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Half a million in TIF for former Meadow Gold milk plant

The Lincoln City Council today considers approving more than a half million dollars worth of tax increment financing, or TIF, to help developers convert the former Meadow Gold milk processing plant into mixed uses for now, and commercial and residential uses later.

According to city documents, they will be converting the plant into “high tech industrial manufacturing,” office space and a brewery. The public assistance (TIF) “may” be used for streetscape and facade improvements and geothermal energy improvements.

Since the city declared that area south of the Haymarket blighted way back in 1984 (and again for the arena project, I believe), that opens the door for this kind of redevelopment.


Councilman Emery says he won’t take money from unions or LIBA

Awhile back, Councilman Doug Emery told a talk radio host that if he decided to run again, he wouldn’t take money from unions or LIBA (Lincoln Independent Business Association).

Now that Emery has officially announced his plans to run again for his seat representing District 1, or northeast Lincoln, I asked whether that radio promise still stood. Today he said yes. He won’t be taking money from city employee unions or LIBA.

Of all the special interests and groups that lobby city hall, LIBA and the fire union are probably the biggest dogs in town right now. The firefighters’ union has become the single largest contributor to local campaigns, and LIBA is not far behind.

Emery said he made the pledge because he’s “tired of unfounded allegations” by me “and others” that “donations somehow influenced votes.” He says LIBA gave “some” council members “far more than the unions” and “their influence is not questioned.”

He misses a key point: LIBA isn’t negotiating labor agreements with the city.

This pledge comes on top of his refusal to promise NOT to raise taxes. It took guts to refuse LIBA and fire union contributions; it takes cajones not to do the “read my lips” dance.


Johanns accused of using ag office to lobby for GOP

President George W. Bush and then-Ag Secretary Mike Johanns leave the Rose Garden in 2007 after the president announced Johanns' resignation. WHITE HOUSE PHOTO

The Omaha World-Herald is reporting that U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns is among those accused in a report by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel of using his office as ag secretary to promote Republican candidates in 2006.

Which would be illegal.

Johanns is vehemently denying it; saying expenses were reimbursed for questioned trips to New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota. The World-Herald says Johanns showed them proof the expenses were reimbursed.


Can your police chief write like this?

Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady is known by reporters for being a quote machine. He’s known for being able to use any kind of computer technology you can come up with. He’s also known for saying what he thinks, whether it’s controversial or unpopular.

Turns out, he can write, too: Read this blog he wrote about the death of a former officer of his, Vicki Bourg, whose last assignment was working as a school resource officer at Northstar High School.


Mayoral candidate’s campaign manager leaves

The campaign manager for the Republican candidate for mayor has left the campaign, just over a week after Tammy Buffington announced her campaign.

Tammy Buffington

Andre’ Mick is no longer Buffington’s campaign manager; she left due to differences of opinion as to strategy. Joanne Elliott — who has been involved with the campaign — is now the campaign manager.

Buffington said Mick has agreed to consult for her as needed. She is the only candidate so far who has emerged to challenge Democratic Mayor Chris Beutler.


Arena bid process will stay secretive

Sometimes I have to wonder if our elected officials have any idea what they’re doing.
Like yesterday, when the Joint Public Agency (the board overseeing the arena project) met to talk about a pre-construction agreement with their general contractor, Mortenson Construction.
Although the city had advertised for a contractor that would use the city’s open, transparent bid process to choose subcontractors, the pre-construction agreement approved by the JPA just obliterated that promise. It will allow Mortenson to choose subcontractors to do mechanical electrical and plumbing, structural steel, precast concrete, concrete, exterior walls and vertical transportation.
I wrote a story Tuesday about how the agreement makes a mockery of the promises Mayor Chris Beutler has been making about how the project will be done with complete transparency and accountability. The Journal Star wrote about it the next day. Then the JPA met to consider the agreement – and was completely snowed.
Even LIBA couldn’t convince them to slow down, take a week to mull it over, reconsider whether bids should be opened privately. Nope – they plowed forward, driving blindly.
Understand, the JPA is comprised of Beutler (whose staff wrote up this deal), Councilwoman Jayne Snyder (who rarely deviates from Beutler’s agenda) and University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare (our only hope to ask the right questions).
Clare opened the discussion by saying they’ve come up with an amendment that should address concerns about transparency. Which would be great – if only it were true.
The only relevant change seemed to be that a JPA member or designee would be able to observe the discussions and interviews with bidders. How is that going to work? Will a JPA representative be hanging out with Mortenson from here on out? Listening in on their conversations and negotiations? Impossible.
Also, bid scorecards would be made public. The way I understood it, the scorecards were already going to be made public. Seeing scorecards is not the same as seeing what the bids were.
Something is pushing the city to go along with Mortenson’s more private way of doing things – even though Mortenson got sued for this very type of keep-everything-a-secret process in Kentucky. And even though Beutler has repeatedly said this will be the most transparent, open process the city has ever seen. Within a week, he was retreating from that position. Now he’s completely forgotten it.
Who is holding this guy’s feet to the fire? Clare tried, but failed. And he’s the one guy whose vote could stop everything, according to their bylaws.
John Wood, senior vice president of Mortenson Construction, attended the JPA meeting, and buttered ’em up good. Even though it appears Mortenson is abandoning the promise it made when it put in its proposal to use the city’s open, transparent bidding process, he basically said they have to alter that to get the project on time and on budget.
He said Mortenson will use “tried and tested methodology” used on big, complex projects like this and they will be open and transparent “to the greatest extent possible.”
To his credit, Clare asked some good questions, like whether Mortenson would just hire their non-local “friends” to do work.
To his credit, Wood acknowledged many regional and national firms are interested in getting a piece of arena work – including firms they’ve worked with before. Wood said those firms have been advised to hook up with Lincoln businesses.
Wood said Mortenson is willing to use the city’s eBid procurement system, but did not elaborate. It still appears the eBid will only be used to “receive” bids, which will be opened privately.
Mayor Beutler commented that he thinks some citizens don’t understand the city is using the construction manager at risk method to build the arena – which is different from the usual design-bid-build method the city uses to build streets and bridges. Which was irrelevant – that method doesn’t require bids to be so secretive.
The upshot is that Wood made everything sound peachy, the JPA board bought it, and nothing substantially changed.
Promises, promises.


Taylor Martinez’s father ends licensing agreement with UNL

Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez. Bruce Thorson

Not that there was anything wrong with it… but Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez’s father and the University of Nebraska announced today they have decided to end their licensing agreement.
Martinez’s father owns a California-based apparel company called Corn Fed, which made a deal with the university in which Nebraska gets a 10 percent on all Corn Fed products it sells. The agreement was made a year before Taylor Martinez committed to UNL.
The university issued a press release today in which Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said, “Both parties agreed that it would be prudent to no longer have a licensing relationship between the University of Nebraska and Corn Fed. Both the Martinez family and the University of Nebraska feel this decision is best for all parties, and specifically in helping limit distractions for Taylor and the football program.”
The Los Angeles Times broke the story about the agreement in December.


CIR won’t be deciding PAGE retirement squabble

One city employee union — the second largest in the city — is still hanging out there working without a contract since last fall while resisting the mayor’s insistence that they agree to a less generous retirement match for new hires.

Public pressure led Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration to convince all but one union to agree to a 1-to-1 retirement match for new employees, while existing employees will keep their 2-to-1 match that irritated some during the Great Recession.

But this union — mostly comprised of blue collar and technical workers – is the only one that refused to bow to Beutler’s demand, and yesterday they went before the state Commission of Industrial Relations to settle three issues. Surprisingly, the retirement benefit wasn’t one of them.

The union’s attorney, Gary Young, said that’s because city officials realized long ago they couldn’t force the union to agree to the lower retirement benefit via the CIR. Young said Beutler would not bend on that retirement issue – and all the other city unions eventually gave in to the demand, except the Public Association of Government Employees, or PAGE, which represents about 500 city employees.

“If you’re the 800-pound gorilla and you can force people to do things because a union doesn’t want to go to the CIR, then you can bully your way into doing things that you’re not entitled to. PAGE wasn’t going to allow the mayor to bully them,” Young said of the Beutler administration. “There’s nothing they (the other unions) can do about it now.”

Beutler was responding to public outcry over the fact the city contributes up to 12 percent of employees’ salaries (matching 6 percent by the employee) toward their retirement – however, the city can’t change that benefit for existing employees unless the unions agree.

So even after the CIR rules on the three issues that were before it on Tuesday (over dental benefits, who decides when overtime begins in the pay cycle and whether the city should have to offer a defined benefit pension since it’s prevalent in other comparable cities), the retirement issue remains unresolved.

“If they’re going to do it, they’re going to have to do it at the negotiation table,” Young said.

Wonder if any of the other unions are wishing they’d taken a firmer stance on the issue?


Suttle survives recall

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle survives the recall effort.

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle

Unless, of course, all those still-uncounted votes should add up to a big surprise.
This would seem to defy all the talk about this wave of anti-union, anti-tax furor sweeping the nation. If he can survive busing homeless people to the election office to vote for him, what can’t he survive?
Read all about it here.


Emery to make it official Thursday

No big surprise here, but Councilman Doug Emery will formally announce plans to run for re-election to his seat on the City Council representing northeast Lincoln at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Engine House Cafe in Havelock.
So far the only other announced candidate for District 1 is Melissa Hilty, who is a Legislative Aide to State Sen. Ken Schilz.
Another possible candidate for the northwest district 4 now represented by John Spatz is still not sure he’s going to jump into the race. Kyle Michaelis — best known as editor of a progressive blog called the New Nebraska Network — still says he is “seriously considering” running.

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