Anti-casino Activist Accuses Cedar Rapids Mayor of Conflict of Interest

By Rick Smith, Reporter

We Can Do Better CR founder Lisa Kuzela watches the results of the local option sales tax vote with other opponents at Buffalo Wild Wings in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette-KCRG)

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By Liz Blood

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A Cedar Rapids woman who is working to defeat Tuesday’s vote on casino gaming in Linn County is accusing Ron Corbett of an ethics violation related to the proposed Cedar Rapids casino.

Lisa Kuzela, 49, of 341 Carter St. NW, says Corbett violated state ethics rules by casting a City Council vote in October for the casino venture in which two CRST Inc. executives have invested. Corbett works on special projects at CRST.

On Monday, Corbett said Kuzela’s ethical accusation is groundless and misstates the facts.

On Oct. 9, the Cedar Rapids City Council voted unanimously to support a Cedar Rapids group of investors led by Steve Gray in a proposed Cedar Rapids casino project if two things occurred: the investors succeeded in obtaining petition signatures to force a public referendum and if the referendum passed.

The City Council has not discussed the casino project in a public meeting or voted on any measure related to the casino project since Oct. 9.

On Feb. 4, 2013, the investor group’s Gray announced the names of about 60 investors in the casino project, saying the group had completed its recruitment of investors in late January 2013. The investors include John Smith, chairman of the board at CRST, and David Rusch, CRST president and CEO.

Until then, Corbett said on Monday that he did not know who the investors in the casino project were except for Gray and Drew Skogman, who have been the public spokesman for the casino effort, and two other investors who wrote a newspaper column in December.

Later in February, Corbett, a part-time mayor, said he personally supported the casino project and already had voted via absentee ballot for it.

He said he didn’t know if state ethics rules prohibited an elected official from expressing public support for a project after he learns that his employer has invested in it.

Last June, Kuzela was charged with assaulting the city manager’s assistant at City Hall where she had come to object to the city’s decision to shut down a flood-recovery program from which she had benefitted for some three-and-half years. Some 350 homeowners had received funds from the interim mortgage program, though Kuzela was in a first group that got the initial payments in October 2008 and she was among just a few left in the program when the city ended it.

She pleaded guilty in December to disorderly conduct for the June incident and was ordered to stay away from Sandi Fowler, assistant to the city manager, for five years.
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