The City Hall scuffle of the day didn't carry much weight at a public hearing on Omaha's budget Tuesday night.
Hours after the City Council voted unanimously to chide Mayor Jim Suttle for awarding pay raises, only one of 16 speakers brought up the issue. And even then, it was only in passing.
Instead, most speakers talked about two topics: increasing the budget for building demolition and giving more money to the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
It was an unusually short budget hearing. So short, in fact, that Council President Tom Mulligan invited others to speak who did not get the chance. Only one person took him up on his offer.
Many of the speakers advocating the demolition of rundown homes were representatives of Omaha Together One Community or Habitat for Humanity.
While the 2013 budget will increase the demolition budget from about $250,000 to $500,000, speakers asked that the council increase it to $1 million.
The first speaker from OTOC showed a variety of pictures of rundown houses.
The number of such condemned houses has grown from 400 to 742 in three years, said Karen McElroy.
“We understand that this is a tight budget year, but the mayor and City Council need to make the tough decisions to preserve our urban neighborhoods,” she said.
Viv Ewing, speaking on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, said demolition would lead to new development as the land was put to better use.
“When new housing goes in, communities thrive,” she said.
Michael Kosalka, speaking on behalf of the Doubletree Hotel, was one of a handful of speakers to recommend the council increase the budget for the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
After a new hotel is built, he said, the hotel industry relies on advertising and outreach to keep customers coming in.
“Funding the Convention and Visitors Bureau is one way to put people back in the beds,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the council was focused on a far different topic — approving a nonbinding resolution that called on the mayor to publicly disclose future salary increases for his staff to “demonstrate that transparency in government is the highest of priorities.”
Councilman Garry Gernandt said the raises reminded him of a lesson he learned as a police officer.
“Sometimes, you just gotta stop shooting yourself in the foot,” he said. “This wasn't illegal, but certainly ill-timed.”
Five council members spoke during the adoption of the resolution. Pete Festersen and Chris Jerram supported it without comment.
Councilwoman Jean Stothert, who is running for mayor, said the issue wasn't the pay raises that were awarded, but how they were awarded.
Suttle had pledged to freeze wages for his staff and department heads throughout his term. The first raise was given last August, and others followed earlier this year.
“It's symbolic of a bigger problem,” Stothert said.
Mulligan said he has asked the city attorney to research whether it would be possible to attach pay scales for positions that are filled at the mayor's discretion.
He said he hopes the mayor understands the purpose of the resolution.
“Words of caution and advice,” he said. “This is not political posturing. This is a serious message from the Omaha City Council.”
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