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Council to appoint — ahem, consider appointing — Schimek to council Monday

Although we all know that former senator DiAnna Schimek will be replacing Jayne Snyder on the Lincoln City Council, let’s suspend reality for a moment and read the mayor’s press release today on what’s going to happen on Monday:

Former Sen. DiAnna Schimek

The Lincoln City Council will vote on the nomination of former State Senator DiAnna Schimek to fill the vacant Council seat formally held by Jayne Snyder, on Monday September 26, according to City Council Chairman Gene Carroll.

Carroll previously announced he would select a name for Council vote from nominations made by his fellow Council members. Jon Camp and Adam Hornung nominated Mary Bills-Strand, a local realtor. Carl Eskridge, Jonathan Cook, and Doug Emery nominated DiAnna Schimek.

“We were fortunate to have two such outstanding citizens nominated for the Council seat. Mary Bills-Strand has been a community leader on a number of issues facing the City. I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her accomplishments,” Carroll said.

“It was a difficult decision as both candidates have a great deal to offer the community. But in the end, I thought DiAnna’s strengths filled a void that has been needed since John Spatz left the Council. The City needs to work closely with the Legislature on issues that impact the City of Lincoln. With DiAnna’s 20 years as a state senator, no one is better positioned to help the City make progress on issues such as the Commission on Industrial Relations, jobs creation, and state regulation.”

“DiAnna has a reputation for building consensus and has demonstrated a long history of working with people across a broad political spectrum. She brings people together and will provide the same spirit of non-partisanship to the Council that is characteristic of our non-partisan Legislature,” Carroll said.

Carroll also cited Schimek’s breadth of experience as a factor, “DiAnna has faced a variety of issues in her career, from health policy to economic development, jobs creation to affordable housing to performance auditing. She will hit the ground running from day one and provide an important perspective on many issues from which we can all benefit.”

“I think DiAnna is the best choice for moving Lincoln forward,” Carroll said.

The Chair’s nominee must receive four Council votes to be elected to the vacant Council seat. If no one is elected on Monday the 26th, the process is repeated at the October 3rd meeting until the open seat is filled.


Food truck saved by frat boys

Update to my last post about the Heoya food truck that found itself in violation of an outdated city code.

A UNL fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, has given the food truck a home: In their driveway at 519 N. 16th St.

Read it in the DN here.

We’ll see how long this arrangement lasts before the city finds another reason to shut ’em down.


Food truck shut down over outdated ordinance

The Daily Nebraskan documents the demise of “Lincoln’s first food truck” (?) being shut down for violating a possibly outdated city code.

Read it and weep here.


New digs downtown

I went downtown for lunch last week, and apparently I’ve been away for far too long, because it seemed like new stores had popped up all over the place.

And this is the best part: They weren’t all bars and restaurants!

I first noticed a new clothing store called Pacific and Maine near 14th and O streets — which carries a good selection of Husker wear but also normal clothing that probably targets the college set. As per usual with these kinds of shops, I wanted to buy the beat-up, vintage furniture instead of the clothes — but alas, it wasn’t for sale.

Then while I was stopping by my favorite downtown shop, Stella (which sells unusual clothing and vintage decor), the worker told me to check out a new store around the corner on P Street, Embellish, which has been open about a month.

I liked this store as soon as I saw the string of flashcards hanging in the window. Real, vintage flashcards (school starting, get it?). They carry clothes, some cooking utensils and jewelry in a very nicely appointed place. There’s also a shoe store called Duo at 13th and O that also sells handbags and jewelry, and I’m told Nothing Else next to the Rococo sells mens, womens footwear, handbags and accessories.

What I like about all of these shops is that they are a) not a bar or restaurant — we have enough of those and b) they are not your typical store. Check ’em out.


You knew raccoon bumper stickers were coming

Naturally, since Attorney General Jon Bruning compared welfare recipients to scavenging raccoons and then disclosed that he has become a multimillionaire since taking public office about 15 years ago, you had to expect bumper stickers to ensue.

And here they are:

State Democrats are giving them away on this website.


Dems pound gov for hiring Taco Bell, Wal-Mart workers for child welfare

The state Democratic Party continues to pound away on the governor for the failures cited in a recent state audit of the state’s attempt to reform and privatize child welfare in Nebraska.

The Dems put out the following press release today:

One of the many tragedies of the Governor’s Child Welfare Services debacle is that unqualified individuals were hired to provide important services for foster children.

According to the recent auditor’s report, two subcontractors were found to be using workers who lacked appropriate credentials to provide client services. Those employees “had neither a Bachelor’s Degree nor a staff equivalency petition approved by the DHHS service area contract liaison, as required by the service contracts. The immediate prior employment of two workers had been at Taco Bell and Wal-Mart – neither of which is an establishment known to offer extensive training in the field of child welfare services.“

DHHS was supposed to provide approval for subcontractor hires, but they did so in a “perfunctory” fashion. Additionally, Governor Heineman told the Lincoln Journal Star earlier this week that “we can’t expect government to be the parent, and it’s very unfortunate that we are involved in these situations.”Jim Rogers, Executive Director of the Nebraska Democratic Party said that statement, coupled with the actions of the administration, show a callous attitude toward foster children.

“Does Heineman really not believe the state has an obligation to protect the lives and well-being of innocent children who aren’t able to get proper support in their homes?,” Rogers said. “Most Nebraskans agree that despite parental failings or hardships, innocent children should not be neglected. And we shouldn’t be hiring people who are unqualified to provide these specialized child services.”

The uncredentialed employees were paid $10.50 or $13.00 per hour. At the same time, DHHS was reimbursing the direct contractor for the work of those same employees at a rate of $47 per hour. That means the contractors profited enormously from paying unqualified staff wages much lower than what would have been required to retain qualified workers.


Arenas not a good investment?

Today’s LJS story on a prominent economist’s opinion that most arenas and stadiums are not the economic panaceas they’re advertised to be was interesting to me, having covered the planning of Lincoln’s $340 million arena project for a half dozen years.

Perhaps the toughest story to get in the Journal Star was one in which I interviewed a bunch of economists about this very sentiment that such publicly financed projects are not the shot in the arm supporters say they will be.

It was one of the most heavily edited, scrutinized stories I’ve written in my 20-year journalism career. The city election was coming, and we wouldn’t want to poison people’s mind with such sacrilege, would we? After the story was published, one of the leaders of the pro-arena movement told me they would be coming out with their own economist to refute my story’s findings. About a week later, a UNL economics professor wrote this guest column, sort of vaguely refuting my story, I guess.

Which was funny, given that UNL economists just were nowhere to be found whenever I tried to get them to comment on Lincoln’s proposed arena. It seemed they were ducking the issue.

And then last year I took a UNL economics/journalism class, and that very professor, David Rosenbaum, was frequently a guest speaker. I couldn’t wait to ask him about how his opinion of arenas seemed to go against the grain among economists. When I finally got my chance, he refused to answer my question. I think he knew who I was. I dropped the class soon thereafter. I figured if we couldn’t speak freely about the biggest economic question facing our own fair city at that moment, what could we talk about honestly?


Governor on HHS child welfare audit: “This is going to be fixed”

Gov. Dave Heineman has finally said something regarding the scathing state audit of his department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to reform child welfare in Nebraska.

Gov. Dave Heineman

He chose KLIN’s “Drive Time Lincoln” as the venue for his reaction, telling host Coby Mach, “This is going to be fixed.”

He said it’s about children and families and so, “We have to.” However, he said the state will continue to plow forward with partial privatization of the child welfare system, despite State Auditor Mike Foley’s audit, which was critical of the reform, which has increased costs 27 percent. He said Nebraska won’t return to the “failed policies of the last decade.”

“Nobody wants to go back to the old system,” Heineman said, even though he acknowledged that it “hasn’t gone as well as we wanted.”

The governor said he has met with Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, HHS head Kerry Winterer and the lead Kansas-based contractor, KVC, about the audit but said the it’s not just about the state department, but also courts, law enforcement and providers. He said he asked Kelly for suggestions as to how to improve the system and knows “we need more contacts” with KVC. He also said he was disappointed in some of the private contractors, specifically the Boys and Girls Home’s failure to pay subcontractors.

But he also characterized the problems as inherent in making cultural changes. Heineman declined to address some of the specific problems cited in the audit, such as underqualified employees. He said he won’t micromanage HHS and will let the department head deal with those issues.

Asked about the flap over the fact that the governor received the report after the media, Heineman said he didn’t want to rehash that issue — and then did so anyway, saying his office is only 50 feet from Foley’s and he’s surprised Foley didn’t call him or his chief of staff if he was having problems getting cooperation from HHS in the audit.

“But I don’t want to go there,” Heineman said.


Mayor says no public money will be used to fix Antelope Valley bridges

Antelope Valley channel in 2010.

Mayor Chris Beutler and the Joint Antelope Valley Authority announced Monday that seven bridges in the Antelope Valley Project area will be repaired at no cost to taxpayers.

An agreement was reached last week with project consultants and contractors to repair areas of cracking concrete surface material on the bottoms of the bridges. The agreement includes the assignment of financial responsibility. Repair work will begin this week and is expected to be completed in mid-November.

“The consultants and contractors took total financial responsibility, and the JAVA partners were even reimbursed $30,000 to defray expenses related to the repairs,” Beutler said in a press release. “We did exactly what the public asked of us: we insisted on accountability and held the taxpayer harmless. … I want to thank the consultants and contractors for stepping up and helping find a solution.”

The primary consultants and contractors are Parsons Brinckerhoff Americas, Inc.; Hawkins Construction Company; Constructors Inc.; United Contractors Inc.; and Watts Electric Company.

The bridges opened to traffic between July 2007 and October 2009. Defects were discovered by city staff late last year and trails under the bridges were closed Jan. 4 after an 18-inch piece of concrete fell from the O Street bridge. The trails were reopened Jan. 28 after temporary bridge repairs.

The mayor thanked the Federal Highway Administration and the Nebraska Department of Roads for their work on the issue. The NDOR’s independent evaluation concluded the problems were caused by several factors, including the absence of required drainage in electrical conduits, poor workmanship and poor inspections. The NDOR also found a problem with roadway expansion joints which will be corrected by the city. The NDOR report also covered the extent of the damage and proposed solutions. The estimated cost of the repairs is about $250,000.

“In the course of a project as large as Antelope Valley, it is not unusual to have aspects that don’t work as planned,” Beutler said. “In this case, a problem was identified, project leadership demanded accountability on behalf of taxpayers, and good corporate citizens stepped in to fix the problems. It is a successful conclusion to a difficult challenge.”

The repair plans were approved by federal and state officials in August. Repair work will begin on the Military Road Bridge and will proceed south to the “Y”, Vine, “P”, “Q”, “O” and “N” street bridges. Temporary trail closures will be necessary.


Dems say Bruning failed to disclose Nelnet cabin to state

The state Democratic Party filed a complaint today alleging Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Jon Bruning failed to properly disclose his part ownership of a $675,000 Ashland cabin to the state.

Jon Bruning

Office holders and candidates must disclose ownership of real estate to the state Accountability & Disclosure Commission — and Bruning has not reported his ownership of a cabin he bought with two Nelnet executives in 2008 on any of the annual A&D reports he must file. However, he did list the LLC that he and the Nelnet executives formed to buy the property in 2008 and 2010, but not 2009.

The purchase of the cabin is a “clear conflict of interest” — a year prior, Bruning tried to waive a $1 million settlement with Nelnet, but backed down after getting heat because he received campaign contributions from the Lincoln student loan company and its administrators — said Brandon Lorenz, communications director for the state Democratic Party. He alleged that Bruning was either negligent or trying to cover up the cabin purchase by not listing it on the state financial disclosure forms.

The Democrats also said Bruning failed to list the addresses of businesses he is associated with and sources of any income he earns on the A&D forms.

Bruning has been under scrutiny in recent weeks since his federal financial disclosure forms revealed he has become a multimillionaire since beginning his political career about 15 years ago.

Bruning’s campaign manager, Trent Fellers, attended the Democrats’ press conference this morning and afterward said it was nothing more than U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and the Democrats trying to divert attention from his votes on “big government spending and Obamacare.” He noted that Nelson is spending $200,000 on TV advertising already — 14 months before he is up for re-election.

“I think it just goes to show how scared they are to lose this race,” Fellers said.

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