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Andrews says Hart used office for political gain when pressuring nonprofit to cancel event

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 8:15 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Amara Andrews said Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart’s voicemail pressuring a local non-profit to cancel an event was an example of an elected official abusing their position for political gain.

KCRG-TV9 obtained a video on Monday of a voicemail where Hart suggested CSPS Hall, a non-profit involved in the arts, could lose funding from the city’s hotel-motel tax for hosting an event featuring Andrews, who is running against Brad Hart and Tiffany O’Donnell for mayor.

Hart, who is seeking re-election, sits on a committee that recommends which non-profits should receive funds from the city’s hotel-motel tax. He also gets to vote on the funding as part of the city council.

Andrews released a statement on Tuesday about the voicemail. In an email, she said Hart threatened the financial stability of a nonprofit for his own political benefit.

“Our local leaders should be working to help our nonprofits, not abusing their power by threatening to hold up taxpayer funding for political gain,” Andrews said. “Mayor Hart deliberately threatened the financial stability of CSPS by specifically mentioning the hotel-motel tax credit, which both nonprofit and for-profit entities in Cedar Rapids rely on, all for his own political benefit. This is fundamentally wrong, and unacceptable behavior. The people of this city need a leader who protects and empowers our nonprofits, not one who threatens them.”

After the voicemail was made public, Hart apologized for the tone of the voicemail.

“CSPS is a valuable part of our community so it was important that it understand the potential ramifications of its actions—jeopardizing its charitable status,” Hart said, in an emailed statement. “However, I should have delivered that message more tactfully. I apologize for letting my frustrations get the best of me right then.”

The fundraiser, which Hart pressured CSPS to cancel, was for the Advocates for Social Justice and the Academy for Scholastic and Personal Success. Andrews, who is running against Hart for mayor, has a leadership role in both groups. Her campaign also advertised her appearance at the two events.

Non-profits are not allowed to endorse political candidates but can rent out venues.

After CSPS canceled the event, the Andrews campaign continued to advertise the event at a new venue and encouraged people to bring a lawn chair or picnic blanket along with a $50 donation to the campaign. The location was changed to an address, which the Cedar Rapids City Assessor said is own by Amara Andrews.

The city of Cedar Rapids has a Board of Ethics to investigate potential conflicts of interest. Those include acting in a private capacity on matters dealt with as a city official. They also include using private information for reasons not related to city business, taking actions where an official has a private financial interest, and accepting gifts in violation of city and state law.

The Cedar Rapids Board of Ethics has received no complaints in regards to the voicemail Hart left a local non-profit. The board can either start an investigation on its own or it would be forced to if someone filed a complaint. Gary Streit, who is a board member for the Cedar Rapids Board of Ethics, said in an email he doesn’t know if the board will initiate any actions by itself

The Andrews campaign and CSPS told TV9 they don’t plan to write a complaint.

Ann Brown, who is the treasurer for the Andrews campaign, said they will leave it up to the board to decide if there should be any additional legal or ethical issues that require consequences.

“Mayor Hart’s conduct, as has been reported by local news outlets, is very disturbing,” Brown said. “We will leave it to the appropriate authorities to investigate and determine whether there are additional legal or ethical issues raised by the conduct that may warrant further action. The Amara Andrews campaign is focusing on earning votes through communicating her vision for Cedar Rapids and we hope that going forward Mayor Hart will do the same.”

Bob Teig, who is a former member of the city’s Board of Ethics, said an investigation into conflict of interest like this is very rare.

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