Cedar Rapids’ longtime city attorney Jim Flitz, an ‘unparalleled’ legal mind, to retire
Cedar Rapids city attorney Jim Flitz was photographed in his town hall office on Wednesday and is retiring later this month after serving more than two decades as a city attorney. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids City Attorney Jim Flitz was photographed in the City Hall Council Chamber on Wednesday and is retiring later this month after serving more than two decades as a city attorney. (Liz Martin / The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS – After Cedar Rapids lost its town hall in the 2008 flood, staff finally began considering where their new home base would be.
Should the city’s central operating facility be in the Veterans Memorial Building? The former federal court? What would the cost of a move be and where would the entire city organization fit? Was it feasible to accommodate all businesses in one building?
While staff discussed the merits of different locations, City Attorney Jim Flitz looked at Jeff Pomeranz, the recently hired city manager, and said the Cedar Rapids team must stick together in the old federal court.
The federal government had already sold the building to the city for $ 1, and at Flitz’s suggestion, Cedar Rapids began converting the property into what is now City Hall.
“We never looked back,” said Deputy City Director Sandi Fowler. “… It was the right decision and really changed our return to the city center and the town hall today, and we can’t imagine any other way now.”
If Flitz hadn’t steered the team down this path, she wonders how different the city would work today, Fowler said.
It is that steady hand and reliable advice that Flitz gives as a city attorney that Cedar Rapids officials will miss when he retires from his post in late July.
Pomeranz said he worked with four city attorneys in cities across the country as a city manager for several decades.
“Jim is absolutely great,” said Pomeranz. “He’s a very hard worker. He is very committed to what he does. He strives to do the right thing and to give his customers the best advice. “
Flitz will be difficult to replace, said Pomeranz. His long term in office was an enormous asset for the city, added Pomeranz, with institutional knowledge that “hardly anyone can match”.
“You could always trust him, you could always rely on him and always feel at ease that talking to him would simply give you good advice that was appropriate to the circumstances,” said Pomeranz.
Attracted to the civil service
After beginning his career in the private sector, Flitz said he was ready to participate in more difficult litigation affecting a wider population. In 1986 he started working in the public prosecutor’s office.
“I remember walking into town 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 wide variety of cases – contract disputes, personal injury, property tax complaints.
By the time he reached his current position in 1998, the problems became more complex – he helped the city implement Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for the first time after the 2008 flood, added sexual orientation to the city’s civil rights ordinance, built the ImOn Ice Arena, Funding a downtown hotel and defending the city in high profile cases like challenges against the automated traffic surveillance system.
However, according to Flitz, he was most proud to transfer the form of government of the city from commissioner to city councilor in 2006. He led efforts to adapt all city ordinances to the new system.
“I was very proud of the work I was able to do to map a route through then-unknown waters,” said Flitz.
By the time the city hired its first full-time city manager, City Finance Director Casey Drew said Flitz was taking on the position on an interim basis. It calmed things down at a time when Cedar Rapids was going through a fundamental change in how it worked.
“He was always the same person,” said Drew. “He’s always pretty calm, and I think he only helped to change that change in government through his person.”
“Incomparable” legal wisdom
Flitz’s knowledge of local law is “unprecedented in the state of Iowa and perhaps across the country,” said Fowler.
In the three decades or so that she has worked with Flitz, he has always made sure to provide the best legal advice, Fowler said. He reserves his opinion until he learns everything about a situation.
“He’s going to listen and want all the information, and later you will see the result of looking at what you told him, and it’s always brilliant,” said Fowler.
Fowler said Flitz considers more than just whether the city is on solid ground and complies with the law when reviewing any legal matter. He wants to help run the city better and do justice to everyone involved – employees, property owners and taxpaying citizens alike.
“How do we provide better services to city residents and what programs are we trying to achieve and what do we want these programs to achieve?” Said Fowler. “And it was always so amazing to me that he tried to figure all of this out so he could give us the best thoughts on how we could achieve things.”
Not only does Flitz have a top notch legal mind – he’s caring, has a good sense of humor, and has always been someone people can rely on, Drew said.
“He’s someone willing to do the tough things – and as a Cedar Rapids attorney, there are always many difficult things to do,” said Drew.
Flitz also has a sense of calm confidence that the city as a team will succeed in any endeavor, Fowler said.
“He was always the person in a meeting, at the end of the conversation, after you put it all together, and he said, ‘This will be fine. We’ll be able to work that through and everything will be fine, ‘”said Fowler. “And he’s so smart that you really trust him, that he knows what he’s talking about. He doesn’t just say it. In his head he has a path that is really going well if we follow it. “
After defending the city in all sorts of legal disputes for decades, Flitz said he comes to work often and thinks he has the best job. He said he will miss the city team and working with talented, dedicated people to make a big difference.
“I wish the people in the community could get to know them the way I did,” Flitz said of his counterparts. “These people come to work every day trying to do Cedar Rapids better than they did yesterday.”
The city’s strong litigation track record isn’t just because Cedar Rapids has “super great lawyers” working for Cedar Rapids, Flitz said – though he believes this is true.
“We also have a great customer – a customer who really exists for no other reason than to promote the public health, safety and wellbeing of the citizens of this community,” said Flitz.
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