Dust-Up Swirls Around Morphing MECA

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The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority plans to expand its membership from five to seven board members and extend terms of service from five to seven years but the changes didn’t come without a fight.

Both revisions were approved by the MECA board on Tuesday.

Board Member Willy Theisen and Chairman John Lund opposed extending the terms saying it would be self-serving and not in the interest of taxpayers. Theisen said this provision would continue public perception that MECA lacks transparency.

"We have to improve our image," said Theisen. "To be self-serving, to reappoint ourselves, to even think about it, I think it is a very big mistake at this time."

Board Member Jim Vokal said experience was a vital consideration.

"If we take this board, expand to seven without the extended term, you will have my reappointment, two new members of the MECA board and, no offense to you Mr. Noodle, four members out of seven with less than six months experience on a $400 million enterprise," said Vokal. "So I don't think it’s necessarily self-serving."

The addition of two board members was approved on a 4-1 vote with Theisen the lone voice of dissent. The term extension passed 3-2 with Dana Bradford, Jay Noddle and Jim Vokal in favor; Theisen and Lund opposed.

With questions raised over the legality of the moves, MECA’s attorney said the bylaws could be changed without consent of the mayor and city council. Theisen said it’s a bad way to do business.

The proposal from Bradford to extend terms was challenged for coming out of the blue, with no prior discussion. Theisen and Bradford traded several animated exchanges on the way to the vote.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert wasn’t happy with the MECA moves.

She said, “It’s very disappointing to me that without notifying me or the council that they went ahead and unilaterally made the move to extend all of their current terms. I think it’s very self-serving and, like I said, all 49 boards and commissions that I have. there are none that decide their own terms."

The mayor said she believes the vote to extend the terms of the board members violates the contract. The mayor appoints the board members with the approval of the city council. She said neither she nor the council approved the move. The issue will be reviewed by the city's law department.

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