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January 21, 2011

8

Omaha mayor makes same mistake as Lincoln’s with e-mails

by Deena Winter

In the heat of a rugged campaign, it’s easy to make a mistake. That’s what appears to have happened up in Omaha, where Jim Suttle’s opponents say the mayor’s staffers broke the law by sending campaign e-mails from work.
The pro-recall side is saying Suttle’s staffers should not have used their city e-mail accounts to respond to the hullabaloo over anti-recallers busing homeless people to the election office to vote (presumably against) Suttle’s recall.
Nebraska state law says public officials can express their opinion on ballot measures, but they cannot use public resources to do so. They can only provide neutral, factual information about the proposal when they’re on the clock, although they can support or oppose ballot measures on their own time.
Suttle’s staffers sent out e-mails in response to a deluge of requests for a response to the allegations about the busing scandal. They now say they did nothing wrong, because they’re allowed to respond to requests for information.
This brought me back to April, when Mayor Chris Beutler held a press conference to talk about how he was going to make sure the arena-building process would be transparent and accountable — and he used the opportunity to also say the arena would be key to Lincoln’s “prosperous future.”
At the time, Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission Director Frank Daley told me there are two exceptions to the law: Public employees and officials can respond to inquiries by the press or public and research and prepare materials to assist the governing body in determining the effect of a ballot question. Public employees also can answer questions about a ballot measure during a news conference on an unrelated topic.
However, Beutler’s information was hardly neutral, and he wasn’t asked to give his opinion on the arena project — it seemed a clear violation of the law, but Beutler’s city attorney thought it was legal, and apparently nobody complained to the A&D about it, so he got by with it.
In Omaha, it’s a bare-knuckled brawl — I doubt they’ll let Suttle get by with it.

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. John Duhon
    Jan 21 2011

    Deena, you’re going to have to start labeling yourself as a conservative blogger if you don’t hold Jon Bruning, Dave Heineman, and all the NEGOP to the same absurd standard that you hold Beutler to. Being a watchdog is one thing, a Fox news style attack dog is another.

    I don’t understand how you think an elected official cannot speak positively of a major policy proposal they are publicly in support of. You don’t make Beutler look bad when you write these things, you make yourself look ridiculous.

    Reply
  2. Jan 21 2011

    John… By “ridiculous standard” I assume you’re referring to THE LAW. If you have some evidence Bruning or Heineman did the same thing, I’ll be happy to write about it. Doesn’t matter if they’re an R or a D, the law applies to everyone, last I checked.

    Reply
  3. John Duhon
    Jan 21 2011

    Deena, I’ve practiced law for 22 years. Please tell me exactly what law Chris Beutler violated?

    Please refer to Nebraska Watchdog’s article ‘“Bold” Accuses Heineman and Bruning of Taking Illegal Campaign Cash.’

    Why is it that Nebrska Watchdog is partially funded by Pete Ricketts, yet still manages to hold Republicans accountable, and you have continued this bizarre smear campaign against Chris Beutler that is unfounded considering his tremendous success as mayor and his widespread support throughout the community.

    Reply
    • Jan 21 2011

      From the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act:
      49-14,101.02. Public official or public employee; use of public resources or funds; prohibited acts; exceptions. (1) For purposes of this section, public resources means personnel, property, resources, or funds under the official care and control of a public official or public employee.
      (2)
      Except as otherwise provided in this section, a public official or public employee shall not use or authorize the use of public resources for the purpose of campaigning for or against the nomination or election of a candidate or the qualification, passage, or defeat of a ballot question.
      (3)
      This section does not prohibit a public official or public employee from making government facilities available to a person for campaign purposes if the identity of the candidate or the support for or opposition to the ballot question is not a factor in making the government facility available or a factor in determining the cost or conditions of use.
      (4)
      This section does not prohibit a governing body from discussing and voting upon a resolution supporting or opposing a ballot question or a public corporation organized under Chapter 70 from otherwise supporting or opposing a ballot question concerning the sale or purchase of its assets.
      (5)
      This section does not prohibit a public official or a public employee under the direct supervision of a public official from responding to specific inquiries by the press or the public as to his or her opinion regarding a ballot question or from providing information in response to a request for information.
      (6)
      This section does not prohibit a member of the Legislature from making use of public resources in expressing his or her opinion regarding a candidate or a ballot question or from communicating that opinion. A member is not authorized by this section to utilize mass mailings or other mass communications at public expense for the purpose of campaigning for or against the nomination or election of a candidate. A member is not authorized by this section to utilize mass mailings at public expense for the purpose of qualifying, supporting, or opposing a ballot question.
      (7)
      This subsection applies to public officials other than members of the Legislature provided for in subsection (6) of this section. This section does not prohibit, in the normal course of his or her duties, a public official or a public employee under the direct supervision of a public official from using public resources to research and prepare materials to assist the government body for which the individual is a public official or public employee in determining the effect of the ballot question on the
      government body. This section does not authorize mass mailings, mass duplication, or other mass communications at public expense for the purpose of qualifying, supporting, or opposing a ballot question. Mass communications shall not include placing public records demonstrating the consequences of the passage or defeat of a ballot question affecting the government body for which the individual is a public official or public employee on existing web sites of such government body.
      (8)
      Nothing in this section prohibits a public official from campaigning for or against the qualification, passage, or defeat of a ballot question or the nomination or election of a candidate when no public resources are used.
      (9)
      Nothing in this section prohibits a public employee from campaigning for or against the qualification, passage, or defeat of a ballot question or the nomination or election of a candidate when no public resources are used. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a public employee shall not engage in campaign activity for or against the qualification, passage, or defeat of a ballot question or the nomination or election of a candidate while on government work time or when otherwise engaged in his or her official duties.
      (10)
      This section does not prohibit an employee of the Legislature from using public resources consistent with this section for the purpose of researching or campaigning for or against the qualification, passage, or defeat of a ballot question if the employee is under the direction and supervision of a member of the Legislature.
      (11)
      Nothing in this section prohibits a public official or public employee from identifying himself or herself by his or her official title.

      Happy to help.

      Reply
  4. John Duhon
    Jan 23 2011

    Deena you’re grasping at straws. You wrote right in your blog that Frank Daley from Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission said that it didn’t violate the law. You’ve written nothing about all the flagrant campaign finance violations that Americans For Prosperity, Jon Bruning, and Dave Heineman have been caught red handed with.

    It’s getting to the point that you’re inventing controversy where there is none.

    Reply
  5. Jan 23 2011

    John — You’d better read the story again; that is not what he said. In my experience with Daley, he either says “there is no violation” or “I can’t comment” (to paraphrase). In this case, he said he wasn’t prepared to say Beutler DID NOT violate the law.

    Reply
    • Gene
      Jan 24 2011

      He wasn’t prepared to say that Beutler did or DID NOT violate the law because he didn’t watch the news conference. He didn’t know one way or the other.

      Reply
  6. John Duhon
    Jan 24 2011

    I wish you had the same vitriol for the county government as you do for the city government. You’ve defended them for turning around and building the exact same jail that voters had voted down and haven’t reported anything on the shenangians with the sale of Lancaster Manor.

    Reply

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