Omaha City Council panel moves 10 charter amendment recommendations forward
Mayor Stothert issues statement slamming subcommittee’s decision to table out-of-town work parameters
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Omaha City Council has reviewed the 24 amendments proposed by the city’s Charter Study Convention, allowing 10 of them to move forward.
The council’s Legislative Affairs Committee, comprised of Council President Pete Festersen and councilmembers Aimee Melton and Danny Begley, reviewed the proposal submitted by the charter study panel, put in place in April. The panel’s initial recommendations, submitted earlier this month, also included adjustments to the city’s contract rules, housing priorities, protected groups; they also called for a structure of responsibility at the city’s highest level of government in the event of an emergency.
According to the release, the council’s subcommittee “concluded” that 24 was “not a manageable number” of changes for voters or the Douglas County Election Commission to contend with simultaneously.
“The Legislative Affairs Committee members believe it is important to act first on the recommendations that address urgent issues and governmental effectiveness,” the council release states. “...The Committee observed, as well, that some of the Convention’s recommendations can be achieved quickly and independently of Charter changes. Two of these changes are now underway.”
The committee has requested an ordinance compelling the city’s finance officials to prepare, “and make publicly available,” a bond report that aligns with one of the items put forth by the Charter Study Commission. The subcommittee also noted that a modification to council procedure on budget resolutions — allowing for public hearings — would also accomplish one of the commission’s recommendations; and so the council will begin doing so, the release states.
One item that did not move forward was the item that would allow the mayor to continue working while out of town, but the legislative committee said it expects the city will consider putting it forward for the November 2024 election.
Mayor Jean Stothert issued a statement Thursday afternoon criticizing the council subcommittee’s decision to set aside the consideration for allowing the mayor to conduct city business while traveling.
“The City Council’s Legislation Committee has missed the opportunity to modernize the City Charter’s decades-old requirement that the sitting Mayor must give up their elected authority when travelling outside the city, even just miles away, to Ralston or Lincoln for example.
Without a change in the Charter, mayors for the next decade or even longer, will be bound by an outdated Charter.
In a time of always-improving technology, instant connections allow government leaders to effectively communicate and make decisions even while away on business or personal travel.
The decision to not bring this Charter amendment, which received unanimous support from the citizen-led Charter Convention, to the Council this year, and then to the voters, appears to be partisan and personal.”
10 CHANGES MOVING FORWARD
Here are the items from the charter commission that the subcommittee decided will move forward through council procedures:
- Establish a continued line of succession for the City Council, should the president and vice president be absent or unable to preside over a council meeting — or serve as acting mayor for the same reason. If the item is approved, the succession would continue among the remaining council members according to who has served on the council the longest.
- Adjust council meeting requirements in the event of an emergency declared by federal or state government officials.
- Change the requirement that public notices be published in all papers in circulation in the city to a “designated daily newspaper.”
- Increase the maximum cash reserve fund from 8% to 12% of general appropriations.
- Increase the amount of purchases and contracts that trigger formal sealed competitive bids from $20,000 to $50,000. (These were put forth as two separate items.)
- Right now, the planning director is in charge of the city’s master plan. A change would add affordable housing and sustainable development to the list of development under that purview.
- Add sexual orientation and gender identity as civil rights afforded in the city.
- Do not allow a vacating council member to vote for his or her replacement.
- Discontinue any medical panel review to determine when the mayor is unable to complete regular duties, or is deemed as such by a majority of the mayor’s cabinet. In such a case, the City Council president will assume those responsibilities until the mayor is able to resume working.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Those 10 changes to the city’s charter could end up on the November ballot; the rest will be considered for future elections, according to a Thursday news release from the council secretary.
The items will be placed on the Aug. 2 council agenda, with a public hearing set for the council’s Aug. 16 meeting and a vote slated for Aug. 23.
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