Back on the job, Mayor Suttle faults criticism of pay raises - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, August 8, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 5:46 am
Back on the job, Mayor Suttle faults criticism of pay raises
More about strokes
A stroke occurs when a clot halts blood from flowing to part of the brain or when a blood vessel in or near the brain bursts.

Either kind of stroke damages the brain.

Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death, behind heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease. Roughly 130,000 Americans die each year of stroke.

RISK FACTORS

High blood pressure is the most common cause.
Smoking
High cholesterol
Excessive drinking
Diabetes
Inactivity
Overweight
Atrial fibrillation
Family history
Previous strokes

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Sudden severe headache
Sudden weakness on one side
Sudden trouble speaking
Sudden difficulty walking or seeing

Click here for video from Tuesday's press conference on Suttle's health.

***

As Mayor Jim Suttle resumed his responsibilities over the city, he attacked the City Council over its criticism of salary increases allocated to some of the mayor's Cabinet.

Suttle's words for the council came less than a day after his personal physician and spokeswoman revealed the mayor suffered a mild stroke during an overseas trip last week.

“I sincerely apologize for the manner in which salary increases I gave members of my staff were announced,” Suttle said in a statement that his office issued Wednesday morning. “These individuals did extraordinary work on behalf of the citizens of Omaha and I rewarded them for their efforts.”

Suttle said he “should have made a bigger deal” out of the accomplishments of his chief of staff, finance director and public works director when he gave the raises. But he said he had no intent to deceive taxpayers or the council.

Suttle said he included these salaries in his 2013 budget proposal “in order to be transparent and to notify both taxpayers and the council.”

“The City Council has seized a political opportunity to distract the public,” the mayor said.

The latest round of sparring over the controversial pay hikes comes nearly a week after Suttle checked himself into a hospital in Ireland after experiencing mild slurring of his speech, vertigo and numbness around his mouth.

Wednesday, the mayor had an additional precautionary test on his heart. The mayor's spokeswoman said the heart test revealed no problems.

Dr. Elizabeth Denman, Suttle's doctor, described the stroke as mild and said the 68-year-old mayor has made a full recovery. He will return to City Hall on Monday and has scheduled a press conference for that day in which he plans to address his health and the pay raises.

The developments Tuesday about Suttle's health came after days of murky reports about his condition.

Initially, the mayor was said to be hospitalized overnight for observation after “feeling ill.” Days later, his office announced that he was tired and dehydrated, had elevated blood pressure and would be flown home on a chartered aircraft per doctors' suggestion.

Sometimes, symptoms of a stroke may not be obvious right away, said Dr. Pierre Fayad, medical director of the stroke center at the Nebraska Medical Center.

“It's possible that symptoms have become much more clear and present than what they were the first day,” he said.

Suttle returned to Omaha on Monday night aboard the private air ambulance jet, which mayoral spokeswoman Aida Amoura said was chartered “to prevent any further risks to his health.” The mayor was then taken to Methodist Hospital for further evaluation.

Earlier Tuesday, the mayor's office announced that doctors were examining Suttle to determine whether he suffered from transient ischemic attack, or “mini-stroke.”

Neurologists and cardiologists examined the mayor throughout Tuesday as they reached the diagnosis of a stroke, said Denman, who said she has been Suttle's physician for more than 12 years.

Suttle has been given “a clean bill of health,” Denman said, and she described him as a healthy patient who comes in for regular exams and exhibits no signs of other health conditions.

“Once you have had one stroke, you are at risk of having an additional event,” she said. “But I see no reason to be concerned about that. ... There's no reason to think that he can't go back to his regular schedule.”

City Council President Thomas Mulligan continued to serve as acting mayor Tuesday while Suttle was evaluated, aides said. The city's charter says the council president is to take over when the mayor is out of town or disabled.

“If you're able to think, analyze, communicate and make decisions, then you don't fall into the category of being disabled or incapacitated,” said Paul Kratz, Omaha's city attorney.

“You don't necessarily need to be in City Hall to run things,” Kratz said. “You can do it from home. You can probably do it from a hospital bed, depending on the situation.”

After then-Mayor Mike Boyle recovered from a near-fatal heart attack in 1984, Council President Bernie Simon and members of Boyle's Cabinet handled many of the mayor's appearances and ceremonial functions.

Boyle performed some of his duties from a hospital bed. He stayed at home for part of his convalescence, then returned to part-time duty before going back to work full time.

During his term as mayor in 1987, Simon was in the hospital and then-Council President Fred Conley was out of town. As vice president of the council, Joe Friend stepped in as acting mayor for two days.

Conley also served as acting mayor during the last few weeks of Simon's battle with cancer and for the week after Simon's death in 1988.

Amoura said the mayor would return to his normal schedule next week. Denman, Suttle's doctor, said she was not concerned about further risks to the mayor's health.

“I think that we need to remember that he's had a mild stroke,” Denman said. “Give him some time to rest and come back to work on Monday, and he should be able to do everything he did before.”

Fayad, from the Nebraska Medical Center, said that if stroke patients have high blood pressure, the blood pressure needs to be reduced to normal levels. Usually, he said, people are put on cholesterol-lowering medication after a stroke.

In addition, patients are advised to participate in moderate physical activity — walking — for about an hour, three or four times a week. And doctors typically advise patients to switch to what's known as a Mediterranean diet — fish instead of red meat, olive oil instead of butter, reduced salt intake and increased fruit and vegetable consumption.

“You certainly need to seriously start looking at what strategies I can do to lower my future risk,” Fayad said.

Press conference on Suttle's health

Contact the writer: 402-444-1068, johnny.perez@owh.com, twitter.com/PerezJr

World-Herald staff writer Bob Glissmann contributed to this report.

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