Government

Meet Cedar Rapids Mayor candidate Gary Hinzman

Gary Hinzman
Gary Hinzman

Name: Gary Hinzman

Address: 3916 Roxbury Dr. NW

Age: 70

Seat seeking: Mayor

Occupation: Retired

Educational background: Master’s Degree in Public Administration/Political Science. BA Degree with double major in Business Administration and Criminal Justice.

Why are you running for council?

Hinzman: I am the only candidate that has directed the activities of large complex government organizations. I am running to provide the leadership the city and the council need. It is rare that a mayor candidate comes with these credentials. I am anxious to use these skills to serve the people of Cedar Rapids.

When I was just ten days old my brother Lowell, who was born with severe physical and mental disabilities, was taken away to live in a state supported facility for children like him. The only time I saw my brother was at his funeral 26 years later. I tell this story because it defines me. For Lowell, I have focused my life and work on public service — as a police officer, Cedar Rapids Chief of Police, Director of the 6th Judicial District and President of the American Parole and Probation Association — motivated by an aspiration to seek justice for those whose voices are not always heard.

With the exception of my time in military service, I have been proud to call Cedar Rapids home since my family moved here when I was in the eighth grade. My wife, Linda, and I chose to raise our daughters here. For them, for Lowell and for all Cedar Rapidians, I am running for mayor because the next mayor of Cedar Rapids needs to be an individual that listens and speaks up for the little guy or gal. I believe I am that person to lead our city into the future.

What are the three largest issues facing the city? How will you address them?

Hinzman: One of the activities I have most enjoyed about campaigning has been getting out and meeting so many of the citizens and business leaders in our community. Not only hearing their thoughts and concerns, but listening to them passionately share stories the things they love about Cedar Rapids. The top issues discussed were streets, public safety, and flood protection. Other notable concerns involved neighborhood schools, education and the economy. For this question, I will address the top three.

Citizens shared concern over rough streets, the amount of time it takes for repairs, the selection process for choosing which streets to repair, converting two-way streets to one-way and making streets safe for bicycle traffic. It appears there is much confusion about the streets issue and it deserves a fair review by the new mayor. Changes could be made to enhance the streets program. Other grants and revenue sources could be explored to quicken the process. The public must be educated better about the process and new driving patterns.

The concerns being shared with me involving public safety include: Gun violence, gangs and other violence in our community. This is a concern I am very familiar with having chaired the Law Enforcement and Gun Violence Committee and have guided this process over the past two years. While the Police Department is doing an excellent job addressing the issues identified and ultimately we are seeing a reduction in crime as a result, the public perception is that crime has increased. Open and honest communication, will go a long way to helping all of our citizens to feel safe. No matter what, one violent crime is one too many. In addition to these efforts, we need to provide social and economic support to our underserved neighborhoods. Most know that I was responsible for furthering the creation of the neighborhood network in place today. We need to pursue a course of keeping our neighborhoods safe, respecting the human dignity of all citizens, and creating a pathway to success for youth to obtain adulthood with their hopes and dreams intact.

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Lastly, flood protection and control is another issue of concern. I will continue to pursue the flood recovery money promised to Cedar Rapids and lobby at an increased level. I also will seek other funding options to complete the flood wall to protect our city. We must also move quickly to mitigate flood damage. We must provide flood mitigation upstream and downstream. The city working with partners, upstream and surrounding areas, with the same goals can reduce the flood crest dramatically and this should be our immediate goal.

The city is facing some major revenue losses. The Iowa Supreme Court is considering whether to uphold a lower court decision to turn off traffic cameras on I-380, which have generated more than $3 million per year for the city. Now, the state is threatening to do away with the backfill, which in Cedar Rapids is worth about $4 million per year. What is your plan to balance the budget if those losses come to fruition?

Hinzman: The traffic cameras on I-380 are not generating revenue for the city at this time, and haven’t now for several months. So, that loss is already being addressed by the City Council and City Manager’s office. Regarding the state backfill, when the legislature reduced commercial tax rates, they promised to backfill the resulting shortfall with state funds. Threatening to take the money away is breaking that promise. The first line of action is to address the legislature and ask them to honor their commitments, or use their ability to raise revenue to continue the backfill to the cities.

If the legislature is not responsive, my plan will be to first listen to city staff as to where savings may be realized. We can also look into potential federal or state grant opportunities to fill the shortage. Once we have determined the ultimate financial need, it may be necessary to look at creative, strategic and innovative ways to get funding and generate revenue. Regardless, our mission must remain focused to ensure continued progress, public safety and flood control remain a priority.

Some big fish have expressed interest in opening shop in Iowa, including Amazon and Toyota and Apple recently announced plans to build in Waukee. What specifically would you do to put Cedar Rapids in the best position to land a major new company?

Hinzman: We have the type of community these companies are looking for. We are focused on continued progress and growth. We need to ditch the Midwest modesty when it comes to bragging about our great city and clearly communicate to those companies that they are the type of organizations we want to be part of our great community. The City will need to continue to collaborate with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and the Metro Corridor to provide favorable conditions to land the major new companies. The city and the state will no doubt have to provide incentives to stay competitive with other communities to land the big companies. Any incentive provided must have a reasonable payback so Cedar Rapids residents are not saddled with higher taxes.

There’s very real possibility one of the area’s largest employers, Rockwell Collins, could see its HQ leave Cedar Rapids. This would lead to a negative impact on jobs and philanthropy to local nonprofits. What would you do as an elected official to prevent this from happening or to minimize the impact?

Hinzman: The City is already engaged in this matter. Our congressional delegation also has been actively involved and meeting with officials of the respective companies. It is critical that the next mayor works closely with the City Manager and the Economic Alliance to show the willingness of Cedar Rapids to work with the new ownership at Rockwell Collins to encourage them to keep the company headquarters in Cedar Rapids. The new mayor must aggressively maintain the process already began, including working with our congressional delegation. The new mayor should also quickly establish a business council comprised of retired business CEOs to review this matter and develop recommendations for the City to consider as we work to keep Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.

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One of residents top complaints in road conditions. Now we are a few years into a 10 year, 1 cent local-option sales tax targeting street repairs. It’s called Paving for Progress, and we’ve started to see streets improved, such as 42nd Street. What is your assessment of Paving for Progress? Is it working or isn’t it? And, do you favor extending the LOST tax to continue the program?

Hinzman: As I meet with the citizens of Cedar Rapids this is clearly one of the top concerns I have heard. It seems the public has not seen progress as quickly as they imagined. I believe progress has occurred, but the condition of the storm sewers in some locations has caused the projects to take longer and cost more. Increasing communication with the public regarding the plan and an estimated timeline would help the citizens prepare and understand where things stand. I believe the new mayor needs to review the progress with the City Manager and his staff to clarify that the best progress is being made during each construction season. If after a thorough review deemed it necessary I would support extending the funding to continue the progress of street repair.

Another frequent complaint from residents is the city’s efforts to become more walkable and bikeable, notably building sidewalks in established neighborhoods and road work downtown which has included converting one way streets to two way streets, removing stop lights in favor of stop signs and adding bike lanes. Do you support these efforts and why? And would you do anything specifically to speed up or halt these initiatives?

Hinzman: This work is already in progress so it would not be prudent to stop in midstream. Pedestrians and bicyclists have increased in number and will be on our streets in greater numbers. Finding a safe and efficient manner to accommodate them makes sense. However the public is confused about all the new lane marking and bike lanes. I believe public education would be very important for the general public and bicyclists alike. I do have some concerns about imposing the cost of sidewalk work on homeowners, who may not be able to afford this work, especially our senior populations. Establishing a waiver process may be necessary.

Cedar Rapids is some $200 million short of the money needed to build a flood protection system. Elected officials and city staff have tried a variety of methods to shake loose federal money for flood protection. They’ve lobbied local congressmen and senators, lobbied in Washington, D.C., worked with the Army Corps, and pushed unsuccessfully for a local sales tax increase for flood protection. What would you do differently to get federal aid for flood protection? What if any back up plan do you have to fill the funding gap?

Hinzman: Flood protection and control is another big issue of concern. I will continue to pursue the flood recovery money promised to Cedar Rapids and lobby at an increased level. I also will seek other funding options to complete the flood wall to protect our city. The Mayor must continue to work with our congressional delegation’s staff to make certain that no infrastructure bill leaves congress without consideration for Cedar Rapids flood protection. However this may be a time limited goal, because other floods are certain to occur. The city will need to explore other local funding options. A flood wall is a less costly and a less devastating option. Having a complete flood wall to protect the citizens of Cedar Rapids is not a luxury it is a critical necessity.

We must also move quickly to mitigate flood damage. We must provide flood mitigation upstream and downstream. The city working with partners with the same goals can reduce the flood crest dramatically and this should be our immediate goal. This will give developers the immediate confidence they need to build on the west side of the city.

Last year and earlier this year, the City Council faced a difficult decision when Commonbond Communities wanted to build an affordable/homeless housing complex called Crestwood Ridge Apartments in a northwest neighborhood that vehemently opposed the project. While several neighbors pointed to concerns about traffic and stormwater runoff, others said that type of project would bring down property values and could introduce questionable people into the neighborhood. City Council members were torn about whether to side with the electorate or endorse a project many acknowledged was needed in the community. How would you have voted and why?

Hinzman: I was not on the council when this decision was made so it would be too easy for me to second guess. During my career I have faced several difficult decisions on zoning issues including correctional facilities and low income housing. According to model zoning ordinances there must be a place for every purpose however this often collides with the desires of the surrounding neighborhood.

In each situation that I was involved in making decisions about where to locate correctional facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and Toledo we opted to listen to the residents and relocate to other locations that also suited our purposes. The irony of that was that after we built our facilities we became surrounded by hotels, eating establishments, and even major shopping malls that otherwise would have objected to our original zoning requests.

There needed to be a place for CommonBond. The council opted to zone it at the requested location. As Mayor I would want to make certain that every attempt to make this project as neighborhood friendly as possible was completed. Communication is key to finding compromise and putting forth a proposal that all members of the council can vote in favor of — with confidence.

Cedar Rapids has leaned heavily in recent years on Tax Increment Financing to incentivize development with programs for downtown development, job creation, restoring brownfields and grayfields, historic restoration, sustainable improvement, community benefit, and urban housing. Virtually every high profile development has included some form of public subsidy. As one example, the city is proposing a $20.5 million public subsidy for a 28 story, $103 million downtown high rise with a grocery store and hotel called One Park Place. Is this the right approach? Is it too generous? Please explain.

Hinzman: Pursuing growth and development can be very competitive. All cities use options like TIF to attract developers to the community. TIF is also used to encourage expansion of local businesses and to encourage other businesses to locate in Cedar Rapids. TIF is a major incentive to bring and keep business here.

Each option must be weighed on its own merit. There must be an in-depth review of the cost/benefits for offering TIF and other financial incentives. There must be a sound return in the taxes collected after the TIF expires so taxpayers see new taxes being collected and helping the city budget.

The City must also consider the purpose of new construction. For example, is a new hotel being built in hopes that it will be able fill its rooms or is it designed to work with the City to bring in new convention business and entertainment venues. The new development must have purpose and make the city thrive.

Following a series of shootings involving teens, a joint task force of city, school, police and community leaders joined forced to develop a plan called Safe Equitable and Thriving Communities. City staff and council have said they will work to implement the plan although some have questioned the level of commitment and progress and whether the city should bring in outside help. What do you think of the city’s progress on the SET program and what approaches would you advocate to address youth and gun violence?

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Hinzman: I was a member of the SET Task Force and Chaired the Law Enforcement and Gun Violence Committee. As a former Cedar Rapids Police Chief and Director of Probation and Parole, it made sense for me to chair the committee. Gun violence and other violence are concerns of the citizens of our community. I have guided this process over the past two years. While the Police Department is doing an excellent job addressing the issues identified and causing a reduction in crime we still need to provide social and economic support to the neighborhoods. Most know that I was responsible for furthering the creation of the neighborhood network in place today. We need to pursue a course of keeping our neighborhoods safe, respecting the human dignity of all citizens and creating a pathway to success for youth to obtain adulthood with their hopes and dreams intact.

Are there any other issues you believe are critical for voters to know?

Hinzman: We addressed the top concerns shared with my by citizens in streets, public safety, flood protection and economic growth above.

One issue that has been shared with me and not addressed in this questionnaire is neighborhood schools and education. For many of our neighborhoods, the schools are so more than just a place the kids go to school. They are the mecca of activities and a gathering place for the neighborhood. While I respect the school district’s need to save money, we need to have a plan in place for maintaining or replacing these neighborhood hubs. If Cedar Rapids does opt to close eight of the 21 elementary schools in the district, it will be imperative that plans are created for the buildings before the closures happen. Polk Elementary is a great example of what can be done when citizens and community leaders put their minds together. We need to have similar solutions for the schools in question.

A second issue pertaining to Home Rule and local control follows:

Erosion of Local Control and Unfunded Mandates

How Iowans Must Work Together to Maintain the Principals of Home Rule

Merriam Webster defines home rule as “self-government or limited autonomy in internal affairs by a dependent political unit (such as a territory or municipality).” To put it simply, home rule is about allowing local government to define the rules or laws for their community. As someone who has spent a lifetime working in service to my community, I believe it is important that the local government be able to maintain control through home rule in order to ensure economic growth and safety.

Before we dive into my plans for the Cedar Rapids community, it is important to look back on the history of home rule in Iowa and how it has been and still is important to our community:

The Dillon Rule.

In a succession of legal cases beginning in 1868, Iowa Supreme Court Justice John Dillon established a principle of jurisprudence, later dubbed, “Dillon’s Rule.” Under this ruling, municipal corporations (city governments) were viewed as statutory creatures owing their existence to the state legislature. Without express authority from the legislature to act in any given manner — cities were powerless to guide the progress and laws in their communities. Understandably, the lack of autonomy resulted in weak local control. As a consequence, the state legislature was repeatedly asked intervene in local matters for cities throughout the state. Though this principle was widely applied in many other states at the time, pressure eventually grew within Iowa to give cities the power to govern themselves in a way more responsive to the demands of the local community.

The “Home Rule” Amendment.

In 1968, the Iowa Constitution was amended to grant cities what was dubbed, “home rule.” The amendment states, “Municipal corporations are granted home rule power and authority, not inconsistent with the laws of the General Assembly, to determine their local affairs and government, except that they shall not have power to levy any tax unless expressly authorized by the General Assembly. The rule or proposition of law that a municipal corporation possesses and can exercise only those powers granted in express words is not a part of the law of this State.”

In 1972, the State legislature adopted comprehensive legislation repealing older laws inconsistent with home rule and granting broad powers to cities, with several limiting qualifications. The legislature stated, “The enumeration of a specific power of a city does not limit or restrict.” The Iowa Constitution granted home rule authority to cities and counties. The result was that cities and counties could now enact any law governing their local affairs unless the law was inconsistent with a state law. This constitutional grant of authority has been supplemented by a statutory recognition of local home rule authority.

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Both the Iowa Constitution and the Iowa Code contemplate a broad notion of home rule authority. Indeed, one Iowa Supreme Court justice has called the adoption of home rule in Iowa “revolutionary.” Unfortunately and despite the broad language in the statutes and constitution, the Iowa Supreme Court has limited the ability of cities and counties to enact laws under their home rule authority over the past decade.

In the 2017 legislation session many issues were determined by the state legislature to be under their purview and not subject to local control.

Erosion of Local Control and Unfunded Mandates.

In recent years, there have been several significant changes in Iowa law pertaining to collective bargaining, minimum wage, voting laws and more. As I have spoken with fellow Cedar Rapidians and community leaders throughout Iowa, a frequent topic of discussion is the loss of local control. Having spoken with many and having served in several leadership positions myself, I would like to share my thoughts on this topic.

The primary concern I have with the recent decisions within the state legislature, is the continued erosion of control given to local governments via Home Rule and the increase in unfunded mandates (regulations without appropriations) — especially for larger urban areas of the state. These realities impose an economic and operational burden on larger cities and counties which rural areas of the state do not have because of the scale of the impact. For example, the Linn County Auditor reported to the Board of Supervisors that there will likely be an additional expense aligned with the change in the voter laws. Engage Iowa, a conservative think tank, has identified another example of an unfunded mandate. The state legislature set teacher salaries throughout the state. Some districts will be unable to fund the salaries. In Cedar Rapids, this may mean higher taxes to ensure the budget can sustain the increased expense.

From the perspective of state leadership, citizens are either “for or against” single issues. We are either for or against collective bargaining. We are for or against voting rules. We are for or against minimum wage. We are for or against a casino. We are for or against traffic cameras. We are for or against project labor agreements. We are for or against fireworks. This list goes on …

The real concern is the loss of local control, having unfunded mandates imposed without consideration of local economies or losing needed revenue. Cedar Rapids taxpayers are impacted. Our community may lose on many of these issues. For example, let’s take a look at traffic cameras. Many feel that the traffic cameras were put in place solely as a revenue generator for the city. What many do not know is that a driver must be going at least 12 mph over the speed limit to be cited. Even if there is no doubt the driver was speeding, they are able to object to the fine even though it does not go on their driving record or raise their insurance. Think about this, if they were stopped by an officer instead, they’d still get fined, have the traffic violation go on their driving record and may have their insurance cost increased. With the speed camera, the fine goes into the city public safety budget for added protection for our neighborhoods. The loss of this revenue means Cedar Rapids taxpayers have to pay more.

Yet the state wishes to regulate and has opted to enforce the removal of cameras in the most dangerous stretch of I-380 — the “S-curves” going through the heart of Cedar Rapids. These cameras were not put in place as a revenue generator, they were put in place to save lives. And they have done their job, injury-causing accidents decreased by 19 percent, while speeding was reduced by 80 percent as result of the traffic cameras. I experienced a similar difference of opinion with the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) during the time I served as the Cedar Rapids Police Chief. It took a year of determined discussions to get IDOT to agree to put up warning signs for the S-curves. We know our city best. In order to maintain safe streets and roads, we need local control. At locations where interstates and other major highways travel through cities — where the local police force is responsible for enforcement of traffic laws — it is imperative that the local government has the ability to enforce laws in a manner that provides the best public safety.

Another example is the proposed casino in Cedar Rapids. By comparison, let’s look at an example of other businesses operating in a free economy throughout the state. If CVS wants to build a across the street from a Walgreens — they can. In fact they have done so in Cedar Rapids. It’s called competition. So, why can’t Cedar Rapids build a casino that is competitive with other casinos in the state?

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In reality, the gaming industry is a state controlled monopoly. There is a casino in every larger city in Iowa except for Cedar Rapids. I do not feel the state should have the authority to make decisions that have a negative impact on the economic development of local communities. The loss of this revenue means local taxpayers have to pay more.

Put another way, what if the Riverside Casino was doing so well that it was putting other casinos in jeopardy of closing? Would the gaming commission tell the Riverside Casino management to scale back to protect the other casinos? Of course not. It is competition. Shouldn’t Cedar Rapids have the right to compete in the open market? If the gaming commission really has the authority to determine economic winners and losers within the state of Iowa, the law needs to be changed. Cedar Rapids voters already expressed their wishes by voting for a casino. That is local control.

We could make a case for each one of the other items previously mentioned. The new law regarding minimum wage has a significant impact in rural counties, where economies are smaller. Property taxes, and the rollback of commercial property taxes is yet another unfunded mandate that will impact city revenues. When the administrative rules are written by bureaucrats, urban centers are not at the table. Local control is gradually disappearing and it is hurting local economies as it does.

State legislators cannot and should not write rules for the entire state without noticing the stark differences between rural and urban communities. That is why local control was first created. As the second largest city in Iowa, the loss of local control is particularly difficult. Our ability to grow the economy of the Cedar Rapids metro area is being stymied by the suppression of its economic opportunities and its revenue streams. Yet, the current legislature has a desire to maintain local government in all 99 counties, because it is vital to the economic vitality to those communities.

We need to build a strong coalition of partners including the largest urban centers, the unions, the teachers, and other interested groups to maintain and regain our rights under Home Rule and local control. We must work as a coalition to meet the goals of all partners.

We need to look back. We need to look forward. We need to listen. And we need to work with our partners and our state legislators to bring back local control so that the Cedar Rapids economy and all local economies can thrive. If each of our Iowa cities is allowed the opportunity to thrive, we all benefit.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.