Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert inherited a good situation when she was elected in 2013. Jim Suttle had made the tough choices on the budget to once again place Omaha on a sound financial footing by raising the restaurant tax. Thanks to Suttle’s engineering background, he saved the City of Omaha from an epic flood in the spring and summer of 2011.
Suttle paid a heavy price for his tough decisions. The entertainers on AM radio in Omaha launched a recall effort over the restaurant tax. Those entertainers came up with the usual doom and gloom predictions we frequently hear from the radical right. For example, they even predicted that people would go out to dinner in Council Bluffs to avoid paying the restaurant tax.
As usual, those right wing predictions of Armageddon turned out to be dead wrong. The restaurant tax got Omaha out of it’s financial hole and restored it’s triple A credit rating. The restaurant business is still thriving in Omaha.
Jean Stothert ran for Mayor claiming she could do better. She promised to repeal the restaurant tax, cut property taxes and increase spending for services – all at the same time. Obviously, her cynical promises were ludicrous and impossible to keep.
Since Stothert was inaugurated, she has broken her promise to repeal the restaurant tax. Despite this broken promise, the entertainers on AM radio haven’t launched a recall of Stothert or demonized her for maintaining this tax. Instead, it’s been crickets from the entertainers and others in the radical right.
The failure to repeal the restaurant tax is just one of many promises that Stothert has broken. The pensions for the employees of the City of Omaha are still underfunded and in disarray. At the end of 2013, the pensions for the police and firefighters had about $620 million in unfunded liabilities. In addition, the pensions for the civilian employees were $205 million in the red.
Stothert’s lone “accomplishment” is a small property tax cut that she enacted. The owner of $200,000 home would save all of $20 per year from this tax cut.
Tax cutting at the local level can have significant consequences due to the legal requirement to balance the budget. This tax cut has forced Stothert to cut corners in areas like snow removal. There have been numerous legitimate complaints about poor removal since Stothert took office in 2013. As NDP chair Vince Powers said: “Because Mayor Stothert has cut so many corners, Omaha now even lacks funding to provide the basic service of removing snow.”
Stothert’s corner cutting on City finances turned out to be a disaster when a mere 4 inches of snow literally shut down Omaha on January 19. Even though this storm had been forecast for several days in advance, Stothert was totally unprepared for it. Morning commutes that usually take about 15 minutes turned into a one hour white knuckle run. Omaha residents took to social media blasting Stothert’s ineptitude.
Stothert’s failure to be prepared for a routine Nebraska snowstorm caused a near disaster in the 90th and Dodge area around rush hour. The Omaha Police Department had to shut down Dodge Street in that area because they were pursuing a a suspected criminal armed with an assault rifle who had committed a robbery. Brave police officers were literally pushing cars up the hill to clear the street for snow plows that arrived too late.
Unfortunately, Stothert had the audacity to criticize the decision of the Omaha Police Department to temporarily close Dodge Street between 84th and 90th Streets. “I can’t say the decision by that officer was something that was well thought out,” Stothert snapped.
The Omaha Police Officers Association responded to Stothert unjustified second guessing by issuing the following statement: “We stand by the officer’s decision to temporarily close the roadway. The officer’s decision was made ON-SCENE and in REAL-TIME while standing out in the cold, pushing vehicles on dangerous slick roads. It’s unfortunate that city officials feel the need to criticize the decision that was made for public safety as they sit in their warm offices.”
After enduring a fire storm of criticism for her unfair potshot at the Omaha Police Department, Stothert backed off and blamed the fiasco on an alleged “breakdown in communication between all departments regarding the choice to shut down the street.”
John Wells, the president of the Omaha Police Association, correctly stated that Stothert shouldn’t have made her initial critical remarks without all the facts. “She was pretty steadfast in her position, throwing the officer under the bus,” Wells said. “I’m glad she came around, but the whole exercise was unnecessary. It was misplaced blame.”
After Tuesday’s four inch snowfall, instead of looking within her own office to find the problem, Mayor Stothert blamed an Omaha Police Officer who made the right call. Perhaps Mayor Stothert should have blamed one of the 18 contractors she hired in 2015 to better handle snow removal this season, listed on her website’s “2015 Strategic Plan Report Card” under “Optimize Delivery of City Services”.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair, Vince Powers, made the following statement: “Mayor Stothert used an Omaha Police Officer as a scapegoat when in truth, it is the Mayor who was accountable for mismanaging 18 contractors she hired in 2015, solely to improve on the City’s basic service to remove snow. Mayor Stothert owes an apology to the police officer, who was only doing his job, keeping people safe from dangerous conditions which arose because Mayor Stothert failed to do hers.”
Unfortunately, Stothert is consistent for all of the wrong reasons. The Omaha Mayor will not remove snow or the restaurant tax – of course she was elected on her promise to get rid of restaurant tax and her pledge that “Public Safety is my #1 Priority. ” The reality is that Stothert has fallen far short of her promises and her mismanagement of the City of Omaha has hurt the residents of this great city.
The Omaha voters will be ready for a change in 2017 and will turn Stothert out of office. Well informed sources speaking on background have told me that Stothert will draw one or more high profile, well financed challengers when she faces the voters again. In the meantime, we have to keep the pressure on Stothert and remind the voters in Omaha again and again that Stothert simply isn’t up to the job of Mayor of Omaha.