The Legislative Chambers grew heated as the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and the county finance department debated the county’s relationship with private firm Deloitte during Tuesday’s board meeting.
“This is a waste of money,” Commissioner Jim Cavanaugh said. “Deloitte had a contract with us under the CARES Act, which was a waste of money, basically telling us that our 2,100-plus employees are too stupid to do the administration…I don’t believe that.”
Previously the county had hired the administrative and financial services company to administer $166 million in CARES Act funds. With another $110 million coming through the American Rescue Plan, the county has again tapped Deloitte despite the objection of some commissioners who’d rather keep costs down and shop local.
County Finance Director Joe Lorenz argued in favor of a resolution, saying the county has to do whatever it can to make sure it’s in compliance with federal guidelines that are complicated and dynamic. If auditors found any misspent funds, Douglas County would be on the hook to pay them back. A company like Deloitte, which has experience in disaster relief management, is best equipped to handle this, Lorenz said.
“We’re using them not to do the work,” Lorenz said. “We’re using them as a consultant.”
Tuesday’s resolution, approved 4-3 with Commissioners Cavanaugh, Mike Boyle and Maureen Boyle voting no, allocated up to $200,000 to Deloitte to continue services until the end of the year. Of the total amount, $43,000 would be rolled over from previously allocated funding. Another $157,000 would go toward reimbursing FEMA and NEMA for their efforts in helping the Douglas County Health Department administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
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While other county health departments allowed the state to fund and operate the vaccination process, Douglas County took a different approach. Lorenz said DCHD incurred at least $10 million in vaccination expenses, which needs to be reimbursed from the state and federal governments.
“NEMA/FEMA has a reputation of being hard to work with,” Lorenz said. “This is another area that [Deloitte] can support us in.”
Still many commissioners raised concerns and frustrations. Commissioner Mike Boyle asked why the county hasn’t treated this hiring like a normal bid process, where commissioners could hear from, and evaluate, multiple candidates. Commissioners Cavanaugh and Maureen Boyle both said continuing to work with Deloitte is a missed opportunity to work with smart, local accountants which would stimulate the local economy. Deloitte has an office in Omaha, as well as more than a hundred cities across the globe.
Commissioner Mike Friend said he didn’t like Deloitte’s “attitude,” but said the time to raise these concerns was Spring 2020 when federal relief funds started coming in, a time before he was even on the board. Friend asked Lorenz what would happen if the board didn’t continue working with the firm.
Lorenz said the risk of accidentally breaking guidelines and the possibility of fraud would rise “significantly” without Deloitte’s assistance.
The County board discussed delaying the vote a week by referring to the finance committee, but the motion to do so failed and the resolution was approved.
The board went on to approve resolutions recognizing June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month and National PTSD Awareness Month.
Douglas County Health Director Dr. Adi Pour gave the county board an update on COVID-19 in Douglas County and the vaccination plan. The good news is the number of new cases continues to drop. But the county is still having trouble closing the gap on reaching herd immunity through vaccinations.
The federal goal is to give 70% of American adults at least the first dose of the vaccine by July 4. Douglas County is sitting at about 64% and Pour said she believes that goal is obtainable. However vaccine administration has slowed and particular communities, like Black Omahans, of which only about 30% have had at least one shot, have been harder to convince to get the shot than others.
The county, which has long tried to focus COVID-19 messaging and build trust through relationships with community leaders, will have several pop-up vaccine sites in the coming weeks. For a list of temporary and permanent locations, look on the county’s website.
Pour said that although everything is trending in the right direction, the fight against COVID-19 is ongoing.
“It’s not over ‘til it’s over,” she said.
Hours later the Omaha City Council met for a brief and comparably less controversial meeting. It was their first meeting following Monday’s inauguration of three new members.
One of those newly elected members, Councilmember Juanita Johnson of District 2, began the meeting with a proclamation recognizing June 19th as Juneteenth.
Johnson, the only Black member of the City Council, thanked the Omaha branch NAACP and its president, Vickie Young, for their contributions to the city. Councilmember Pete Festersen added that the proclamation will be presented to the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation on June 19.
The City Council unanimously approved liquor licenses for two new Omaha restaurants: Koko’s Chicken at 2571 South 177th Plaza and Bravo Cucina Italiano at 17151 Davenport St. Mula, a Mexican restaurant on 40th and Farnam St., also received approval for a liquor license for a proposed addition to its outdoor patio.
Ross Koley, owner of a Grateful Dead-themed bar called the Brokedown Palace, received approval for a liquor license to host a music festival at 8805 Maple St. from June 24 to 26. Festersen, who represents the bar’s district, asked Koley about noise complaints from last year’s Run for the Roses festival.
Koley said he received complaints from a neighbor, but he has spoken to neighbors to make sure there aren’t any issues. Festersen suggested he end music at 11 p.m. each night instead of 12 a.m., but the City Council approved the liquor license without any amendments.
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