Skip to content

Posts from the ‘City Council’ Category


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.


Thanks for your service, Jayne

I knew the day I met Jayne Snyder, she was a woman to be reckoned with.

Councilwoman Jayne Snyder

I was sent to do a profile about this newcomer to Lincoln politics — this tall, blonde, athletic woman who wanted a seat on the Lincoln City Council in 2009. She showed me around her physical therapy offices on 70th Street — a business she’d built from the ground up to a successful venture and now she was looking for a way to serve her community publicly.

She was strong and smart and healthy — and in way better shape than I was, though I am many years her junior. She biked and jogged all over the place and had donated thousands of dollars and hours to improve the trails in the area and was working to improve the health of elementary students in some Lincoln schools.

It was clear this woman didn’t just talk, she took action. It’s not an easy thing to run for public office; not an easy thing to serve and take the shots that come with the job which never ends.

Even after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Jayne soldiered on and kept working on the council. She put on a wig and went out there every week, rarely missing a meeting, and always was sure to let out one of her signature trademark laughs — which sounded a little like a hiccup. The last time she chaired the arena’s Joint Public Agency meeting, it was clear she was not feeling well, but she did it and she smiled and laughed and was a true public servant.

Jayne died this week at age 66.

Public servants take a lot of criticism, but they deserve our thanks for doing a job that requires a lot of selflessness and a huge donation of your very self. Thank you for that, Jayne.


City Council approves nearly 100 percent increase in managers’ longevity bonuses

Just minutes before approving a $146 million municipal budget that requires a nearly 10 percent increase in city property taxes to fund it, the Lincoln City Council gave their team of city managers more than 100 percent increases in a what’s called longevity pay.

Longevity pay — as in, a bonus for having worked for the city for so long. A bonus that the county is considering dropping for employees not represented by a union. Meanwhile, many city employees still get an annual bonus for every decade they’ve worked for the city.

A huge increase in the bonus was approved Monday as part of the labor agreement with the union that represents about 100 managers and professionals, the Lincoln M Class Employees Association. The new contract doesn’t have regular pay raises but instead sets in motion a joint study of those employees’ compensation.

But the contract does include big bump to those longevity bonuses, about a 100 percent increase. In raw dollars, if you work for the city for 10 years, your longevity bonus will rise from $850 to $1,639. For those who’ve worked for the city 30 years, the bonus goes from $2,050 to $3,952.

Only Councilman Jon Camp asked a single question about the labor contract and specifically, the longevity bonuses. While the city’s personnel director skimmed over that part of the contract, saying it would only increase the city’s costs 1 percent, Camp pressed him to acknowledge that the raises actually amount to about a 100 percent increase.

Only Camp and the other Republican on the council, Adam Hornung, voted against the labor contract.

The employees also are entitled to merit raises of up to 4 percent — if they haven’t already topped out in their pay ranges.


Street laborers’ union refuses to endorse mayoral candidate

The union that represents laborers in the city’s street maintenance division has refused to endorse either of the two candidates running for mayor on Tuesday.

The union is called the Public Association of Government Employees, or PAGE, and represents about 500 blue-collar, clerical and technical workers. It also represents laborers who were the subject of our special report last week, detailing the bullying and infighting that have plagued the streets division for years.

PAGE union President Jeff Stump

PAGE President Jeff Stump said the union doesn’t think either of the mayoral candidates is qualified.

“We feel Tammy Buffington doesn’t have the experience and her views on the commission (CIR) and unions are not something that we agree with and as far as Mayor Beutler we can’t endorse him because of issues in the street department that he has failed to address after a year and a half.”

Those issues, he said, are bullying, harassment and inadequate training — all the things detailed in our special report.

The union also declined to endorse a candidate in District 1, northeast Lincoln. Stump said they didn’t endorse Democrat Doug Emery because “he’ not a qualified candidate” and after promising not to “come after our pension” Stump said the first thing Emery did after getting elected was start working on reducing city employees’ retirement benefits.

“The first thing he came after was our pensions,” Stump said.

The union endorsed the Democrats in two districts: Jonathan Cook in southwest Lincoln and Carl Eskridge in northwest Lincoln. The union did not endorse anyone in the southeast Lincoln district, where incumbent Jon Camp is running against newcomer Bobbi Kosmicki.

“We just don’t feel that we know enough about them,” he said.


Nelson says Dems are wrong: he paid his child support, attorney’s bill

City Council candidate Travis Nelson released state records today that he says prove the state Democratic Party sent out a mailing that wrongly accuses him of failing to pay his child support since 2009.

Travis Nelson is running for the City Council.

Nelson released this document (nelson child support pg 1), which he said shows he has made his payments on time. He said he is considering suing the Democratic Party for “lying about my personal record of paying child support.”

“This is a false accusation against me personally,” he said in a press release. “It is untrue that I have not paid my child support for my son who is so important to me.”

Vic Covalt, chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party, has not returned a phone call seeking comment on Nelson’s assertion. The state Democratic Party paid for the mailing that went out late last week accusing Nelson of failing to pay child support, owing his divorce lawyer thousands and having a small claims judgment against him for money he owed Pella. Nelson works in construction. Nelson said he has also paid the attorney’s fees and Pella — which he described as a “complicated mess” because the company supplied the wrong size windows. He called the allegations “red herrings.”

A few days prior, the county Republican Party sent out a mailing pointing out that his opponent, incumbent Democrat Jonathan Cook, had failed to attend 80 percent of City-County “Common” meetings.

“My opponent was attacked on his public record of not showing up for his city council job,” Nelson said in the release. “I was wrongly attacked for things that occurred in my personal life and that is inexcusable and a below-the-belt kind of hit. My opponent has proven to voters that he doesn’t even show up for the job they elected him to do. I show up to work every day,”

Nelson said it’s not easy being a small home remodeler and contractor during a tough economy.

“Like thousands of workers in Lincoln, these are tough times and we have struggled. But I show up every day and I pay my bills. This game-playing with false accusations made against me personally are an insult to me and the voters of the 3rd City Council District.”

On another issue, Nelson today also acknowledged he was charged with disturbing the peace 11 years ago, “stemming from an argument with his former wife prior to their marriage.” Nelson served probation and completed an alcohol rehabilitation program.

“I fully accept responsibility for my role in the situation,” Nelson said in his press release. “That event made me take serious stock of my life and changed it forever, for the good.”

“My campaign has been about the issues important to voters. I’m proud of my family business, I’m proud of my family, and I’m proud of how I’ve dealt with the personal challenges I’ve had to face and conquer,” Nelson said.


Dems’ smear campaign begins

Well, here it is. The ugliest piece of campaign literature I’ve seen so far in this spring’s municipal election campaign: The Nebraska Democratic Party send out a mailing late last week bashing the Republican candidate for the City Council, in District 3. The headline: “Travis Nelson can’t manage his own money.”

Their evidence? He hasn’t paid his child support since July 2009. He owes his divorce attorney nearly $5,400. And he owes Pella $2,700, according to a small claims judgment in county court. Ouch.

This is the deal, folks. If you want to run for elective office around here, you’d better not have any skeletons in your closet, because they will find them. The Democrats are particularly good at digging up this kind of dirt. You may recall in the last City Council race, the Dems dogged Republican Adam Hornung for not paying the wheel tax on a pickup that he said was his father’s (who lives in another county).

I remember well the Dems’ press conference, during which they showed reporters pictures they’d taken of Hornung’s SUV in the parking lot of the law firm he works at. I wondered a) how they identified this potential chink in Hornung’s armor and b) was the head of the Democratic Party out skulking around in the parking lot, trying to get the photo?

This is what it’s come to. Somebody runs for office, and the other party sets about digging up dirt on them. To be fair, the Republicans actually launched the first salvo in the District 3 race, sending out a mailing noting that incumbent Councilman Jonathan Cook has missed 80 percent of City-County “Common” meetings.

Is that relevant? I think it is.

Is the fact that Nelson might have money problems relevant? The Dems’ mailer thinks so, asking people, “What kind of City Council member do you want? Responsible? Trustworthy? Budget Conscious? Travis Nelson IS NONE OF THESE THINGS.”

Does this mean the Democratic candidate in District 2, Bobbi Kosmicki, is not fit for office, too — given the news that she filed for bankruptcy last year?

I find it ironic that Democratic State Chairman Vic Covalt thinks it’s OK to do this kind of dirt-digging and spreading — considering he represents people in bankruptcy for a living. When I was a reporter, Covalt and I had several conversations about how The System treats poor people. I specifically remember him telling me I should go down to the courthouse every Friday and watch the parade of people who basically can’t afford to pay for things like car insurance and registration.

He fights for those people. And yet, in his other life as head of the Democratic Party — the party that ostensibly fights for the little guy — he slams a guy who can’t pay his bills for having the audacity to run for elective office.

I see hypocrisy in that. Do Vic and the Dems believe anybody who’s ever struggled financially — or at least to the point of it becoming a public record in a court of law — should not run for office? Is that the standard? Should it be? You tell me.


Cook mailings hit the mark

The paper documented the first of what will surely be more mailings nailing City Council candidates for this, that and the other thing — in the true spirit of election season.

The Journal Star’s take on the mailing was that it was misleading, because it said Councilman Jonathan Cook has missed 80 percent of the “City County meetings.” The reporter said that could lead some people to believe they’re referring to City Council meetings.

Lincoln City Council

Well those words are pretty close, but it is accurate. Did they mean to mislead? Maybe. However, I think it’s a legitimate issue to raise. Cook is notorious at city hall for missing meetings that are held in the morning. It’s a running joke. Why? He says he works late into the night. However, if you’re elected to the City Council, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re a teacher or a janitor or an attorney or a software developer — you should attend as many meetings as possible.

Including “City County” meetings — the monthly meetings between the City Council and County Board. Lots of important issues are discussed at those meetings — like the implementation of the RUTS roads program, the financing of the new county jail and the numerous interlocal agreements the city and county have. And that’s just the Common meeting — nobody has analyzed his attendance at the Super Common meetings (which add the school district to the mix) or numerous other subcommittees he’s on. If they meet in the morning, he’s probably not there.

So I think it’s perfectly legitimate to question why Cook misses so many meetings — especially when he has put out several mailings proclaiming that he has the “best City Council meeting attendance record” (I must have missed that award ceremony). Apparently, attendance records do matter.


LIBA endorses Travis Nelson for Council

Life on the campaign trail

Got a call from LIBA head Coby Mach today, and he informed me that LIBA will be endorsing Republican Travis Nelson for the Lincoln City Council, District 3.

I am running for the seat, as well as incumbent Democrat Jonathan Cook.

I was not surprised by the endorsement. Nelson is a LIBA member and has served on LIBA committees for several years, and he took great pains last week at the LIBA debate to portray himself as the most conservative candidate.

In addition, a LIBA PAC member has been telling people that I supported former Councilwoman Patte Newman for mayor, based on an old Winterized poll in which some readers nominated Newman and I to run for mayor — and I joked that if Patte ran, I’d be her lieutenant (of course, there is no such position). Apparently, this LIBA member took it seriously, and is spreading that rumor and trying to portray me as a liberal.

Somebody else has also jumped on the bandwagon based on a comment I made at the LIBA debate last week. The District 3 candidates were asked who they would install as the next president if they had a magic wand. I said Abraham Lincoln — saying that none of the Republicans have wowed me yet, and Obama is only doing an OK job.

Well. Some people seized upon that and took it as a ringing endorsement of Obama — in fact, a reader tells me he’s seen Facebook ads that say “Liberal Deena Winter;; At a recent event, City Council Candidate Deena Winter said, ‘OBAMA has done an OK job so far.’ Do you agree? Yes or no?” But he said when you click on the buttons, the ad goes nowhere.

Interesting to see how people are quick to paint you in the light they wish to see you.
If you see this Facebook ad, do me a favor and take a screen shot of it (on a Mac, you push Command Shift and 3 and it should be on your desktop) and email it to me.


Republicans about to lob a green grenade at Beutler Inc.?

Local Republicans are preparing to launch an assault on the Beutler administration for being part of an international group that promotes sustainable development and conservation.

Looks to me like the Republicans running for office in the city election are about to launch a green grenade at Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration.

I received a copy of an email that’s circulating around town inviting people to a March 25 meeting to talk about what is portrayed as Beutler’s sinister moves to cram sustainable development down the throats of Lincolnites. The flier starts off saying, “Have you heard about the REAL cleaner, greener Lincoln?” “Where is Mayor Beutler taking US?”

It goes on to inform people that Beutler signed on to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI, an international association formed in 1990 to promote sustainable development. More than 1,200 cities, towns and counties and their associations are members of ICLEI, whose website says they are committed to sustainable development.

The flier says Beutler joined the group without a vote of the people or the City Council’s knowledge. It says Beutler has plans in place for “denser pack ’em, stack ’em housing” in Lincoln — which it says limits “freedom of choice of where we live.”

They also warn that the Beutler administration plans to increase government regulations to stifle entrepreneurs and business expansion and that “smart meters” will be in place by 2014, monitoring energy in Lincoln homes and businesses with “the ability to turn our power up and down without our knowledge?”

This sort of green grenade was also launched at a Denver mayor during the gubernatorial campaign in that state last October. According to the Denver Post, a Republican gubernatorial candidate said the mayor’s seemingly innocuous bike riding program and other environmental programs were actually intended to “convert Denver into a United Nations community” and were a threat to people’s personal freedom. He said ICLEI puts the environment above citizens’ rights.

Certainly, Lincoln’s green efforts have stepped up since the city received a $2.4 million federal stimulus grant in 2009 for efficiency programs. A new mayoral aide, Milo Mumgaard, was hired to launch the city’s “Cleaner, Greener Lincoln” program to make city government more energy-efficient — although as it has evolved, the program has expanded beyond city government to encourage all of Lincolnites to conserve energy. You’ve probably seen signs, billboards and advertisements around town.

However, alleging they’re part of some sinister plot to discourage development and submit to U.N. control — well, I’ll be interested to hear them connect those dots.

According to the flier, all of the Republican candidates in the spring city election will be at the meeting: Mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington and City Council candidates Chad Wright, Melissa Hilty and Travis Nelson. I asked Camp about it, and he said he was invited to a meeting about it — but couldn’t make it — and was surprised to see his name on this list.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. at Calvary Community Church, First and Superior streets. Don Raskey will be giving a presentation based on his research.


City needs to get real about budget shortfall

After recently filing an open records request, I learned the city of Lincoln has a projected $6.3 million budget shortfall, not counting the cost of raises that will undoubtedly have to be approved for many city employees, the loss of $1.8 million in state aid and the possible loss of about $1.2 million in telecom tax revenue forced by state lawmakers.

And the city budget officer projects the city’s budget gap will widen to a whopping $19 million in five years, unless the city takes action to fix its structurally imbalanced budget.

“The City Council and mayors have not had the political will to fix this structurally imbalanced budget,” I said during a press conference today. “Instead, they have chosen to balance the budget by finding and then raiding pots of money and relying on one-time budget gimmicks to make it through another year, always hoping next year will be better. Clearly it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.”

If the projections are accurate, the city will have to find about $8 million worth of cuts or new revenue in order to balance the budget, as is required by law.
“The city’s infrastructure is deteriorating and the backlog of street and sidewalk work continues to grow, while city leaders’ continue to use a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to budgeting every year,” I said.

If I were on the council, I would not have approved spending such as the $6 million purchase of the Experian building, which will incur $10 million in moving costs; the $2 million remodeling of city hall – including the construction of a new mayoral suite of offices and double-digit raises for some firefighters.
“It’s like a family who can’t afford to fix the roof going out and buying a swimming pool and a new car,” I said. “The city can’t afford to keep pouring money into downtown projects while the infrastructure in the rest of Lincoln slowly breaks down.”

As an example, I pointed to Penny Bridge — which spans the Rock Island Trail on Sheridan Boulevard. Last year, volunteers erected a chain-link structure over the trail to protect bikers and joggers after a bridge inspection showed problems. The parks director called it “another example of deferred maintenance” and the need for city funds to fix the bridge.

I support reform to the current system of setting public employees’ salaries, which does not allow flexibility during budget crises or recessions and said if elected, I will bring real, substantive ideas to the table during budgeting, such as:

• Looking into the legality and possibility of lifting the RTSD levy temporarily or permanently and instead shifting that tax into the city levy, so more money can go toward city needs. The RTSD was created in 1971 to deal with an alarming number of car/train accidents in the 1950s and 1960s by improving railroad safety. Originally, RTSDs were authorized until 1996, and then indefinitely. The RTSD is authorized to tax up to $4.7 million annually and last I checked, had $11 million in cash and investments.

• Exploring the possibility of creating an employee savings incentive program that rewards employees who come up with ways to save money with a portion of the savings.

• Exploring whether some of the Community Health Endowment Fund (which was created with $37 million from the controversial sale of the city-owned Lincoln General Hospital to Bryan Memorial in 1997) could be used to help fund health department programs currently funded by city dollars. Nearly two years ago, an accounting firm said the CHE fund was bigger than it needed to be and should dole out more money annually.

• Tapping into the Library Special Trust Fund to pay for one-time expenses in the library system, freeing up more city dollars. The same accounting firm said the trust fund was equal to three years of operating expenses, and could be more freely expended.

%d bloggers like this: