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16
Nov

Camp’s going to run. There, I said it.

The Journal Star says no Republicans have stepped forward to challenge Mayor Chris Beutler in the spring election.
But I fully expect Councilman Jon Camp to be the one to take on Beutler this time around. Oh, sure, Councilman John Spatz has allowed speculation about his possible candidacy, but in the end, I don’t believe Spatz will do it.
He has not distinguished himself from Beutler on any major issues that I can recall.
Camp, on the other hand, has waited for this chance for a long time. He wanted to run against Coleen Seng, but stepped aside to allow his colleague Glenn Friendt to take what was believed to be a sure shot, and fail.
He wanted to run against Beutler, too, but stepped aside to allow his colleague Ken Svoboda to take a shot, and fail.
I don’t think Camp will step aside for anyone this time — much less a junior councilman like Spatz.
During his time on the council, Camp has been the mayor’s (pick a mayor, any mayor) chief adversary — asking questions, nitpicking details and hounding the fire department and ambulance service at every opportunity. Beutler has tamed Camp a bit, but there is still a tiger inside, waiting to pounce on Beutler in a brawl.
The only reason Camp may hesitate is he’d have to give up his council seat, which is also up for election in the spring. But I don’t think Camp can resist the temptation to take on Beutler.
The others will have to step aside this time.

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15
Nov

Feds in town reviewing StarTran purchases

The feds are in Lincoln this week to take a closer look at how the city bus service, StarTran, makes purchases.
StarTran head Larry Worth confirmed that the Federal Transit Administration is conducting a procurement review of StarTran this week. Three federal officials met with Worth Monday morning and then began going through paperwork pertaining to “how we buy things” following a regular triennial review by the Federal Transit Administration earlier this year. According to an FTA official, the report had a number of findings — specifically, repeat findings — related to StarTran’s procurement process.
Triennial reviews are done every three years to ensure recipients of federal dollars are adhering to federal requirements and policies.
“They found some things they want addressed,” Worth said.
So the Department of Transportation sent in a team to follow up on those issues and show StarTran officials “how to do the job better.”
“It’s like a tax audit,” Worth said. “If you get audited, they’re going to find something.”
He called the assessment/review typical, but also said he’d never had one done before in his previous 15 years heading up StarTran. Asked whether federal funds were in jeopardy, he said they would be if StarTran didn’t follow the feds’ recommendations. Most of StarTran’s funding is federal.

13
Nov

How does your city grow? Chamber comes out against “compact growth” option

It’s official: The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce has come out against one of the three growth scenarios being considered by the city as it updates its comprehensive plan.
Assuming the county will grow by 126,000 people by 2040, with 90 percent of those people settling in Lincoln, the comprehensive plan (which the city has dubbed LPlan2040) will direct and guide that growth.
The city has proposed three alternatives to deal with the 47,500 new housing units that would be necessary to house those people, including one that envisions “compact growth” — where the city would offer incentives to see that more growth occurs within the current city limits. Under this alternative, one-third of new housing would be built within the city limits, and two-thirds outside. Half of the new housing would be single family homes and half apartments and condos. This would be the cheapest option for the city, with the infrastructure cost estimated at $851 million.
It’s also the option being opposed by the chamber. (scenario_C)
The other two alternatives are:
• Stevens Creek growth — 96 percent of housing would be built at the edge of the city, mostly in the Stevens Creek watershed and south of Lincoln. Infrastructure cost: $1.1 billion.
• Multi-directional growth — 96 percent of housing would be built at the city edges, in all directions. Cost to city: $1.34 billion.
The Chamber of Commerce recently issued a statement expressing “fear that attempts to constrain the growth of the city will only make it more difficult to accomplish projects like (Verizon and Perot) in the future.” The chamber said the city should follow “the most optimistic models for growth” and “opposes the adoption of any of the extremely constrained assumptions made in growth scenario C (the compact growth scenario).”
The chamber said it could support a revised scenario that generally encompasses the Stevens Creek scenario, but that also allows the areas along Highway 77 in southwest Lincoln to remain in the Tier 1 and Tier 2 land use map.
This should be an interesting debate — and litmus test for Mayor Chris Beutler, who has governed more like a Republican, with a pro-growth attitude determined to end the city's anti-business reputation. This is the guy, after all, who built a $2 million Development Services Center on the second floor of city hall, with the goal of making planning and permitting more user-friendly.
To learn more about the proposals and process, go to the city Web site on

12
Nov

Your choice for U.S. Senate? “Other”

Looks like the readers of this blog aren’t too excited about ANY of the people being talked about as GOP candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
“Other” won the poll with 45 percent of the votes, clobbering Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who garnered just 21 percent of votes, followed by State Auditor Mike Foley, with 17 percent of votes, U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry with 10 percent and U.S. Rep. Lee Terry with 7 percent.
The “other” names written in were Tom Osborne, Tony Raimondo, “Almost anyone else,” Deena Winter, “Someone who WON’T turn into a politician,” Langemeier, John Spatz, Doug Emery, Deanne Curran, “None of these are good” and JB Milliken.
Far from scientific, this poll indicates little enthusiasm for any of the candidates at this point. So if Sen. Ben Nelson runs again, maybe he’ll generate more excitement than these Republicans.

11
Nov

Mortenson pulls an upset in arena bid


I was surprised by the city’s selection of Mortenson Construction of Minnesota and Hampton Enterprises to manage construction of a $168 million arena.
I figured the Turner-Sampson team was the leading contender, just because Sampson got in on the ground floor from the very beginning, when building a new arena was little more than a dream.
Sampson had a representative on many arena committees and task forces over the years, so when Sampson teamed up with Turner Construction of New York, I figured they would win the job. And in fact, they got the highest score of the four teams and were recommended by the city selection committee. But the mayor had veto power, and selected Mortenson. (See the scorecard CMR Rating Sheet.)
Granted, you have to get invited to get in that early — the arena architect ultimately won the designing job after working pro bono for the city for years — but that also seems unfair to other companies.
So it was good to see that the fix was not in, so to speak.
Mortenson certainly went all out to get the job. They hired lobbyists and assembled a team of representatives of Mortenson and Hampton to meet with local officials.
Heck, they even called me up — when I was still the Journal Star’s arena reporter — and asked for a meeting. Five people showed up and gave their spiel on why Mortenson would be the best company to do the job. And Mortenson’s track record was impressive.
Meanwhile, some of the other companies vying for the job were not even willing to be interviewed about their qualifications — not that giving press interviews has anything to do with their ability to get an arena built on time and on budget. But I was told by people on the arena selection committee that Mortenson was out wining and dining and meeting with everyone connected with the project.
Is that what won it for them? I doubt it. Their emphasis on getting projects done on time and on (or under) budget was probably the key (as indicated by the mayor), so now let’s watch and see if they can deliver.

10
Nov

“Giant sucking sound” of Perot jobs headed to India; Journal Star rushes to Perot’s defense

It happens to journalists all the time: They write a story, and then another reporter picks up on the story and points out an angle they completely missed, and so the original reporter defends himself by saying, “Well I knew all about that, but it wasn’t important because of X, Y, Z.”
I believe I may have employed this very defense myself a time or two during the past 20 years as a journalist. And now, the good ol’ Lincoln Journal Star is doing it.
Last weekend, the LJS broke a good story about how according to a state Labor Department filing, Perot Systems’ Lincoln office has shipped 250 jobs to India. The only thing missing in the story – a major omission – was the fact that two years ago, the city of Lincoln gave Perot $3.5 million in TIF to help consolidate its seven Lincoln offices into one and eventually expand their Lincoln operation.
For whatever reason, whether they forgot about the TIF or didn’t think it was important, the Journal Star didn’t mention the $3.5 million carrot. So I blogged about it.
Now business reporter Matt Olberding (who didn’t write the original LJS story) has responded with his own blog, in which he wrote, “I’m not in the business of defending people or businesses that the Journal Star writes about — that’s not my job — but I do feel the need sometimes to correct incorrect information.”
And then he proceeded to do exactly that: defend Perot and the city for giving $3.5 million worth of tax incentives to Perot right before they (allegedly) shipped off jobs. This has to be embarrassing for city officials, but Olberding rushed to their defense by saying Perot “hasn’t received any tax incentives – at least not from the state.”
Well, this “local blogger” didn’t say they got tax incentives from the state – although apparently they may yet receive some, according to Olberding’s own reporting. I said they got them from the city. Which makes the LJS headline “No tax breaks for Perot” inaccurate.
Olberding’s point is that Perot never promised jobs in exchange for TIF. They promised to build a new building. So by this logic, the city wanted to help Perot build a new building and that’s it? Really?
But in reality, when the Perot TIF was being debated by the City Council a few years ago, city and chamber officials said Perot planned to add 150 jobs in Lincoln. I specifically remember them saying these were $50,000 a year jobs – not piddly call center jobs.
Although Perot won’t confirm the number of employees it now has in Lincoln, it’s pretty clear there are fewer now than before the city kicked in $3.5 million in tax increment financing to help them move.
I guess if that was just idle talk and wishful thinking, the City Council had better look more closely at future TIF agreements, because new jobs were clearly a motivation for approving the TIF.
Even though the cost-benefit analysis prepared for the project “mentions” a “potential” increase in jobs, Olberding quotes the city’s Urban Development Director, David Landis, saying, “There is nothing in the Perot (TIF) agreement that promises jobs.”
In my experience, the City Council pays close attention to those cost-benefit portions of redevelopment agreements. But maybe some council members really thought they were giving Perot a $3.5 million tax break just so they could build a new building. And then ship jobs off to India.
In which case, no harm done.

9
Nov

33rd and A renaissance

If you haven’t been to the 33rd and A area for a while, I’d advise you to check it out.
The little grocery store near the intersection, A Street Market, has undergone an extreme makeover and now looks like a gourmet grocery store from the outside.

A Street Market


And just up the street, at 1353 S. 33rd St., is my new favorite store in Lincoln, Simply Bungalow, which is nestled right next to another jewel of an antique store called Nelly’s Nest. They are both relatively new stores, and Simply Bungalow is owned by a mother-daughter pair. If you like primitives or shabby chic or farmhouse furnishings, check them out.
Two cool new stores in Lincoln.
Just across the street, they recommend the food at a sub shop called Sips-n-Subs. All of these owners are all about this little neighborhood renaissance. There are other stores — like a shoe repair shop — worth checking out, too.
You can also find Nelly’s Nest and Simply Bungalow on Facebook and the Internet.

8
Nov

27th Street closures to continue, possibly into December


If you’ve driven on 27th Street through the Country Club lately, you’ve probably been detoured.
Lincoln Electric System has been working in the area since mid-July to bury power lines on 27th from South Street to Calvert Street, detouring 27th Street traffic from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays. Construction Supervisor Dave Brozek said they’d hoped to finish work by Thanksgiving, but they’re now expecting work won’t wrap up until mid-December at the latest.
Brozek said it’s taking longer than anticipated due to the difficulty of finding accurate infrastructure records for water and sewer lines, for example, in the historic area.
It’s all part of the City Council’s edict a few years ago directing LES to spend about a million dollars per year burying power lines – to avoid downed power lines and cut down on visual clutter on streets. Other cable, gas and phone lines are also being buried in the process, Brozek said.
LES has moved power lines underground in areas such as South Street from 45th to 66th streets, and Brozek said it makes a big difference, aesthetically.
“I think it looks much nicer,” he said.
He said 27th Street is just too narrow to leave open during work.
“The one thing we can’t do is slow the cars down,” he said.
After the power lines are buried, LES will be upgrading the street lighting system from wood poles to steel poles fed by underground wires on 27th Street from South Street to Calvert Street. In addition, the Country Club Neighborhood Association plans to install decorative street lighting in the area.

5
Nov

Who should run for the U.S. Senate in 2012?

Gov. Dave Heineman’s announcement Thursday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate in 2012 took me back to a similar situation in North Dakota a few years ago.
Everybody was bugging Gov. Ed Schafer to run for the Senate, to take on Byron Dorgan. He had a good shot at winning. But Schafer explained to me that he’s an administrator, a leader, a governor. Being a governor and being a senator are two very different roles, and he knew he wouldn’t be good at just being one of 100 senators vying to accomplish something.
So now that Heineman has bowed out of the race, the field is wide open for other Republican contenders. (Everyone seems to be assuming Sen. Ben Nelson will run again — but I wouldn’t bet on it.)
Everyone assumes Attorney General Jon Bruning will run (yep! he’s running), but who SHOULD run? Let’s take a poll:

So far, “other” is the most popular option. Write-in votes have gone to Tom Osborne, Tony Raimondo, “Almost anyone else,” Deena Winter, “Someone who WON’T turn into a politician,” Langemeier, John Spatz, Doug Emery, Deanne Curran, “None of these are good” and JB Millken (sic).

4
Nov

Lincoln & Omaha councils complain again

The Lincoln and Omaha city councils got together to complain again Wednesday.
Yawn.
They’ve been doing this every year for the past half dozen: At their annual joint meeting, inevitably the subject of employee salaries comes up. Then they all complain about the state law requiring that employees’ salaries be commensurate with employees in similar sized cities.
They commiserate and say they’re going to do something about it. They’re really, really going to do something about it this time. Maybe even go straighten out those state lawmakers. Get them to pass a bill, even.
And then they all go home and nothing comes of it.
Oh, sure last year some council members marched up to the state capitol and tried to convince lawmakers to do something about that nasty Commission of Industrial Relations — the governor-appointed board that settles wage disputes between cities and unions. The CIR is not to blame: they’re just carrying out the law, and the law virtually guarantees that employee salaries and benefits will rise, rise, rise. Especially when it’s legal to compare Lincoln’s salaries to Minneapolis’s.
Doesn’t matter if the city is broke (Omaha) or is struggling to pay for the burgeoning personnel costs (Lincoln). The law is the law. And the law was created in exchange for public employees giving up their right to strike.
And state lawmakers and various gatekeepers at the capitol don’t seem too interested in changing the law.
When I would suggest the Journal Star’s state capitol reporters write about it from that angle, they repeatedly told me the issue was DOA — dead on arrival. That lawmakers would never change the system.
Why? Is the Legislature not filled with a few former city council members or county commissioners who have some idea what’s going on in the hinterlands? Is this less of an issue in smaller towns? Or are certain powerful committee chairs blocking movement on the issue?
Perhaps a bigger question is why are the state’s two largest cities unable to get any traction on a critical issue in the Legislature? Do they not have enough lawmakers between them to get virtually anything they want accomplished?
Do their Democratic mayors — who were elected with lots of union dollars — talk big publicly but do nothing privately?
What exactly, is the problem?
Lincoln Councilman John Spatz says the stars are aligned this year, that change is coming.
Wake me up when the governor signs the bill.