Vinny Palermo’s time on the Omaha City Council came to an end Tuesday, as his six colleagues voted unanimously to remove him from his seat. With the seat officially vacated, the City Council has begun the process to find a new representative for the South Omaha district.
Palermo has not attended a City Council meeting since April, as he and three others have been held in jail awaiting trial on fraud charges. According to section 2.05 of the City Charter, a councilmember is considered to have forfeited their seat after three months of unexcused absences, a mark Palermo reached on July 25.
Council President Pete Festersen said the vote wasn’t a determination of guilt, but they have an obligation to comply with the City Charter. While some wanted the seat to be vacated sooner, Festersen said this was the earliest opportunity to do so in accordance with the law.
“This has been a difficult time for the City Council, and I know it’s been a difficult time for the residents of District 4,” Festersen said. “As a four-term City Councilmember and a three-term City Council President, I care deeply about the integrity of this body and how the city conducts its business.”
Candidates interested in representing District 4 will have until Aug. 15 to submit their application. The City Council will evaluate candidates and conduct interviews on Sept. 7 in a meeting open to the public. Festersen said he anticipates that they will elect the new councilmember during the Sept. 12 City Council meeting, and that candidate would take office on Sept. 26.
By the time the new representative takes office, the South Omaha district will have been without representation for five months, which Councilmember Brinker Harding said is “far too long.” In Palermo’s absence, South Omaha community leaders and residents have worked with other city officials.
“We’ve picked up the mantle in this lurch as best we could,” Harding said. “[The city staff] have done a lot of heavy lifting to make sure the people of District 4 had responses to questions or concerns.”
The City Council also approved a redevelopment plan for the Digs Apartments at Mason at 31st and Marcy streets, including $4.1 million in tax increment financing. The plan had previously been laid over because of concerns about parking, which the developers said they’re looking at options to address.
According to the city’s zoning code, projects within transit-oriented development (TOD) districts are allowed fewer parking spaces. With the Digs Apartments located just outside a TOD district and the streetcar set to be constructed nearby, the planning department approved an exception to allow fewer parking spaces, which prompted opposition from neighbors.
Councilmember Danny Begley, who represents the project’s district, was the lone vote against the redevelopment plan. He said he and the neighbors are supportive of development, but not the lack of parking.
Steven Held, representing Uptown Properties, offered potential solutions to alleviate potential issues, including an open parking concept based on the assumption that not all residents would need a parking spot at the same time. He also said they’re looking into partnering with a car sharing service for residents to use a car for errands like grocery shopping.
Councilmember Aimee Melton said she had been on the fence, but ultimately voted in favor of the plan because the project followed the rules previously set out by the city.
“I wasn’t necessarily a proponent of the TOD to begin with, however it passed,” Melton said. “We have these limitations and expectations for developers to build in these TODs and you meet all of the requirements.”
Councilmember Don Rowe said many young people today don’t pursue a driver’s license. With the developers planning to lease to young professionals, he said more reliance on the nearby transit would allow them to densify the urban core.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners also met Tuesday to discuss potentially lowering the county’s property tax levy by half a cent. The Board will vote on the levy later this month.