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6
Oct

Roundabout opponents get a public meeting; construction delayed

People who oppose the roundabout set to be constructed at 14th and Superior have convinced city officials to allow them to hold a public meeting about the controversial $11 million project and push back the construction state date to the week of Oct. 24.

An opponent of the roundabout sent me a flyer advertising a meeting to be held on Wednesday at the Belmont Recreation Center, 1234 Judson St., from 6 to 8 p.m. The city had planned to hold an “open house” on Monday — one day before construction begins. But at the city open house, there is no formal presentation or opportunity for people to line up at a microphone and give the city their two cents about the wonderful/insane project. Instead, there are renderings to look at and consultants to ask questions of and city officials to chat with, but this sort of setup keeps things calm and quiet and non-controversial. Nothing to see here.

But opponents say the city has now agreed to allow them to hold a public meeting, where (according to the flyer), people can voice their concerns and opinions (gasp!). And there will actually be a presentation (this is unusual, people) at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will include a discussion of neighborhood traffic issues and tunnel visibility and the public will be able to comment on the project timeline. Not sure if that’s all they’ll be allowed to comment on.

Does that mean the city is reconsidering the roundabout portion of the project? I highly doubt that. But this way, the mayor’s office can say it gave opponents a chance to speak their mind. Opponents had been promised a public meeting — but they never got one, except for the open house which had been hastily scheduled for one day before construction begins.

People who live and work near the intersection do not believe a roundabout is the best option for the area, and also don’t like plans for a pedestrian tunnel planned on the west and south sides of the intersection — saying it’s not a good plan for middle school students. The project will also widen 14th Street to four lanes from Superior to Interstate 80 and the Department of Roads also is building a bridge over Interstate 80 on North 14th Street.

The I-80 bridge is scheduled to open in August 2012, and the roundabout is scheduled to open in November 2012. The entire project is expected to be completed in May 2013.

5
Oct

Republicans file complaint against Nelson, Dems

The Nebraska Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson and the Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee alleging illegal spending practices between the two organizations.

U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson

The Federal Election Act of 1971 says the maximum coordinated spending limit between a political party committee and a Nebraska Senate candidate cannot exceed $240,600. However, according to public records, the NDSCC and Nelson have spent at least $458,625 in coordinated television campaign advertisements.

Federal law also states that communications paid for by a political party must be clearly disclaimed; yet Senator Nelson’s campaign ad omitted the word “Democratic” from its disclaimer in an attempt to mask the ad and the source of funding, Republicans say.

“In an attempt to cover-up his failed Washington record – which includes providing the 60th vote for ObamaCare and his critical support for the $825 billion stimulus – the NDSCC and Ben Nelson have engaged in a coordinated campaign that has surpassed the legal federal limit by at least $218,000,” said Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson.

Despite all being paid for by the NDSCC, Senator Nelson’s four recent campaign ads identify three different sponsors: “Promise” and “Wrong Way” state that they are paid for by the “Nebraska Democratic Party.” “Skunk” states that it is paid for by the “Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee.”

The GOP claims the most egregious case is the “Nelson Ad” – backed by a $219,422 NDSCC media buy funded by the Democrats’ national campaign committee — which says it was paid for by the “Nebraska State Central Committee” – a name that wholly omits “Democrat” from the identification and masks the ad as being sponsored by a non-partisan, or even state-funded, entity.

“Nebraskans deserve to know the exact amount of illegal spending that has occurred by the NDSCC – and that Washington dollars paid for it – and why Ben Nelson is an active participant in this blatantly illegal act,” Fahleson said in a press release.

However, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party said the claim is without merit and he expects it to be dismissed.

“We’ve run issue ads like this in prior campaigns, and because they are issue ads, they are not subject to spending limits,” Brandon Lorenz said. “Protecting programs like Medicare is an issue we will continue to talk about because it’s a program thousands of Nebraskans depend upon.”

Read the full Complaint against Nelson here.

4
Oct

New poll shows Bruning still leads GOP pack, but support eroding

A new poll by Public Policy Polling shows Attorney General Jon Bruning still leads the Republican pack in the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson — but his support his eroded 10 percentage points since January.

Jon Bruning

The poll also showed Nebraskans would choose former Godfather’s pizzeria chairman Herman Cain as their Republican nominee for president right now, garnering the support of 27 percent of the people polled. He is followed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 19 percent, Newt Gingrich with 12 percent, and then it’s a three-way tie between Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and “someone else” — all with 8 percent.

Public Policy surveyed 400 Republican primary voters in Nebraska from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, and 37 percent of them said they’d vote for Bruning, followed by State Treasurer Don Stenberg with a distant 16 percent, Sen. Deb Fischer with 14 percent and Pat Flynn with 6 percent. Another 27 percent were undecided.

(I reported last night that Newt Gingrich was the GOP favorite, but he just had the highest favorabiity scores; I missed the next page of the poll, which asked who people would vote for.)

4
Oct

Bruning on Nelnet cabin: “Big deal”

Attorney General Jon Bruning is characterizing his decision to buy a $675,000 lake cabin with two Nelnet officials as no big deal — but a new poll indicates otherwise.

In a recent interview with KHAS-TV of Hastings, Bruning accused U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson of trying to get voters to focus on the fact that “my wife and I and two other couples own a lake house. Big deal, you know, it’s where I teach my kids to water ski, right. I mean it’s not unlike a lot of families in Nebraska. I love Nebraska. I’ve got a lake house in Nebraska. So what?”

Bruning also told the TV station all the negative publicity that has swirled around him in recent months has not hurt his polling numbers, that he’s still leading in “the most recent voters’ poll.” He’s probably referring to Public Policy Polling’s poll showing Bruning is still the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but his support has slipped 10 percentage points since their last poll in January.

Bruning led the pack with 37 percent, followed by State Treasurer Don Stenberg with 16 percent, state Sen. Deb Fischer with 14 percent, and Pat Flynn with 6 percent. Stenberg’s standing dropped 3 points, while Fischer gained the most, jumping from 6 percent to 14 percent.

Public Policy’s analysis:

Bruning has had a lot of less than positive press coverage in recent days and it appears to be taking a toll on his image. His net favorability has declined 19 points over the course of this year. He was at +45 (57/12) in January but now he’s at just +26 (48/22). It’s definitely to Bruning’s advantage that he has three opponents rather than one. 37% of voters want him and 36% want someone else but since the ‘someone else’ is split three different ways it allows him to maintain a pretty healthy lead overall.

Stenberg interestingly has almost identical favorability numbers to Bruning at 46/22 but for whatever reason that’s not translating directly into votes for him. Although Stenberg has seemingly been trying to run to the front runner’s right, Bruning actually has his strongest numbers with voters describing themselves as ‘very conservative,’ at a 47-15 advantage. It’s moderates who split their votes most evenly. So at least at this point Bruning doesn’t appear to have a ‘Tea Party’ problem, although that could present itself further down the road.

The favorability numbers are troubling for Fischer: The survey of 400 Republican primary voters (taken Sept. 30 to Oct. 2) found 18 percent had an unfavorable view of Fischer, and 16 percent favorable, with a whopping 66 percent undecided. That would seem to indicate people don’t really know her.

However, State Democrats continue to pound away on Bruning and his Nelnet cabin, hoping to further weaken the frontrunner.

“If Jon Bruning thinks it’s no big deal to buy a $675,000 cabin and not list it as required, he’s been spending too much time out in the sun,” said Jim Rogers, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “Most Nebraskans don’t own $675,000 homes, much less cabins, and most Nebraskans that do own cabins don’t try to cover up their ownership.”

Last month, the Nebraska Democratic Party filed an ethics complaint with the Accountability and Disclosure Commission over Bruning’s failure to list the home on his statement of financial interests for three years. Dems have also questioned how Bruning tripled the value of his non-publicly traded assets since 2007 and has held positions on at least 24 different banks, private businesses and LLCs, not counting personal trusts and private foundations, while serving as attorney general.

3
Oct

Construction of 14th and Superior roundabout to begin Oct. 11

The roundabout at 33rd and Sheridan Boulevard


The city will begin building a controversial $11 million roundabout and other improvements to the intersection of 14th and Superior on Oct. 11.

The night before, citizens are invited to a “public meeting” about the project at the Belmont Recreation Center. However, if you’ve ever been to one of these meetings, you know that there is no formal presentation and it is really an open house, where there are pretty pictures of the project and people come and go as they wish, and can ask questions of the city employees and consultants. I’ve noticed over the years that the city never, EVER holds a true “town hall meeting” or true public meeting where there’s a presentation and then people can ask questions in a public fashion.

I imagine some PR genius told them that’s a good way to keep the crowd quiet and in control.

So if you’re interested in learning more about the project — which is much more than just a roundabout, but also a widening of 14th from two lanes to four north of Superior and reconstruction of the 14th Street bridge over Interstate 80 — go to the meeting or check out this website. But don’t expect to be able to harangue any public officials about the wisdom of the project at the meeting — unless you want to corner one of them one-on-one. And in any case, I doubt there’s anything you can say that will prevent the project from going forward the next morning — meaning 14th Street will have road closures from then on.

The I-80 bridge is scheduled to open in August 2012, and the roundabout is scheduled to open in November 2012. The entire project is expected to be completed in May 2013.

Lincoln resident Kolleen Krikac was surprised to hear construction will begin soon when concerned residents asked for a meeting months ago to discuss the project.

“How is it possible to have a meeting scheduled for the night before construction is to begin?” she said in an email to city officials. “This appears to be a sneaky way to pass it under the radar of the citizens of Lincoln, especially those whom it will most affect. The vast majority of people who live near this intersection are opposed to it and want their concerns to be heard.”

She said 99 percent of the people in her neighborhood signed a petition opposing the roundabout.

Personally, I have no problem with roundabouts. In fact, I like them. I use the one at 33rd and Sheridan Boulevard almost every day. However, it does not work under certain circumstances — primarily in the morning before school, when tons of traffic is coming from the south, headed east and north to Southeast High School. That allows the people coming from the west to jump in much more often then the huge line of cars to the south. Go and watch if you don’t believe me. I imagine the 14th and Superior situation could create a similar rush-hour snarl.

But the city (and state) is in love with roundabouts and this project is going to happen. The meeting is at the Belmont rec center, 1234 Judson St., and the time has been changed to 6 to 8 p.m.

Accidents never happen in roundabouts...

30
Sep

Dems say governor went to Husker games, ribbon-cuttings, rather than address HHS audit

State Dems continue to beat up on Gov. Dave Heineman in the wake of the scathing state audit of his administration’s handling of child welfare reform.

Today, the Dems put out this press release, detailing All the Things the Governor did Rather Than Address the Audit:

After Governor Dave Heineman was caught lying about his office not receiving an early copy of the recent child welfare services audit, further research gives a better idea of what he was doing during that time.

Here are just a few of the items Governor Heineman thought were more important than reading about how his administration wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in overpayments.

1. PHOTO OPS: He attend five ribbon cutting ceremonies during the first week he had the report.
2. FOOTBALL: He attend two Nebraska Cornhusker Football games during the time he had the report.
3. TOOK IT EASY: He had three days with no public schedule during the week of August 1st.
4. ART: He gave remarks at the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Calendar Art Contest Award Ceremony on August 9.
5. MORE PHOTO OPS: He spoke to a couple of Rotary Clubs and participated in another ribbon cutting during the week of August 22.
6. ANOTHER PHOTO OP: Found time to give remarks to four different groups during the week of August 29 – and found time for yet another ribbon cutting ceremony.
7. KICKING BACK: Had at least nine weekdays during the stretch with nothing on his public calendar.
8. PETRIFIED: He gave remarks to the Petrified Wood Gallery Facility Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in Ogallala on July 29.
9. PLAYING POLITICS: He did a Radio call-in show at KFOR 1240 AM on August 9th, but made no mention of the enormous problems exposed in the audit.
10. GOT A FREE MEAL: Had a nice dinner aboard the Ak-Sar-Ben Express Union Pacific Train at the Durham Museum on August 12.

Email correspondence shows that Kerry Winterer, the Governor’s appointed CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, received an advanced copy of the report on the evening of July 25 and shared that with members of the Governor’s Office, including Chief of Staff Larry Bare, the following morning. The Governor had previously said his office did not receive the advanced report.

“Between the 25 ceremonial events he attended, he had ample time to either read the report or get a briefing from his staff,” said Jim Rogers, Executive Director of the Nebraska Democratic Party. “He spent another week of deafening silence after the audit was made public, all so he could do what he should have been doing all along – reading the report.”

When the Governor’s lies were exposed in the Omaha World Herald, his spokesperson, Jen Rae Hein declined to say whether the Governor had read the draft report or what his response was to the findings. Instead of answering the question, she just said those asking the questions were playing “politics.”

Yet, the Governor has found all kinds of time to play politics himself recently, pushing for a change in how Nebraska allocates electoral votes. The Governor wants to change the system to winner-take-all because he believes that system would benefit his political party.

“While the Governor was saying that we were being political, he found the time to talk about moving Nebraska to winner take all,” Rogers said. “It begs the question, who is being political now? It sounds to me like he is trying to divert attention from the disaster he created at Health and Human Services.”

30
Sep

TransCanada contractor running pipeline hearings

A reader alerted me to reports that a contractor to TransCanada is running the so-called State Department hearings on the proposed 2,000-mile pipeline that would ship Canadian tar sand oil to Gulf Coast refineries.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Times, we already know the TransCanada consultant Cardno Entrix helped the State Department do two environmental impact statements on the controversial pipeline. No surprise, then, that the State Department concluded the pipeline would have minimal environmental impact as long as it’s done according to regulations.

I’ve spent much of this month working on an oil story that makes it clear to me that all the regulations in the world don’t matter if they are not followed and enforced. Often, in oil country, they are not.

I’m not seeing this reported in the mainstream press — other than by one South Dakota radio station — but on pro-environment web sites Thinkprogress.org and truthout.org (same story), but Bold Nebraska spokeswoman Jane Kleeb says they are right, the hearings were run by Cardno Entrix, and were, in her view, “a mess.” Here’s why, in her words:

From the beginning, all of our groups asked the State Dept to hold
meetings in our communities to comment on the Final Environmental
Impact Statement.

Originally they were not going to hold a round of meetings on the
final EIS.

Once they announced them, our groups weighed in on where they should
be held (originally State was only going to hold one in Lincoln).

Our next request and suggestion was to have the meetings organized
very clealry so as many people could comment as possible.

The national groups expressed various options, things like have people
register ahead of time so they know their speaking slot time AND so
the State Dept knew how long they needed to meetings.

In Nebraska, we could have easily had 3 days of hearings versus other
states had 2 hours left in their meetings where they just then had
“open mic.”

In Lincoln, you had union folks from out of state pushing our folks
and then when our side pushed back the union folks called out for the
police.

In Lincoln and in Atkinson you had union folks signing in for people
like Mike Friend, head of AFP so he did not have to wait in line, so
those folks would wait in line, sign in TransCanada/Union/Allied Group
leaders and then just give them their number tag (people who signed in
to speak were then assign a sticker with a number). We knew he did
this in Lincoln but actually caught him red-handed in Atkinson which
he was not too happy about.

This was told to us by the State Dept that it would NOT be allowed.
Because we wanted to sign in for some ranchers who had morning chores,
we were told we could not that the person who was speaking had to sign
in.

John did talk with the union folks in Atkinson and they did agree to
have each side have equal time for the first 50 speakers. I was not
there for that decision, but I respect John and knew because the way
they had the lines set up outside in Atkinson that maybe that was the
safest way to do it so people didnt push eachother.

But the big problem is Entrix did not think through what happens when
we hit 50, how will the now divided line of pro vs con get signed
in…so then that became a mess to try and “merge” the lines after we
demanded they did so.

When we saw all this happening we told the State Dept to stop signing
people in and asked that they make some corrections, like have folks
show their id. State Dept staff said Entrix is doing the meeting,
Entrix staff said the local police chnaged the sign in process…so as
with many aspects of this issue finger pointing happened while people
were trying to sign in with the process that was outlined by the State
Dept.

The bottom line…

The rules were “first come, first serve” and you had to sign yourself
in.

We followed those rules, the other folks did not.

We had 80% of the crowd but only 50% of the speaking slots because of
the way they signed people in at both meetings.

The State Dept will say “we stayed late to hear everyone” but the
reality is so many folks wanted to speak and when they got there and
saw they would be #250 or so in Lincoln and #180 or so in Atkinson
they figured there was no way they would be called up and some left or
some just watched then.

30
Sep

Pipeline supporters polling Nebraskans

Got a call last night from a pollster wanting my opinion on the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.

After a short description of all the great things the pipeline would do for our little ol’ state — like generate $150 million in property taxes and untold jobs — the computer-woman asked whether I:

• Support building the pipeline
• Do not support building the pipeline
• Am undecided

It should be noted, building the pipeline in a different location was not an option.

The poll was paid for by Nebraskans for Jobs and Energy Independence, which apparently is located in Boys Town.

29
Sep

Washington Post: Bruning’s “abrasive personal style” needs burnishing


Interesting analysis in the Washington Post about the hits Attorney General Jon Bruning has sustained in recent weeks.

The Fix blogger writes that the Nebraska Republican primary was once considered to be a coronation for Bruning in his bid to take U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson’s seat, but his recent missteps and revelations about his business dealings have put the party on hold.

“Nebraska political observers cite an abrasive personal style that has rubbed many Republicans the wrong way, and Bruning has suffered from a series of unhelpful headlines and gaffes on the campaign trail,” The Fix reports.

He reports on Bruning dumping his political consultant for a new one — as we told you last week — and hiring a second consultant. He goes on to write:

Those close to Bruning deny the moves constitute any kind of campaign shake-up, but they do acknowledge that it hasn’t been smooth sailing and say the candidate is leaning more on the advice of his new campaign apparatus.

They say they doubt the raccoon comment will hurt him in the long run, but acknowledge their early problems. “The [property] thing creates more of a bump in the road for him,” said a source close to the campaign. “I don’t think it’s a death blow, but it’s a difficulty that he’s going to have to deal with.”

28
Sep

Construction around schools has drivers singing “Can’t get there from here”

Sometimes I think Lincoln’s theme song should be “Can’t get there from here” – it’s like traffic engineers gone wild with all the medians around here.

And parents of kids who go to Southeast High School, Sheridan Elementary School, Calvert Elementary School and Irving Middle School have definitely been singing that song a lot lately, as the routes to schools have dried up recently due to multiple roads under construction near those schools.

As one of my readers, Shawn Traudt, recently wrote to me,

Is it just me, or has the city stumbled upon the most sadistic way to mess with drivers who reside or commute between the areas bounded by 56th and 27th and South to Pioneers? Pioneers is or has been closed. The intersection of 48th & Pioneers, closed. Sheridan from 40th to Calvert and 27th to 33rd, closed. South Street blocked at 38th Street. I may even be missing some.

I’m one of the first to call for improvements to our infrastructure and these are needed projects, but some vision and planning around these projects would have been wonderful. The closure of Sheridan alone, has and continues to impact Calvert Elementary, Sheridan Elementary, Rousseau Elementary, Irving Middle, Southeast High, and Cathedral Schools. With all summer to have been working on these projects, they close the most critical sections during the school year!

I have two kids going to Southeast, and I can tell you, it is quite a journey getting there. Now, I strongly believe Lincoln needs to fix lots of streets – if you are a Lincoln native, you probably don’t realize just how bad of condition the streets are in here. I was recently in an oil patch – and only there are the roads this bad, and everybody is screaming about it out there.

So I asked city officials about this unusual confluence of construction around several schools. Thomas Shafer, design and construction section manager for the city, said the city generally tries not to close two adjacent streets within the same mile, which is why Van Dorn Street has remained construction free despite its condition. (There is some work being done on Van Dorn, however, but it appears to be utility-related, narrowing the street between about 26th and 29th.)

Shafer said when the projects were planned, reconstruction of the South Street bridge (as part of Antelope Valley) was scheduled to start in the fall of 2010 and be done by now. However, the first round of bidding only brought one extremely high bid, so it was re-bid. But since the electric lines (which carry our air conditioning energy) shouldn’t be out of service during times of high loads, the project then had to wait to start in the fall of 2011.

This wouldn’t have been a problem, because the city planned to have Sheridan Boulevard from 40th to Calvert complete before South Street began, but more of the underlying base on Sheridan needed repair than expected, and that project is now two to three weeks behind schedule.

Also, work on Pioneers Boulevard hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped – as many private underground utilities are being found quite a ways from where records indicated they’d be, Shafer said.
And if that weren’t enough bad news, the opening of the intersection of 48th and Pioneers has been delayed because of the storm drainage needs discovered as the underground infrastructure gets exposed, he said.

But Shafer said two of the three north/south streets (33rd, 40th and 48th) have always remained open (never mind the east/west streets for now!) and Van Dorn has been unimpeded (well, except for those workers in orange out there) as well as “non-adjacent stretches” of South Street and Pioneers.

“While we all like to jump in our cars and drive straight to our destination, we ask for continued patience from Lincoln’s drivers has they work their way through and around the roadway construction,” Shafer said.

Traudt said this is an example of what happens with the city puts off needed infrastructure repairs for years, “and then is forced to do multiple, overlapping projects at the same time.”

“There is blame to be assigned over multiple administrations,” he said.

But Shafer is right, too: We Americans are kind of spoiled, and we definitely like to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, especially when gas is $3.59 a gallon. But we also desperately need to fix roads around here (maybe not Sheridan Boulevard, but that’s another blog), so we’re just going to have to, in the words of my mother, “suck it up.”