Interesting take on Suttle vs. 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.