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Casting a critical eye on arena/stadium job predictions

MinnPost – Jay Weiner: Vikings stadium jobs: Gov. Dayton, beware! And have someone check those employment numbers.

This is a good example of how a journalist should cover job projections for arena and stadium projects. Nice to see I’m not the only reporter/blogger skeptical of the job projections that get thrown around when somebody’s trying to get a stadium/arena built!
CSL, by the way, did several feasibility studies for Lincoln before the city voted to build a new arena last spring. And Mortenson Construction was chosen to be the construction manager for Lincoln’s $340 million arena project.
It’s also worth noting that a consultant (hired by Lincoln) projected the arena project would create nearly 8,000 jobs — the same number of jobs a new Vikings stadium has been projected to create, even though that project would cost $954 million — nearly three times as much as Lincoln’s.
I did a lot of research into the jobs and economic development projections that were heavily touted during Lincoln’s arena campaign. (Remember this story?)
Boy, did that story ever stir up some people. The editor edited it with a fine-toothed comb and we locked horns over some of the things he took out. The final version that was printed was not how I would have written it, but at least it was published.
Let’s just say when all the big hitters in town are behind a big project, editors get very antsy about stories that question the assumption.


Interesting take on Suttle vs. Beutler

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle

The Omaha World-Herald had an interesting Sunday story on the very different experiences the two Democratic mayors of the state’s largest cities are having in office.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle faces a recall election next month; Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler is expected to win re-election in the spring. The World-Herald reporter, Robynn Tysver, analyzes why Suttle is struggling and Beutler is not.
Seems to me it comes down to the fact that Suttle is paying for some bad decisions by former mayors — but at least he’s dealing with them, even if that means tax increases are necessary. Meanwhile Beutler has not really solved Lincoln’s budget problems either, but somehow every year he seems to find a pot of money or slip in a telecom tax, with the help of four supportive Democrats on the City Council. And the city closes a budget gap for one more year.
But the real problem — the structurally imbalanced municipal budget — persists. Even a hint of controversy or grassroots opposition to a proposal (cutting meter readers, closing pools, raising property taxes) and he backs off. Beutler isn’t tone-deaf, as Tysver describes Suttle, but he is overly sensitive to criticism.
Personally, I think Suttle deserves credit for making tough decisions, at his own peril. If he survives the recall, Omaha will be closer to dealing with its budget problems. I prefer politicians who don’t make decisions with an eye toward the next election, but with a willingness to do what needs to be done, even if that means they won’t be re-elected.
Beutler brags about how much he does to tap into the public’s opinion, and yes, he does do those annual surveys to ask people to make budget choices. They’re expensive, but it’s a worthy effort. However, as for seeking public opinion in town hall meetings, Beutler isn’t so good at that. Some of the attendees at his budget roundtables were hand-picked, and basically city officials give their side of the budget story for a day, and by the end the attendees are putty in Beutler’s hand.
During the arena campaign, the Journal Star and other entities tried to get city officials to do town hall meetings on the arena debate, but the Beutler administration flat refused to offer up city employees to do any. Why? They wouldn’t be able to control the situation — people might get out of hand or too critical. So yes, Beutler does check the pulse of the public — up to a point.


50 LES employees make six-figure salaries

About five years ago, I did a story about the city’s spiraling personnel costs, largely the result of the state-mandated method of determining what public employees’ salaries should be.
I remember a prominent city employee telling me I should have included the salaries of employees at the Lincoln Electric System, the city-owned electric utility. I disagreed, since those salaries aren’t paid out of the city budget.
After years of rate increases, however, (some of them quite substantial), I thought this might be a good time to take a look at them. So I asked LES for a list of all their employees who earn six figures. Without complaint, they obliged, giving me a list of 50 people. That’s out of a total 458 employees (as of last week), or 11 percent of their payroll.
Is that too many? Are they paid too much? LES says people who work in private utilities earn more. LES Spokesman Russ Reno said when these positions open up, they’re filled after regional or national search. LES’s policy for vacancies for most of these positions would be filled from a regional or national process. He also sent me a copy of LES Policy 17 for setting compensation.
I appreciate LES’s openness and transparency; other government agencies are not nearly as willing to hand over public records. The city of Lincoln, for example, sometimes stymies people by taking weeks to respond, charging them for each page they print of a record, and then sometimes charging for attorneys’ time to look at the documents first. I’ve had citizens — average Joe citizens, mind you — tell me they were told it would cost hundreds to thousands of dollars to get the records they want. The Journal Star once paid like $400 for public records from the city.
Anyway, here are the six-figure salaries:

$100,000+ Salaries as of 12/17/2010
Name Job Title Salary
Adams Steven Vice President $144,008
Amancherla Krishna Senior Engineer $100,324
Anderson Thomas Utilities Supervisor I $102,337
Andrysik Richard Utilities Manager I (S) $115,283
Bakenhus Byron Senior Engineer $102,407
Bantam Douglas Chief Operating Officer $195,000
Barnhouse Bruce Utilities Supervisor III $113,079
Brozek David Utilities Supervisor III $117,487
Buhrman Douglas Senior Engineer $108,101
Burbach Alan Senior Engineer $102,979
Case Blane Professional Manager III (S) $100,586
Crist Paul Utilities Manager III $123,639
Curry Douglas Vice President $186,508
Davlin Thomas Utilities Manager II (S) $121,105
Dinges Paul Utilities Supervisor II (S) $104,194
Engelman Neil Senior Engineer $120,000
Fischer James Utilities Manager II (S) $132,490
Florom Dennis Utilities Manager II (S) $117,795
Fortik Jason Utilities Manager II (S) $101,821
Friendt Douglas Utilities Manager II (S) $115,738
Gregg Laurie Utilities Manager II (S) $115,371
Hall J. Todd Vice President $147,732
Hanks Stephen Utilities Supervisor III $102,745
Hans Bradley Utilities Supervisor III $114,283
Haun Steven Utilities Supervisor III $114,740
Hoy Debbra Utilities Manager III $145,630
Kapustka Laura Vice President $192,800
Kratzer Ronald Utilities Manager II (S) $131,687
Lang William IT Analyst Senior $101,990
Mannel James Senior Engineer $119,161
McReynolds Brian Utilities Manager II (S) $127,535
Merrill Bruce Vice President $142,000
Miller Douglas Utilities Supervisor III $105,237
Noble William Utilities Manager III $123,231
Pietzyk Bruce Utilities Supervisor II $107,917
Pudenz Danny Vice President $165,955
Rittgarn Kenneth Utilities Supervisor II (S) $107,074
Sahling-Zart Shelley Vice President $154,217
Schmidt Robert Utilities Supervisor III $113,862
Shkolnick Marc Utilities Manager I (S) $103,729
Skipton David Utilities Manager I (S) $105,326
Steinauer Steven Utilities Manager III $102,043
Streit Lawrence Utilities Supervisor III $120,157
Turek Emil Utilities Manager II (S) $132,048
Wailes Kevin Administrator & CEO $270,000
Wallingford Steven Senior Engineer $107,512
Wertz Dennis Internal Auditor Senior $100,968
Wesolowski Dan Senior Engineer $103,494
Young Stephen Utilities Supervisor II (S) $104,075

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