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December 1, 2010

11

Mayor’s office won’t say who paid for recent tour of arenas

by Deena Winter

Somebody paid for the mayor and others to jet around the country looking at other arenas in late October. We’re not sure who it was, because the mayor’s office isn’t saying.
How’s that for more transparency and accountability from the man who promised it would be “unprecedented” on this, the most expensive public works project in Lincoln’s history?
I remember the press conference well. After months of stonewalling about details of the arena project, Mayor Chris Beutler finally invited reporters to ask any question they wanted, to look at any document they wanted. Of course, that lasted approximately one week — when I did something that pissed them off and they temporarily banned city employees from talking to me.
That was business as usual, covering the Beutler regime.
And it continues. On the mayor’s public schedule, Oct. 25-26, it said he was touring arenas in Columbus, Ohio, Louisville, Ky., Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Okla. and Wichita, Kan.
I was a little puzzled as to why he’d be touring arenas now — when arena designs are supposed to be 20 to 30 percent complete. In fact, arena supporters and city officials already went on an arena tour a few years ago. What was the point of this one? Perhaps we’ll never know.
And how much did it cost? I don’t know. Mayor’s office hasn’t responded to that question, and neither has arena coordinator Dan Marvin, who also went on the Tour de Arenas.
Marvin did, however, tell me a little bit about the junket. He said the attendees were Beutler, Stan Meradith and Greg Garlock of DLR (the architects), Tom Lorenz (who manages Pershing Center), Marc Boehm (Husker athletics guy), Ben Wrigley of CSL (the company that will market the arena) and Jim Martin of Benham (the Oklahoma company that is program manager for the arena project) and 2015 Visioner Dan Mulheisen.
Marvin said the flight was “privately paid for” but the other expenses “our own responsibility.” Marvin would not say who paid for the trip.
Whenever a mayor and two city contractors and other city vendors get free flights anywhere, it’s a matter of public interest. Was it paid for by one of the companies that has won arena bids? Before or after they won the bid? Was it paid for by DLR? Vision 2015?
All relevant questions — and I would expect answers from a mayor who promised “unprecedented accountability and transparency.”
The head of the state Accountability & Disclosure Commission, Frank Daley, says the flight would be considered a gift, and be reported on Beutler’s annual statement of financial interest. But those aren’t due until April. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait that long to find out.

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Roger Yant
    Dec 1 2010

    Guess I care about the city and honesty in government. I wish that we did not have politicians who like to be so secretive about anything. We elected them, we pay their salaries so we need to know who paid for this. Deena, go get them, why be afraid to tell who paid for it? Something then has to be wrong. Good God, this is going to be a mess, the arena project, how much will we really know about cost and the people who are benefiting from it.

    Reply
  2. CJ
    Dec 1 2010

    Keep after ’em Deena! Excellent reporting.

    Reply
  3. Mike
    Dec 1 2010

    Great article Deena – I’m grateful for your work.

    Reply
  4. ej
    Dec 1 2010

    Deena, I understand if you don’t read or believe the coverage by your former employer, but, according to that news source (http://journalstar.com/special-section/arena/recent-news/article_d3e6868e-ec62-11df-8db3-001cc4c03286.html), the junket’s purpose was to visit an arena constructed by each of the finalists being considered to build the arena. Clearly the trip occurred before the decision was announced.The fact that arena designs were supposed to be 20 to 30 percent complete at the time of the visits would be irrelevant, as the purpose of the trip was to view the quality of work completed by each of the finalists and to visit with those who worked directly with the finalists throughout the project. On site visits such as this certainly make sense and aren’t at all out of the ordinary. It’s simply due process for a project like this.

    Not to defend the lack of information from the mayor’s office regarding this trip, but to be fair, it doesn’t sound like they have said they won’t answer your questions, they just haven’t answered them as quickly as you would like.

    Nothing wrong with stirring the pot, but must we constantly feed the hysteria of some readers/commenters through inference and innuendo?

    Reply
  5. Informed Citizen
    Dec 1 2010

    Seriously Deena drop the sensationalism. The price of one of those airline tickets is $350. Or, one one-MILLIONTH the cost of the arena.

    This whole “Deena vs. The Arena” facade has run it’s course. You lost, move on with your life.

    Reply
  6. Dec 1 2010

    What part of the story was sensational, “Informed Citizen”? You think it cost $350 to fly to Oklahoma, Kansas and Kentucky over the course of two days? What’s your source for that information?
    The point is not the price of the tickets — the point is that if someone pays for city officials to fly around the country, those officials ought to report the gift and be willing to disclose the gift to the public upon request. Unless, of course, they are not transparent and accountable at all.
    Has nothing to do with whether I supported the arena or not. By the way, I voted “yes” to the arena, but not for any of the reasons they tried to sell us.
    EJ — it’s not clear to me at all that this is the trip referred to briefly in that article. If it is, why didn’t the whole selection committee go on the trip? From what I’ve heard, the choice for construction manager had been made BEFORE they went on this trip.

    Reply
  7. Glenn Beck Fan
    Dec 2 2010

    You tell ’em Deena. You should ask to see Mayor Beutler’s birth cerificate while you’re at it.

    Reply
  8. ej
    Dec 2 2010

    “EJ — it’s not clear to me at all that this is the trip referred to briefly in that article. If it is, why didn’t the whole selection committee go on the trip?”

    But is it clear that there were indeed two trips? It doesn’t sound like it, but that’s what you’ve implied. As for why the whole selection committee didn’t go on the trip if the trip’s purpose was to examine the finalists work and processes, that wouldn’t be uncommon. I once served on a selection committee (not for something of this magnitude, but it was for a multi-million dollar contract and for a public entity), we only sent a couple committee members to each site, and then they reported back to the full committee.

    “From what I’ve heard, the choice for construction manager had been made BEFORE they went on this trip.”

    Then perhaps the trip was a final gut check just to confirm the decision. If this really were some secret junket being paid for under the table (and I’m not saying it wasn’t), why would they put it on the mayor’s public calender and specify it as being to visit arenas?

    Reply
  9. Dec 2 2010

    I don’t think it was a “secret junket being paid for under the table.” It was on his calendar, someone paid for it, and they obviously don’t want to say who.

    Reply
  10. Fletch
    Dec 3 2010

    I just love the phrase, “Deena vs. The Arena.”

    Reply

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