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No more firefighter trips to grocery stores

In my six years covering city hall in Lincoln, one of the most common complaints I heard from readers was — I am not kidding — about firefighters doing grocery shopping while on the clock.

People would get so indignant about seeing a firetruck in the parking lot, or a firefighter in the grocery aisle, all decked out in their uniforms and clearly on the clock.

They did not think firefighters should shop for food while on duty — even though this is pretty standard nationwide (at least that’s what the union head told me) and if a call comes in, the firefighters drop everything and go.

Well, apparently that practice is about to end in Lincoln. Coby Mach of “Drive Time Lincoln” is reporting that the city’s former police chief and new public safety director, Tom Casady, intends to end the practice. But apparently not just to avoid the appearance of inactivity — to save money on gas.

What do you think? I have to say, I’ve never encountered a firefighter in a grocery store — although I’ve seen firetrucks parked outside many a store and restaurant where they appeared to be making a pit stop.

I don’t believe I’ve ever gone grocery shopping while on the clock — but then I got a lunch break and other “coffee breaks” every day. Still, I never could figure out why firefighters couldn’t just bring their food with them to the fire station, just as most workers bring their lunch to work.

Then again, if this is one of the biggest gripes we have about the fire department, life is pretty good in Lincoln, Neb.


Fischer to jump into U.S. Senate race tomorrow

Valentine Sen. Deb Fischer will announce her candidacy for the U.S. Senate during press conferences tomorrow in Omaha and at her childhood home in Lincoln.

Deb Fischer

Sen. Deb Fischer of Valentine

According to a press release, Fischer will make a “special announcement regarding Sen. Fischer’s plans for the future” during the press conference at 11 a.m. at her mother’s home in Lincoln, kicking off appearances at several other Nebraska cities.

That means five Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination to take on U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson next year — assuming the Democrat runs for re-election. She joins Schuyler investment adviser Pat Flynn, Omaha truck driver Spencer Zimmerman, Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg.

Fischer, 60, has represented Valentine in the Legislature since 2005, and this year gained prominence by successfully shepherding a roads funding bill that will designate a portion of the state’s existing 5-cent sales tax revenue toward road construction projects, beginning in 2013.


Hicks: Mayor’s office didn’t feed me the LIBA story

Lincoln Journal Star reporter Nancy Hicks told me today that as far as she knows, the mayor’s office had nothing to do with the newspaper’s story last week about the LIBA head’s six-figure salary.

Hicks wrote a story last week about how LIBA head Coby Mach was earning about $107,000 to $116,000 while lobbying local governmental entities to cut public employees’ salaries, benefits and jobs. The story whipped up a frenzy of controversy — with some questioning the point of the story and others gloating over a story that turns the tables on Mach. As of this moment, the story has generated 181 comments on the Journal Star website and it was the subject of several hours of talk radio shows last week.

On Friday, Mach talked on his show “Drive Time Live” about how I blogged that I wouldn’t be surprised if the story was peddled to Hicks by either a Democratic operative or the mayor’s office, given the fact that a mayoral aide had lobbied me (when I was doing the same job Hicks does now) to write unflattering stories about Mach.

Mach made a big deal out of that, saying in promos that the mayor’s office had been “implicated” in the LIBA story. That was a stretch — I don’t think anybody implicated anyone; somebody speculated.

So Hicks contacted me today to clarify that she did not get the information from mayoral aide Rick Hoppe.

“I did not get the information from Rick,” she said in an email. “And as far as I know the information did not in any way originate with Rick.”

The information about Mach’s salary is available to anyone who knows how to use the website Guidestar. The question is, who came up with the bright idea of finding Mach’s salary and then deciding it was a story to point out the inconsistency between that and his shrink-the-government mantra? Hicks did not want to go into that.

My goal here at Winterized is to not just write about what’s going on, but to also lift the curtain on how things go down behind the scenes. Often, these kinds of stories don’t just pop into a reporter’s brain (sometimes they do, but not often enough). Often, someone with an agenda “suggests” or “pitches” the story to the reporter. And the motivation of the person doing the pitching is important to consider when you’re the reporter deciding whether to grab on, or let it go.

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