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Mayor Jean Stothert | City of Omaha

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Omaha firefighters first tried to save two young children from their burning home.  Now, they will lead a fundraising campaign to help the family.

Wednesday morning, dozens of firefighters fought the fire in a mobile home near 129th & Maple.  Two brothers, 3-month-old Brandon and 3-year old Gabriel Rodriguez died in the fire.  Their one-year-old sister Adrianna and mother, 18-year-old Champaigne Harn survived.  Champaigne is being treated for severe smoke inhalation, Adrianna has been released from the hospital. The Omaha Fire Department continues to investigate the cause of the fire.

Thursday, the Omaha Professional Firefighters Association made the first contribution to a fund to assist the family. "Our community is so very generous," said Omaha Fire Captain Trevor Towey. "We know giving people live in Omaha."  Firefighters started the "Fire Fatality Benefit Fund",  making a $1,000 donation. Towey can't remember the last time, if ever, firefighters assisted a family this way. "Many of us have kids. We feel the pain of the family.  The firefighters there Wednesday know they did everything they could at that scene."

Fire Chief Bernie Kanger says the fire investigation is continuing. Kanger says there was a smoke detector in the mobile home but it did not have batteries.  He encourages anyone who needs a smoke or carbon monoxide detector to call the Omaha Fire Department for a free detector.  Firefighters will come to your home and install the equipment.

Chief Kanger says the firefighters involved in the fire are taking the deaths of the children very hard; the fire chaplain arrived at the scene and the Omaha Fire Department provided counseling.  "On any fire call, we leave the fire station with every intention to save everyone.  In this case, that didn't happen," said Kanger.  He said the first firefighters were on the scene two minutes and 45 seconds after the 911 call, even in that short time, the fire was burning out of control.  The heat from the fire was so intense, it burned holes in the fire hoses.

Donations to the Fire fatality Benefit Fund can be made at the  Omaha Fire Fighter Credit Union, in person or by mail, 4630 S. 143rd Street in Omaha, 68137.   Donations can also be dropped off at any Omaha fire station. "Every single Omaha firefighter will know what to do with that money," said Captain Towey.

 

The Empowerment Network invited me to participate in the annual "State of North of Omaha",  I outlined many areas of interest to the audience.  Here is a recap:

2013 has been a year of change in our city. I believe change is progress and I want to give you a brief progress report and look ahead to the exciting changes coming to north Omaha in 2014.

Many of the Empowerment Network strategies focus on economics, education, healthy families and sustainable neighborhoods.  We are all partners, working together for change and we are committed to making our great city an extraordinary city.

After two years of study, community input and planning, 2014 will be the year we see real progress with the 75 North project. 75 North expects to complete the purchase of the former Pleasantview Homes from the Omaha Housing Authority in the next two weeks.   HUD has approved the sale, moving this  development forward. By February, we will see plans and renderings. By summer or early fall, 75 North expects to break ground on this ‘ground-breaking’ community redevelopment concept.

75 North is modeled after a successful development in Atlanta. The model is now being copied in other cities by “Purpose Built Communities”.   The goal is always to provide high-quality housing, improve academic achievement and provide services. This concept changed a high-crime, high-poverty Atlanta neighborhood into a new community, offering a better quality of life.   That’s the vision of 75 North. Omaha Public Schools, the Urban League, Charles Drew Health Center and Salem-Baptist church, private investors like the Sherwood Foundation and support from leaders like Warren Buffett will make this change possible.  

When asked about the mission of “Purpose Built Communities”, Mr. Buffett said, “I like things that change people’s lives.”  So do I. 75 North intends to be that change.

Developments like this can be sparks. They create new interest in the surrounding neighborhoods. Wrapped around 75 North is Prospect Village, a neighborhood rehabilitation project managed by the Omaha Planning Department. This is a neighborhood in decline.  Existing homes are deteriorating and there are many vacant lots. Beginning next year, we will build 80 new homes, rehab 36 existing houses and make energy, health and safety upgrades to twenty more. This is your city’s commitment to making Prospect Village a more stable neighborhood.

I would like to thank the Empowerment Network and many community partners who are working with us to bring this project to life.

While these are two exciting examples of large projects, one led by private partners, one led by the city, there are improvements underway in many neighborhoods.

In 2014, I budgeted more money for demolition, so we can tear down dangerous houses. That’s a response to your input, telling me demolition is important.

At my Town Hall meetings this fall, I heard a lot about our city parks in north Omaha.  We made many park improvements in 2013 and more are planned next year. Miller Park golf course will open once again in the spring under city management and the First Tee program will expand, creating even more opportunities for young golfers. At Benson Park, we will build new trails and picnic areas.  We are raising money for a new splash pad and playground. Improvements like these help create sustainable neighborhoods.

We also need good public policy to attract new business that creates jobs.  We have recently made an offer to purchase the Ames-Locust property. If the owner accepts, this gives us a shovel-ready industrial site in northeast Omaha.

In 2014, the city will again support the Step-Up Summer Jobs program.  We have committed $300,000.  Last summer, nearly 400 young people worked and earned their own paychecks in jobs offered through Step-Up.


Since it started in 2008, this program has placed 2,400 people in jobs and provided the coaching and training they need to prepare for careers.  The employers who hire our youth give these young people excellent performance reviews and 95% of the businesses say they will participate again. Step-Up provides a win-win for the employers and the employees.  We know providing jobs leads to other positive outcomes.

Recently, I invited faith leaders from across our community, from all denominations, to join my Faith and Community task force. Nearly 40 pastors, representing many faiths, attended our first meeting.  Most agreed, strong families build strong communities. Co-chairman of the task force Pastor Bruce Williams put it this way, “A Church is only as strong as the families in the church.  If we have strong families, the community will be strong”. This is a very important partnership. Our diverse religious community has an important role in our city.  I look forward to our next meeting in January and our work together to develop long-term strategies that will strengthen families and make our community stronger.

Education and health care are important to all of us in Omaha.

The National League of Cities recently picked eleven cities to develop and share ideas to help young black males succeed. Omaha is one of the lucky eleven. With the Empowerment Network and other partners, we have created the Omaha African-American Male Achievement Collaboration strategy. This is an opportunity to connect boys and young men, from kindergarten through high school with resources and role models in the very areas we have identified as priorities; employment, education, housing, faith and family.

We are also excited that we are one of 12 cities receiving a grant to expand access to health care for children and families. Many families may not know they are eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance program.  Our goal is to get nearly 4,000 people signed up for these benefits. Northeast Omaha is our target area.    Once again, our community health partners will help with this important goal.

As we begin a new year, another year of change, let’s work together on our challenges and our opportunities.

An Omaha surgeon with an extensive background in hospital and military trauma care has been named Medical Director for the Omaha Fire Department.

Dr. Paul Schenarts, Trauma Medical Director at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, has accepted the position. “UNMC has a long history of providing medical direction and support to Omaha EMS. I’m honored to continue this tradition of service to the community,” said Dr. Schenarts.

Dr. Schenarts is an experienced hospital trauma surgeon, national expert in the field of medical education, flight physician and retired Army surgeon. He served as Chief of Surgery in Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones and received the Combat Medic Award.

“Dr. Schenarts’ military record carries a lot of weight with our firefighters,” said Interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger. “We have many veterans and active-duty reservists working in the Omaha Fire Department. His medical experience in the war zone is impressive.”

As Medical Director, Dr. Schenarts will create a medical advisory board, including doctors trained in emergency medicine, cardiology, obstetrics, pediatrics, toxicology and neurology to develop, review and revise Omaha Fire Department emergency medicine protocols.  UNMC physicians will be assigned to assist OFD paramedics when needed.

“Medical training and education for our firefighters is critical to maintain the high quality of emergency medical care provided by Omaha Fire Department paramedics,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.  “Dr. Schenarts will provide valuable expertise to our training programs.”

The Medical Director is currently a volunteer position.     

The Charter Review Committee named by Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert has completed its work and adjourned.

The committee approved two issues that could have a significant impact on city government; change the charter to allow a biennial budget and change the election cycle for city elections to coincide with the state election calendar. Both were proposed by Mayor Stothert.

The committee did not approve an amendment proposed by committee member David Kramer to redesign the city’s pension plan.  It would have changed the pension from the current defined benefit to defined contribution.

“This was a missed opportunity to begin to address our pension problem,” said Mayor Stothert. “Our unfunded pension liability is up to $800 million. It’s the reason we lost our AAA bond rating. I’m disappointed the committee members didn’t see or understand the long-term benefits we can get from this important change.”   

Mayor Stothert asked the committee to remove civil service protection for the Omaha Fire Chief, which the committee also rejected. The intent was to allow the Fire Chief to be evaluated on performance, like other department directors.

The Charter Review Committee did approve proposals including:

  • Increase the limit on the Cash Reserve Fund from 4% to 8% to allow the city to save for emergencies.
  • City Council members who move out of their district will lose their Council seat, except in cases of redistricting.
  • Change the name of the “Taxpayer Complaint Office” to the Mayor’s Hotline.
  • Remove Communications Department and Communications Chief from Charter (the department and the position no longer exist).
  • Change the responsibilities of the Parks and Recreation Board.
  • Add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city employment anti-discrimination clause.
  • Change definition of Power of the City to give the city more flexibility for government operations.

The committee did not support proposals to eliminate the Human Rights and Relations Department, increase the minimum purchase order requiring City Council approval from $20,000 to $50,000, change the percentage of vote needed for a ballot referendum and initiative from 15% to 10% or an amendment on religious freedom.

“It has been 10 years since the last Charter Convention. This committee had an opportunity to make substantive and necessary changes to the charter. Many of the decisions that were made simply cleaned up outdated language and titles,” said Mayor Stothert.  “I am considering another Charter Convention during my first term.”

A report on the Charter Review Convention will be sent to the City Council.  The Council will then discuss and decide if any of the committee’s recommendations should be put on a future ballot.  The Mayor and the Council also have the authority to recommend a charter change at any time.

Mayor Stothert will send a letter to each member of the Charter Review committee asking them to evaluate the process. For example, should the committee break into small groups to allow more time for study and review and how to improve public participation.

Minutes of the Charter Review Committee, agendas and the committee roster can be found on the home page at www.cityofomaha.org

The City of Omaha and the Police Management Bargaining Unit have reached a tentative agreement on a  two-year contract.  This bargaining unit includes the Chief of Police and the four deputy chiefs. The negotiating goal was to increase the salaries of the deputy chiefs to be 5% over the average pay for Omaha Police captains and to increase the salary for the Chief of Police to 10% over the top salary step for deputy chief.

“The annual cost of the salary increases for the entire police management team is approximately $22,000,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.

Other highlights of the agreement include:

  • Anyone participating in the DROP program is not eligible for salary increases.
  • A 3-year expansion of the time period required to achieve the top salary step to provide an incentive for the command staff to remain in their positions longer.
  • Pension benefits now mirror the Omaha Fire Department  concessions from 2012.
  • Employees will contribute an additional 1% into the pension fund (except DROP participants).
  • The maximum pension benefit for future hires reduced from 75% to 65%.
  • Increases years of service for maximum pension benefit from 25 to 30 years for future hires.
  • Tuition reimbursement changed to mirror police rank and file reimbursement plan, allowing for 3 credit hours per semester if the course is job-related and required for a Master’s Degree.
  • The annual equipment reimbursement of $553 has been eliminated.

The tentative agreement must be approved by the Omaha City Council. First reading is scheduled on December 10, a public hearing will be held December 17, final reading and approval is expected on January 7.

Roman and Lina Kogan and their young children woke up with headaches, feeling queasy.  They didn't know Roman had accidentally left the car running all night in the garage, leaking dangerous carbon monoxide into their home. Fortunately for this young family, they survived.

Roman and Lina are deaf, their 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter have normal hearing, but are too young to understand the warning sounds of a smoke or carbon monoxide detector. Their new home was not built with the high-tech fire protection systems for the hearing-impaired that would have alerted them to the danger while they slept.  "We can't afford the equipment so when I learned the city could help, I called.  It's so important to keep my children safe," said Lina.

Lina called the Mayor's Hotline, asking about resources to equip their home with detectors made specifically to alert deaf and hard of hearing people to fire danger. The Hotline staff, the Omaha Fire Department and the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing worked together to install equipment that will protect the Kogan family from dangers in their home. "Changing how you alert a person is very critical. We're grateful to the City of Omaha and the Omaha Fire Department for providing this equipment," said Ben Sparks of the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

"This level of support and cooperation from numerous agencies demonstrates our ability to meet the unique needs of all members of our community and to work collectively to adapt and respond to the needs of our community," said interim Fire Chief Bernie Kanger. The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates 8.6% of the U.S. population is hearing impaired.  The Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing estimates there are 400-500 people in Omaha who are deaf; there is no accurate estimate of hard of hearing persons.  The Omaha Fire Department is asking for help to identify deaf and hard of hearing families who need fire protection equipment in their homes. Log on to www.omaha-fire.org to provide information that will help protect families like the Kogans.

Roman says knowing his home now has life-saving equipment is a big relief for him and he never goes to bed without making sure the keys to the family cars are hanging on the hook inside the house. Lina called the new equipment, "the greatest gift to begin the Hannukah season".

The Omaha Fire Department will install free standard-type smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for you.  Call 402-444-3560 for information or visit www.omaha-fire.org

 

 

 

 

Mayor Jean Stothert has vetoed the proposal that would have allowed people who live outside the city limits to vote in city elections.  

The resolution, passed by the Omaha City Council on a 4-3 vote,  would have asked the Nebraska Legislature to change state law, to give voting rights to people who live outside of the Omaha city limits but within the city’s three-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction. Councilman Franklin Thompson proposed the resolution to be included in the city’s 2014 legislative package.

“This proposal would allow non-residents to vote for Mayor, but under the Omaha City Charter, non-residents cannot run for Mayor.  People living outside the city limits would not pay Omaha property tax, but would be allowed to vote for elected city officials who set tax rates and approve budgets,” said Mayor Stothert.  “There are too many potential legal and administrative problems with this proposal.”

In a letter to City Council members, Mayor Stothert said the proposed Legislative Bill could also lead to legal challenges under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

TEXT OF THE MAYOR'S VETO MESSAGE:

 

Honorable President and Members of the City Council,

I veto City Council Resolution No. 1549, passed by the City Council on November 19, 2013. Resolution No. 1549 would provide that the City support and include in its Legislative package, a proposed state Legislative Bill to provide that persons living outside of the City but within its three-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction shall have the right to vote in City elections.

There would be practical problems in implementing such a scheme if passed. For example, in the case of any Charter amendment proposal, the Nebraska Constitution would require a separate "City Only" election, requiring an election system separate from the broader election system that would be set up under this Bill.  Other anomalies include the fact that under this Bill non-residents could vote for Mayor, but under our Charter, such non-residents could not run for Mayor. In general, the incongruencies between such an election scheme and the existing election system based on the City alone would create administrative and possible legal problems and conflicts.

This proposed Legislative Bill could also lead to legal challenges under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In particular, under these laws, it may be argued that non-residents, not having to pay property tax to the City, lack the requisite substantial interest to the City to be able to vote there. Furthermore, there is the concern that such a voting scheme would dilute the votes of minority residents of the City.

As I believe that such a Legislative Bill to allow non-resident voting would not be in the best interests of the City of Omaha, I veto City Council Resolution No. 1549.

Mayor Jean Stothert has named Stephen Curtiss as Finance Director.  Curtiss has thirty years of financial management experience in both the public and private sectors. “Steve will be a great addition to our team,” said Mayor Stothert.  “His experience with large government budgets, expense management, and financial analysis will be important skills as we manage taxpayer dollars.”

In 2000, Governor Mike Johanns appointed Curtiss as Director of Health and Human Services-Finance and Support.  His responsibilities included managing the state’s Medicaid program.  He also served as a liaison to the Nebraska Legislature. 

Curtiss held the HHS position until 2004, when he founded MatrixPointe LLC, an Omaha company that specializes in Medicaid, Medicare and other health and human services programs. His clients have included the State of South Dakota Department of Social Services, the Children’s Respite Care Center of Omaha, and the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

“Steve’s background in health care is especially important in this time of escalating health care costs,” said Mayor Stothert. “In 2014, we have $59 million dollars budgeted for health care.  This is a cost and a benefit that will continue to increase.  Steve’s unique experience in this area is very valuable.”

Prior to accepting the HHS appointment, Curtiss held management positions in several private sector firms specializing in health care services and financial analysis, including Price Waterhouse where he worked with public, private and non-profit clients. “I am excited to return to public service,” said Curtiss.  “Mayor Stothert has offered me an opportunity to serve our community.  I share the Mayor’s promise that we will always remember we are spending your money.”

Curtiss is a cum laude graduate of Milligan College in Tennessee.  He received a Master’s Degree in Finance and Management Information Systems from Vanderbilt University. His annual salary will be $145,000.  He will start December 9th.

Mayor Stothert also thanked interim Finance Director Al Herink.  Al will return to his part-time role as Comptroller. “Al Herink has been a tremendous help not only controlling the 2013 budget, but also in the preparation of the 2014 budget.  His experience is greatly appreciated,” said Mayor Stothert.

Most forecasts call for one to one and a half inches of snow by midnight Thursday.  Early this morning, Omaha Public Works crews started pre-treating main streets with ant-icing liquids.  If conditions warrant, granular materials will be spread on those streets.

At this time, with such a light snowfall expected, the City does not plan a major residential operation and private contractors will not be called to help city crews.  The street maintenance staff will evaluate residential street conditions tonight and adjust the plan if necessary.

Omaha neighborhood leaders are reviewing the results and recommendations of a five-month study to identify the best ways to help neighborhood associations grow, recruit new members and develop strong leaders.  The study was suggested by the United Neighborhood Alliances after the sudden closing of the Neighborhood Center in February. 

The results show two significant needs for neighborhood associations: membership recruitment and leadership and a more defined relationship with the City of Omaha. The results were presented to the presidents of the alliances Friday. 

The study was conducted in three phases; focus groups with alliance leaders, a survey of alliance and neighborhood association leaders and community forums. The survey identified the top three priorities as communicating information to neighbors, neighborhood improvements and identifying neighborhood problems and solutions.  The participants in the community forums identified similar priorities; communication, crime prevention and public safety and neighborhood improvements.  The study concludes that neighborhood association leaders and members also want their groups to be unified in presenting neighborhood issues and advocates for their neighborhoods. Members are most concerned about recruiting new members and volunteers and finding funding. It also shows many are unfamiliar with the relatively new organization of neighborhood alliances.

There are six alliances in Omaha, the oldest is SONA, the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Midtown Alliance, Benson-Ames Alliance, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Northwest and Southwest Alliances. The United Neighborhood Alliances of Omaha organization was formed this year, after the Neighborhood Center closed. The Alliance leaders will consider several conclusions and recommendations:

  • The loss of the Neighborhood Center created a void that needs to be filled.
  • Neighborhood associations  need support to maintain their viability and sustainability.  This support could be funding, organizational development, and/or administrative support.
  • Omaha's neighborhood alliances should play a more active role in the operation, development, and mentoring of the neighborhood associations.  They should be advocates for Omaha's neighborhood associations.
  • In addition to neighborhood associations, neighborhood alliances, and the City of Omaha, other stakeholders who have interests  in neighborhoods must be identified.
  • There needs to be a more structured relationship with the City of Omaha with a more stable base of funding.

The study was conducted by the Consortium for Organizational Research and Evaluation at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.