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Neighbors Growing Together | Jun 21, 2018

Veterans question hire of civilian to lead Veterans Memorial buildings

By B.A. Morelli, The Gazette | Jun 05, 2018
Photo by: Liz Martin/The Gazette The cenotaph of the Veterans Memorial Building in downtown Cedar Rapids, photographed from the roof of the building on Tuesday, June 24, 2014.

CEDAR RAPIDS — In naming a new facilities director last week, the Veterans Memorial Commission abandoned a longstanding emphasis on hiring a veteran, prompting questions from some.

The commission eliminated “veteran” as a preferred qualification in the job description before the hiring of Paul Pestel, a project manager for Ryan Companies.

Pestel, who will start June 25, did not serve in the military, marking the first time in at least 25 years a civilian has been hired as director.

“I think that person is out there, and given all that veterans are willing to do for this country, it would be nice to give a veteran that opportunity,” said Don King III, commander of Am-Vets Post 6 in Cedar Rapids.

The facility director is responsible for the management, development, operations and maintenance of the Veterans Memorial Building, Veterans Memorial Stadium — home to the Cedar Rapids Kernels — and the All Veterans Memorial Park. The director is expected to foster positive relationships with the area veterans’ community and groups through delivery of service, programmed events, and gallary exhibits.

The position reports to the seven-member commission, who are veterans appointed by the Cedar Rapids mayor.

King said he believed the commission could have found a qualified veteran, and noted he is “disappointed” and “surprised” a veteran wasn’t hired, but described his feelings as “measured disappointment” and the hire not “a terrible thing.”

Carol Martin, whose husband and other family members served in the military, told The Gazette, “My concern is the Veterans Building. It should be run by someone who served and knows what (it means to be a veteran).”

Kristin Delfs, commission chair, dispelled a “false rumor that position has always been required to be a veteran,” when it fact it was just a preference.

Gary Grant, who serves on the commission, explained removing the veteran preference by saying the commission wanted to attract the widest possible pool of candidates and hire the best person. The commission opted not to use a search firm and instead relied on the city’s human resources division.

“All things being equal, it would be nice for the person to be a veteran, but we wanted to make sure we were looking for the best qualified individual,” Grant said. “Veterans were welcome to apply, but we felt Paul was the best fit for the position.”

Scott Olson, a City Council member and liaison to the commission, said he supported expanding the pool. Since City Hall relocated to the old federal Court House, more pressure falls to the facility director to manage the “massive facility,” work with organizations and services leasing space there, maintenance and updates, he said.

“I supported that direction because the biggest issue with the building is to make it financially viable,” Olson said. “You have to have a person who is a manager and that had experience with running facilities.”

The previous two directors, who were veterans, left after some turmoil.

Mike Jager was fired seven months ago for “insubordination, unavailability for work, poor work performance, failure to follow required policies and procedures, poor behavior and neglect of duty,” according to the commission.

The previous director, Gary Craig, resigned in 2008 after being placed on leave during an investigation into his handling of money. Charges were filed against Craig for his conduct in office although later were dropped.

 

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

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