I thought Beutler clearly won the debate. A few nuggets of interest:
• Beutler said “arguably the most important issue” in Lincoln right now is street needs. This surprised me, since during his four years he has not really offered a solution. He did kick in some city dollars to complement federal stimulus dollars for roads. But he has not acted since getting authority from the Legislature to implement urban growth districts on the city edge — where projected sales tax revenue would be used to obtain bonds to fund infrastructure, similar to tax increment financing districts. He did say he’s working on a financing plan that will likely include a series of small bond issues. That’s news.
• Beutler seemed to get rattled when Buffington criticized his $2 million creation of a Development Services Center in city hall and $6 million purchase of the Experian building. Beutler said all the money spent on leases for city offices will be enough to make payments on the Experian building — although he didn’t mention the estimated $10 million cost of moving, for which the city doesn’t have a plan. “It was a steal,” he said of the Experian building. “The only problem is filling it.”
• Beutler said of the arena project: “It’s happening with the utmost transparency.” That was an overstatement, given the recent approval of a pre-construction contract that won’t allow the actual bids to be made public, only scorecards of each company that bids.
• I was surprised Beutler got so irritated when Buffington suggested the city might not want to take state or federal funds — with all their strings attached — to build the south or east beltways and instead should look for efficiencies in city government to do the projects. “My opponent is not in the realm of the real,” he said. He’s right, the city could never pay for those projects itself, but no need to attack her for making a rookie mistake. She shot back that perhaps the city could have built the south beltway instead of the arena project.
• Beutler seemed to try to take credit for building momentum to reform the Commission of Industrial Relations (which settles wage disputes between cities and unions and enforces the law requiring public employees’ to keep up with their peers’ in other cities) when he said, “we have built up an armada of opposition.” I don’t think he can take credit for that — while he has complained about the CIR since taking office, Republicans on the City Council and up in Omaha have made a lot more noise than he. Nevertheless, he also predicted, “You will see change this year.”
• Most unexpected question asked by a panel of local journalists: How big a problem is illegal immigration in Lincoln? Beutler said it’s not a problem here.
• Beutler claimed crime has dropped 21 percent since he took office — which I’ve never heard before.
Click here to see some video from the debate.
Republican mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington today questioned why Mayor Chris Beutler has not kept his promises about complete transparency and accountability on the city’s $340 million arena project.
“What is he trying to hide?” she asked, referring to the recent exception granted to contractor Mortenson Construction, allowing them to avoid the city’s usual open bidding process for pre-construction services, which will account for much of the work.
“Chris Beutler has completely rejected transparency again in favor of deals done behind closed doors,” Buffington said in a press release. “He promised an open and competitive bidding process on the arena but he has clearly gone back on his word and is leaving taxpayers in the dark. Not only will the subcontractors be selected with no public view but the bids themselves will never be exposed to the light of day under the current contract. The public never gets to see the bids, including prices, even after the backroom deals are done.”
Buffington said the mayor’s decision runs contrary to the city’s established bidding process, under the city charter. Federal wage requirements — required since the city is using federal Build America Bonds to finance part of the project — now will also potentially mean a much higher price tag on the arena, she said, but the public will not get to see the actual bids.
“This is more of the same from Chris Beutler — negotiating special deals for special people, then handing us the bill,” Buffington said. “The mayor’s actions here have violated the trust of our taxpayers, our local contractors and the voters who supported the arena on his promise of transparency.”