South Omaha, councilman plan regular conferences during Palermo’s absence

A portion of the city is fighting for a voice while the city councilman who represents them is behind bars.
Published: May. 26, 2023 at 6:41 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - South Omaha activist Ben Salazar says Generation Diamond is one of several nonprofit organizations in that area of town that serves the homeless, refugees and migrants.

Since Title 42 expired two weeks ago, Salazar is concerned his community could see an increase in the number of migrants coming to the area, and that Generation Diamond and organizations like it wouldn’t be able to handle it.

“There still is a surge of other immigrants coming or expected to come north,” Salazar said. “Omaha is seen as a good family place, family-oriented city, with good educational services, good medical treatment services.”

Adding to that, South Omaha’s voice at the city council belongs to District 4′s Vinny Palermo.

However, Palermo and three other men have been indicted on federal charges, including fraud and corruption. A judge ruled that Palermo will remain in jail until his trial.

He can be removed from office if he’s absent from council meetings for three consecutive calendar months.

However, Salazar said that’s three months that South Omaha will be without representation at the city council while handling the issues in its district, and the budget discussion coming this summer.

“Funding issues, some very important economic issues on the table, on the agenda for the council, and we’re not there,” he said.

On top of that, he’s concerned Palermo’s defense could appeal his removal when those three months are up, prolonging the period his community would lack a voice on the council.

Councilman Brinker Harding recently said he and other council members will be District 4′s de facto representatives during this time.

“There are other important issues that are facing the city that I think deserve attention from all parts of the city, and we want to make sure that all citizens kind of have a voice in that matter,” Harding said.

Salazar took Harding up on that, and met with him Thursday, planning to set up a weekly conference call in which he and four other South Omaha activists share their concerns.

“The idea is that he would go through the agenda with his group and then we would have a call the Monday before the city council meeting to discuss items that might be of particular interest not only to District 4 but for the rest of the city of Omaha,” Harding said.

“This is an interim remedy for us to have at least some input into the process there and on important issues,” Salazar said.

They plan to begin these conferences the week of June 5.

6 News asked Council President Pete Festersen if he’d be participating in the weekly conference calls. He said he’s already been meeting with South Omaha leaders and will keep doing so.