Omaha City Council temporarily removes Palermo from VP post
Councilman Vinny Palermo, third in the city’s line of succession, is in Saunders County Jail awaiting his preliminary hearing on federal charges.
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Omaha City Council voted 5-0 on Tuesday to temporarily remove Councilman Vinny Palermo from the office of vice president of the council.
City Councilwoman Juanita Johnson voted “abstain,” stressing that Palermo is innocent until proven guilty. Johnson was the only council member who attending Palermo’s hearings in Lincoln on Monday. He’s due in court again Wednesday morning, when attorneys for Palermo and two of the other defendants will get the opportunity to bring witnesses and argue why they should stay out of jail until trial.
Following Tuesday’s action, the council will have a show-cause/due process hearing on a permanent resolution next Tuesday, May 2.
“It brings me no joy to have to introduce this resolution,” Councilman Brinker Harding said as discussion got underway Tuesday.
The resolution was added to the council’s agenda Monday — as item No. 96 — days after Palermo was arrested along with three others on federal indictments alleging wire fraud and various financial schemes.
Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen told 6 News on Monday that he had already stripped Palermo of his committee assignments, such as law, public safety, finance, and public works.
Harding said that numerous indictments involving Palermo and others have caused the council to more closely examine the city charter — and even Robert’s Rules of Order — since the indictments have been made public.
Palermo was behind bars as the council proceeded with its regular meeting. The councilman was among three defendants held over until Wednesday in order to give defense counsel time to prepare for cross-presentation.
“Mr. Palermo has violated the public’s trust again,” Harding said. “In my opinion, he should resign from the body altogether but we are limited — maybe — in that ability. There’s nothing in the state statutes that gives us that power.”
Councilwoman Aimee Melton said her concern lay with the city’s residents and taxpayers.
“So there’s no harm in protecting the citizens from the allegation that could continue,” she said ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Festersen and Councilman Don Rowe echoed Harding and Melton’s concerns.
According to the city charter, the council does not have the power to remove Palermo from his seat.
But Palermo will automatically lose his City Council seat if he is convicted of any of the felony charges he stands accused of following last week’s federal indictment.
Another scenario for vacating his position — aside from his resignation — would be three months of unexcused absences from City Council meetings.
That could come to pass: Palermo is scheduled to appear in a federal court again Wednesday morning. If the judge orders Palermo to be locked up ahead of trial — likely several months away — he will be unable to attend several months’ worth of council meetings.
If Palermo’s seat becomes permanently vacant, the City Council does have the power to fill it.
Three members of the public spoke in favor of removing Palermo from the council vice presidency. There were no public comments made in opposition.
Among the supporters addressing the council was Rebecca Barrientos-Patlan, who ran against Palmero in 2021 while he was on probation for tax violations — as he still is today — but lost to the sitting councilman.
During public comment, she raised concerns about conflict-of-interest questions regarding city contracts with his businesses and other financial misgivings.
“Again, isn’t this enough to totally remove him off this seat?” she said.
She also noted the active warrant for violating his probation.
“I’m so saddened that my community has to face all this again and again,” she said. “He should be removed totally.”
Randy Paragas, the attorney representing Palermo, told 6 News on Monday afternoon that his client hasn’t talked about or made any decisions regarding his role on the council.
LINE OF SUCCESSION
The council went into Tuesday’s vote knowing Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert was planning to be out of town for a few days starting Tuesday. Additionally, Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen had previously told 6 News that he had planned to attend a family event outside the city this weekend but hadn’t fully decided yet.
Several council members told 6 News the timing of Tuesday’s vote is important because — with the mayor out of town for the rest of the week — Festersen is acting mayor Tuesday.
Had he retained the position of vice president, Palermo would be second in line to lead the city while Stothert and Festersen were out of the city. The issue previously came up just after an FBI Omaha search of Palermo’s home in December when holiday vacations put Palermo technically at the helm of the council.
Stothert and Festersen both issued statements Friday on Palermo’s arrest.
Ahead of Tuesday’s council vote, Palermo would have remained in the succession line — provided he wasn’t still in the Saunders County Jail in Wahoo. In that event, the succession would fall to the City Council’s most senior member, Aimee Melton — as it does now based on the council’s vote.
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Reporter Brian Mastre contributed to this report.
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