After a reconsideration of last week’s vote, the Omaha City Council voted Tuesday, Aug. 30, to keep a proposal to allow the mayor to work from outside the city for up to five days off of the November ballot. The proposal was denied 4-3 along party lines.
Councilmember Danny Begley, who mistakenly voted in favor of the proposal last week, said it was important to have someone in-person when emergencies occur in Omaha, like last year’s heavy flooding and the Nox-Crete chemical fire earlier this year. Begley also brought up several politicians across the country who have faced scrutiny for being away when crises arise, like Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
“I’m not faulting the mayor, any mayor for being out of town. My whole purpose on this… would be eyes and boots on the ground, communication with the mayor,” Begley said. “To me, that’s what people deserve.”
Mayor Jean Stothert has faced criticism for her time spent outside Omaha. When the mayor is out of town, the City Council President — currently District 1’s Pete Festersen — acts as mayor.
The City Council’s legislative committee originally intended not to pursue the proposal for this year’s ballot, but Councilmember Vinny Palermo introduced it as an amendment to a larger proposal regarding the city charter section on the Council President’s duties despite voting against it both times.
Palermo said he moved for the amendment so the City Council could have a discussion. He said his constituents were clear in opposing the proposal, even though they otherwise approve of Stothert’s performance as mayor.
“We are beholden to nobody but the people who voted for us,” Palermo said.
Councilmember Aimee Melton, who voted in favor of the proposal, said the criticisms of Mayor Stothert’s absentee record were unfair. She said the Mayor works more than most people and she’s always available by phone. Melton also said that the City Council should put all of the charter convention’s recommendations on the ballot, and she wants it to be considered in 2024.
“If you don’t like it, vote no and it won’t pass,” Melton said.
The original proposal, which altered the process for determining when the Council President needs to take over because of the mayor’s disability, passed unanimously.
The City Council also approved an agreement with WSP USA to consult the city in the creation of a Vision Zero Action Plan to reduce fatalities on the city’s roadways.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to approve a joint grant application with Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) to install a solar power generation project at the closed State Street landfill.
Sanya Golembiewski from OPPD is looking to partner with the county for a grant from Nebraska Environmental Trust to cover the cost of an initial study as well as the installation of solar panels at the landfill. She said it’s due next Tuesday.
Commissioner Maureen Boyle said climate change is one of her top priorities as county commissioner, especially the county’s options for renewable energy. She said this is the first step and no money is committed from the county.
The County Board also approved two projects for funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Omaha ForUs received $228,000 for a facility to provide mental health services for the LGBTQ community.
Omaha ForUs Executive Director JohnCarl Denkovich said Omaha was one of only seven of the top 50 U.S. cities without an LGBTQ Center. They said there are underfunded grassroots organizations across the community trying to fill the gaps that the center would fill.
Denkovich said the funding would go towards paying therapists and funding mental health programs, not to any construction. They said an assessment found four-in-five LGBTQ respondents in Omaha reported serious mental health concerns, and one-in-three reported being unable to seek care due to cost.
“Because this historically marginalized population experiences these disparate health outcomes,” Denkovich said. “It’s our hope that this type of funding will assist us in addressing those specifically.”
The Board also approved $100,000 in ARPA funding to the Omaha Equestrian Foundation to help fund the costs associated with hosting the 2023 FEI World Cup Finals in Omaha.