Staff Editorial

Backroom discussions are grave disservice to Cedar Rapids

Information packets, fliers and entry papers to win a free ticket for newbo evolve are seen on the Go Cedar Rapids table at the BBQ Roundup at McGrath Amphitheatre in June 2018.
Information packets, fliers and entry papers to win a free ticket for newbo evolve are seen on the Go Cedar Rapids table at the BBQ Roundup at McGrath Amphitheatre in June 2018.

When GO Cedar Rapids board members announced newbo evolve was a financial failure, the group promised to make things right with the community.

They said the organization would continue to promote the region, obligations to vendors would be fulfilled and, most important, transparency would be paramount moving forward.

More than two months later, the tourism bureau’s directors have not followed through on any of those commitments, and city leaders gave GO Cedar Rapids’ leadership a free pass when they agreed to a series of private meetings. The private meetings allowed questions to remain publicly unanswered and kept a blurred line between the organizations.

Most of these meetings included GO Cedar Rapids interim chief Jim Haddad, City Council member Scott Overland and Assistant City Manager Angie Charipar, along with a rotating group of other council members. Overland and Charipar also are GO Cedar Rapids board members.

On Oct. 23 — after these private sessions had carried on for several weeks — the City Council voted unanimously to create a Cedar Rapids Tourism Office, apparently signaling the demise of GO Cedar Rapids. It marked the first time the plan had been discussed in public.

Agreeing to meet privately was the wrong decision by city leadership. Distrust festers in darkness.

When a group that failed so spectacularly promises transparency, it becomes the public officials’ job to hold the group to that promise and publicly press for answers.

City leaders have defended the process, saying they were pressed for time, but we are firmly unconvinced.

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Several options are available to move quickly and provide public oversight. A special work session or committee meeting can be scheduled with only 24 hours’ notice. Amid the 2016 flood, for example, city leaders made decisions quickly and also honored open meetings protocols.

The public still does not know what newbo evolve vendors remain unpaid, and for how much. By agreeing to a private meeting, city government fumbled a key opportunity to publicly press for more information or call for the list to be made public.

The more information made available to the community, the more opportunity there might be to assemble resources to support local vendors who were left unpaid. Greater transparency also would give us a more complete idea of where newbo evolve went wrong, so other event organizers can avoid making the same mistakes. And, at the very least, the community might begin to understand the context of the City Council’s decisions, a necessity of democratic governance.

Some leaders continue to cite the separation of city government and GO Cedar Rapids, with the city bearing no responsibility for the tourism bureau’s failure. We believe it ill-advised for the city to test this legal argument.

Perception becomes reality in these complicated cases.

Public trust in city leadership has been placed at risk, and GO Cedar Rapids has been allowed to shirk its commitment to transparency.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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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.

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