship projections and spending beyond the budget. The organization canceled $300,000 in checks to vendors, who are still owed $800,000. Bankers Trust is owed $1.5 million.

In his filing, Elias noted the same complaint had been sent to agencies including the Linn County Attorney, the Iowa Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District.

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The Linn County complaint was referred to Cedar Rapids police. Police have an agreement with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to investigate any complaints to avoid a perception of conflict, since several officers were not paid by GO Cedar Rapids for working the festival.

The Ethics Board lacks jurisdiction to rule on complaints against city staff members Charipar and Drew, Baker wrote. Drew and Charipar did not return messages seeking comment.

Elias claimed Drew overstepped his role by attending a meeting with former Bankers Trust market president Pat Deignan and former GO Cedar Rapids chief executive Aaron McCreight, in which a line of credit was sought for newbo evolve. Drew has said previously his participation was only to ensure the city was repaid a $500,000 advance before the bank received repayment, not to help secure the line of credit.

In filing the complaint, Elias requested the Ethics Board recuse itself “as it is a conflict of interest to investigate themselves” and refer it to an “impartial entity.” But the board ruled the complaint fell within its purview to consider.

The board is planning to explore, for future cases, whether its bylaws should be amended to expand the definition of conflict of interest beyond only personal economic benefit.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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